Is Breaking Up Your Band Hard to Do? Three Case Studies from Summer 2013

By on Thursday, 1st August 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Whether it has been caused by the economic climate, disillusionment in the goal of making it big or just band members getting tetchy with each other, there is no denying that the sheer number of bands that have been breaking up recently has been staggering. It’s been especially hard to swallow when I see the band that’s disbanding is one of the kind of indie bands we tend to champion here TGTF and we’ve supported over the years.

Just in the last 10 days we’ve been given the sobering notice that Stockton-on-Tees’ Chapman Family, LA band The Henry Clay People and The Good Natured, the electro three-piece fronted by Sarah McIntosh, have all folded. And don’t go blaming the recent summer heat wave causing delirium on this phenomenon. These bands, along with several others that disbanded since I took over as Editor-in-Chief of TGTF in summer 2010, made me wonder what is it that is going so wrong in the music industry for these terrible things to happen.

Perhaps it is naiveté having never actually been in a band. But I would think the actual breaking up of an entity, a friendship unit that means so much to you, something you’ve put all your blood, sweat and tears into for years and years, would be psychologically hurtful. And we’re not even talking about the emotional toll the actual breakup has on the fans of the band. After reading the tearful reactions of several of my mates on social media about the bands I have mentioned, I thought I would take a closer look at each of those bands to try and make sense of it all.

The Chapman Family (pictured at top)

I’m going to start with the recent band break-up that has been the most difficult to fathom for me. After many friends’ urgings and Martin’s glowing account of them live in Newcastle I finally got to see the Chapman Family at Leaf Cafe in Liverpool during the second night of this year’s Sound City. What a strange place to see a gig; as I snapped away on my camera, I was stood near the stage with no-one around me and loads of people behind me sat at cafe tables. But the charisma of frontman Kingsley Chapman and the overall tightness of the band’s sound left me nearly speechless. Just brilliant.

Earlier this month, Kingsley had pimped out his keyboard stand for their Stockton Weekender performance, festooning the legs with what I considered gorgeous fake flowers from a pound shop. It didn’t occur to me until after they’d announced their breakup that maybe the colours chosen – mostly ghostly, funereal white – might have been a sign. I’ve talked to several friends of mine involved in the business and we’ve come to the agreement that the band had soldiered on from 2006 to 2013 – 7 years, which is a really long time in band years these days – and maybe they’d just gotten to the point where the dream had died and they had become disenchanted by not being able to go further, to play for bigger crowds, to go beyond the confines they’d already stretched. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure why they broke up, but I’m sad nevertheless.

To our fans and friends,

We’re really sorry to announce that The Chapman Family is coming to an end.

The gig at the Georgian Theatre in Stockton-on-Tees this Friday night will be our last.

We would like to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for the support you’ve given us over the years since our very first gig at the Kubar in 2006 to the very moment you’re reading this now. You’re all amazing and it’s been an honour and a pleasure to play for you. You’ve given us memories that we will treasure forever and we hope in some small way that the records we’ve made for you – from the pink DIY effort of “You Are Not Me” in 2007 to the purple vinyl of “This One’s For Love” last month via the album “Burn Your Town” and the EP “Cruel Britannia” – will provide you with pleasurable diversions throughout your lives for years to come.

We were the first completely unsigned band to feature on an NME tour as well as top the MySpace charts on MTV. By hook or crook we managed to play to audiences in Japan, America, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria as well as more towns and cities than we can possibly remember in the UK. We’d like to thank everyone that we’ve ever worked with, every promoter that’s ever put us on, every soundman that has asked us to turn up and not down, every blog that has interviewed us, every DJ that’s played our songs, every magazine or newspaper that’s taken an interest and every one of you who’s ever had their heads turned slightly or their eardrums blown by a bunch of Teessiders trying their very best to be the most exciting rock band they can possibly be.

You have given us the most exciting years of our lives.

WE LOVE YOU ALL

The Good Natured

The talent of Sarah McIntosh, I’m happy to say, was something I can credit TGTF (in its form before I joined up with the site) for getting me keen on. From her humble beginnings as an amateur synth player, rescuing a vintage(y) Casio from her gran’s rubbish heap prior to 2008 and then setting herself the goal of, as her PR described it, “to document ‘the make outs, break ups, make outs and make ups’” of life. There was something truly amazing how professional her music as The Good Natured sounded even in 2009 before she’d been signed; listen to ‘Warriors’ below.

Then in early 2011 came the news that she’d been signed to Parlophone, aka the branch of EMI that is most famous for producing the Beatles, and with brother Hamish on bass and mate George Hinton on drums, it seemed that McIntosh has been rewarded for her innovation and all her previous hard work. The first single they released with their new label behind them was ‘Skeleton’, which admittedly caused me some shock, as it was obvious Parlophone was trying to sex up Sarah’s image in the video, which was as far from sexual as possible to begin with. At least she kept her clothes on for the video; I had this image of her putting her foot down in a meeting and saying, “I’m not taking my clothes off. I’m not Britney Spears!”

