A lot of the time in the music industry, bands are born from the creative fire in one mind that desires support in realising their full potential; this most commonly, but not exclusively, comes in the form of a talented frontman singer/songwriter who needs the backing of a band to be able to play live and produce records, and would prefer not to use session musicians.
But what happens when such an artist begins to feel trapped in the very group that they created, and feels they cannot express their musical vision under that label? Solo projects.
My question is, are these solo projects a good idea while still trying to play in the band - do they offer an artistic release that gives their audience something new, or do they just distract and detract from their previous project?
To answer this, I will show several examples of such solo projects and evaluate their impact. There are several good examples over the past year alone that show musicians balancing a successful solo project alongside their band.
Serge Pizzorno, vocalist/guitarist of Kasabian
As the primary songwriter and creative force behind rock giants Kasabian, you wouldn’t have thought that Serge would have any reason for a solo project. However, after listening to the direction he took with his LP ‘THE S.L.P.’ earlier this year, it is clear why - the record explores a variety of genres with dancefloor epics, hip-hop bangers, acid rock, and classic disco.
If this release were to be put out under the Kasabian name, I’m sure a wave of confusion would follow and fans would anger that the band had gone against their roots. As a side project, however, the album is allowed to grow its own fanbase and succeed on its own without detracting from the sound Kasabian is known and loved for. It’s a blessing that it did, as this stylish record is a journey through sound that is a thrill to explore.
Love, Fame, Tragedy
Matthew “Murph” Murphy, singer/guitarist of the Wombats
Again, a frontman of a generation-defining band has found that exploring a different creative path would work better under a separate identity. Murph’s voice is the defining characteristic of all Wombats’ releases, and I believe certain tracks like ‘My Cheating Heart’ could actually have been put out under the band’s name without causing too much disruption to the fanbase or direction.
That being said, other songs on EP ‘I Don’t Want To Play The Victim, But I’m Really Good At It’ rely heavily on loops and synths that create a soundscape that contrasts with even the more recent Wombats music. If the voice wasn’t recognisable, ‘Pills’ could be easily confused with a new indie-pop artist rather than a band that has been in the spotlight for a decade
Justin Young and Timothy Lanham, vocalist/guitarist and keyboardist of The Vaccines
This third project has yet to kick-off, with only 2 singles from an upcoming record having been released so far, and not having attracted too much attention on streaming platforms just yet. ‘Ur Kinda Man’ displays a more chilled, acoustic style of music than is usually found throughout The Vaccines’ discography (although not without exceptions).
Justin Young himself has said, “being able to write and record a record that nobody expects is an incredibly empowering and exciting process, free from the fog of ambition or fear.” This really expresses the need for these side projects - even if the music here were not to be picked up by the band’s fans or a new audience, it gives the artists a creative outlet to push their love of songwriting.
As is probably apparent, I believe that solo projects are a great idea, as long as the artists don't upset their fans by ditching the bands completely. The idea certainly provides some risks, but provides artists with a break from other band members, opportunities to create music in different genres to what they’re used to. A long-term commitment isn’t necessarily required, meaning potential failure would not be disastrous, but the three I have described here are certainly far from failure in any regard and I highly recommend checking them out.