The Five Best Bands That Started as Solo Projects

Photo by Jim Bricker

The conventional wisdom about playing music is that you learn an instrument and then you recruit a band to play with you, or you join one that already exists. Not so these days, when it's easier than ever with the use of computer programs to record a full album of music by yourself, without even needing to know how to play any instruments.

Of course, you can't pull that off live, so at some point you do need to find a band. Cloudkicker, who made their live debut in Houston last month, have been a solo metal act for years and only now recruited a band to tour. In their honor, here are a few more notable projects that began with just one guy playing all the music.

5. Strapping Young Lad Another very famous metal example is the long-running but sadly now broken-up band Strapping Young Lad. Originally conceived in Devin Townsend's downtime from recording solo albums and singing for Steve Vai, SYL took on a life of its own after the release of debut Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing.

By the time of their next record, the classic City, Townsend recruited a full band to record and tour with as Strapping Young Lad. They went on to become a major metal act and released a lot of awesome music before calling it a day when Townsend decided he no longer wanted to access the anger and hatred necessary to pull off that kind of music.

4. Foo Fighters Perhaps the most famous example of all, Foo Fighters started after Nirvana's breakup, when Dave Grohl decided to record an album by himself. Coincidentally, they followed the exact same pattern as Strapping Young Lad: for 1995's first self-titled record, Grohl played all the instruments himself.

By 1997's The Colour and the Shape, Foo Fighters had taken shape, and mostly the same group of guys who would go on to comprise the band for the rest of their career. Of course they went on to much greater success after becoming a band rather than Grohl's pet project.

3. Cloud Nothings One of the best new rock bands in years, Cloud Nothings started out with just front man Dylan Baldi recording songs in his bedroom. These stripped-down, lo-fi recordings comprised almost all of Cloud Nothings' earliest work, and it wouldn't be until their critically acclaimed Attack on Memory that they would debut as a full band.

The title of that record functioned as a statement on the band's early work. They no longer really play the solo recordings Baldi made as Cloud Nothings, and they have transitioned to being an awesome band live and in the studio. The best addition has easily been drummer Jayson Gerycz, whose work has brought the group to a whole new level Baldi never could have achieved on his own.

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2. Wavves Like Cloud Nothings, Wavves started in front man Nathan Williams' bedroom. He made all the songs himself, eventually recruiting a drummer to tour with a sparse two man lineup. The band has gone through multiple transformations since then and now performs as a three piece.

Though Williams' earliest recordings by himself were notable for their songwriting potential, the band has really come into its own as a trio, with rave reviews for their albums King of the Beach and Afraid of Heights. Of course, Williams still writes almost all of the music by himself.

1. Nine Inch Nails Easily the most famous example of this phenomenon (other than Foo Fighters), the Nine Inch Nails story still inspires young musicians to this day. After failing in numerous bands, Trent Reznor used studio downtime while working as a janitor at TVT Records to craft an album by himself, which eventually became NIN's debut Pretty Hate Machine. It was a triumph for him, as he finally achieved success recording all by himself.

When it came time to tour though, he had to put a band together. That live band has featured a revolving-door cast ever since, and only a few of the live performers have played on NIN records, with Reznor handling most of them music by himself to this day. Nevertheless, he considers NIN a band, and who are we to argue? Besides, it's arguable they never would have been so successful if not for those live performers like Robin Fincke, who kicks ass with the songs Reznor wrote each and every night -- as I'm sure he'll do when NIN hits the Woodlands Pavilion August 16.


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