Then came the news last Thursday that the band were calling it quits because they were unable to retrieve the master tapes to their debut album from their label. (If this sounds all too familiar, it’s because it happened in 2010 to a band us here at TGTF love, Little Comets. Frontman Robert Coles explained what happened in this interview with me in early 2011. We are so pleased they went on and did well for themselves without losing their artistic credibility or integrity.) I guess folding was the only reasonable option left on the table for the Good Natured. To add insult to injury, the band also posted a photo of a sign announcing American popster Katy Perry‘s new album to be released in October, called ‘Prism’, which incidentally was going to be the name of the Good Natured’s debut album. While it’s the end of the road for this incarnation of the band, they Tweeted on Monday that they expected to come out with new music in the future and “Life has a really funny way of telling you everything happens for a reason.” Which is an incredibly adult outlook. I’m not sure I would have had the same feelings; I probably would have been throwing a tantrum. Read the full letter to fans from 25 July from the Good Natured below.

Hello to all you amazing people. Sorry we’ve been so quiet in the TGN camp lately. We’ve had a lot going on and we didn’t want to update you until we had our facts straight. We didn’t want to give you information that wasn’t true when we didn’t understand the situation ourselves. A few months ago we were dropped from our record label. Our album has been shelved. Over this time we have been trying to get our masters back so that we can release Prism, however, it has not been possible.

To say we are devastated is an understatement. Believe us when we say we have tried everything possible to get our album to you. Sometimes life gives you lemons and you gotta make lemonade. When one door closes another opens.
You have to pick yourself up, be bigger, be stronger. For The Good Natured it is the end of the road, but it’s safe to say there is something better around the corner.

Our last gig will be at Secret Garden Party in Eddy Temple Morris Temple Of Boom. We’d love it if you came down to celebrate what fun we have had. We love every single one of you and thank you for your support along the way. It means everything to us. We will see you soon. All our love as always, Sarah, Hamish and George.

The Henry Clay People

The first gig I ever covered as a music blogger was on the 12th of March 2009, a headline show by the Airborne Toxic Event at DC’s Black Cat and featuring their good friends the Henry Clay People as support. Last Wednesday, the Henry Clay People left the following message on their Facebook:

Hello friendos-

The Henry Clays play August 17th at Echo Park Rising music fest. It’s free. We’ll be playing in the early evening…

In the past, we have been sort of doomsdayish with our “this could be it for the band” insinuations. Yet here we are.

This one may be different. This may actually be “it” for the following exciting reasons:

Eric is now a proud papa bear and one test away from being a legit architect.
Andy is going back to school.
Joey is moving to the east coast to go back to school.
Harris is currently touring the country/world with other rock and roll bands.
Noah has a rad new band called The Pretty Flowers.

If the August 17th show sucks, then we will probably have to do another to redeem ourselves, but it might not be until 2020: Thirty-Five for the Rest of Our Lives.

It’s been fun. We miss you. We miss playing. It’s kinda sad and happy at same time. Let’s make this one special.

Love,

The Henry Clay People

Of all the breakups in this feature, this one was the least bittersweet because they offered a final show for their fans and the explanation given for the end of the band was clear cut. Based on the letter above, we can surmise that each of their band members came to the conclusion that this band thing was over and it was high time to be a Grown-Up, however hard (or easy) coming to that realisation may have been.

While having families, children and the scariest thing to musicians, the respectable job, doesn’t always sound the death knell for a rock band, it’s really the easiest and least painful reason for breaking up a band because it’s not entirely unexpected. While Henry Clay People fans may not be quickly consoled by the harsh reality of Real Life, the news is however well tempered now that we know that every single person in the band is going forward, doing his own thing and they’re entirely okay with it.

I mentioned the economy at the start of this piece. There is no denying that making enough money as a musician in order to survive without another source of income has become more and more difficult, thanks to music piracy and the online streaming services like the one that Thom Yorke has recently and famously hit out at giving out paltry payouts to bands. If you don’t believe me, check out the graphs posted in this Atlantic article. The American half of TGTF’s writership often get into long discussions about how touring (and to a lesser extent, selling merch at the shows) is the only real way musicians can survive if they’re not being backed by a major label.

If the economy is in any part, whether small or large, affecting the number and increased frequency of bands breaking up, then unfortunately I see this as a sort of unintended natural selection process in the current music climate and it will continue. It’s not a trend I like seeing and if you agree with me, go out there and give your support to your favourite bands. Buy their albums, buy tickets to see them live. In the song ‘Rubber Ring’ by the Smiths, Morrissey sings, “don’t forget the songs that made you cry / and the songs that saved your life”. For many of us, rock bands aren’t peripheral items in our lives. They mean something to us. They become so important to our way of life, they become part of our family. So if for some reason the time comes for them to break up, at least you can say that you were there for them. Just like they were there for you.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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