I think I have pretty eclectic music tastes. There's this age old question that goes, "What do you listen to?" An often disheartening response seems to be "Oh, I just listen to whatever's on the radio." That's it? You listen to the same song a bunch of times in the same hour? I was once discussing some records with a buddy of mine at a dreaded job long ago, and I started getting all analytical to which my buddy's response was, "Oh yeah, you're one of those people that think music is beautiful and sh*t." For people like me, when we get asked that question about what's in our headphones, all we want to do is spill our guts. "Well, first I was listening to some Coltrane; "Bakai" is unbelievable. I also love prog; Periphery II is so pissed. And recently, I'm just obsessed with Neon Indian; their music is so damn funky." Meanwhile, the other person has already checked out of the conversation and begun checking their Instagram feed.
Music is so unbinding; you can listen to anything. "Scenes" have become dried out. The longest-haired tattooed metal-head knows all the words to Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." And I know for sure there's some rapper somewhere who is bumping to Blink-182; let's be honest. It's probably Danny Brown. Just as it goes for listening, the same applies to playing. Speaking for all my fellow musicians, we digest every type of music. There's a little bit of something for us in all types of music. Not only is it very cool for someone to have a cache in what they listen to, but also to be diverse in what they play. So many artists would surprise us if they gave us insight on what they were into. Matter of fact, some have. Did you ever think the Black Keys would do a feature hip hop album? Me neither.
The side project, which sometimes turns out to be a super group, are a sleeper in music. An artist can now exit the stage with their bandmates, sweaty from a grueling show, only to enter that stage weeks later under a different alias with just an acoustic guitar and a microphone. Just like us normal morning-commuters, artists grow up too; they mature. Playing the same material surely becomes monotonous when there's a constant hunger for new tastes, or better said, new sounds. The Shins are known for their fleecy alt-rock; most notable for me, and probably many others, is their feature in the movie Garden State. Natalie Portman's right; listen to "New Slang," and it will change your life (okay maybe it was just her smile in the scene, but still.) On the other-hand, we have Danger Mouse (Brian Burton). Yes, Danger Mouse, as in the guy who produced multiple Black Keys albums, and has two albums with the absolutely legendary MF Doom. And there is the story of the side project, Broken Bells. Broken Bells is the alias of Burton (Danger Mouse) and James Mercer, the singer of The Shins. Two entirely different musicians from two different musical backgrounds come together, and what they do is crafty and just flat out excellent. It's ambient indie dance music that neither might have had the chance to create had this unexpected collaboration not formed.
Teeny-boppers of our generation love Circa Survive's Anthony Green, right? And genuine music lovers enjoy the magnificent peppery jazz-prog group Rx Bandits, yes? The Sounds of Animals Fighting is their love-child. Disregarding their first album, which is straight up just noise, their last two releases contain some of the best music I've ever heard. Green's vocal abilities are uncanny, and the astounding musicianship that's widespread of the Rx members (Embree, Tsagakis, Choi) is hard to exaggerate. Each party brings their individual energies to create something truly electric. TSOAF is a musical medusa. It's everything that fans of both bands could want and more. They didn't do extensive touring, let alone do a lot of huge promotion for their records, but I had the opportunity to see them on a "farewell" tour and I could not believe that some of my favorite artists were sharing the stage and playing songs that had changed my life.
Renaissance musician Adam Deitch (drummer/producer) plays for such differing acts it's hard to believe it's the same guy. He primarily drums for funk ogres Lettuce but is active in break-beat duo Break Science and performs occasionally behind electronic-music mastermind Pretty Lights. Wanna know how he got picked up? His original gig was with acid-jazz's lead stringer, John Scofield. Talk about having your foot in the door. More like a foot in every door.
I guess what I'm trying to say is when musicians are asked that question by a stranger or friend, we want to spill about our non-linear musical taste. We want to include Coltrane and Pretty Lights in the same conversation. Just as musicians do. Musicians love other musicians; it's a fact. When the idea, or opportunity for one talented artist to put together a bunch of stuff with another talented artist comes to life, listeners are given some of the most comprehensive work that has so much flavor, your palate won't even know what to do with itself. So, in honor of this editorial, I'm calling for an amendment to the term "side project." I mean, who wants to be the "side" to anything anyway? Instead, it should be called: "the just as good, if not better project." Seems totally appropriate to me. Hell, if Radiohead or someone needs a member for their "just as good, if not better project," I am completely available.