The nerves bassist “Freaky” Franz Lyons felt during Turnstile’s first show are now long gone. The gig took place downtown in their hometown of Baltimore back in 2011. The band just a group of friends who wanted to translate their love and joy for music to a wider audience, for this first time, they played to only 40 people. It was the same bar shown in the HBO series “The Wire,” the one “where all the cops meet up and play pool,” frontman Brendan Yates describes.
“It was awesome,” Lyons says of the night. “You walk in off the street in downtown Baltimore and down a staircase, and you’re just in this small rectangle room.”
The show took place more than 12 years ago, the whirlwind success they’ve since experienced is a fraction of a dream they never thought they’d achieve. Back then, the members of Turnstile looked up to local Baltimore hardcore acts and bigger bands like Metallica and Nirvana. They had no experience. They just wanted to get out and play.
“I knew I wanted to have fun with my friends, but I didn’t understand what articulating that in a live form was like, so it just pushed me in the water and I tried to swim,” Lyons says. “It was just so fun and moist, everybody was so close. I remember after that being like, ‘Oh, I want to do that again.’”
Now, they’ve not only found their footing in their live performances, but perfected them. Turnstile is in the midst of a perfect storm. Their third album, Glow On, has garnered them three Grammy nominations – best rock performance for “Holiday” and best rock song and best metal performance for “Blackout.”
The size of their rooms have doubled each time they return to play near Baltimore. And, as guitarist Pat McCrory tells Pollstar, bigger stages means more room for antics.
No longer are they just a group of friends onstage. They’re a well-oiled machine. On May 26 and 29, the band played two shows at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., selling out the venue both nights and grossing $60,000. On Oct. 9, they returned to the city with Snail Mail and JPEGMafia, bumping up to The Anthem so they could hold 6,000 fans. That gig also sold out, grossing $280,600. Within five months, they more than quadrupled their gross.
The success of Glow On isn’t the only reason for Turnstile being on fire recently. This summer, they joined My Chemical Romance on the band’s reunion tour, and next summer the guys will open for blink-182 on another highly-anticipated reunion. They’ve caught the ear of some of the biggest rock bands from the past 20 years, and their energetic shows are like no other.
While this year has seen Tunstile reach insane heights and their big break into a wider audience, the team attributes their ability to maintain and handle it all to the fact that they’ve been at it for 12 years.
“There’s a lot of bands that are respected in their own right, in their own genre, but a lot of them don’t break through to the mainstream,” Live Nation’s Kelly Kapp, VP of Touring and Executive VP of House of Blues Entertainment Talent, says of working with Turnstile. “Seeing a band that you’ve respected for over a decade and all of a sudden your 1-year-old is bouncing along to their music and then you get in the car with your mom, and your mom is singing along to the music, it almost makes you a little teary-eyed. “Whether you’re into hip-hop, whether you’re into hardcore, whether you’re into rock, whether you’re into pop – the fact that the band is being embraced by such a wide demographic is just astonishing and so well-deserved.”
This year Turnstile has played prominent venues including Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, the Brooklyn Mirage and Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, with all three shows’ presales selling out almost immediately.
“Touring’s been very long, but very rewarding,” McCrory says. “Like a lot of touring at the beginning, this record was a shot in the dark. You just didn’t know how the world would be coming out of the pandemic. A lot of venues were like, well, we don’t even know if people want to come to shows again. So having those first few shows sell out just right off the jump, then keep being able to shoot up and up is really rewarding.”
The numbers, and their team, prove that Turnstile is now an true pro in the live business. Their genre-bending style sees them finding fans not just in hardcore and rock, but also in rap, pop, and everything in between.
Wasserman agent Fred Zahedinia found Turnstile through other artists he represented. “I had three or four clients who were like, ‘I want to take out this band,’’’ Zahedinia says. “And they weren’t rock bands, they were rappers. They were all over the place.”
Turnstile’s wide appeal is thanks in part to how their music offers a mixture of hardcore, metal and punk rock. They’ve opened doors to other hardcore bands by introducing a new generation to the genre and their energetic shows. As Turnstile wrapped up their latest tour, a video posted to their Instagram account showed younger fans gushing that Turnstile not only introduced them to hardcore, but “got me into live music.”
“They’ve perfected a sound that’s primarily underground, and they’ve made their own version of it that’s easier to digest for a mass audience. It’s something most people don’t ever see,” the band’s manager, James Vitalo of Gold Theory artist management, says.
Their team describes the members of Turnstile as some of the most genuine and authentic people they’ve met – an important distinction for a band that’s come up in DIY scenes. Much like two of their early influences, Metallica and Nirvana, they’ve found mainstream success without selling out.
Vitalo states Turnstile is “his life.” He first met drummer Daniel Fang in a basement in D.C., and he and Lyons met in a garage in Ohio. The band remains some of his closest friends, and this year’s wins leave him simultaneously unsurprised and speechless. The self-proclaimed “mad scientist” has also had an incredibly hectic year, reeling alongside Turnstile over their three Grammy nominations that don’t yet feel real.
“On the one hand, you could say for a band from this world, we’ve made it,” Vitalo says. “Then, at the same time, you could say we’re just getting started. I think it really comes down to keeping the band healthy, which is the number one priority. Keeping them creative and keeping them inspired. We never make decisions based on money, we only make decisions on stuff we’re super passionate about.”
