Side projects and supergroups are nothing new in the world of rock and roll. Whether it be Velvet Revolver or Them Crooked Vultures, we have seen a fair few of them over the years and it doesn’t seem like a trend that is likely to stop anytime soon. Yet, the sad fact is, a lot of these bands tend to be a bit crap. For every great release there is a lot of Rock Star Supernova and quite frankly we could all use a bit less of that. So what makes a good side project or a great super group? How do bands like Down, go from being on the sidelines, to being the main concern for many of their members.
Well, writing some kick ass albums helps of course, but I think if you look through every band that has truly made it, they have had a shared belief or passion and I think far too often supergroups or side projects lack that. They are not a band that revolves around a central idea, but a group of people who have come together, possibly under the leadership of one person with an idea or just to have fun and while much fun can be had, it can also lead to some very substandard rock and roll.
I think the perfect example of this is the aforementioned, Them Crooked Vultures. In that band, you have three of my favourite musicians of all time. Dave Grohl on drums, John Paul Jones doing whatever the fuck he wants, because come on in, he was in Led Zeppelin and Josh Homme on vocals and guitar. Three incredibly talented guys, who all got along well. Homme and Grohl in particular are known to be good friends. Yet Them Crooked Vultures didn’t crackle in the way you want them too. I actually like that album more than most, but I can’t deny it’s not great. It feels like a group of guys having fun, but it often forgets that in among that fun, you need some good songs. This translated into their live show. I saw at Download 2010 and while I enjoyed watching three of my heroes jam, there is no denying most of the crowd wandered off to get a good position for AC/DC.
Them Crooked Vultures lacked that central focus or idea and because of that you got a good album, but one that didn’t feel like a release from a real band. If you compare that to Probot, another Dave Grohl release, you can hopefully see what I mean. Grohl set out to get together some of his favourite musicians and put together an album that showed the kind of music he listened to growing up. It wasn’t a side project in the classic sense, because it was in reality Dave Grohl’s band and he was the creative vision. He had a goal and an end product and he pushed that and ended up releasing a bloody fantastic album (if you have never heard it, make sure and pick up a copy.)
This theory isn’t the be all and end all, some bands just aren’t very good and some bands are. However, I do think it works more often than not. You don’t need to know much about Down to know those guys come from the same background and have the same passion for the music they play and I reckon all the great side projects and super groups have a similar thing. Of course, this doesn’t mean I want musicians who are just friends to stop giving it a go. Watching Them Crooked Vultures at Download is one of the most memorable experiences of my life, I have just learnt to not expect those bands, to always equal the sum of their parts.