Just don’t call it a Super-Group
Jerry Lucky Commentary May 2018
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2018 All Rights Reserved
While listening to some new music the past couple weeks I began ruminating on musicians going solo or playing with other musicians or being two or more bands at the same time. For some of you this may seem like an odd thing to talk about but it’s worth remembering that not long ago it was something you rarely saw happening. There used to be a time where there was this, unwritten rule that members in bands never seemed to even think about performing solo or with another artist. That type of activity was seen by other members of the band as almost being disloyal. And the other side of the coin post-Beatles introduction was the fear you might be saving your best songs for yourself and thereby taking away from the success of the band. You were expected to commit 100% to the band you were in. It was your life.
I recall what a big deal it was when the Moody Blues essentially “broke-up” and came out with solo records. And then it was another big deal when YES took a hiatus and each member came out with solo albums. And then Emerson Lake & Palmer did the same. It’s hard to imagine given the way things are today, but these types of events were really quite earth-shattering and became even more complicated if you were signed to different labels. Take for example the situation with Rick Wakeman. The Band YES was signed to Atlantic while Wakeman had signed with A&M as part of his early days with The Strawbs. Now, to create solo material or work with somebody else it was a matter of getting permission from differing record companies and achieving an equitable split of royalties and on and on….all stuff that isn’t very conducive to the creative process. Today it’s perhaps slightly less complicated as many artists work with labels or managers who seem to be more sympathetic to the artist and the music rather than the label.
Now I’m not sure if this mixing and matching of performers goes on much in other genres…at least not in a truly creative driven sense. There are plenty of those, what I call “pathetic mash-ups” that appear on the music award shows. You know where they try to match up the two most unlikely artists to perform some winning pop hit. These often times horrific parings are nothing more than an effort by a desperate industry to cross pollinate one artist’s fan base with another in an effort to sell more music. It often has little to do with the artists themselves. I often wonder if they simply told, here is who you’ll be performing with. I’ve never heard that they have much of a choice and I don’t recall hearing a story where someone has refused to perform together. In the end it’s all so contrived.
But that’s not what I’m talking about here. Given the still somewhat sheltered world that Progressive Rock music lives in these musical cross-overs seem to crop up more and more. Perhaps it is simply because Prog remains off the mainstream radar, that artists feel they can take advantage of expanding their creative and performance alliances and still do it in an honest manner without necessarily compromising musically by having to heed any mandate exerted on them by record companies or managers. Another words, these cross-overs are very much artist driven.
Regardless of the reason or motivation, today in the Prog world we have what seems like a never-ending stream of artists floating from band to band or project to project like Bumble Bees in a flower patch. (Sorry for the metaphor-mash-up) We used to call them a “supergoup” although that title doesn’t really apply today like it did in the case of say, Emerson Lake & Palmer where each member came from a successful group to form a new group. No, what I’m talking about here is best represented by the new “super-collective” The Sea Within. This is group comprising Roine Stolt (Transatlantic, The Flower Kings), Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation), Jonas Reingold (Steve Hackett, The Flower Kings, Karmakanic, The Tangent), Tom Brislin (Yes Symphonic, Renaissance, Spiraling, Deborah Harry) & Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, UK, Joe Satriani). They have a debut album coming out in late June but they’re shying away from the term Super-Group perhaps because this is more of a musical project than it is any kind of long term “band” thing. These days no one knows how long any of these projects is going to last. It could be one album…it could be more.
We see a lot of this happening specifically in the Prog world and likely for a wide variety of reasons. You might be in a band that’s taking a break or perhaps “needs” to take a creative break and yet you still want to perform. You may have musical ideas that simply don’t work within an existing band format. You might even need to take a vacation from the other members to regain some sanity. There’s a chance an artist sees the opportunity to work with others as a way of “recharging their creative juices.” And who knows maybe you just have the desire to work with other musicians you admire. Who knows, because it doesn’t really matter? Whatever the reasons are it does make for some fascinating new musical adventures. Hey, not all of them work, I’ll grant you that, but there are many times where it does and for prog fans that’s a pretty nice deal.
So even though they are in the studio writing and recording and may even go on tour to perform the material live, keeping things structured as a “super-collective” musical project seems to be working quite well in the Prog world. It certainly seems to be opening up windows and doors of creativity while not necessarily pinning an artist down to any one thing. You have talented individuals such as John Mitchell and Roine Stolt showing up in any number of musical endeavors they like. And that’s just two I can point too off the top of my head. There are plenty of others. And in the end, as I see it, it all means we fans get to hear more great music. I think that’s a very good thing. So what do you think?