Turnstile: “When the stars align for things to happen, we follow them”

How the Baltimore five-piece became the live band of the summer, bringing hardcore to the masses – and all, frontman Brendan Yates explains, on their own terms

It’s a hazy Sunday evening on Worthy Farm, an idyllic 900 acres of fields tucked away in rural Somerset. But this is no ordinary weekend on Michael Eavis’ dairy farm. “I wanna shake this whole place up!” demands a shirtless Brendan Yates, the all-action Turnstile frontman who jumps, kicks and spins his way across Glastonbury Festival’s John Peel Stage throughout his band’s coruscating hour-long set. “Shake it up! Let’s shake it up!

A mere 90 seconds later, as his four bandmates thrash out the searing ‘Drop’, from Turnstile’s 2015 debut LP ‘Nonstop Feeling’, Yates is being triumphantly carried out of the ensuing mosh pit by security guards while strumming along on a red acoustic guitar that one Glasto punter has inexplicably brought with them into the pit. It’s a serendipitous moment that elicits further huge cheers from the captivated crowd when it’s beamed out from the big screens either side of the stage. Talk about shaking things up.

“Aw – it was so great,” Yates tells NME on the phone from Hamburg, Germany, two days after Turnstile’s memorably rowdy Glastonbury debut. “I feel like I only experienced five per cent of the festival, because it’s so massive and I only got to explore certain areas. But the stage we were on was amazing: it was great seeing Amyl and The Sniffers play; we saw Clairo, and Charli XCX was headlining. Everyone was so friendly. It was beautiful out there and it was a beautiful evening. The show felt really special and exciting – it was an all-round great experience.”

Credit: Andy Ford

Such an expression of gratitude and humility is par for the course when it comes to Turnstile, who are completed by charismatic bassist-vocalist Franz Lyons, dynamic drummer Daniel Fang and shredders-in-arms guitarists Pat McCrory and Brady Ebert (who’s sitting out this leg of the tour, temporarily replaced by Greg Cerwonka of Cali hardcore outfit Take Offense). Since forming in Baltimore in 2010, the hardcore heroes have been more than happy to take things as they come, but their August 2021 album ‘Glow On’which was ranked at number nine in NME’s 50 best albums of last year – has elevated the five-piece to heights that they, and the tight-knit hardcore punk scene that birthed them, might never have imagined possible.

The record’s mix of cathartic lyrical sentiments (‘Mystery’’s spine-tingling “And it’s been so long / Is all the mystery gone?”), fearless genre experiments (the woozy, washed-out indie of ‘Underwater Boi’) and more traditional hardcore (‘T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection)’, ‘Don’t Play’, ‘Wild Wrld’) has generated a real crossover appeal to music fans of nearly all persuasions.

“Everyone was so friendly at Glastonbury. It was beautiful out there”

It’s also translated over to Turnstile’s spirited and sensational live show, which exudes inclusivity, community and, if you’re partial to it, ample opportunity to dance, mosh and stage-dive to your heart’s content. The YouTube comments below their Glastonbury performance of ‘Glow On’ highlight ‘Blackout’ encapsulate Turnstile’s current on-stage magnetism. “This band makes me feel things I haven’t felt in a while,” one viewer writes. “They deserve all the media attention they’re getting.” Another comments: “Never heard of these guys before, but they have a great sound… plus the stage presence of this band is epic!” Then there’s the view that “the fact a band like this can even exist in 2022, let alone absolutely dominate, gives me faith in hardcore bands of all types”.

The group’s Glastonbury show certainly made an impression, and the online broadcast of their hour-long set will have played its own part in BBC iPlayer’s record 34.1 million streams across the 2022 festival weekend. Yates is somewhat overawed when we relay that figure to him: “Woah! I mean, that’s cool. I haven’t been able to see what else happened [at Glastonbury], but I hope it was cool for those at home to watch.” When NME posits that this may be a way in for new Turnstile fans, he beams: “That’s cool!”

Does it feel good to be instigating circle pits, crowdsurfing and general live mayhem at a festival that isn’t exactly renowned for it? “Yeah, definitely. It felt like everyone there was having a good time, and people were very open and excited to be part of the experience, which is all you can hope for at any festival. So it’s definitely exciting that we were asked to be a part of it, and we’re super-grateful for that.”

