Interview with vocalist Brendan Yates | By Eli Enis | Photo by Octavio Orduno
“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”– Søren Kierkegaard
Turnstile frontman Brendan Yates returns to the phrase “feeling good” to describe just about every aspect of his band. Whether it’s their approach to songwriting, their knack for playing shows to appreciative fans, or their existential purpose as a group, Yates and co. are simply doing what feels good to them and hoping to impart that positivity to others. This M.O. has never been more obvious than it was on their 2015 full-length debut, Nonstop Feeling, an album that earned as many comparisons to Rage Against The Machine and 311 as it did to Bad Brains and Madball, making it one of the most polarizing hardcore albums of their generation.
Within what’s historically been a traditionalist genre, there are certain expectations for how a hardcore record should sound, what it should mean, and how it should be presented. However, Yates’ subtle choice to refer to Turnstile as “a band” and not as “a hardcore band” is just one of many ways Turnstile are simultaneously defying and expanding what hardcore music can be. “I think we enjoy the freedom of being able to do whatever we want,” he says. “I think that is exactly what feels good about being in a band.”
“I think in life,” he adds, “even outside of being in a band, limiting yourself is not very progressive.”
Although Nonstop Feeling features bundles of bouncy riffs, barrages of shout-back-inducing hooks, and stockpiles of two-step passages and mosh parts—as well as dips into surf rock and bubblegrunge—their new record, Time & Space feels truly limitless. The fast parts are faster, the slow parts are slower, the melodies are brighter, and the jazzy, hip hop-esque interludes and outros develop a sense of cohesion while also pushing the band’s sound further from its origins.
Yates says Turnstile’s approach on Time & Space—which was released Feb. 23 via Roadrunner Records—focused on “keeping what the band is, while also being able to broaden the definition of what someone might say the band is.”
“I feel like hardcore will always be an influence, because it’s the world we come from and the easiest thing to connect the band to,” he continues, “but I think everything on the spectrum of music [has] played the biggest influence.”
Yates namedrops Beach House, Sade, The Lemonheads, and DEVO as some of his greatest musical inspirations and is careful not to assign any single genre to the record. Many may consider this an unconventionally eclectic palette for a hardcore musician, but the idea of collective creativity is an important part of Turnstile’s identity, and Yates believes it would be reductive to describe his music as any one sound in particular. “I think, just naturally, what makes up our band is special individuals with different influences from all kinds of music,” he says. “What feels most natural is to create the platform to be able to switch it up.”
“The last thing I want from a band is to ever pigeonhole themselves,” he asserts, “or be like, ‘Well, this is exactly what we’re doing,’ and nail in this certain thing that we do and just always do that.”
Despite his hesitation to categorize their output, Yates is pleasantly accepting of any and all comparisons Turnstile elicit—an extension of his all-embracing philosophy on music and an often-atypical ethos for a hardcore dude. “Someone who hears our band and has never heard a lot of things may just say we sound like a ‘90s rock band,” he says. “Everyone in the world just has a different frame of reference and digests things differently—and that’s just cool.”
“And it’s cool that one thing someone might take away from our band is another thing that makes someone hate our band,” he adds.
For Yates, it is not their sonic identity, but Turnstile’s notoriously raucous shows that best define them. The live environment is arguably the ultimate determining factor of how good a hardcore band is, as hardcore music is essentially designed to incite carnal movement in pits and pile-ups. At Turnstile gigs, it’s the unmatched energy, carefree exuberance, and uniquely animated, fun-but-not-threatening crowds—as well as Yates’ nonchalant demeanor, drummer Daniel Fang’s pink hair, and their overall lack of tough-guy bravado—that truly distinguish them from their contemporaries.
“The reality checks have been shows,” Yates confirms, referencing a date at the end of 2016 featuring Angel Du$t, Big Bite, Profile, and Culture Abuse. “The diverse things coming together—as far as bands that sound different, people from different places—were all in this one big room, and the energy was something that I wouldn’t be able to describe [in] an interview.”
Thematically, Time & Space finds Yates reflecting on his relationships and surroundings, both of which have been profoundly influenced by Turnstile’s heavy touring schedule and the environments associated with playing shows. “The record title itself is not as much about time on a clock and outer space as it is about personal time and relative space to the things I surround myself with,” he explains. “I think being in a band and traveling a lot and touring is not a natural process for the human body or mind. You’re always moving at 100 miles an hour, and then, when you’re not traveling, you’re really still.”
Time & Space effectively echoes that lifestyle.