I'm not sure this was ever the plan but Xtra Mile has formed a habit. You know, the one where we attract and gather artists whose original journeys involved travelling companions and now no longer do? Fellow musicians joined these ambitious individuals to create sounds worth investing significant parts of their (and your) life. But somewhere along the way, there was a parting. Unable to simply halt the creative output, these solo adventurers sojourned on, sometimes alone and other times taking people along with them. What's more is that the majority of these people made an awful lot more noise when they were in packs, but going solo naturally meant a pared down and restrained experience. This doesn't always remain the case, but it appears to be a deliberate attempt to maximise their potential at a songwriting level. Let's take a look at these brave souls whose art could not be stopped by mere isolation.
I've compiled a Spotify playlist for you to listen along with here. There are videos for the XMR artists below too if you prefer visuals / don't want to use Spotify.
Dan Andriano In the Emergency Room
Bassist, vocalist and co-songwriter of Alkaline Trio, Dan Andriano's songs are very often the best in the three-piece's dark-punk canon. Listen to their underrated Good Mourning album to hear what I mean. Brutally honest about alcoholism and heartbreak, Dan has also found space in his repertoire to lift spirits too. Along the way, he found he had a fair few songs he still needed to launch into people's consciousness. Dan Andriano In the Emergency Room is his vehicle for that, his way onto people's aural highways. Xtra Mile brought on board his blend of a more traditional and refined rock sound, ever distinctive voice and lyrical nous, releasing his second album Party Adjacent in 2014.
'Crawl' by Alkaline Trio – From Here To Infirmiry
The song that sold me on Alkaline Trio after despising ubiquitous MTV fodder 'Stupid Kid'. A harrowing tale of alcohol dependency and relationship breakdown, the painful tale is told well through the chug of the bare bones drums, bass and voice for the verse, the palm-muted guitars to the chorus, and Dan's extraordinary voice given in to pain and celebration. An extraordinary way to finish an album full of dark pop-punk.
'Lost' by Dan Andriano In the Emergency Room – Party Adjacent
Based around the kind of driving fuzz bass riff you might hope courses under any great Alkaline Trio song, 'Lost' throws in with some delightful bell-ringing guitars, harmonised "oooohs" and a subtle electronic backdrop. It's a delight when everythingcollides and just seems to effortlessly pierce mere straospheres while remaining entirely grounded in the familiar.
Buy Party Adjacent on CD, coloured vinyl or download.
(At the Drive-In & Sparta)
Though not as magnetic as two afro'd whirligigs with an abundance of creativity, Jim Ward was the backbone, the rhythmic and caustic-toned constant in At the Drive-In. This was proven in his first post-At the Drive-In band Sparta, whose trio of records are underrated in emo-centric rock circles. Even more underrated were his set of solo EPs, which Xtra Mile released as a 20-track compilation entitled Quiet In the Valley, On the Shores the End Begins in 2011.
'Cosmonut' by At the Drive-In – Relationship Of Command
Even if I wasn't initially convinced by 'One Armed Scissor' back in 2000 (I soon changed my mind once it clicked) 'Cosmonaut' almost instantly became the way to bring me screaming to any dancefloor, mosh pit or conversation about post-hardcore. 'Cosmonaut' is the detonation of a pressure valve wreathed in steel cables, the shrapnel embedding in the most reluctant limbs and was rock music's most frenetic moment in 2001. It is and forever will be one example describing how music moves me most. Although perhaps 'Pickpocket' from In/Casino/Out does it better for me these days.
'Red Alibi' by Sparta – Wiretap Scars
There wasn't such a huge leap from Sparta to solo material as there would have beeen from ATD-I to just Jim, but it's certainly heavier in terms of rhythm section. This from Sparta's first album Wiretap Scars is a brilliant example of how Jim's lead vocals and precision guitars can revel in an emotional core, absolutely confirming he was the anchor behind At the Drive-In's most chaotic moments, giving them shape, weight and power. You can hear this gaping canyon in their atrocious new album in•ter a•li•a which misses Jim dearly.
