8 Great Side Projects

8 examples of great music that has come from collaborating or flying solo.

There’s often something great that can happen when artists let loose on their own or join up with musicians they don’t normally work with. Here’s a list of 8 great side projects.

Broken Bells

Formed in 2009, Broken Bells consists of James Mercer of The Shins and Brian Burton, also known as Danger Mouse and as the producer for Beck, Gorillaz and The Black Keys. They released their first record in 2010, and recently released the Bee Gees-esque first single for their follow-up album “After the Disco”, due for release January 14, 2014.

Volcano Choir

Volcano Choir began as a collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and fellow Wisconsities Collection of Colonies of Bees. To date they have released two full length albums, Unmap (2009), and Repave (2013). The project actually goes back as far as 2005, predating Vernon’s rise to fame with Bon Iver.


Rostam Batmanglij and Wes Miles make up the duo known as Discovery. The two began recording electronic music together in 2005, beginning to record their first album before they both got pulled away by the success of their respective bands, Vampire Weekend and Ra Ra Riot. They finally re-joined in 2009 and released their album LP.

Billy Bragg & Wilco

In 1992, Billy Bragg put on a Woody Guthrie tribute performance in Central Park. He was so good that Guthrie’s own daughter Nora reached out to him to write new music based on a recently discovered collection of her father’s lyrics which had never been recorded or set to song. Bragg in turn reached out to Wilco in ’97 to help write and record the music, and by the next year the first Mermaid Avenue record was released with 15 new Guthrie tunes. A sequel was released in 2000 with 15 more songs. The 1999 documentary Man in the Sand tells the story of the collaboration.

Department of Eagles

Department of Eagles is Daniel Rossen, guitarist and co-lead vocalist of Grizzly Bear, and Fred Nicolaus. The two began creating music together as roommates at NYU in 2000 using a lot of samples, a single microphone and pirated recording software. Eventually Rossen went on to join Grizzly Bear in 2004, with Nicolaus continuing to write and share demos with Rossen. After a rocky second album release, the two brought in Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor (also of Grizzly Bear) to record a third album, In Ear Park, released in 2008.

Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound is the moniker used by Deerhunter singer/guitarist Bradford Cox when he’s flying solo. In discussing the need for a solo outlet, he expresses “ideas that I can’t make work with a five piece rock band…there’s kind of this palette of sounds that I use that I don’t necessarily get to use with Deerhunter“. He has used the name for his music since he was a kid, having recorded hundreds of tapes and releasing 4 major albums.

Atoms for Peace

With a line-up consisting of Radiohead’s Thom York, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, REM) and percussionist Mauro Refosco (who has also recorded with RHCP), Atoms for Peace no doubt qualifies as a supergroup. Brought together by a shared interest in Afrobeat music, the band began in 2010 playing Coachella under the pseudonym “??????”, and released their first record Amok in February 2013.


Birdsmell is the childhood nickname of Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell, and the moniker he chose for himself while writing and touring as a solo artist this fall. Bridwell had stated that he wanted to get back to basics, to start from scratch and get back to his songwriting roots without help from his bandmates. Band of Horses are expected to start work on their 5th record very soon, and it will be interesting to see how the Birdsmell experience will affect the band’s songwriting going forward. There are a few more Birdsmell tracks available on his Soundcloud page.