Why will we musicians use alter egos? : NPR

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Musician Sturgill Simpson says he is releasing a brand new album below a brand new identify: “Johnny Blue Skies.” We glance — and hear — to a few of music’s different notable alter egos, reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust.


Sturgill Simpson has made a giant identify for himself in music.


STURGILL SIMPSON: (Singing) Sure, my son, it is all been performed, and sometime you are going to get up outdated and grey…

RASCOE: However the nation star introduced he is releasing a brand new album and heading out on tour, not as himself, however as Johnny Blue Skies. It acquired us to excited about musical alter egos – when musicians undertake totally different names, possibly personalities, too, to launch their music. So we’re bringing in Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. He has all of the solutions. Hey, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hey, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Do you need to undertake a distinct persona for this interview?

THOMPSON: I am truly talking to you as (laughter) – I ought to have had a joke for this. I haven’t got NPR identify. You recognize, folks all the time discuss NPR names. And I ought to have…

RASCOE: Like Stephen Fancy Pants. Like that, sure.

THOMPSON: Yeah, Stephen Fancy Pants. Sure.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: I might like to consider myself as Stephen Fancy Pants. I would as properly truly make it a part of my skilled life.

RASCOE: Effectively, let’s set some floor guidelines. How do you outline a musical alter ego? As a result of clearly, you recognize, numerous musicians go by names that are not truly their delivery names, like Woman Gaga, Elton John, Queen Latifah. Like, that is not the names they have been born with (laughter).

THOMPSON: For this project, I type of considered it when it comes to individuals who have established musical personas – like Sturgill Simpson – after which have determined to pivot into presenting themselves below a distinct identify. And a few musicians have an extended historical past of this the place nearly each album is popping out from a distinct persona. You consider any individual like David Bowie or Kool Keith. However I used to be actually pondering of it as like a profession pivot.


THOMPSON: You recognize, the place, like, the nation singer Garth Brooks was rolling alongside, one of many greatest stars on this planet, one of many best-selling artists of all time. And hastily, he places out a pop report from a distinct model of himself named Chris Gaines.


CHRIS GAINES: (Singing) However there’s one thing about you. While you’re round, child, I’ve discovered I get misplaced in you.

RASCOE: That is not unhealthy. I hadn’t heard that earlier than. That is not unhealthy. I like that (laughter).

THOMPSON: Garth Brooks is a gifted man. I imply, that report typically will get used as a punchline as a result of he was simply on the absolute top of his fame, and hastily, you recognize, put out this report that was not essentially going to be tremendous palatable to nation followers. However, like, that is an ideal instance of any individual who incorporates multitudes. He did not need to simply sound like one man. He wished to attempt his hand at a distinct type of music that him.

RASCOE: Give us some traditional examples of musical alter egos.

THOMPSON: Effectively, I feel David Bowie is among the first names that you just consider. David Bowie, you recognize, most likely most famously deployed the persona of Ziggy Stardust, you recognize, this type of intergalactic determine, however he was additionally Aladdin Sane. He was additionally the Skinny White Duke. He was any individual who toyed with numerous totally different variations of himself.


DAVID BOWIE: (Singing) There is a starman ready within the sky. He’d like to return and meet us, however he thinks he’d blow our minds.

THOMPSON: You recognize, and that is a terrific instance of, like, he is performing as Ziggy Stardust, however everybody is aware of it is David Bowie, proper?


THOMPSON: So it falls into the class, however he wasn’t essentially presenting himself as like, do not name me David Bowie anymore.

RASCOE: OK. Do we’ve any of these the place folks, like, actually, like, they actually modified themselves and like, that is my new persona. That is me now.

THOMPSON: Effectively, one instance that springs to my thoughts is the artist Father John Misty…


FATHER JOHN MISTY: (Singing) Emma eats bread and butter like a queen…

THOMPSON: …Who put out a bunch of data below the identify J. Tillman. His identify is Josh Tillman. And in some unspecified time in the future, type of a methods into his profession, I feel he felt himself stagnating a bit of bit and rebranded himself as Father John Misty, who’s type of this larger-than-life determine and wrote his songs and albums from the attitude of this character. And at that time, his profession actually took off. Now, numerous Father John Misty followers most likely do not even essentially consider him as Josh Tillman. They consider him as Father John Misty, this character.

RASCOE: Mmm. So it appears like the explanations for doing this is able to be possibly to liberate your self…


RASCOE: …When you really feel such as you’re caught in a single zone or to type of put some extra juice into your profession.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I additionally assume I might add one different class, which is altering the stakes. Usually, songwriting is an empathy train, proper? A songwriter is consistently placing themselves within the mind, within the thoughts, within the lifetime of one other particular person. And so it solely is sensible {that a} actually inventive songwriter would need to toy with not solely trying on the world by means of another person’s eyes, however envisioning themselves as a distinct artist. I feel it is a pure phenomenon, and that is why it is come up over and time and again all through the complete historical past of well-liked music.

RASCOE: Do you could have an all-time musical alter ego favourite that we will exit on?

THOMPSON: You recognize what? I am all the time going to need to shine a bit of gentle on the Touring Wilburys. These data meant a lot to me…

RASCOE: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: …As, like, a young person and a younger grownup. And the Touring Wilburys was a supergroup of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison. And you recognize, these are 5 artists with large followings, with terribly profitable careers. However they wished to do a report that felt, I feel, smaller to them and that allowed them to type of work with their associates and mess around with this actually collegial, lower-stakes sound.


THOMPSON: There’s this lovely, lovely track, “Finish Of The Line,” that simply seems like, an accumulation of an entire bunch of actually warm-hearted and hard-won knowledge. Let’s exit on “Finish Of The Line.”


TRAVELING WILBURYS: (Singing) Effectively, it is all proper when you reside the life you please. Effectively, it is…

RASCOE: Oh, that is good. I did not know this was them.

THOMPSON: Oh, this track is so good-hearted.

RASCOE: That is Stephen Thompson of NPR Music. Thanks a lot for speaking with us.

THOMPSON: Thanks, Ayesha.


TRAVELING WILBURYS: (Singing) You may sit round and watch for the telephone to ring.

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