'Broken Songs - electric' by Jim Ward – Quiet In the Valley, On the Shores the End Begins
“I don't find success as interesting as art,” Jim sings on 'Broken Songs', further adding to the belief that a lot of honesty seems to come with tearing back the layers and writing for yourself rather than expressing yourself in a band. Recorded both as solo and full electric band, both are effective ways of getting across Jim's approach to creating but it's the electric version that hits the heights the song really deserves. It's a simple piece of songwriting that is constantly elevated by carefully added layers without ever overdoing it.
Buy Quiet In the Valley, On the Shores the End Begins on double CD or download.
Once part of Colorado folk ensemble Paper Bird, including her sister, Esmé Patterson broke free in 2012 and has recorded three solo albums since. Each album has a good mix of louder and quieter songs, but the key is that they're clearly stripped back with her vocal usually the only one on the recording.
'Boxcars & Thistles' by Paper Bird – When the River Took Flight
A lilting banjo-led folk song with a bold and brassy horn trumping along at opportune moments. It embraces all that a folk song can be - beautiful in its maudlin sound, bright and unexpected instrumental passages, and glorious harmonies and rounds seeping through, hoisting the song out of any possible gloom. Esmé has simplified things for her own songs, but she owes a lot to what was learned here.
'Wildflower' and 'Feel Right' – Woman To Woman / We Were Wild
Wildlfower is the heartbreaking riposte to Bob Dylan's 'To Ramona'. Simply her voice and acoustic guitar, it's the essence of Esmé on her own path. She embodies the character of Ramona, giving her thoughts and feelings beyond Dylan's original vision, and it feels like Esmé is effortlessly giving fuller character to popular music. 'Feel Right' is Esmé at her sharpest and most vibrant. A rarer electric song, her voice breaking in intensity as the song flits through its two plus minutes is another indication of how far she's come since Paper Bird.
Probably the biggest stylistic change among this lot, Matt Goud of Northcote was once vocalist and guitarist for Means, a Christian metallic hardcore band. Naturally the split from Means meant much more of Matt's steer on the cleaner sound, incorporating folk, country, gospel and brass instruments giving more nuance and generally reveling in the optimistic and upbeat.
'Counting Down the Days' by Northcote – Northcote
Matt's music has never lost the melancholy tinge, but it also feels far more like he's at home even while away. 'Counting Down the Days' is more straight ahead than some Northcote songs, but the breakdown around 1.35 replaces the dramatic pounding drums and downtuned guitars of old for triumphant horns. And it is a wonderful, ascendant song that nods to gospel and is far more potent in its swells than Means was with its aggressive down-tuned guitars.
Buy Northcote on CD or download.
'Learning To Be Brave' by Means – Sending You Strength
Having said that, you can't deny this is what the twenty-somethings might call a 'choon'. Seriously if all you've heard is Northcote, you're in for a shock. But you'll recognise Matt on the cleaner vocals, sodden as it is with full-throated screaming and thudding, grinding guitars. It's the difference between old and new testament; one is far heavier handed but still relevant to some while the other is accessible, easier to stomach and far more insightful.
'Your Rock and Roll' by Northcote – Hope Is Made of Steel
Back to Northcote and this is mostly just Matt and an electric guitar. 'Your Rock and Roll' from his 2015 album Hope Is Made of Steel seems to lift the soul way above what even a full-band Northcote song can achieve. Again, it's a world away from where he was in Means, and far more in touch with himself. Braver too.
Buy Hope Is Made of Steel on CD or download.
Fast, aggressive, signed to No Wreck Chords, Avail may have had little in its style that would indicate a move towards Tim Barry's later work but the voice doesn't shift too much between projects. It's perhaps a little less gruff. Still the Hot Water Music-esque tone isn't going away any time soon and it reappears on Tim Barry's solo release on XMR, 40 Miler.
