More than four decades into his career, Billy Idol is still learning.
But that he’s still here, creating music, feels like an even greater accomplishment.
“When we started in punk rock, I thought, this will last six months. And here we are, 45 years later,” Idol tells USA TODAY.
He’s Zooming in from Los Angeles, with a photo backdrop of an old Fender Twin amp and a signed Les Paul Jr. guitar given to him by longtime guitarist/co-writer Steve Stevens in 1982, and ready to chat about “The Roadside,” his four-song EP landing Friday. It marks his first new release in nearly seven years.
The album represents some new territory for Idol, 65. He worked with producer Butch Walker and videographer Steven Sebring, who directed the clip for the single “Bitter Taste,” for the first time, and the freshness is apparent.
Longtime fans will find much to appreciate about tracks “Rita Hayworth” (“a little bit about Hollywood and rapacious producers,” Idol says) and the soaring pop-rocker “U Don’t Have to Kiss Me Like That.” The songs are familiar, yet instilled with renewed vigor.
Before signing off with his trademark fist pump, Idol – now playing some live dates through October – talked about revisiting his near-fatal motorcycle crash in the song "Bitter Taste," his new role as a grandfather and how he still looks like his MTV-era self.
Q: Before we talk about the EP, let’s talk about Miley Cyrus (the pair collaborated on Cyrus’ “Night Crawling” and performed together at Lollapalooza in July). She has said she loves how you married rebellion and music and have songs with incredible hooks. What is it about her that you appreciate?
Billy Idol: She’s a lot of fun. She’s got sort of a dynamic personality and she’s very committed to her music and working on her voice and her vocal ability. The duet we did on “Rebel Yell” in 2016 (at the iHeartRadio Music Festival), she was coming along, but since then she’s gotten a lot more powerful. When we did the Super Bowl (TikTok Tailgate) this year, she rehearsed day and night. She just did that song with Metallica (a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” on Howard Stern’s SiriusXM show) and that shows how she’s really into her music. She works really hard and that says a lot. She could just go spend her “Hannah Montana” royalties, but she’s not, she’s working.
Q: Of the four songs on this EP, you get really personal on “Bitter Taste,” about your motorcycle accident 31 years ago. Why did you decide to revisit it now?
Idol: We were writing the song at the beginning of the pandemic last April and May, but we didn’t know how long it was going to last. I really thought, I don’t want to write about the pandemic immediately. I like to let things marinate and I thought, what can I write about that was a crisis time for me? A time I knew would change my life and my future? Seeing what the pandemic was beginning to do to people, I realized I’ve never really written about the motorcycle accident, and now I’ve had time to take it all in. I got together with (songwriters) Joe Janiak and Tommy English – I came on my bike to that session, too – and we started talking about how the accident was a watershed moment. I was a bit of a drug addict back then, and I decided that when I was high on the bike, that wasn’t the right thing and I would hopefully clean myself up. I had children, too, so I was wondering what I was really saying to them by nearly killing myself. I nearly lost my leg. I realized I did have to change things going forward. It took a few years, but I put the drugs on the back burner. I went to AA for a bit. There is an element of creating discipline, and now I can have a glass of white wine and I vape pot and that gives me what I need. I thought, that’s something I could really write about and maybe resonate with people going through the pandemic.
Q: You mentioned your children, and now you’re a grandfather as well.
Idol: It’s fantastic. I’m so glad that the spotlight is on Bonnie, my daughter, and her bringing up her family. The little child (Poppy Rebel, born in May 2020) is so fun and she has a strong personality already. I’m so excited to see my daughter so happy, and she loves being a mum. She has a second little girl coming in January.
Q: You and Steve Stevens, your guitarist and co-writer, are pretty much family as well, having been together for decades. What makes you guys such good partners?
Idol: Yeah, it will be 40 years with Steve. Recently he said about me, “I’ve always had Billy’s back,” and that’s the feeling I get and that’s pretty massive. He’s an incredible safety net and the idea that he can make your musical dreams come true means I can go anywhere. The day we want to change things up we can do it, and that’s a power. We’re looking out for each other.
Q: I know a lot of people are impressed that 40 years since your solo debut (Idol fronted British punk rockers Generation X in the late '70s), you still have the look, including your hair. Explain.
Idol: (Laughs) I don’t know – (the hair) is just about hanging in there. But none of it is so easy anymore. I do work out. The last 10-plus years it’s been a lot of Pilates, TRX training and weights. The Pilates helps keep your core strong, and I’m powering my singing. You have to be fit to be a singer, otherwise you’ll have a heart attack.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Billy Idol revisits motorcycle accident on new album, talks Miley Cyrus