A Few of My Favorite Side Projects Featuring Artists You Know and (Maybe) Love


This one was a labor of love, folks.  I hope you find something new that brings you unbridled joy- we could all use a little more of that.

It occurred to me while talking tunes with a buddy last week that there is a lot of little-known but interesting material derived from some of modern rock’s best artists, but under different names.  After all, these are creative people and their muses may take them places their day job band doesn’t want to go, or maybe it wouldn’t be good for the brand- so they venture off with a new cast of characters and make music over there instead.

Here I’ll attempt to shed some light and brief commentary (brief, Steve, brief!) on some favorites of mine, free of charge.  I’ll try to avoid the obvious (no hot takes such as “hey did you know that Maynard James Keenan is bands other than Tool?” or “Audioslave is just Rage Against the Machine with a different singer”), but if you are hip to my jive and have heard this stuff before, apologies.  Remember that you paid nothing for the right to read this.

I’ll also include a few that are more “before they were a part of x, they were in y”, but I’m not going to include solo work as that list is waaaaay too long (and mostly obvious).  Basically, I’m encouraging you to check out some new music from people you already enjoy, to strike this dead horse one final time.

OK, here we go!



Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse) – Ugly Casanova

Considerably more low-key and sublime than your typical Modest Mouse record, Ugly Casanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth is one of my favorite works of the 00s because of its eccentricities and diversity in sound.  Initially released around an elaborate (and transparent) ruse about an anonymous songwriter whose work was then recorded by Brock, this record features a few of his MM bandmates (including the great bassist Eric Judy).  This album is more than worthwhile, it is essential for any Modest Mouse fan.  The band also provided music to the 180 Degrees South soundtrack in 2010.



Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) & Jay Farrar (Son Volt) – Uncle Tupelo

Two gifted songwriters that would later chart their own separate courses combined to make four terrific albums including highlight No Depression.  Their blend of angsty folk and country/rock is revered in many circles and has been an inspiration for many bands that followed.


D Rugs

John McCauley (Deer Tick) & T. Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate) – Diamond Rugs

In the alternate musical universe where I wish I lived, these two are superstars and when I go into a grocery store, this is the kind of sound I hear.  Alas, I suppose I’ll continue to buy my food while wearing earbuds.  Start with the self-titled debut from this “supergroup”, check out the sophomore effort Cosmetics, and then familiarize yourself with these guys’ day jobs as well, if you haven’t already.  “Tell Me Why”, “Gimme A Beer”, and “Christmas in a Chinese Restaurant” are so, so good.



Thom Yorke (Radiohead) & Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – Atoms for Peace

Equal parts electronic and funky, Amok is a bit like Thom’s solo debut The Eraser, which is a good thing.  “Before Your Very Eyes” has the kind of haunting vocals one would expect, while “Judge Jury and Executioner” is some lovely power-pop over a great Flea bassline.  There is much more goodness here, go check it out.



Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) – The Arcs

When Dan’s friend and drummer Pat Carney had to step away for a bit due to a shoulder injury, he decided to “get weird” and made this album that at the time was very different than the music he had been making.  The first half of the record contains the bulk of the best material.



Ryan Adams (uh, he’s Ryan Freaking Adams) – Whiskeytown

OK, this one is borderline – most folks who give a damn about Mr. Adams already know about his country-tinged band from the 90s.  Strangers Almanac is a genuine classic and gets regular spins at my place, and the extended special edition version includes terrific covers of “Dreams” and “Luxury Liner”.



Britt Daniel (Spoon) – Divine Fits

This venture is at times a bit too shiny and poppy for my taste, but at its best it really brings some catchy hooks and choruses – see “Would That Not Be Nice”, “Shivers” and “Like Ice Cream”.  This is proof that Britt not only is a tremendous rock and roll lead, he could have made it as a pop star also.