By eschewing the cash grabs, Turnstiles’ success came slow and steady. Every aspect of their live shows is carefully curated, not only from the venues and bands they play with, but also in their merchandise and how long the wait in line should be so fans can focus more on letting loose on the dance floor and joining in on mosh pits.
“You get that feeling from them on stage, like there’s nothing contrived or fabricated about what you’re doing,” Jennifer Yacoubian, Vice President, Booking & Strategy at Goldenvoice, says. “That’s why I think it’s twofold, so awesome to see the success they’re having. It’s very genuine. It’s very intentional and they’re doing everything for the right reasons.”
Every aspect of the band – from their songs to their performances, their merchandise, their Instagram account, having all their photos shot on film – carries intent behind it. Vitalo, Zahedinia and the band itself curate each aspect to not just be the bridge that introduces a new generation to hardcore music, but to leave them with lasting memories both physically and spiritually after they walk out the door following a set.
There are two shows in the past year that Vitalo believes were major turning points for the band. Turnstile’s May 6 show at Stubb’s, which grossed $67,850, sold out almost immediately more than six months out. Helmed by C3’s Huston Powell, the show sold 2,300 tickets to fans who were desperate to get in and enjoy the electricity Turnstile brings to the stage.
“Every single person that’s there feels glad to be there and has been waiting for it for months,” Powell says. “The energy level was off the chain. It was rowdy, but in a very positive way. And it was just an unbelievable show. Unbelievable.”
Then, their performance at the inaugural This Ain’t No Picnic festival promoted by Goldenvoice also saw one of the band’s best performances of their career thus far. Both Vitalo and Yacoubian are still in disbelief from that night, continuously reliving the set in their minds. Turnstile went on stage before another Baltimore band they’ve always admired: Beach House.
“Even though you would think sonically those two sounds don’t overlap so much, Turnstile has done such an incredible job of being like, ‘Yeah, actually we overlap with everything.’ I truly feel all of L.A. felt that set,” Yacoubian says. “And that night, it was awesome to be a part of it. Everybody was just on cloud 9.”
Zahedinia keeps going back to the night Turnstile played the Brooklyn Mirage. The Bushwick venue typically hosts more dance acts and DJ sets, but Turnstile’s electricity appeared a perfect match. That weekend in early October saw the remnants of Hurricane Ian make its way to New York City, winds and pouring rain covering the stage. It only made Turnstile’s set more magical. They nearly sold out with 99% capacity, grossing $219,166.
“There’s just so much energy going toward that venue,” Zahedinia says. “What if a band that rocks out plays something like that? It’s always been about breaking barriers with this band because the biggest mistake someone can do on the business side is just box artists into genres. The diversity of the crowd, the diversity of the taste of the kids in the crowd. Why pigeonhole these kids to be like, ‘Oh, we can only play whatever rock venue.’ They put together this really cool show. And it was raining, which I don’t think any of us were stoked [about]. But it just turned out to be so much more special. It was a moment where we tried to break down that wall of assumption of where a band should play. I think culturally, that was important.”
While nearly all the band’s shows since they’ve returned to the road have been blow-outs, the hometown shows stand at the top of the list of their all-time favorites. A show at Baltimore’s Clemson Park has been the biggest stand-out for the band itself. The night was Turnstile’s first time back to the stage after two years, the band a little nervous after so long off the road and away from crowds. Those soon slid away once they took the stage.
“It was the first time we were seeing so many people after two years,” Yates says. “The energy in the air was overwhelmingly exciting, I almost couldn’t even process it. It built up an explosion of people being in one place for the first time and us being able to play a show in the park.”
That night saw the band’s friends and family in the crowd. Turnstile was on the precipice of this new level of success while simultaneously celebrating a sort of homecoming. The band credits the Baltimore music scene for their ability to be so genre-fluid. The small city raised them in a blend of different worlds, “of different people doing different things,” Yates explains. Turnstile brings a bit of Baltimore to each record and each show.
Ever since their first show back post-COVID shutdown, Turnstile hasn’t slowed down. The success of their last album has only continued on their momentum. With its three Grammy nominations, Glow On has been having a hell of a year in and of itself. The band worked on the record while the world was shut down from the pandemic, and since its release and their multiple bouts on the road, it’s only grown. Fans haven’t been able to get enough of the album, Turnstile adding several legs to their tour and bumping up the size of their rooms due to the demand. As they wrap up their constant touring, Yates shares that he feels the tracks from the album have taken on a life of their own.
“You write a song and then touring is when you bring it to life,” Yates says. “The more you play, the more you tour, the songs can just take different shapes and you can become more comfortable in them and apply meaning to the different ways you can play it. So it’s cool to see the songs develop as you start playing them more and more in a live environment when you’ve actually interacted with people.”
Vitalo believes there isn’t a cap on the number of times he could see Turnstile and start feeling tired of it. Since Glow On was released, he’s seen them “not kidding you, 50 times.” Yates, Lyons, McCrory and Fang fly around onstage and dive into the crowd, turning themselves into modern-day “superheroes,” according to Vitalo. Over the 10-plus years he’s spent with the guys, he says they haven’t changed all that much. Instead, they’ve only evolved to further reach their full potential.
As Vitalo explains, “This is the stuff you hope for your whole life, and now we’re here.”