When F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there were no second acts in American lives, he clearly didn’t have Stephen Malkmus in mind. This week the ex-Pavement frontman releases Mirror Traffic, his fifth album with the Jicks (and the first produced by Beck). This means Malkmus has now released just as many studio records with his iconic first group as he has without them. Few musicians who survive the break-up of an influential band go on to form anything else as worthwhile — we doubt even Audioslave’s fans think the band doesn’t suffer in comparison to Rage Against the Machine. But here are five who, like Malkmus, were lucky or talented enough to prove the Great Gatsby author wrong.
1. Damon Albarn
As the frontman for Blur, Albarn has been a bone fide star in the UK for decades. The kings of ’90s Britpop released a string of UK No. 1 albums, feuded with Oasis and appeared on the cover of their homeland’s music bible, NME, more than 20 times. What could Albarn possibly do for an encore? Certainly no one thought the answer would be “start a cartoon band with a comic book artist,” but that’s exactly what he did. And the hip-hop/pop hybrid style of Gorillaz, his collaboration with graphic artist Jamie Hewlett, has gone on, in fact, to be bigger in the U.S. than Blur ever was (save, maybe, their hockey-arena mainstay “Song 2”). Perhaps Americans just prefer Albarn when he’s animated.
2. Kim Deal
When college rock darlings the Pixies broke up it was no secret that bassist Kim Deal had been unhappy with the amount of songwriting she’d been allowed to do in the band. So it was no surprise that she began to concentrate full-time on the Breeders, the group she’d started a few years earlier with her twin sister Kelley. What was surprising (at least probably to Pixies frontman and primary songwriter Black Francis) was that the same year the Pixies called it quits (1993), the Breeders’ second full-length, Last Splash, went platinum on the basis of the Kim-penned hit single “Cannonball” with its instantly memorable opening slide bass riff. Perhaps Francis should have let Deal take the reigns more often.
3. Jeff Tweedy
Tweedy began his musical career in Uncle Tupelo, the group that practically invented alt. country and gave us No Depression (the album and, later, the magazine that was named for it). But his second band, Wilco, has become so massive—headlining summer festivals, winning Grammys, releasing ambitious albums and making headlines for getting dropped then re-signed by two labels under the Warner Music Group banner — that there are probably a bunch of Wilco fans out there who don’t even know that Tweedy used to have another band.
4. Ian MacKaye
MacKaye is your classic overachiever. By the time his band Minor Threat had broken up, he’d already recorded one of the most influential albums in hardcore history (Out of Step), co-founded the label (Dischord) that put out several others and catalyzed a movement of likeminded sober people in song (“Straight Edge”). But not content to rest on those laurels, MacKaye went on to form other bands, most notably Fugazi, who injected newfound rhythmic and melodic nuance and interplay into the politicized DIY punk scene – and it’s safe to say, more people these days would clamor for a Fugazi reunion than a Minor Threat one.
5. Dave Grohl
We’re not sure which is more unlikely, that Nirvana’s drummer has gone on to be huge rock star in his own right or that the frontman of the current biggest arena rock band in the world used to just be just a punk drummer. Either way, it is obvious that Dave Grohl has had an enviable career with the Foo Fighters. He’s been able to move out from under the long shadow cast by Nirvana as well as step out from behind the drum kit to write some of the most popular rock-radio anthems of the young 21st century; Grohl has both the street cred and the sales figures too, proving all those “dumb-drummer” jokes wrong.