in conversation

Brendan Yates and Dev Hynes on Their Shared Punk Roots

Turnstile frontman Brendan Yates performing on The Rooftop at Pier 17.

A lot has been said about the current state of the music industry. A host of new questions—Who gets the streams? What does it take to trend on TikTok?— have become a part of the calculus for crafting a successful album. In such a heavily scripted environment,  few music-makers can afford to reject these questions, no matter how authentic or exciting the alternative might be. One notable example is the Baltimore band Turnstile. The renegade punk outfit’s new album, GLOW ON, reflects the range of influences—from punk to metal to funk—that make up a true music lover’s diet, rejecting the hardcore punk classification that critics have bestowed upon them. The album, produced by industry legend Mike Elizondo (who has produced records for the likes of 50 Cent and Fiona Apple), finds the band pursuing a unique sonic experiment that ranges from sweaty mosh-worthy tracks like “BLACKOUT” to the smoother stylings of “ALIEN LOVE CALL,” a collaboration with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. Turnstile and Blood Orange exist in such distant galaxies that listeners may be baffled about how these two musical acts could even have met—but as it turns out, this musical love affair can be traced back to Hynes’ hardcore punk roots (just Google Test Icicles). The day after Turnstile’s electrifying performance at New York City’s The Rooftop at Pier 17, Hynes sat down with the band’s lead singer, Brendan Yates, for a chat about pre-show jitters, nicotine addictions, and musical left turns.


BRENDAN YATES: Hey, what’s up?

DEV HYNES: Doing good. I have a little frog in my throat, but I’m good.

YATES: I’m still trying to not lose my voice, but no matter what I just happen to do it every single night. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I’m doing something wrong.

HYNES: I don’t know how you do it.

YATES: Every time I get an off-day, I spend it not talking, because that seems to be the only thing that helps. But I keep on blowing it out. Where are you now? I think I saw a photo of you in Europe recently?

HYNES: I’m in New York. I was in Milan for a little bit and then Paris visiting friends. It was so nice going back to Europe because I hadn’t been since February 2020. I haven’t seen my family since then either, so I’m going to London soon too. How has it been touring during this time?

YATES: Wild. Since we last saw each other, we have pretty much been doing non-stop weird, sporadic touring. That’s the result of making plans over quarantine. It’s been cool because it’s almost like dipping your toes back into the water— we did L.A., New York, Baltimore, Nashville, and Chicago. We’re going to Mexico City in a couple of weeks.  I’m just along for the ride and excited to be able to play.

HYNES: I bet people are freaking out at the shows.

YATES: It’s been overwhelming. Usually, when you have new music you have to ease those songs into the set, because people don’t know them yet. You want to play new music, but you also want to be considerate about what people are there for. We’ve been playing like ten new songs, and they’ve all been really well received. It’s been cool to have the best of both worlds and for people to be excited about new stuff. 

HYNES: That’s amazing. I mean everyone knew the words at the Irving Plaza show.

YATES: Which is so crazy! I mean, the record wasn’t even out. It’s just so cool for us. 

HYNES: And super well deserved.

YATES: Thank you so much. 

HYNES: When do you go to Mexico City?

YATES: In mid-November. I think I’m going to try to stay for a week or so—I usually try to stay if there is a window and settle into the spot for a little bit. Touring can be such a blur sometimes… you just go city to city and you don’t get to experience anything. Your brain just kind of turns into this fuzzy, mashed potato and you can’t really process. There’s a lot of moving around, not a lot of sleep. Then you get home and you’re like, “Woah! I just traveled across the country, but I don’t really remember any of it.” I try to find windows where I can soak up the moment as much as possible. So we might get a little AirBnB and hang for a bit.

HYNES: That’s amazing.

YATES: Do you do something similar? When you tour, do you try to stick around or do you have to move on to the next thing?

HYNES: The last couple of tours I did before the pandemic were pretty spaced out. I tried to plan them so that I could hang in the cities I was into. Mentally, the more you do back-to-back shows, the better you get at it. Because I get nervous about performing, I like to think of my tours as casual visits— like I’m just in the city hanging out, and I happen to have to play a show. I kind of want my brain to approach it that way, rather than being like, “I’m in this city to perform.”

YATES: That’s a good way to look at it. It was our first time playing at Irving Plaza– it’s so easy to get in your head about it. Then you get onstage, and the first two or three songs are where you figure out what kind of a night it’s going to be. They set the tone. 

HYNES: I know Glow On just came out, but I was wondering, do you work on new music when you’re on the road?

YATES: I think there’s new music percolating in the back of my mind right now. There are little ideas, but nothing fully realized, so it’s kind of just still marinating. But honestly I still haven’t gotten over how strange it feels to perform live again. That’s taken up most of the real estate in my mind. 

