Author’s note: This is my personal guide to all the nerdy insights and forgotten lore of indie rock from the 2000s. I have tried to omit personal opinions in order to keep the article as factual as possible. Of course, some snuck through (it’s tough when writing about the music you love). Make sure to click on the links in each section to see the videos, hears the songs and experience each fact firsthand.
21. Many albums by The Decemberists (The Crane Wife, Picaresque, The Tain EP) Nada Surf (Lucky, The Weight is a Gift, Let Go) and Tegan and Sara (Sainthood, The Con), along with countless others, are produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s CHRIS WALLA. The multi-talented guitar player has also produced almost every Death Cab song ever recorded.
20. PHANTOM PLANET‘s hit single “California” was co-written by then drummer Jason Schwartzman – the now famous actor starring in Wes Anderson films like The Darjeerling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore. The other writer, lead singer Alex Greenwald, was in a few Gap commercials (that cheesy everyone in vests one) and starred as antagonist Seth Devlin beside Jake Gyllenhal in the 2001 film Donny Darko.
19. ROGUE WAVE‘s drummer, Pat Spurgeon, only has one kidney. But there’s a bigger problem, this kidney doesn’t function too well. Pat goes through a rigorous process to give himself dialysis on the road (hotel rooms – not a big deal, back of rock clubs – sorta a deal, on a moving tour bus – major deal). Dialysis under the right conditions is tricky enough – doing it on tour is a whole different ball game.
18. The biggest love triangle in indie rock comes straight from the post-hardcore roots of New Jersey – but J-Wow and Snooki are not involved. When TAKING BACK SUNDAY was first starting out, Jesse Lacey was in the band (now of Brand New fame). At the time, he was dating Michelle Nolan, sister of guitar player John Nolan. Taking Back Sunday recruited lead singer Adam Lazarra – who then began dating the sister – causing Jesse to leave the band and start alt-rockers Brand New. Adam eventually ended the relationship, causing John to leave the band and pursue his own creative outlets with his broken hearted sister. Cue John Nolan and his sister (“the girlfriend”) starting Straylight Run. This three-for-one deal worked out poorly for those immediately involved (heartache) but great for us on the outside (three exciting bands).
17. At the end of the video Sic Transit Gloria Fades, Jesse Lacey of BRAND NEW faces a silhouette figure who mimics his hand gestures. It was long rumored to be Geoff Rickley from Thursday but is actually Justin Beck, guitarist for Glassjaw.
16. JOHNNY MARR, guitar player from The Smith’s, will probably never reunite with Morrissey for a reunion show. Instead, he returned to the music world in a new form while joining up with indie poppers Modest Mouse. He toured rigorously with the band from 2006 – 2009 and can be heard on 2007 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
15. OASIS‘ dueling brothers, Liam and Noel, are known Beatle fanatics (Liam even named his son Lennon). So it makes sense that Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey , joined Oasis as full-time touring drummer in 2004. Zak also stepped in behind the kit to record for Oasis and can be heard on the albums Don’t Believe the Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. Zak has kept busy since the demise of Oasis and continues to rock out with The Who.
14. You could say that GUSTER‘s drummer marches to the beat of a different drum. Or perhaps, just learned how to play drums a little differently than most other people. Brian Rosenworcel didn’t pick up a drum stick until Guster’s fourth album – playing live shows and recordings with his bare hands (bongos, cymbals, etc.). His unique style has even earned him the nickname “Thundergod” by adoring fans.
13. Jay Clifford of JUMP, LITTLE CHILDREN knows pop extremely well. So well that in 2003 singer-songwriter (and long time friend) Howie Day asked Jay to play on his album Stop All The World Now. Jay’s guitar playing and vocals can be heard on most of the album, including the massive hit “Collide“. Clifford is also given co-writing credits for four of the album’s tracks.
12. Before FEIST was making addictive indie pop and some infectious videos with fully choreographed dance sequences (see “1234”), Leslie Feist contributed her talents to two songs on the album Riot on an Empty Street by Kings of Convenience. Side note: Feist was also a member of the indie rock group Broken Social Scene before her solo efforts.
11. Rilo Kiley’s talented guitar player (and sometimes singer), BLAKE SENNETT, may look extremely familiar to people who grew up in the ’90s. Reason being…Blake has graced our color TV sets with some very memorable characters. Sennett stared as the silly Ronnie Pinsky on Nickelodeon’s Salute Your Shorts and the notable swirly-giving bully, “Joey The Rat” Epstein, on Boy Meets World. Take that Jenny Lewis’ acting career!
