So you’re an artist living in 2020. Imagine if one day you had to put your passion on hold indefinitely, the government repeatedly procrastinated on appropriately funding the arts sector (the sector they benefited from to a huge degree pre-pandemic), they insinuated your career and passions were practically meaningless and told you to “retrain” for a new one.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to imagine that scenario up from the dustiest corners of your brain – you’re already living in it. As Johnson, Sunak and their rogues’ gallery continue to hide their heads in sandpits whilst continuing to keep the live music industry in a comatose state, their assumption that musicians need to learn new skills and find new careers is ignorant at best and insulting at worst.
Taking into consideration how most artists and bands will have already taken on day jobs to help fund their projects into life, it’s a baffling gesture to tell them to “retrain”. To prove it, here are an array of notable artists with a selection of their not-so-secret side-hustles.
Brian May: Astrophysicist
Where better to start than national treasure, Queen’s guitar hero and protector of badgers, Dr Brian May? (Emphasis on the ‘Dr’). As well as having universal earworms such as ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and ‘Flash’ under his belt, May also just so happens to be a fully qualified astrophysicist. Having put his doctoral studies on hold to pursue his musical career, he finally graduated with his PhD in 2008. Since then, he has gone on to write books with fellow astronomer Patrick Moore, had an asteroid named after him (the 52665 Brianmay), and co-founded Asteroid Day- a global awareness event dedicated to asteroid education, as well as protection from any future impact. May’s fascination with the stars even made it to his band’s music, with ‘39’ (from their seminal 1975 LP A Night at the Opera) telling the story of astronauts who leave the Earth on a mission to find new worlds; however, due to the effects of time dilation, they return having only aged a year whilst the Earth has aged a hundred. He certainly did his homework.
Tom DeLonge: UFO Expert
The Fox Mulder of the pop-punk world, Tom DeLonge of Blink-182 fame has been dedicated to lifting the lid on alien conspiracies since his youth. On 1999’s breakthrough album Enema of the State, he pinned his extra-terrestrial beliefs into the mainstream consciousness on the directly titled ‘Aliens Exist’, and they only went skyward from there. In 2017, he co-founded the To the Stars…Academy of Arts & Sciences, a company with divisions in aerospace, science and entertainment. The company ended up producing a History Channel series called ‘Unidentified: Inside America’s UFO Investigation’, and as recently as this year, the Pentagon declassified videos that DeLonge had sent through his company in 2017. Alas, though we may never get that all-important first contact, it’s important that folks like DeLonge are putting their music on the back-burner to seek out those flying saucers in the sky. I guess this is growing up.
Mark Bowen: Dentist
“Why don’t you get a job?” so begins ‘Well Done’, a cheeky little number by IDLES, Bristol’s chief rabble-rousers. Even Mark Bowen has a job. Yes, Bowen- Idles’ moustachioed lead guitarist- works as a dentist in London when he’s not tearing up stages and diving into sweaty crowds of all sizes across the world. Qualified on the NHS, he has alternated between having practiced his trade in dental clinics and prisons. Idles have always stuck their flags firmly against the Tories, and in view of their current malaise on sustaining the arts coupled with their passion of desecrating the NHS, there’s more reason for their ire than ever. So the choice is retrain, or read and get rich.
Frank Carter: Tattoo artist
Formerly of the Gallows and currently of the Rattlesnakes, Frank Carter is certainly a man with a flair for the artistic. As well as occasionally painting his own album covers, he has been a tattoo artist for a sizeable portion of his life. In between musical projects, he set up shop full time, tattooing fans and ink-lovers far and wide with his unique 50s influenced designs. And when the Rattlesnakes started gaining more and more traction, he still found the time to set up pop-up shops on tour. What a guy. Even a pandemic can’t keep him down- his newest tattooing venture began in July, a studio in East London called Rose of Mercy. To the folks in power with any objections, give his track ‘I Hate You’ a whirl.
Alex James: Cheesemaker
If you live in a house (a very big house) in the country, and find yourself with time on your hands, you could follow the example of Blur bassist Alex James and set up your very own cheese farm. First of all, you’d need to be in one of the biggest and best bands of the 90s, find the right time to buy property in the Cotswolds (preferably when the frontman is busy with his cartoon side project), and start to produce more cheese than a standard Gary Barlow album. Secondly, in the vacant purgatory between the hiatus and reunion of your band, you make a name for yourself as the hottest up-and-comer in the cheese industry. Make sure you name one of your cheeses after a New Order song. A Shropshire Blue called ‘Blue Monday’? Writes itself. Finally, buddy up with Jamie Oliver to host a music and food festival on your farm every summer and bask in the satisfactory glow of your two passions blending together seamlessly. It’s a formula that, unlike cheese, never goes mouldy.
