Why will we musicians use alter egos? : NPR

Musician Sturgill Simpson says he is releasing a brand new album underneath a brand new title: “Johnny Blue Skies.” We glance — and pay attention — to a few of music’s different notable alter egos, equivalent to Ziggy Stardust.


Sturgill Simpson has made an enormous title for himself in music.


STURGILL SIMPSON: (Singing) Sure, my son, it is all been performed, and sometime you are going to get up previous 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 obtained us to excited about musical alter egos – when musicians undertake completely different names, perhaps 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 wish to undertake a unique persona for this interview?

THOMPSON: I am truly chatting with you as (laughter) – I ought to have had a joke for this. I haven’t got a superb NPR title. 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 think about 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, , a whole lot of musicians go by names that are not truly their beginning names, like Girl Gaga, Elton John, Queen Latifah. Like, that is not the names they have been born with (laughter).

THOMPSON: For this task, I type of considered it by way of individuals who have established musical personas – like Sturgill Simpson – after which have determined to pivot into presenting themselves underneath a unique title. And a few musicians have an extended historical past of this the place nearly each album is popping out from a unique persona. You consider anyone 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 unexpectedly, he places out a pop file from a unique model of himself named Chris Gaines.


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

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

THOMPSON: Garth Brooks is a proficient man. I imply, that file generally will get used as a punchline as a result of he was simply on the absolute peak of his fame, and unexpectedly, , put out this file that was not essentially going to be tremendous palatable to nation followers. However, like, that is an ideal instance of anyone who incorporates multitudes. He did not wish to simply sound like one man. He wished to strive his hand at a unique fashion of music that him.

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

THOMPSON: Effectively, I feel David Bowie is without doubt one of the first names that you just consider. David Bowie, , most likely most famously deployed the persona of Ziggy Stardust, , this sort of intergalactic determine, however he was additionally Aladdin Sane. He was additionally the Skinny White Duke. He was anyone who toyed with a whole lot of completely 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 fantastic 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 now have 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 information underneath the title J. Tillman. His title is Josh Tillman. And sooner or later, sort of a methods into his profession, I feel he felt himself stagnating a little bit bit and rebranded himself as Father John Misty, who’s sort 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, a whole lot of 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 seems like the explanations for doing this might be perhaps to liberate your self…


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

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

RASCOE: Do you’ve an all-time musical alter ego favourite that we are able to exit on?

THOMPSON: You recognize what? I am all the time going to wish to shine a little bit mild on the Touring Wilburys. These information meant a lot to me…

RASCOE: (Laughter).

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


THOMPSON: There’s this lovely, lovely music, “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 dwell the life you please. Effectively, it is…

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

THOMPSON: Oh, this music 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 possibly can sit round and anticipate the telephone to ring.

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This textual content is probably not in its closing kind and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability might range. The authoritative file of NPR’s programming is the audio file.

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