We skipped doing a Mundo list Friday because we’ve decided to move it to its new day – Wednesdays! It’s kind of like your favorite show being given mid-season swap in the TV schedule. Wednesdays just allows us to spread out some of our favorite features on The Revue and give them the spotlight. So, Mundo, welcome to your new day and time slot.
To mark this day, the Mundo list is fittingly dedicated to artists who have gone solo. These could have been individuals who sang backup to someone more popular, played one of the instruments in a band before embarking on a solo career, or was the lead singer of a band but for various reasons opted to go alone.
“You can go your own way.” “Breaking up is hard to do.”
The most common reason, though, is the break up of a band. It’s devastating for fans at first, but breakups can be brilliant career moves for musicians who seek the spotlight away from their former bandmates. Take The Beatles, The Police, and The Smiths. From them we saw brilliant solo careers by John, Paul, George, Sting, and Morrissey.
The breakup of these popular bands brought more autonomy to their lead singers than to the remaining members. The Police produced five albums in their nine-year career; Sting now has 11 albums since going solo in 1987. The Smiths released four albums before Morrissey departed to record 10 solo albums. Genesis spawned the success of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins in their solo careers while Eric Clapton found success after Cream. Jack White has found new life following The White Stripes, recording two highly critical albums not to mention producing several more. Michael Jackson separated from his four older brothers to become one of the most iconic musicians in history. And of course the newest and most famous vegan, Beyoncé, found super-stardom that she never achieved with Destiny’s Child.
But everyone knows these names. On this week’s Mundo list, we focus on other, less popular artists who have launched successful solo careers or who are just embarking on an independent journey. Now, not all of the below have decided to permanently be a solo artist, as some are just side projects.
Annie Clark – a.k.a. St. Vincent
Annie Clark, one of the many, many incredibly successful musicians to drop out of Berklee College of Music, began her pro career touring with The Polyphonic Spree. She played a little bit in Glenn Branca’s 100 Guitar Orchestra and then hit the road with Sufjan Stevens‘ band. Finally, in 2007, Beggars Banquet released Clark’s first solo album, Marry Me, under the nom-de-tune St. Vincent. It was a collection of songs that had been percolating during her half-decade of being a backup musician. Several accomplished musicians rounded out the recordings, and since St. Vincent has become one of the brightest stars in music. I would list all the amazing collaborations (David Byrne) and awards (Grammys, no big deal), but there are so many you should just Google her.
Before Björk was known for her experimental music and colorful and strange wardrobe, she was part of Icelandinc alt-rock band The Sugarcubes. And while The Sugarcubes released the memorable “Birthday”, Björk didn’t truly reach elite status until she broke away and started her solo career in 1993. Since then, Björk has released countless critically acclaimed and best selling records, defying classification and pushing creative boundaries.
J. Tillman – a.k.a. Father John Misty
Phil Collins isn’t the only drummer-turned-solo artist to achieve success. Joshua Tillman (or J. Tillman, as his initial solo projects called him), also known as Father John Misty, once was the drummer for the popular dream-folk band Fleet Foxes before opting to go solo. While there are similarities in the sound, lyrically, there’s no comparison. Where Fleet Foxes painted Monet-esque landscapes, Tillman is the Salvador Dali of music with his honest, often vivid, and humorous songwriting. Through two highly successful and critically acclaimed album as FJM, including this year’s I Love You, Honeybear, Tillman has become one of indie music’s preeminent artists.
Back in 2001, Jason Isbell joined the then-fledgling Drive-by Truckers. For six years, the band would put out some of the best southern-rock albums of the time, including the epic Southern Rock Opera and the blazing Decoration Day. In 2007, Isbell left the band to pursue his own solo career, and the announcement caught everyone by surprise. For the first few years as a solo artist, Isbell’s popularity didn’t immediately take off with his following limited mostly to DBT fans. 2013 represented a breakthrough of sorts with Southeastern being acknowledged as one of the best albums of the year and Isbell getting prime slots at festivals. His songwriting has always been his greatest asset, telling stories of ordinary people overcoming difficult times. If people haven’t heard of Isbell, they’ll have another opportunity with Something More Than Free expected next month.
We’ve obviously been huge fans of Mikal Cronin. For several years, he was known for his work as part of Ty Segall’s band and collaborating with Segall as part of Reverse Shark Attack. In 2011, he released his eponymous debut solo album, and he followed that up with the spectacular MCII in 2013 and the riveting MCIII this year. The solo albums have enabled Segall to not only demonstrate his fine songwriting talents, but they’ve provided him with the outlet to showcase his multi-instrumental talents not to mention to be recognized as one of indie music’s rising stars.
Again with the Berklee dropouts! Natalie Prass spent a year there before transferring to Middle Tennessee State and beginning her rise to the bomb-dom. Like many sidepeople-turned soloists, Prass started writing and recording solo material before her first big opportunity to join a band came. Natalie Prass toured with Jenny Lewis’s band as recently as 2014, but after releasing her eponymous debut album on her friend Matthew E. White‘s Spacebomb records to widespread acclaim in January 2015, it looks like she’ll be forced to stick to her solo gig. Prass’ brilliant debut struck accords with many, including rapper Danny Brown.
Neko Case began her musical life as the drummer in several Vancouver-area punk bands during her time in art school there. After graduating and returning to the USA, Case squeaked in a recording session where she sang a few vocals on The New Pornographer’s Mass Romantic. Case’s first solo album, The Virginian, actually came out in 1997 before she ever recorded with The New Pornographers. Neko Case is a legend. To recap: she started as a punk drummer, began her solo alt-country career, found some time to record a mega-successful, indie-power-pop record with an incredible Canadian supergroup, and then moved back to Washington State. Since then, she’s released 8 solo albums and continues to contribute to The New Pornographers releases.
Nick Cave was the vocalist for the band The Birthday Party, which formed in the mid-1970’s and generated a cult following through the late 70’s and early 80’s. After The Birthday Party broke up in 1984, Cave started his own creative outlet under his own name, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Over the last 30 years, Cave has become one of the most influential and powerful songwriters of his generation and has managed to continue to evolve as a performer and songwriter.
It’s hard to believe Ryan Adams was anything but a solo artist but he began his career with the alt-country band Whiskeytown. After recording three albums with Whiskeytown, in 2000 he left the band and released his first solo album, Heartbreaker and well you could say the rest is history. He also had quite a few albums with the rock band The Cardinals and after a hiatus from music altogether, he came back in 2011 with Ashes & Fire and then late last year released his fourteenth self titled album. The master rocker and songwriter has also produced numerous albums for big names including Willie Nelson, Jenny Lewis and Fall Out Boy. He has also collaborated with multiple artists, including Weezer and The Counting Crows.
Ahh Stevie Nicks. Born Stephanie Lynn “Stevie” Nicks who is obviously best known for her work with Fleetwood Mac, but she originally started with the project Buckingham Nicks in the early seventies. Nicks had a large backlog of songs dating back to her Buckingham Nicks days that she had been unable to record and release with Fleetwood Mac because of the constraint of having to accommodate three songwriters on each album. Taking from some of those songs, she released her first solo album Bella Donna in 1981 and recorded 7 more albums including her greatest hits released last year .Nicks continued touring with Fleetwood Mac even as recent as earlier this year and there is even talk of a new FM album. Her solo career has garnered her eight Grammy Award nominations, produced over forty Top 50 hits and sold over 140 albums. She is deservedly included in the “100 Greatest Singers Of All Time” by Rolling Stone.
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