Growing up, the future members of Maryland hardcore band Turnstile found that in the punk scene, you got back what you put in. Drummer Daniel Fang remembers when he was about 16, hopping a Chinatown bus from D.C. to Philadelphia for a hardcore festival. "I might have kinda fibbed and told my parents I'd be cool with a place to stay," he says — but he had faith. After getting punched in the face in the pit, he was cleaning off blood in the bathroom when he ran into some kids he knew from shows back home.
"We just hung out for the rest of the night, and I ended up sleeping in the hallway of their hotel room," he says. "Sounds kinda miserable, I guess, for most anyone, but it was a magical experience for me." A few hundred miles west in Columbus, Ohio, Franz Lyons was also enjoying a feeling of freedom and acceptance in his local scene — one that blended genres and styles. Some nights he'd go to Legion of Doom, a punk house on the local college's main drag.
"Any kinda punk would play there," the Turnstile bass player says. "Crust bands, thrash bands, grime bands — no matter how big or small." He would also frequent the rap night at Bernie's, a nearby bar. "It was like the only place also on the main street of campus that would do rap and punk shows," he says. That's when he realized he didn't necessarily want to choose one or the other. "You can exist however you want, don't gotta look a certain way to come to either of these nights. That's what made me be like, early on, if I can be at both places here, I should be able to be myself in anyplace, anywhere."
Bringing people together and making them feel at peace with themselves and each other is an integral part of Turnstile's mission. When they played in Berlin, there was a group of Syrian refugees standing in the back, and singer Brendan Yates invited them onstage. They started doing stage dives, dancing with the band. "Brendan was riding on the back of one dude's shoulders at one point during the show," says Lyons. "All they heard was the music."
Turnstile has long been an excuse for the group of best friends — Yates, Lyons, Fang and guitarist Brady Ebert — to spend time on the road getting to learn about new scenes and new cultures. They've put out plenty of music; since 2010, they've released five EPs and two albums, including their latest offering, Time & Space. But they have mostly become known for their frenetic shows — outpourings that come in equal parts positivity, unity and stage dives — and their focus on defying traditional boundaries. The band members all play in other hardcore groups (Yates drums in Trapped Under Ice; Fang is in Angel Du$t, among others), but Turnstile have a different, more expansive direction.
They're not afraid to push the sonic limits of the genre: Time & Space sounds at times more like 311 or Rage Against the Machine then it does, say, Madball, and it features one song with guest vocals by Tina Halladay, of Philadelphia power-pop outfit Sheer Mag, and another produced by EDM megastar Diplo, who is a fan. They're not afraid to buck the hardcore uniform showing up in Carhartt overalls, floral-print pants or designer denim overcoats. For Turnstile, individuality is just as important as their Youth Crew mentality. "It's not as much about taking over the world," Yates says of the band's vision, "as it is to create a world that you can feel good in."
Turnstile came together as a casual collaboration between Ebert and Yates, who had been friends since elementary school. "He was, like, seven — super young," says Yates, who was himself about 10 when they met. Yates would skateboard around their neighborhood in Burtonsville, Maryland, with a couple other friends, and at some point they realized this younger kid might actually be pretty cool. "We found out that he played guitar, and was into the Virus and Rancid and stuff like that," he says. "And he was already doing solos. We were just like, this guy is awesome." They played in bands throughout high school, stayed friends after Yates moved to Baltimore to go to Towson University, and still talked regularly after he dropped out to go on the road fulltime as the drummer for Trapped Under Ice, whose popularity was exploding and who were booking nearly nonstop tours.
While home during a break in late 2010, Ebert asked Yates if he'd like to get together and work on a set of songs he'd been writing. They started jamming, and soon recorded a demo in their friend's basement studio. "Early on, the biggest influences were very groovy and slightly melodic New York hardcore," Yates recalls. "That was kinda like the initial goal."
Eventually they decided to play some shows, meaning they would need to get a band together. "I was like, let me get the people that I wanna create stuff with and be around the most out of anyone," says Yates. Back at Towson, he had become friends with Fang, a skilled drummer who would play in as many as seven bands at a time. He also asked Lyons, the merch guy for Trapped Under Ice and one of his best friends, if he'd like to play bass.
Lyons didn't know how — he usually played drums — but was down to try, borrowing an instrument from Trapped Under Ice's Jerad Carmen and hammering out each song till he got the hang of it. (They invited their Burtonsville friend Sean Cullen to join on rhythm guitar; he left in 2015 and was later replaced by McCrory, another Towson alum and member of Angel Du$t.) In 2013, the members of TUI decided it was the right time to take a breather. "Everyone just had different projects, like, as soon as Trapped Under Ice slowed down, everything else started being able to fill our time," says Yates. Finally, Turnstile was given the space to take off.
In 2015, Turnstile released their first LP, Nonstop Feeling, on Reaper Records, a label run out of their friend's house in Syracuse, New York. Roadrunner had approached them in 2014 to discuss a possible deal, but they decided to wait, get to know the people working there and what they could offer.
After a couple years of major-label courting, they decided to sign in 2016. To get started on their follow-up, Turnstile's new label paired them with influential producer Will Yip, and told them they were going to have six weeks to complete the record — a lifetime compared to what they were used to.
