Turnstile bassist Franz Lyons returns home to a changing Columbus

The musician, who was born and raised on the North Side, will join the Baltimore hardcore crew in concert at Express Live on Wednesday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Franz Lyons, center, flanked by his Turnstile bandmates

Reached on the road for an early October interview, Turnstile bassist Franz Lyons projected an almost Matthew McConaughey level of chill, saying: “I’m chilling so unbelievably hard right now”; “The people on this trip are very cool, no stress”; “We’re always just chilling and kicking around ideas.”

Onstage, however, Lyons and his Turnstile bandmates — singer Brendan Yates, drummer Daniel Fang and guitarists Brady Ebert and Pat McCrory — immediately shed this laid-back facade, the musicians ping-ponging like a mass of electrons as they thrash through short, eclectic, high-energy hardcore bangers like those populating the Baltimore group’s excellent new album, Glow On (Roadrunner).

Recorded in isolation on a farm 40 miles east of Nashville with producer Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Twenty One Pilots), the album finds the Baltimore five-piece continuing to evolve, transforming its sound into something crisper, catchier and altogether more massive — a euphoric blast that refuses to fit neatly within the hardcore genre (witness the sedate, slowly enveloping “Alien Love Call,” co-written with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange).

“Sometimes you go too far, but you gotta try things outside of your comfort zone just to see if it feels right,” said Lyons, who was born and raised on the North Side of Columbus and came of age going to shows at now-defunct venues like Bernie’s (the musician will make a homecoming this week when he joins his bandmates in concert at Express Live on Wednesday, Oct. 13, alongside $uicideboy$, Chief Keef and others). “And we’ve just been on the same wave lately of what’s feeling good musically.”

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The chaos captured on Glow On songs such as “Blackout,” a riff-driven howler, and “Endless,” a short-burning punk fuse that clocks in at just a breath under two minutes, mirror the sense of confusion that met the band at the end of its 2020 tour, which concluded in March in London at the same moment that COVID-driven lockdowns were starting to unfold globally. “Everyone was trying to get back [home] because no one knew what was going down,” said Lyons, who flew back to Baltimore with his bandmates just ahead of a travel ban. “The last show, it seemed like some people knew a bigger thing was happening. … There was all kinds of information happening at one time.”

After sequestering at home for a handful of weeks, the bandmates started to work almost immediately on a new album, taking advantage of the additional time and space afforded them by the concert shutdown. At the same time, the musicians did their best to remain cocooned, to a degree, not wanting the darkness of the moment to become irrevocably tied to the new songs, which manage to crackle like fireworks against the long night of the last year. “I want to trust! Less loneliness! A little charm! A constant rush!” Yates howls on “TLC (Turnstile Love Connection),” sounding like a man determined to blast the bad vibes away through sheer force of will.

“You try to be aware, and around that time in America there was a lot that went on,” Lyons said, recalling both the spread of the coronavirus as well as the social justice protests that sprung up in May 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. “I think we were trying to not be out of touch, but also to respect the beat and work on what we were working on at the time. Even from the beginning, just when the stencil was on the ground, [the songs] felt good already.”

Lyons, who got his start in music playing drums in the church band as a child, said he still returns to Columbus regularly to visit family, though he acknowledged the city has changed from the days when he used to frequent punk shows along the stretch of High Street running through campus.

“As far as those [lost] spaces, it’s a situation where you need to know that you’re lucky to be here for now,” Lyons said. “There was no way the Arts District was going to remain the Arts District once Anthropologie [settled in]. … And there’s new spots, for sure. They just get pushed a little further out. It all wasn’t supposed to be there forever.”