Credit: Andy Ford

Turnstile’s evident suitability to the Glastonbury experience could help usher in more hardcore and heavy guitar bands on to the festival’s bill in the future. “I think it’s always worth any curator making sure that every kind of territory is being explored,” Yates agrees. “Especially at a festival where I feel like the purpose is to have so many different options and people can discover new things, feel different things, and be exposed to things that they might have never had exposure to. In my head, that’s a little bit the point of those festivals, you know? It’s definitely a good thing to be exploring and broadening the sounds that you bring to festivals like [Glastonbury], for sure.”

For a band as formidable as Turnstile are in the live arena, it’s no surprise to discover that their 2022 victory lap is jam-packed with headline shows and festival sets.

Their exhausting tour run, which includes a slot supporting Gorillaz at London’s All Points East Festival in August, is currently taking them across the European festival circuit where, two days after our call with Yates, members of Turnstile are filmed on TikTok playing backstage beer pong with, of all people, Post Malone and Dua Lipa. The same week, temporary live guitarist Cerwonka shared an Instagram photo of himself posing mid-set with Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo, as you do, in front of a sea of delighted onlookers.

Turnstile on the cover of NME
Turnstile on the cover of NME

Such big-name endorsements and massive festival stages may seem hard to fathom for the band and their long-term fans, but then Turnstile’s charm is very much in demand at present. In March, they made their long-awaited South American live debut with gigs in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Chile, an experience that Yates says was “so special”.
He continues: “It was definitely a part of the world that we’ve wanted to go to, but the opportunity has been a little hard to come by to go out there. We were given the opportunity to go out with Lollapalooza and, aside from the festival, we were able to do our own shows as well. That was special, too, because we got to meet a lot of people.”

“Be it a room with 50 people or a big festival, you’re always going to be exactly who you are”

From Lolla, the band headed to Indio, California for Coachella, which – despite its more self-indulgent and stand-offish reputation – similarly welcomed Turnstile with open arms, big smiles and circle pits. Was there any trepidation that Coachella wouldn’t, you know, get it?

“There wasn’t really a particular way of approaching it,” reveals Yates, “but I think maybe there’s a subconscious way of just adapting to wherever you’re at, be it a room with 50 people or a big festival: you’re always going to do exactly what you do and be exactly who you are. I don’t know if that’s a particular thing [we do], but it’s maybe more of a subconscious search for the ways to connect the most.”

Turnstile actually first visited Coachella in April 2019, in support of their second album ‘Time & Space’, which arrived the previous year as their first release on the alternative Warner Music imprint Roadrunner Records (home most notably to Slipknot). Running for just 25 energy-boosting minutes, ‘Time & Space’ saw the band begin to push beyond the boundaries of their hardcore-at-heart sound by bringing in unexpected collaborators (including Diplo, Sheer Mag and former Lauryn Hill backing singer Tanikka Charraé), incorporating jazzy keys and synths (‘Disco’) and even adding in a brief bossa nova breakdown on ‘Bomb’.

Credit: Andy Ford

The album’s brevity may have reduced these varying moments of invention to bit-part players, but it at least laid the groundwork for ‘Glow On’ and its more successful demonstration of the band’s creative versatility and willingness to do something different. For the first time, too, Turnstile’s music had started to noticeably filter through to those outside of the dedicated hardcore scene, with NME lauding the group, in the summer of 2018, as “the new shape of punk to come”.

“That’s always a great feeling,” Yates says now of the band’s ever-increasing crossover appeal. “The ability to reach whoever might be looking for our music, and seeing that happen, is always an amazing feeling. Since we’ve been able to play live again, the opportunities we’ve been blessed with to play for so many new people… I think playing music, no matter who you ask, it’s always an exciting opportunity, especially to never feel like you’re doing the same thing [and that] you’re always constantly growing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the size [of a crowd], but more so growing as far as challenging yourself, putting yourself in new scenarios and taking your opportunities to grow moving forward.”

“There’s so much amazing music coming from Baltimore”

As such, Turnstile relished the chance to further their exposure and that of hardcore music in general by entering influential world of US late-night talk shows (appearances that live a healthy double life online in the form of much-shared YouTube videos). In 2022, the band have put in scarcely believable but utterly deserved live performances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which, Yates admits, is kind of surreal. “I think it’s equally exciting and bizarre at the same time,” he adds. “But I think that’s part of what we try to always be open to. If an opportunity comes along that feels exciting or fulfilling in any kind of way, we’re challenging ourselves to do something different.

