What's your favourite musical side-project?

20:57, Feb 18 2013

For the purposes of this post I'm going to define side-project as being anything where a musician of note, someone who has made their name already, releases material under another name/collaborates with a third-party. To me side-project suggests activity taking place while the main career (be it band or solo artist) is still happening, though possibly on hiatus. The clue is in the name, side-project, a project on the side - not the main dish. It helps that that is the definition. But I just wanted to make it clear.

So, Wings was not a Paul McCartney side-project (much as you may wish that to be the case). It was - if I don't quote it someone in the comments will - "the band the Beatles could have been!" Wings were not happening when The Beatles were - hence not a side-project. Right? Clear as mud.

Sometimes the side-project eclipses the main gig - and since Wikipedia mentions the solo albums by the members of Kiss in the Wiki entry about side projects I have to say that the album Ace Frehley by Ace Frehley is my favourite Kiss album/Kiss-related album; I think it eclipses anything (else) by the band. But I'm not a Kiss fan, as you already know. That's why I was all the more surprised to be really digging the Ace Frehley album.

But, more likely, the side-project was something you didn't ask for, didn't need and wish never happened. Revisionism can tell you that Dee Dee Ramone going hip-hop was a good thing, for instance. Quirky, fun. But - it was not.

Some side-projects aren't all that different from the main act - but still show a different side/different strength; some new colours are sprayed about...

I got to thinking about this because last night I tried out the NPR First Listen link to hear the new Thurston Moore band/project, Chelsea Light Moving. I'm counting this as a side-project because - at this stage - the word on Sonic Youth is hiatus rather than terminal illness; Moore and Kim Gordon have ended their relationship, but they could well go on to become the John  and Christine McVie of indie-rock.


Moore has of course been involved in loads of side-projects; Sonic Youth even has/had its own side-project of sorts, with the SYR experimental releases (on the band's own label) slotting in and around the song-based/major label releases. Moore has released solo albums too - everything from free-improv to acoustic ballads.

But his new group, Chelsea Light Moving, feels very similar in many ways to aspects of Sonic Youth - his guitar and voice do similar tricks - but it's a better record than anything Sonic Youth served up in the last decade. And I say that as a card-carrying fan, someone who has bought every Sonic Youth album, revelled in shoddy-sounding bootlegs too, been to the gigs, bought the T-shirts...

So with Chelsea Light Moving pouring through the headphones, my first thought regarding successful side-projects was J Mascis's band Heavy Blanket (click here for my review of the self-titled album). As with Thurston's Sonic Youth/Chelsea Light Moving you can recognise that the playing on Heavy Blanket comes from the man behind Dinosaur Jr - even if there are no words on the Heavy Blanket album. Mascis has a distinctive voice as a guitarist (every bit as much as Mascis the vocalist). But Heavy Blanket was a splatter-paint series of metal guitar solos, a teenager sulking in his room with a guitar and amp. I can totally see how this instrumental-Blue Cheer would not appeal to some Dinosaur Jr fans but I loved it. And I think it's all the more impressive as a side-project given Dinosaur Jr released an excellent album last year, continuing, as I said, on a path of actually getting better with each post-reunion record.

Some bands manage to run concurrent side-projects. XTC was also The Dukes of Stratosphear and Yo La Tengo has also been The Condo F**ks - in both cases it was about a slight stylistic deviation/another side to the musical personality, covers, tributes to pop from another era, a way of stepping out from the main name; another way to engage the cult fan-base.

Certainly Chips from the Chocolate Fireball was as important to me as any XTC album - in the time when I was discovering both bands. I love that collection.

And way back when I was a Lenny Kravitz fan - I haven't cared about him in the longest time but those first four albums were a big part of my life at the right time - I also considered the self-titled Vanessa Paradis album a great side-project, in that Lenny Kravitz, dating Paradis at the time, wrote, recorded and performed every instrument on the album; a gift to her. There was a cover of The Velvet Underground's Waiting for My Man (which Lenny played on) and the rest of the record was all Kravitz, Paradis providing the lead vocals.

It was a missing piece of the puzzle, if you like.

So what are some of your favourite side-projects? And is there anyone you consider the king or queen of side-projects? Mike Patton perhaps? Or, ugh, Jack White? I think Dan Auerbach is doing pretty well though...but don't say Dave Grohl. Because we all know he's been in one good group. And that was as a hired hand.

And do you have examples of liking the side-project more than the main act? Any Heavy Blanket fans who don't dig Dinosaur Jr? Any Dukes of Stratosphear fans not really interested in XTC?

And have you heard the new Thurston Moore band? Are you interested in checking it out? It sounds a lot like Sonic Youth - in places, and though I'm a Sonic Youth fan I get the feeling that, much as with Moore's solo albums (the song-based ones, anyway) you might get on board with it even if you're not the biggest Sonic Youth fan.

So what are your favourite side-projects? Or have you been let down by a side-project? Did you go scurrying back to the main act as a result? 

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