8 Lead Singers Before They Took the Lead
  • FRIDAY, AUGUST 01, 2014

  • Posted by: Emily Geiger

It goes without saying that making it big in the music industry is a long and grueling process. Even today as the industry is changing, bands often tour constantly and struggle to maintain an internet presence just to get their name out. And sometimes you have to pay your dues out of the limelight, and way back from the spotlight, as a backup singer or instrumentalist for established bands before taking on your own project. Such a route is one that many of the most hyped up and celebrated musicians of today endured before creating their own music that we now all know so well.

1. David Grohl — Nirvana

Nirvana went through a series of drummers during its brief tenure, the longest lasting one being David Grohl, the current lead singer and songwriter of Foo Fighters. Along with playing the drum kit, Grohl provided backup vocals and even wrote a bit for the rock band. He also did session work as a drummer for several big names, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Paul McCartney, something he still does today. Here's a clip from the Sandy Relief Concert, where Paul McCartney helped bring about a mini Nirvana reunion, with Grohl on drums.



2. Danielle Haim — Jenny Lewis, Julian Casablancas

Danielle Haim has basically been in the music business her entire life. As a child, she was a part of cover band Rockinhaim, which also included her sisters and parents. She then played guitar on Jenny Lewis' tour, which caught the attention of Julian Casablancas, who asked Danielle to play guitar and drums on his solo tour in 2009. And we definitely have The Strokes frontman to thank in part for Days are Gone, because he was the one who told the girls to stop touring and to focus on writing and recording. This is Danielle backing up Casablancas on The Strokes' song "Automatic Stop."



3. Zachary Cole Smith — Beach Fossils

Zachary Cole Smith recently made headlines when he was arrested with girlfriend Sky Ferreira in September, which he laments has taken away attention from his career as lead singer of DIIV. Back in 2009, way before Smith was dealing with bad press, he met Dustin Payseur on a train, who complimented him on his shirt and asked if he knew how to play drums. Smith ended up as part of the live band for Payseur's band Beach Fossils. Smith left the tour, but eventually returned to play guitar, and soon after took the first step to start his own band. Watch Smith reunite with Payseur for a "Tin Birds" cover with Mac DeMarco and Jack Tatum from Wild Nothing.



4. Sufjan Stevens — Danielson

Before Sufjan Stevens' dashingly good looks and soothing voice became front and center onstage, he was taking on several rolls in Danielson, a rock band that is constantly shuffling around musicians and monikers. Stevens provided drums and vocals for live performances, and he still comes in as a multi-instrumentalist today despite his ever-blossoming solo career. Here's Stevens contributing oboe backup vocals on the Danielson track "Cast it at the Setting Sail."



5. Adam Granduciel — Kurt Vile and the Violators

Adam Granduciel has been enchanting audiences for nearly a decade with The War on Drugs, but before the shoegaze singer was fronting his own band, he was a part of Kurt Vile's live band The Violators. In 2003, Granduciel started working on his own music with the help of Vile, and The War on drugs was born. Vile eventually left the band after the release of Wagonwheel Blues to go back to writing and recording his own music, leaving Granduciel as the main songwriter of the band. Here's "Taking the Farm," a song that Vile and Granduciel both wrote when they were still making music together.



6. Marcus Mumford — Laura Marling

Before Marcus Mumford became one of the biggest names in music, he was playing drums for folk goddess Laura Marling. He also provided backup vocals on I Speak Because I Can and toured with Marling. Here's Mumford playing an impressive array of instruments on "Blackberry Stone" with a very young Marling.



7. Laura Marling — Noah and the Whale

Marling's musical relationship with Marcus Mumford eventually became a romantic one, but before Mumford there was Charlie Fink, lead vocalist of Noah and the Whale. Marling performed backup vocals on their debut Peaceful, the World Lays Me and went on tour with the band. Eventually the relationship soured and Marling left the band, but not before Fink produced Marling's own debut album. Watch marling perform Noah and the Whale's hit "5 Years Time."



8. Father John Misty — Fleet Foxes

In May 2008, the joyful folk group Fleet Foxes decided to extend their tour to promote the forthcoming album, and ended up expanding their band in the process when they brought on Josh Tillam to fill out their sound on drums. In 2012, Tillman quit the band, and although Fleet Foxes has gone quiet since then, Tillman has been showing that he has musical chops beyond the drums as Father John Misty. Here's a video of Fleet Foxes performing "Lorelai" before Tillman redefined his musical identity.

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