“Going on TV is so bizarre because you’re performing and there is an audience, but they’re super-far back and are behind all these cameras and lights. It’s definitely an experience that’s like no other, but at the same time it was cool to figure out how to adapt and put ourselves in a scenario that was maybe uncomfortable, but was nonetheless an experience.”

Credit: Andy Ford

When Turnstile formed in 2010, did Yates ever envision the band being introduced to homes in the US by Messrs Fallon and Kimmel? “No, never,” he quickly replies. “I think that’s also why the way we operate is always just following and looking to how we feel as people. Even starting the band, it was never the idea to play shows, really – it was just to make some songs.

“After we did the first seven-inch single, we decided to do a second one, but never really thought we’d do much else beyond a couple of shows. After the first LP, I remember thinking, ‘OK, that was fun, but no-one’s going to like this record. [But] we love it, so I’m glad we were able to do this’. It’s kind of silly to ever make plans too far out, or plan out your life ahead of you, because there’s definitely no way of knowing where life takes you… ever.”

The enduring love for ‘Glow On’ has definitely enabled Turnstile to level up, but every great party has to end at some point. As you might expect by now, the band will be looking to mark that on their own terms with the ‘Turnstile Love Connection Tour’ in October and November, which will be their biggest North American tour to date. The gigs will feature support slots from fellow Maryland artists JPEGMafia and Snail Mail, making for a mouth-watering evening’s entertainment.

Credit: Andy Ford

Yates says of the bill: “It’s so incredible that there’s so much amazing music coming from Baltimore, so we feel so lucky that we’re able to tour with just a couple of the artists who are doing something so special but yet so different from each other. All three bands I feel connected to, but are all doing different things. So to find a common thread between them and connect those dots on a tour is the kind of stuff we find most fulfilling.”

As to whether Turnstile will take a much-needed breather after the conclusion of the tour in Boston on November 20, Yates is keen to stress that he and his bandmates “don’t really look at anything in terms of, like, cycles or campaigns or anything like that.

“We try to always look at it as, like, when it feels right to play, we’ll play, [and] when it feels right to write, we’re writing. But I do think that this year we really wanted it to be a really busy year for being able to play to as many people as possible, and spend the year going to as many places as we can. I think in a lot of ways, it will not become as busy after [the end of the tour] as far as playing shows, because to find a balance of playing and having time to regroup, make music and maybe go away for a bit… it’ll be a really exciting end to the year, for sure.”

“It’s exciting to put yourself in new scenarios and take opportunities to grow”

Taking things as they come is very much the Turnstile way, but the end of their time on the road will inevitably bring a clamour for new music from a fanbase that’s never been bigger. Asked about the prospect of new material, Yates says it is “always a very fluid thing”.

He adds: “We’re always writing; there’s always ideas and trying things. Whatever we end up doing is a culmination of years of thinking about things and taking opportunities – sometimes spontaneously, sometimes having planned for years. I think that there’s never really a plan set in place that has the potential to be disrupted if we wake up one morning and want to try something else. We try to never really apply too much structure to it, so it feels as boundless as it possibly can.

“Whether that means that the next record comes out next year, or comes out in 10 years, or whether we play a million shows or don’t play for a long time, we try to always listen to where we’re at and listen to where our instinct is pulling us forward, and make sure that it feels like it’s something we want to be doing at all times. I think that’s why we never put any set bounds on the terms of cycles or campaigns or anything like that. When the stars align for things to happen, we follow them.”

For now, though, the band are very much focused on the road, and today (July 8) they’ll co-headline (along with Cali rockers Thrice) the 15,000-capacity 2000trees Festival, a guitar music-focused festival in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Topping a festival bill is, you feel, something that Turnstile are going to have to get used to quickly.

“Festivals are amazing because you get such a wide spectrum of people and bands playing, and the kind of areas you can explore,” Yates says. “But then sometimes [a festival headline show] does take away the intimacy a little bit, so the compromise is finding how to make it feel exciting and intimate for a setting that’s perhaps not always intimate. It’s an amazing thing [to headline]… creating an opportunity for people to stumble upon something is amazing.”

If you do one thing this summer, make sure you stumble upon Turnstile. Many at Glastonbury did – and now it’s a good bet that (whisper it) even Michael Eavis is hooked on hardcore. See you in the pit.

Turnstile headline 2000trees Festival tonight (July 8). The Turnstile Love Connection Tour kicks off at The Brooklyn Mirage, New York, on October 3