"When we were 18 or 19, we'd record a full-length record in, like, three days," says Fang. "[We'd] do drums and bass guitar the first day, then all guitars the second day or something like that." Now, they had time to work through songs in more meaningful ways. "Every time I've ever gone to record a record for really any band, it's mostly been go in, [play] the songs, and just press record," says Yates.
Instead, he was able to arrive with some disjointed ideas, working through them with Yip and the rest of the band. "There was this ambiguity of how things were gonna take shape," adds Fang. "But I know that Will was excited about that. He wanted to be able to build songs in the studio, and he wanted to work with the band. Effectively he was the sixth member of Turnstile." The group brought in other collaborators, too. Tina Halladay, a friend of the band and singer of garage-rockers Sheer Mag stopped by the studio for an evening, adding her wailing backing vocals to the track "Moon." ("I'm a big Sheer Mag fan, so it's always cool to do something with someone that you're a fan of," Yates enthuses.) But by far the biggest departure from their usual associates was Diplo. They'd been fans of his work with EDM hit-makers Major Lazer for a while, even exchanging some internet praise, and when it came time to lay down their pop-punk- infused banger "Right to Be," the band reached out.
"We wanted some kind of electronic synth laser sound, and we just hit him up and he was totally excited to do it," says Yates. Were they wary of working with people so far outside their usual wheelhouse? "Put a soul singer or a maraca or a tambourine on," Lyons says. "I feel like we're not setting any parameters on what can happen with our music."
When it comes to how they look, Turnstile also aren't afraid of pushing the boundaries of traditional hardcore — especially Lyons, who has been known to moonlight as a model. (Their fans love it; a limited-edition Turnstile collaboration with Carhartt sold out in two days.) This freedom, Lyons says, is a direct result of a different love the band shares. "It's all intertwined with skateboarding," says Lyons. "Streetwear, street culture, city culture. You really can see how everything is tied together, running through each other."
Fang sees the ability to dress however they want as integral to their independent message. "I think it's important to not establish what sounds you need to be listening to, what the clothes you need to be wearing are, how you need to behave at a show," he says. "To know that everyone can make their own choices here, everyone can choose to be respectful, everyone can choose to just lose themselves and to sing along and to dance. But it's not like anywhere else because this intimacy and this courtesy between people is really hard to find anywhere else in life, so we try to promote that, we try to cultivate that." If acceptance is what drives the group, it's even more pronounced internally. Including new guitarist Pat McCrory and longtime merch guy Brandon Martinez, three of the six are straight edge — a fact that could create tension in some bands, but seems to just advance
Turnstile's mission of individual choices over group-think. "Wherever we go, there are always opportunities to hit a town after the show, get into something crazy," says Fang. "But usually half of us wanna go back and watch a movie and relax and get some good food. So there's independence for the people who wanna go chill, and independence for the people that wanna go out and maybe even meet up with us the next day in the next city. Everyone's very independent, [but] everyone's extremely respectful of each other."
Though respect and tolerance are central tenets of the band, learning to be inclusive has, at times, been a struggle. A few years ago, Lyons decided to record a mixtape under his rap alter ego Freaky Franz. "I had an obsession with electro music and Ableton [digital production software], and friends at home that were good at producing rap music," he says. The result, The Freaky Tales, was a place for Lyons to express himself.
But with songs like "Brown Bag" (an ode to picking up a girl from a party as one would takeout) it was also a time capsule of his adolescent mindset — one he doesn't necessarily look back on fondly. "I'm not excusing it, but it's like — I love Master P and I love Trick Daddy and I love Too Short. I mean, it's not acceptable ... but that's the context of it." It's made him think twice about releasing his follow-up, Tour de Franz, a completed mixtape he's been sitting on for almost three years. "I think it's probably my favorite thing I ever wrote," he says. "[But] in this climate I don't think the content of this new record is conducive to what's going on. I feel like that was just the persona of Freaky. I think that I was trying to write a record for Freaky, and really I should have been writing a record for whoever's at dinner, you know?" Yates, for his part, has similar feelings when it comes to some of his past work in Turnstile.
"There's always been an evolution of certain things that we kinda realize are appropriate, or how they may come off," says Yates. "Before you realize you have attention, I think you're a little less conscious of how you're putting yourself out there. As the moment comes where you realize you have an influence on people, naturally you adjust accordingly. Making sure that even if it is an abstract thing, that any way it could be perceived is not something that you don't wanna be associated with."He points to "Death Grip," a song off their 2011 EP Pressure to Succeed, as something he might reconsider if he were to write it today. "I don't need you," he sings on the track. "Can't let it all fall apart/Another girl to tear apart a man's heart."
"I think writing the song at age 18, the point of view I'm writing from, I feel hurt about getting my heart broken or something like that," he says now. "I think naturally a song like that, if it's not treated in a delicate way, it could come off as, 'This is hateful towards women in general.' I think a couple years after that, I kinda started to realize like, 'Hey, is this something that I truly put enough work into to make sure that I was getting it across?' And I don't think I did."
As the band prepares to release their new album and embark on an Australian tour, they're excited to keep bringing new music to kids who are hungry for that outlet. "I find it very important to empower every person," says Yates. "And making people feel empowered as individuals and putting the focus on individuality, and expressing yourself. I think that's where that ties in with making sure that what you're doing is interpreted the best way — [it's] bringing forth the best projection onto the world."