10. FUN. has seen some pretty stellar success over the past twelve months. Years before the group had started this small SIDE PROJECT (yes, fun. is a side project) each member of fun. traveled the world with their own successful indie rock bands. Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Dost began his musical career as a member of the Michigan band Anathallo. Guitar player and backup vocalist, Jack Antonoff, was the afro-sporting frontman of New Jersey jam band indie rockers Steel Train. Lead singer Nate Ruess could be found belting out infectious indie pop in Arizona favorite The Format.
9. Before tearing through solos with indie poppers fun., lead guitar player Jack Antonoff wrote infectious rock gems about heartache, death, life and everything in between. Jack’s debut album with the band STEEL TRAIN (Twilight Tales from the Prairies of the Sun) was written almost entirely about his experiences and heartache with high school sweetheart Scarlett Johansson. The album is littered with not-so-cryptic references about Scarlett (see “Better Love“: Scars are in her name/And she scars me with blame/Hey Scarlet, you’re not the same).
8. “Sail” has become an electro-hard rock hit for Los Angeles band AWOLNATION. Let’s not hold our breathe too long for another full length album from AWOL though. The band name is really a moniker for lead singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Aaron Bruno. The Westlake Village native has fronted two other successful bands with some major radio singles, always suffering the same demise – one album and done. Bruno was lead singer of the band Under the Influence of Giants (churning out the smooth 1970s influenced anthem “Mama’s Room“) and Hometown Hero (belting out the high school rocker “Eighteen“).
7. Drama and post-hardcore don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Being punk, being loud and being heard seem to be the fuels behind the fire. But things happen – people change – and soap operas are sometimes born. AT THE DRIVE-IN had just released it’s most critically claimed album to date (Relationship of Command) when the band decided to call it quits. From the ashes of the phoenix arose two bands, separated by hair styles. Prog-rockers The Mars Volta grew from the minds of afro-toting Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric Bixler-Zavala. On the other (less hairy) side came post-rock thrashers Sparta – with ATDI alums Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar and Paul Hinojos.
6. BAD RELIGION have been making intelligent punk rock since 1979. Lead singer Greg Graffin’s smart-punk doesn’t halt when the record stops spinning. The Bad Religion co-founder earned a PhD from Cornell University where he teaches evolution and has taught lectures in the life sciences and palentology at UCLA. Oh yea, and he wrote a book. Chalk up a few marks for punk rockers around the world.
5. The always busy CHRIS WALLA (see #21) won’t let anything stop him from doing what he loves. Even the U.S. government can’t foil Chris’ musical destiny. In 2007, U.S. Border Patrol agents seized a hard drive containing the master tracks for his first solo album. Reason being: the album was titled “Field Manual“. Chris didn’t let a little armed response keep him down – the album was re-recorded and released in 2008 on Barsuk Records.
4. JIMMY EAT WORLD‘s Bleed American album from 2001 made the Arizona alt-rockers into household names with the “The Middle“. After the first single was released (also titled “Bleed American”) with support from the energetic anthem “Sweetness”, the band decided to change the album name to Jimmy Eat World as they became concerned that the album title could somehow be misinterpreted post 9/11.
3. A decade may seem like a long time, but really it’s just a decade. Ten years, 521 weeks, 3,652 days. Ok – it IS a long time. But not so long that RADIOHEAD can’t make two albums, 10 years apart, that go together like twins separated at birth. By following these fairly simple instructions, listeners can mix together 1997’s OK Computer and 2007’s In Rainbows to make a seamless listening experience. Basically, when sequenced properly, track 1 from OK Computer leads perfectly into track 1 from In Rainbows, track 2 from both albums match up, etc. – so that the time and key signatures are in almost in perfect sync. That’s some serious future-planning Mr. Yorke.
2. Australian rockers THE VINES have had their share of godlike comparisons in their 10+ year career with some major hits like “Get Free” and “Ride”. Popularity aside, The Vines have recorded consistently diverse albums successfully drawing from respected predecessors like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Clash and even Nirvana. All the while, lead singer Craig Nicholls has been plagued with well-known negative reviews of live performances due to his spastic stage behavior (see meltdown on Letterman). Craig’s erratic behavior was eventually explained through a diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome (a form of Autism). Post-diagnosis, Craig continues to produce hit songs and some of the best albums of the decade.
1. The POSTAL SERVICE name (cult collaboration between Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello) was inspired by a very reasonable situation. Tamborello, living in Los Angeles and Gibbard, living in Seattle made music by sharing songs bit-by-bit via one of the oldest communication methods in modern American history – The U.S. Postal Service. Long after the hit song “Such Great Heights” helped to earn them 400,000 album sales, only one Postal Service is moving on with full strength hint: the winner still sees success while working on the weekend). The Postal Service recently played a ten year reunion show at Coachella to an insanely large crowd.
*some of the bands in this article may not be considered “indie rock” by typical genre standards (i.e. Oasis) but are included because at some point in their career they released an album on an independent label.