7 Standout Side Projects of Famous Musicians

Side projects—They’re often the musical groups that famous artists look to in order to get a different side of their musical expression out into the world. One that somehow for some reason doesn’t fit on the original band that helped earn them fame.

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Sometimes a band gets so famous that its front person has to find another outlet just to avoid paparazzi or other attention (see: Thom Yorke and The Smile below). Differentiating between a side project and a supergroup can be difficult. So, for posterity’s sake, we are leaving out bands like Temple of the Dog, Audioslave, and even Gorillaz. Those groups became too big and were too active to even be called side projects.

Since there are so many great side projects from so many standout artists, though, we wanted to dive into some of them here. So, without further ado, these are the side projects from famous musicians that you should be listening to.

1. The Postal Service, Ben Gibbard

In a way, the electronic group featuring Ben Gibbard has become a main project. Meaning that it’s become super popular and, perhaps, in a strange way even more so than Gibbard’s original band that earned him fame, Death Cab for Cutie. The Postal Service, however, doesn’t put out music like Death Cab does, so it remains secondary to Gibbard’s original band. However, both worlds are colliding this year, as Gibbard is heading out on the road with both projects, touring stadiums, from Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena to New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The Postal Service, a group comprised of Gibbard, producer Jimmy Tamborello, and artist Jenny Lewis, released their only album Give Up in 2003 on Sub Pop Records. The album earned platinum certification. Sadly for fans, the group was largely inactive from 2005 to 2013. That’s when they reunited for a tour and a reissue of the album that had turned 10 years old. Now, fans can see them as the record turns 20.

2. The Smile

Radiohead fans got a chance to enjoy new music from two of its signature members, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, who founded the band The Smile along with drummer Tom Skinner. The band is produced by longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich. The group made a surprise Glastonbury Festival performance in 2021. In 2022 they released a handful of singles, releasing a live EP at the end of 2022 and their debut studio album, A Light for Attracting Attention, in May of 2022.

3. The Raconteurs

Fronted by Jack White, formerly of The White Stripes, and a second side project The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs also features famed songwriter Brendan Benson, along with bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. To date, they’ve released three LPs, including their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, in 2006. They released Consolers of the Lonely two years later in 2008 and their latest, Help Us Stranger, more recently in 2019.

4. Lovemongers

An informal acoustic band from sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, this group also includes longtime Heart songwriting collaborators Sue Ennis and Frank Cox. The group released a live EP of covers called Battle of Evermore in 1992 and a full-length album in 1997, Whirlygig. That 10-song LP contained all original music with no outside writers.

5. Mad Season

A grunge band comprised of many big names, formed in 1994. Mad Season included Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley, Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin and bassist John Baker Saunders. The group released only one LP, Above, in 1995 that spawned a popular single, “River of Deceit.” Above earned gold record status. While the group never got going again after that, due to Staley’s drug use and eventual death, along with the death of Saunders in 1999, the name lives on. Martin and McCready made partial reunions in 2012, 2014, and 2015 and a box set of rare songs was released in 2013. Grunge icon Mark Lanegan temporarily replaced Staley. But he later passed away in 2022.

6. The Traveling Wilburys

Perhaps the most famous side project of all time, The Traveling Wilburys was comprised of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne. The group released two LPs, Traveling Wilburys Vol 1 and Vol. 3 in 1988 and 1990, respectively. The group was born of a conversation between Lynne and Harrison in 1987. The group rose to fame quickly for obvious reasons and their Vol 1 album helped reestablish Dylan and Petty. The album even won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.

7. Prophets of Rage

Born, in part, from the aftermath of extremism and the rise of Donald Trump, Prophets of Rage was comprised of political musicians Tom Morello and Chuck D, along with B-Real of Cypress Hill, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Will. The group disbanded in 2019 after Rage Against the Machine got back together. During their existence, though, the group released one EP, The Party’s Over, and one self-titled LP.

Photo by Gus Stewart/Redferns via Getty Images

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