“I feel like ‘overwhelming’ is the best word for it.” That’s how Brendan Yates, frontman of Baltimore hardcore band Turnstile, describes what it’s been like to tour for the first time in almost two years. “We've been performing for the last couple weeks and the whole thing's been kind of a back and forth whirlwind,” he tells me over the phone.
Yates and his bandmates are currently gearing up for a homecoming of sorts: Tomorrow, they’ll play their first hometown release show for their new album, GLOW ON. “Being in crowds of people and seeing friends that you haven't seen in years, in cities that you've just been totally disconnected from, reuniting with faces, and meeting new people, too,” Yates tells me, in an earnest, soft voice. He mentions, to my surprise, that a number of Baltimore’s major venues survived the COVID-19 pandemic, and are easing their way back into having shows again. “It’s this big feeling, returning—but it's one that we're all taking in and are really excited about.”
"I feel like ‘overwhelming’ is the best word for it."
That return to the DIY scene—and the flurry of emotions accompanying it—has been a central focus this year for Turnstile, which has been described as both the most “visible” and “adored” band in hardcore. It’s the energy that characterizes “TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION,” their dreamy short film that’s soundtracked by four songs, their first batch since the release of 2018 LP Time & Space. As the visual’s director, Yates felt like the film—which is a compilation of various small-town vignettes shot in Baltimore and Puerto Rico—was the band’s “solution” to not touring this past summer: “It was kind of our way to bring people together for something,” he says. As one of those in attendance at the film’s Brooklyn Nitehawk Cinema showing, I told Yates that I witnessed that sense of camaraderie firsthand, as friends old and new rejoiced in the theatre’s lobby. “It was something that we had never done—we didn't really know what to expect,” he says, adding the screenings had been his first time visiting a cinema in two years. “But being able to use that opportunity to have a gathering again ended up being so fulfilling.”
Since Yates formed Turnstile in 2010 with childhood friend and lead guitarist Brady Ebert, bassist Franz Lyons, and drummer Daniel Fang, and later adding rhythm guitarist Pat McCrory, the group has grown to perfect that spirit of experimentation. Striking a delicate balance of leaning into vulnerability, and, in turn, rejecting a certain brand of machismo that permeates hardcore, has distinguished them: Each project since their debut album, Nonstop Feeling (2014), has offered an increasingly intimate look into the band’s inner world. “It's kind of like this growing process, of becoming more comfortable with each other and becoming more in touch with what feels good to make as a band,” Yates explains. GLOW ON, which features the likes of Blood Orange and takes a softer, more genre-bending tone, processes both the members’ individual emotional baggage and our collective anxiety. “I think every time we put out a record or music, there’s always this feeling of, ‘Well, I don't know if anyone is going to like this or even connect to it at all,’” Yates says. “I feel, on one hand, excited, and on the other hand, very vulnerable and nervous. But it's because we were able to express certain things and were able to try things that felt meaningful to us. I think that level of vulnerability should always exist in music and the music that we make.” Through it all, the band has remained committed to their Baltimore roots, from their merch collaborations with brands like Carpet, to local benefit shows and fundraising initiatives for organizations like Baltimore Youth Arts. “Whenever that sort of thing does happen, it's coming from an existing relationship,” Yates explains. “There are such creative, interesting people in Baltimore. They're just doing really cool things that I feel connected with.”
"There are such creative, interesting people in Baltimore. They're just doing really cool things that I feel connected with."
The band’s mastery of “groove, riffs, and passion,” as well as their nods to predecessors like Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Bad Brains, has been highlighted by numerous music critics—a defiance of the odds in some ways, for a hardcore band that’d signed to a major label. In 2018, Time & Space landed Turnstile their first New York Times review. “Turnstile Knows Hardcore’s Rules. That’s Why It Can Break Them,” was the title of music critic Jon Carmanica’s column, a dual title review which included an EP by Florida-based SoundCloud rapper Ronny J. “What’s most striking about some of the bands that have found broad success in and out of the [hardcore] scene in recent years is their flexibility,” Carmanica writes, later commenting on heavy music’s contemporary migration into hip-hop. “Almost no band is more effective at this tightrope walk than Turnstile.” It’s a narrative that Yates is all too familiar with—one he certainly embraces. But if I’ve learned anything about him and his counterparts over the course of our phone call, it’s that the labels never stick for long. “It’s about being able to be yourself, express yourself, or challenge certain things that are set in place,” Yates affirms. “Because what hardcore is about, to me, is the ability to be free."