Artists’ solo and side projects
By Sarah McCarthy
In 2004, fans of No Doubt were devastated to learn that the band was going on hiatus and Gwen Stefani was pursuing a solo career. To add salt to fans’ wounds, Stefani did a complete 180 and ditched her rock/ska roots for a new electro-pop sound. Even if you thought this shit was bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S, admit it: Stefani always had that sparkle in her eye. You knew that she was going to make music on her own one day.
Stefani is clearly not the first or the last musician to break off from the band that made her a star. Musicians ranging from Peter Gabriel to Dr. Dre have taken this daring leap. It all comes down to one thing: It is simply easier to maintain a solo career than to deal with a group of three or four other divas. So how does one break away from the group with which they rose to fame? It takes a lot of work and luck to maintain fame without those who helped you get there.
Vince Neilstein, a writer for MetalSucks.net, explained why he believes artists feel obligated to branch out on their own. Neilstein said:
“When you’re in a big band there are all sorts of expectations heaped upon you by record labels, agents, managers, publicists and, most of all, fans, as to what your music should sound like. Deviate too far from the path and you risk losing your core. Naturally, artists don’t want to be pigeonholed this way, so side projects are a great way for them to explore other directions in music without having to live up to the pressure of the name of their main band.”
As if demands from labels and fans aren’t enough, musicians have to deal with other prima donna types in their own groups. Obnoxious band members are as old as time. Jim Morrison may be one of the most iconic rock figures, but his drug and alcohol abuse were a pain to deal with and his fellow bandmates often grew tired of his antics. Guns N’ Roses had obvious inner conflict as well, which resulted in the entire band splitting apart and Axl Rose releasing a subpar album in 2008 with entirely new band mates. Lou Reed was considered to be the most difficult member of The Velvet Underground, and eventually he broke away to have a fairly successful solo career.
Johnny Dee wrote a blog for The Guardian titled “The curse of the side project” in February 2009, questioning the motives of side projects. In his article he said:
“The bit on the side has become a tiresome trend among indie groups. Particularly as there are countless acts who seem to be forming part-time bands and releasing solo albums just to stave off the boredom until their more talented bandmates can be arsed to write some new material. Worse still, the more talented members of said band will probably be involved in side projects of their own.”
The key factor in breaking away from a band is never overestimating how well-liked and respected you are. Justin Timberlake was always the star of *NSYNC and didn’t waste any time legitimizing himself as a respected pop singer without his hokey bandmates. Fellow *NSYNC-er JC Chasez clearly felt differently about who the fans really loved. In 2004, he released a solo album that seemed like his attempt to prove his heterosexuality more than anything else–songs include: “Some Girls (Dance with Women)” and “Blowing Me Up (With Her Love)”. Unsurprisingly, the album flopped, and Chasez seems to have given up on music to pursue being a reality show judge.
Similarly, lead classy lady of The Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger, has been trying to break away from her group since 2005. After several unsuccessful singles in 2008, Scherzinger delayed her debut solo album. To be fair, Scherzinger does sing almost all of the Dolls’ lead and background vocals, but does anyone really care about her as an individual singer? No. She may be the hardest-working Doll, but fans and the media do not acknowledge this. Scherzinger is unaware that while The Pussycat Dolls may be an acceptable guilty pleasure, listening to one of their solo endeavors is really pushing it.
Neilstein agrees that most side projects are unsuccessful. “Most of the time they end up sucking, but that’s beside the point, and some side projects do end up being worthwhile,” he said. “Then when it’s time for another album for their main band, they can focus on making that great instead of trying to infuse other influences that they’ve now gotten out with their side project.”
The next step to a successful solo career is making music that is comparable to what they made as a group. Often musicians separate from their core group to experiment, and without the other people who contributed to the success of the original, the music is generally not of the same caliber as their original work. Some side projects like The Postal Service are huge successes that captured the attention of both Death Cab for Cutie fans and newcomers alike. Conversely, Noel Gallagher’s side project, Tailgunner, was an absolute failure without the assistance of his brother Liam and fellow Oasis band mates.
While side projects allow musicians to expand their horizons, musically, fans often argue that they serve as distractions to their main work. Listeners of critical darlings Arctic Monkeys feel that a third album could have been finished by now, if not for front man Alex Turner’s commitment to The Last Shadow Puppets.
Byard Duncan, drummer for popular local band The Rozatones, says almost every member of the band has other musical commitments and side projects. “There are inconveniences that have to do with other musical obligations, but I would never say that any of our side projects are interfering with The Rozatones,” Duncan said.
Despite the constant threat of an experimental side project or a spotlight-hungry lead singer, music fans should rest easy. The best solo acts break free from the chains of their less-talented comrades (Diana Ross didn’t need The Supremes), and the worst crawl back to their roots (Audioslave split in 2007 to reform Rage Against the Machine). Even Gwen Stefani, despite a successful solo career, is reuniting with her former No Doubt band mates this spring for a tour to the delight of its fans. Duncan doesn’t forsee a future where a side project tears The Rozatones apart:
“I’m cool with it; play as much music as you can. It would be disappointing if the side project became more important, but I don’t see that happening and if that’s what somebody wants, you can’t stop them. The Rozatones has always been on a volunteer basis because we all love doing it. I think it’s going to remain strong as long as all of us still love doing it.”
Projected Side Projects
I don’t even know if this guy can sing, but Pete Wentz is obviously the star of Fall Out Boy. He owns a clothing company, a popular NYC nightclub and a film production company. He now can boast being a tabloid regular after marrying Ashlee Simpson (post nose-job). Love him or hate him, one cannot ignore that he is a brilliant entrepreneur. It’s only a matter of time before he decides he doesn’t need his less-ambitious bandmates.
When All-American Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter isn’t busy writing lyrics straight out of his 8th grade diary, he is desperately trying to make a name for himself. Despite looking like a zombie and seemingly lacking talent in any capacity, he has managed to land a role in The House Bunny and a modeling spread in Glamour magazine. Give it a few years and Ritter will release a solo-album, sell 24 copies to some 12-year-old girls, and then crawl back to his band.
Sure, Coldplay may be one of the most famous bands in the world right now, but chances are you can’t name a single other member of the band. Chris Martin could easily have a successful solo career. While it might be most beneficial for him to stick around in Coldplay a few more years, if tensions stir between band members, Martin has an easy out. The fans will probably resent him for a while, but eventually they will get over it.
Sarah McCarthy is a sophomore journalism major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.