HYNES: I relate to that. The only kind of work I can really do when touring is if I’m scoring a film or something, because it’s so unrelated to the music I’m performing. The times that I do fall into that are always fun— I get really in my head about live shows, so I need something to pull me out.

 YATES: I get especially nervous when I tour with other bands. When I was drumming, I would think, “Oh, I’ll be in the back so I don’t have to worry. I would always feel perfectly fine and prepared for the show. It’s definitely a different feeling to be the one at the front with a microphone—it’s an extra responsibility, and it triggers this hyper-awareness that can lead to overthinking. 

HYNES: [Coughing] Sorry. I smoked so many cigarettes in Europe, and now I’m coughing all the time and it’s super embarrassing.

YATES: Wait, so you didn’t smoke until recently?

HYNES: Yeah, literally until this year. 

YATES: Woah, interesting. I feel like the time to start smoking is around high school, because it’s a social thing. 

 HYNES: You know what makes it even dumber? I’m not even addicted! Some days go by and I forget to do it. My lungs are so pissed at me right now.

 YATES: They’re like, “Really, man?” Mine are equally as pissed at me, because they’re like, “Why are you screaming every night? Just chill out.”

HYNES: Anyways, tell the people how we met.

YATES: I had been a fan of yours for a long time. At some point, I saw a post of yours about a Turnstile song, and I used that as an excuse to reach out.

 HYNES: I first got into Turnstile around 2016, and I bought the Time and Space bundle right when it came out— it came with the vinyl and a t-shirt.

YATES: That’s so cool.

HYNES: I was fucking stoked. When you reached out, I was super happy because I’m such a fan. We’ve spoken about how similar our taste is. It’s funny, because people don’t necessarily realize the overlaps that musicians have in where they come from or what they listen to—they make assumptions based on their musical output. Unless someone really knows me, they don’t expect that I grew up listening to so much hardcore metal. Your band effortlessly explores so many musical corners and filters it all through your own universe—my favorite artists manage to do that, and it extends beyond music. To seamlessly explore their varied tastes while still funneling them down a path that sounds uniquely their own, I think that’s such an incredible thing.

YATES: Before meeting you, before knowing you, I felt very connected to your approach, where you come from, and how you look at things. Seeing you coming from a punk, hardcore metal background, then moved into rock, to classic R&B, to… whatever it is you’re up to now. I’ve always admired that about you and your music. That inspiration is never closed off, it’s always a part of who you are. You can always take and build from who you are and try new things. Growing up, my dad would show me all this Motown and my mom was into musicals and Frank Sinatra. My older sister was 20 when I was born, and she was at her peak of getting into cool music. She would make me little mixtapes of things like Busta Rhymes, Nirvana, Metallica, and Smashing Pumpkins. My grandpa had a big jazz collection, which he gave to me. I found metal at the same time that I found my group of friends, and we started going to hardcore punk shows. 

HYNES: I agree with that. I think the climate in this industry doesn’t always reward exploration. When we were growing up and a record would come out, you would have to go and get it. You’d listen to it, basically, until you liked it. You had to trust the artists and let yourself fall into it. When Adore came out, by Smashing Pumpkins. I love that record, but it was kind of a shock.

YATES: People need a way to categorize things. It’s hard for us to describe what kind of band we are. We’re a band with roots in hardcore punk, but everyone’s perspective on our sound is different. It’s hard to fully appeal to one specific audience while still being yourself. Tyler, the Creator won the Grammy for best rap record—why couldn’t it have been a pop record? In some ways, having to categorize ourselves makes me claustrophobic. I love bands that are making music that is actually hard to describe. Of all the projects you’ve done, is there a type of project you really want to do? 

HYNES: Directing something narrative. I’ve always been very cautious about it. When someone asks me to direct something, I’m very honored, but I’m worried I won’t do a good job. People have spoken to me about the idea of doing a short, but I’ve always been hesitant, but it’s something I’m curious about. What’s your answer? I’m really curious.

YATES: A big thing for me was being able to direct the video project (Turnstile Love Connection) we did recently.  It was an uncomfortable thing for me to take on that role, but we just figured it out. I’ve also always wanted to drum for someone with a completely different sound, like a pop artist or something. Whether that’s studio drumming or doing a tour, I’m not totally sure. Hopefully, in the future, I’ll get the chance.

HYNES: I love that video you directed. It’s so fucking good.

 YATES: Thank you so much. It’s nice to be able to step outside your comfort zone. I feel like if that desire is there, and everyone is on board with making it work, it will happen. Even if it takes a while.


Special Thanks: Polaroid