Desert Sess

Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) – Desert Sessions, Kyuss

The quintessential rock frontman for our time, Josh is the only continuous member of one of America’s best bands of the last 20+ years.  However, he has kept busy during that time with his rotating cast of characters of Desert Sessions and also led pioneering “stoner-rock” outfit Kyuss in the 90s.  If you like guitar rock, or music that doesn’t take itself seriously and isn’t afraid to get weird, check these bands out.


adams house cat

Patterson Hood & Mike Cooley (Drive-By Truckers) – Adam’s House Cat

OK- this one is basically DBT before they were DBT.  It’s Pat and Mike back in the day, it’s great, and their recently re-recorded Town Burned Down even has two future DBT songs on it (“Lookout Mountain” and “Buttholeville”).  “Town Burned Down” and DBT live-show staple “Runaway Train” are awesome as well.


banks steel

Paul Banks (Interpol) & RZA (Wu-Tang Clan) – Banks & Steelz

What happens when you take one of rock’s finest crooners and pair him up with the legendary Wu member?  They invite Florence Welch, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and others along to make a ridiculously fun album.



Chino Moreno (Deftones) – + + + (Crosses)

Sure, Chino screams a bit on this terrific record (see the phenomenal leadoff track “This Is a Trick”), but the vibe here is much more electronic and bouncy than anything Deftones could ever dream of releasing.  There are even genuine love songs, like “The Epilogue” and “Option”.


Shadow Puppets

Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys) – The Last Shadow Puppets

With two albums and an EP, there is quite a bit of music here to enjoy.  My favorite is that short-player, The Dream Synopsis, which features four fantastic covers including “Is This What You Wanted” (Leonard Cohen) and “Les Cactus”.  This music was a bit different than what Arctic Moneys were doing at the time but also served as a bit of foreshadowing for the direction that band was heading.



Richard Patrick (Filter), Robert & Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) – Army of Anyone

This one is a bit up and down, but should have gotten more love and attention than it did.  My favorites range from the more Patrick-inspired rawk of “It Doesn’t Seem To Matter” and “Love Ain’t Enough” to the mellow and thoughtful “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen” and “Stop Look and Listen”.



Tom Petty – Mudcrutch

I’ve written extensively about Tom’s old band from Florida back before he made it big with his Heartbreakers, and if the debut (which was mostly a redux on the bands songs from back in the 70s) was good, the second (and final, fittingly named 2) was great.  “Hungry No More” ranks among Petty’s finest songs and is well worth your time.


1 Day as a lion

Zack De La Rocha (Rage Against the Machine) & John Theodore (The Mars Volta, Queens of the Stone Age) – One Day As A Lion

Zack brings the fury on this five-song EP that has a Rage-tangent vibe to it.  The name of the band, album, and one of the songs is from a Tibetan proverb: “It is better to live for one day as a lion than for 1,000 years as a sheep”.  Released in 2008, this is about all of the music I can find from De La Rocha since RATM broke up nearly twenty years ago.  Oh, and I cannot freaking wait to see them live in April on their first proper tour since 2011.



Cedric B. Zavala & Omar A.R. Lopez (At the Drive-In) – The Mars Volta, Antemasque

The principal singer (Cedric) and lead guitar player (Omar) for ATDI formed their own prog-art rock spectacle when their former band dissolved, and their debut, Deloused in the Comatorium is still one of my most treasured recordings to this day.  They’ve released a ton of other worthwhile music, but that album is definitely your starting point if you are unfamiliar with the band.

Antemasque is Cedric and Omar with Flea stepping in on bass, and their lone album is not quite what I was hoping for but does have some solid songs, like “Drown All Your Witches” and “Ride Like the Devil’s Son”.



Jim Ward (At the Drive-In) – Sparta

When ATDI split, guitarist and backing vocalist Jim Ward got busy right away, releasing three albums under the Sparta moniker from 2002-2006.  The first of those, Wiretap Scars, was the best and is a must-listen for scream-o/punk fans.  I got a chance to see them last year and it was a hoot, and their first album in over a decade is due out this spring.