Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Front Man Syndrome

In the music world, there are two types of bands: those who visibly depend on their front man and those who advance equally as a group. Do some people get shafted in the process? Of course. Who would admit that they want to be in a band that is led by one person? If they did, wouldn’t they just be a solo artist? Probably.

The first type of band is usually the one with “front man syndrome”. What is this syndrome? It typically exists in a band that has one person that writes the majority of songs, arranges a lot of the music, and has a general presence of leading the group. However you would define this person, they exist.

The issue with this for many bands, however, is the common tendency of the front man to go off on his or her own to work on a solo album or side-project. So, why do they break away? To preserve the truth and rawness of their vision.

Tim Kasher, front man of the band Cursive, has been playing with the same guys for years. They’ve put out 6 successful albums over 11 years, so far. A few years back, the band went on hiatus. Meanwhile, Kasher was working with his other band The Good Life, comprised mainly of gloomy, slower songs that strayed pretty far from what Cursive’s material was like. The Good Life seemed like Kasher’s soul was being poured out in the street for everyone to form circle around and stare. Cursive’s material would be comparable to throwing his soul in your face and yelling at you. Was Kasher preserving his vision? I’d say so.

Next comes Colin Meloy of the Decemberists. This band also has its fair share of successes over the years, gaining an audience larger than most bands with such an odd instrumentation of strings, percussive elements, accordion, and horns. Meloy’s vocals and storytelling through lyrics are what has brought the group as far as they’ve come. Meloy ventured out on a solo tour in 2006, and also put out a dual-disk album with his other band Tarkio, which was accepted with open arms due to the raw, acoustic nature of the material. Coincidence?

One of the most famous front women to venture out on her own and gain enormous success is Bjork. Formerly a member of the Sugarcubes of Iceland, she broke away from the band in 1992 to pursue a solo career resulting in 10 successful albums, DVDs, acting opportunities, and Grammy nominations. By doing this, she broke ground for an inconceivable amount of female musicians and forever changed music. Would it have happened if she didn’t leave the Sugarcubes? Who knows. But she definitely had something in mind, and she conquered it alone in her own very different way.

The New Pornographers pumped out three solo performers: A.C. Newman, who released The Slow Wonder in 2004 and proceeded to tour solo; Neko Case, who released multiple award-nominated albums, and Dan Bejar, who went on to create the praised indie band Destroyer. Each of them had different creative visions, and while they worked well in the New Pornographers, they went even further in their solo careers to separate ends of musical atmospheres.

One front man, Ben Gibbard, spread his musical talent between two projects, starting with Death Cab for Cutie, an indie rock band that creeped up from the underground music scene to become one of the most popular to date, and later The Postal Service, a project he started with another musician through the mail. The two bands are very different, and it’s apparent that Gibbard needed to separate the two to accurately depict his visions of what he wanted to perform: light melodic indie rock and poppy electronic music.

Next is David Bazan of Pedro the Lion. Though the band was originally made up of two people where the second member changed multiple times, they ended it for good in 2006. Bazan went on to start the band Headphones, a huge jump into the electronic world from the formerly acoustic music he had done before. Later in the year, he released a solo record that wasn’t a far departure from Pedro the Lion material sound-wise, but lyrically it was an explosion. The difference was definitely apparent in his roughness.

Another huge front man on the list is Thom Yorke of Radiohead. With the band, he has released 6 full-lengths and 7 EP’s, a huge collection by any standard. In 2006, Yorke released a solo album titled The Eraser in which he constructs most of the music electronically while laying his lyrics over it. Though Radiohead and his solo project both have electronic influences, there is a huge difference between the moods of the two types of music, thus, a vast difference from his work with the band and work alone.

Finally is Ian MacKaye. Originally playing in bands like Minor Threat and Fugazi, MacKaye has strayed far away to the band The Evens. The music is simpler, with just baritone guitar and drums, with vocals of himself and the drummer Amy Farina. They just released their second album this year. Though MacKaye preserves the same moral standards he had before with pricing of shows and albums, his musical style has changed to a more simplistic but full-felt sound.

All of these performers have seen years upon years of musical experience. What do they all have in common?: The fact that they’re willing to preserve their vision in its rawness by trying different combinations of these things to succeed in their musical tasks. They’ve tried different styles, played alongside different people, and changed their influences many times. They won’t let anyone stand in their way. So be it a syndrome or not, for many, it’s turned out to be a good one.


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