Hayley Williams: Hair dye company founder
Since their formation, Paramore have stormed to the front of the alt-rock world, all the while led by their vibrant and colourful frontwoman Hayley Williams. Arguably one of the most iconic figures of 21st century guitar music, she is certainly not somebody who needs to retrain to suit other ventures. After a prior four years of planning, Williams launched Good Dye Young in 2016. Hence the name, it’s a hair dye company that offers a divergent range of products and colours to flourish your hair with. The names the dyes have been christened are all fantastic: Steal My Sunshine (yellow), Rock Lobster (red), Kowabunga (green) and one for the Paramore anoraks Riot! (orange). And best of all, they are all vegan and cruelty-free products. In a year filled to the brim with Hard Times, it’s magnificent how artists like Williams still manage to thrive in a multitude of ways and outlets.
Erykah Badu: Midwife
Of course, life never stops moving at a hurtling speed. The beginnings come as quickly as the endings, despite often having 9 months to prepare for the former. So the job of the midwife and the doula can often be as stressful as it is rewarding. R&B and neo-soul legend Erykah Badu should know; she qualifies as both. In 2001, she helped one of her friends through giving birth, and it immediately sparked an interest in pursuing a career in that field. Since then, she’s started moonlighting as a certified doula and has recently gained the qualifications for midwifery. It was announced in June that she would be delivering the child of musician, actress and dancer Teyana Taylor; life never does stop moving.
Bruce Dickinson: Pilot
A wise philosopher once said that if you’ve got it, you should flaunt it. No other rock ‘n’ roll figurehead has possibly embodied that phrase more than Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, who makes full use of his pilots’ license whenever his band are on tour. The ‘Ed Force One’ is the official Iron Maiden touring plane that Dickinson takes the role of piloting from coast to coast. His love of aviation doesn’t stop there; he launched Caerdav (formerly Cardiff Aviation Ltd) in 2013, and flew for now-defunct commercial airline Astraeus not long before that. In this current reality though, it’s lucky his musical legacy has already been established. Or else he’d have to swap Maiden for EasyJet full time.
Gerard Way: Comic book writer
In 2007, the first issue of a comic book series called The Umbrella Academy was published to great acclaim. Since then, with every additional series, it has gone to garner quite the fanbase and a number of awards, culminating in a high-budget Netflix adaptation for television. One of the most notable aspects of The Umbrella Academy, however, is that it didn’t stem from the mind of Marvel, DC or any other established comic book figurehead. No, it all came from the mind of the poster boy of emo, the ringmaster of the Black Parade himself, Gerard Way. The My Chemical Romance star had been pursuing a career in comic books long before his band took off, having graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York’s School of Visual Arts in 1999. Thankfully he found time to pursue his other visions, and with the MCR reunion tour put on hold (for now), you wonder what his imagination may bring us yet as 2020 comes to a close.
Louise Wener: Author
From one of the most underrated outfits of the 90s Britpop boom, Louise Wener crafted hit after hit in Sleeper. Since the original split of the band in 1998 however, she found a new home for herself in the world of prose. She has written four novels thus far: ‘The Half Life of Stars’, ‘The Perfect Play’, ‘Worldwide Adventures in Love’, and ‘Goodnight Steve McQueen’. The latter is the most significant of these books, as it fictionalises her personal accounts of working in the music industry – it also happens to be the most acclaimed and esteemed of her novels. After writing two autobiographical accounts of her time in Sleeper, the band reunited in 2017- at first for a one-off tour, but later went on to record a new album. Sometimes being an Inbetweener can really pay off well.
The Libertines: Hotel managers
Now this is a slight diversion from the general pattern we’ve been following here, as we have yet to cover a whole band’s side-hustle. But The Libertines have never been the most orthodox of bands, and their new chapter is certainly one to behold. Their latest chapter has seen them set up shop in Margate, renovate property and open up The Albion Rooms, a hotel/bar/recording studio. They’ve viewed it as a place open to creatives of all kinds, a sanctuary to write and record music by the sea, whilst also being surrounded by Libertines memorabilia. An unpredictable venture? Yes. But it’s so very them. Let the Albion forever sail on course.
Jack White: Upholsterer
White Stripe. Raconteur. Upholsterer. Just three impressive elements on that young upstart Jack White’s CV. Let’s take a closer inspection on that last one though. White undertook a three-year apprenticeship in upholstery when he was 15, albeit with music still casting a considerable shadow, later starting a band with his upholstery mentor (it took all of their combined force of imagination to come up with the name: The Upholsterers). He went on to open up his own business Third Man Upholstery, a name he’d later recycle for his own record label. Ever the maverick, he used to hide records inside the furniture he was fixing, which came as a surprise to former customers: over a decade after having their furnishings repaired, some discovered they were in ownership of one of 100 lucrative Jack White seven-inches.
Terminator X: Ostrich farmer
Let’s end with perhaps the most jarring career shift of them all. The mental images that you project when you picture iconic US hip-hop group Public Enemy are that of spitfire bars and social revolution, right? Not ostrich farming at all? No? Well, ever since his departure from the group, that’s what their former DJ Terminator X has been up to. His farm in North Carolina was established as a family business, but he has since departed for fresh ventures, and the farm has since taken on goats. Moral of the story is that if you ask an artist to give up and do something else, chances are they’re already doing that “something else” or have done already. Musicians? They’re prepared for anything.