There’s nothing like rock. While polygamy and inbreeding might be illegal in the lower 48, pop music has been doing it for years, and lately it seems like there’s been a baby boom.
Blur’s Damon Albarn has Gorillaz; Death Cab For Cutie has Ben Gibbard’s Postal Service; Weezer spawned The Special Goodness, The Space Twins and The Rentals.
It’s not the material that confuses me. It’s the terminology. Since the Pixies have been in the same room again, suddenly the Breeders (Kim Deal’s project of some-10 years, post-dating the Pixies by at least four or five years) aren’t a band any more, they’re a “side project.”
Is there anything so taboo about calling side projects what they really are: Another band?
“Hold up there!” I can hear the indie kids screaming. “You detract from the inherent purity of their alma-mater bands!”
My favorite take is that if somebody actually acknowledges these so-called “side projects” as a viable new move for the artist at the helm, it might break up the existing band, and let’s face it, nobody wants to be Yoko. As long as we keep telling them it’s just a side project, everything will be fine. It’s just a mistress, baby! I didn’t love her like you. She was only a side project!
I have two and a half words for you: Slash’s Snakepit. That’s right, Slash, I’m blaming it all on you.
Let me back up.
After the Beatles broke up, everybody went the way of their own solo career and it was good. John transcended to god status; Paul made truckloads of money. Even Ringo got some play.
But George seemed discontent. Sure, he had been a Beatle, and he had his eyes on you, but what now?
And so was birthed the supergroup. Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty all got together and proved that popularity can apparently be multiplied.
It’s at this point that I like to fancy Guns ‘n Roses sitting around someplace in the early ’90s completely wasted. Slash would have been listening to a Traveling Wilburys album and mumbling out “supergroup” so that it came out a mix of consonants (“si-prjp”) to which Axl, I can only assume, replied, “What’s a side project?”
And there you have Slash’s Snakepit, the first semi-viable side project in history. A reverse supergroup, if you will. Instead of putting five huge individuals in one group, it put one fifth of a rocking group with four random musicians. In all fairness, that’s really what the Snakepit was: a half-assed guitar-pyrotechnic display, allowing the Roses’ faithful to get a dose of what was really going on in the head of their favorite top-hat-wearin’ virtuoso.
The inherent charm of the side project has always been getting a dose of something that’s just not possible with the other band. It’s an artist stating, “I would do this with my other band if I could, but they just won’t let me!” Only lately it doesn’t seem like that any more.
Everybody and their mother is part of a side project. The Faint has Broken Spindles, Rilo Kiley has The Elected. Hell, even Holopaw has a side project. When you get this far down the ladder of popularity, all the side-project label does is declare that the band isn’t as good as its parent, which is certainly not always the case.
In the end, all the side-project label has become is a way to give a band an easily recognizable dog tag. Instead of looking at four separate bands and saying “It’s the guy from Blur and a whole bunch of other random people,” it is much easier to say, “It’s Damon Albarn’s side project,” and just hope nobody wants any more explaining. Instant hipster cred.
It may just be that I’m getting a little confused lately. It no longer seems adequate to say so-and-so is a band I like, and then follow up with, “because they rock hardcore.” It’s always somebody’s side project. More often than not I end up tracing from one to the other and then getting confused, blank stares and the somewhat dismissive “I don’t know who that one is either.” Sometimes it’s confusing which band was the original and which was the side project. Which one is the chicken and which one is the egg? I forget.
Slash, why couldn’t you have just called it your other band?