Extracurricular Rock: The Beauty of the Side Project


This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on July 13, 2006.

What music aficionado hasn’t either said or heard these words a thousand times: “Yeah, the band is really good, but have you heard their SIDE PROJECT?” Everybody loves a side project. It makes us feel like we’re in the know. It gives us a new perspective on our favorite artists. It turns us on to new types of music – often, an artist will do the top 40 band to pay the bills, and play the music he/she loves on the side. You get more passion. You get more originality. Not to mention the indie-rock-snob street cred.

Most side projects, you’d never hear of unless you liked the larger band that one or more of the members is involved in. Some side projects become as huge as the original act. A Perfect Circle, for example, started as Maynard James Keenan (Tool)’s side project. So I’m going to take this opportunity to point you in the directions of some side projects you might never have heard of. Try ‘em, you just might like ‘em.

THE RENTALS

Here’s one side project you might be familiar with. This is the side project of Weezer bass player (1992-1998) Matt Sharp. It’s vaguely Weezerlike, if you crossed Weezer with The Cars and Thomas Dolby. If you like Weezer, you’d probably like the Rentals. You can visit them and take a listen at The Rentals.

REHASHER

This is Roger Manganelli’s other band. Roger Manganelli is the lead singer and bass player for famed ska-punk band Less Than Jake. I really like this band. It sounds to me a lot like Less Than Jake on speed. There is no horn section, and to me, this really recaptures what skate punk is about. It’s fast, it’s loud, and melodic, and the vocals manage to avoid being clones of LTJ vocals, which is great. Their tagline is “Play fast, then double-time that shit.” Says Manganelli: “Rehasher is all about getting back to the basics; rehashing the fast punk that still gets me off, reliving the excitement of a new band, repeating those things that make me love music.” You can take a listen and visit them at rehasher.com

UGLY CASANOVA

Here’s another one you may be familiar with – this is the brainchild of Isaac Brock, of Modest Mouse. Ugly Casanova is on Sub Pop Records, and also features members of Califone, Red Red Meat, Black Heart Procession, and Holopaw. I like this band. “Cat Faces” is a haunting acoustic tune with melodies that wind around in your mind like smoke in a dream. Truly unique and mellow. This would be a great band to just lie around and think to. You can take a listen here.

THE TRANSPLANTS

If you’re into punk rock at all, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t know who these guys are. This band features Tim Armstrong (Rancid, Operation Ivy) on guitar and Travis Barker (Blink-182) on drums. This is a great bet because it completely avoids sounding like a rip-off of ANY of the hugely famous bands that the members are in. Many NON-side project punk bands don’t avoid sounding like a rip-off of OpIvy, Rancid, or Blink, so this is particularly impressive. They’re on Hellcat Records, and the album is called “Haunted Cities.” I truly dig these guys. The Transplants sound like what would happen if Beck started producing and performing punk rock. “Gangsters and Thugs” certainly called Beck to mind for me, anyway. “Some of my friends sell records; some of my friends sell drugs.” Take a listen here or visit them at thetransplants.com.

FANTOMAS

Wow, where do I start with this band? Fantomas features Buzz Ozborne (The Melvins), Mike Patton (Faith No More), Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle), and drummer Dave Lombardo (Slayer.) Can you say FUCKING AWESOME lineup of musicians? I thought you could. This is very experimental ambient metal. Their tagline is “shak shak shaka shaka pow euuurgh.” I think that just about says it all. It’s disjointed, odd, random, and very cool. This is definitely music for ADHD kids – Attention Deficit / Highly Disturbed. Listen at Fantomas Lives!

BIG DUMB FACE

This is Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit)’s side project. They describe themselves as “experimental / black metal / christian rap.” They can add “sense of humor” to their odd resume, it appears. The intros on some of the songs are reminiscent of Bathory or Coheed and Cambria, which then quickly launches into dark, growly, speed-driven death metal, reminiscent of GWAR. (Read one opinion of what it takes to be “death metal” here. Just trust me.) I liked the funky intro on their song “Mighty Penus Laser.” Yes, that’s how they spelled it. The vocals sound like the soundtrack in the fourth circle of hell with British zombies on helium singing backup. “Spank it ’til it stinks, and touch it, baby!” Actually, I’m a big fan now of “Mighty Penus Laser.” The Onion described these guys’ album as “A 12-year old boy’s homemade Ween tribute album.” Listen here.

Enjoy, kids, and if you need something on the side to rock out to, make it more rock.

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