'Rest' by Avail – One Wrench
Finishing their penultimate album One Wrench, it's everything you want punk rock to be most days – pacey, yelled gang vocal crescendos and rudimentary (if swift) riffs.
'Bankers Dilemma' by Tim Barry – 40 Miler
Simple acoustic folk with some tasty little slide playing and picked melodies, but the lyrics are unexpectedly humorous and - yes - punk rock in their rebellion against financial responsibility and escape from the restraints of employment, bills and mortgages. It may not be good advice, but it is funny and enticing.
Buy 40 Miler on CD or download.
(Six Going On Seven)
Having a song on the soundtrack for indie film The Station Agent (starring Peter Dinklage before he won an Emmy for being the guy who drinks and knows things in Game of Thrones) with Six Going On Seven didn't save the band, but that sound transferred seamlessly when Joshua English went out by himself.
'Lately' by Six Going On Seven – American't (Or Won't)
There's not much denying that this sounds like the Goo Goo Dolls. That lo-fi electric guitar intro soon turns into the sort of jangly indie you'd expect somewhere in 2001, or perhaps a few years earlier, and destined to end up on an independent film about wallflowers. It's still good though.
'This Death Is Easy' by Joshua English – Trouble None
I could've chosen almost anything off of Trouble None as it's so cohesive, but this merges the sonic weirdness, indie charm and slightly off-kilter vocal melodies that Joshua soaks his songs in.
Buy Trouble None on CD or download
(The Loved Ones)
Another of our likely suspects that got less bombastic and slower rather than quieter but still The Loved Ones were pretty rooted in athemic punk whereas Dave's solo material retains the anthemic and deliberately gives himself room to breathe, sing and emote. It's much tougher to mean what you say with only a handful of textures. With full reign on his own songs, he gives them the full breadth of elements he wants and Resolutions is a striking debut album.
'Bridge' by The Loved Ones – Build & Burn
Bridge is one of The Loved Ones' more straight ahead rock songs, from 2008's Build & Burn, though it is also among their most memorable with a twiddly guitar riff and excellent vocal phrasing. I urge you to listen to this when you want a little uplift to your day and see if you'll feel better - I bet you do.
'Melanin' by Dave Hause – Resolutions
Reocgnisably Dave Hause's voice, he's dropped the volume a bit and allowed the melodies to really seep into the music. Some nice country-esque runs spring out on the guitar, and a simple tune makes this song from his debut solo album Resolutions ring true after a few years of yelling into microphones.
(The Movielife / I Am the Avalanche)
'Once In A Row' by The Movielife – This Time Next Year
Really you can pick any The Movielife song and get the same rush and energy from it. Once In A Row packs everything a pop punk song needs to say and do in just over two minutes, which coincidentally is the perfect pop punk song length.
'Brooklyn Dodgers' by I Am the Avalanche – Avalanche United
Certainly not quieter but less wiry and frantic, 'Brooklyn Dodgers' is I Am the Avalanche at its most confident, and Vinnie Caruana's voice strides above the top of it all. Lyrically it has that excellent balance of stinging humour and earnest feeling with sneering delivery that Vinnie does so well.
'City By the Sea' by Vinnie Cauana – City By the Sea EP
The title track of his 2013 solo seven-song EP, Vinnie here is slower, deliberate and has a distinct textural rawness to his voice that is lost in his bands. An acoustic guitar, with just a few other instruments embellishing throughout, it seems the lack of distortion provides just as good a foil to Vinnie's voice and acerbic words as a noisier backdrop.
Buy City By the Sea on vinyl, CD or download.
Jamie is one of only three examples where Xtra Mile released both the band and solo sides of an artists work. Reuben's Racecar Is Racecar Backwards was the first Xtra Mile release (after co-releasing Million Dead's A Song To Ruin with Integrity Records), one of the most influential and exhilarating albums from the mid-2000s on UK British rock music. Eight years later, we released his first solo album Muscle Memory.
'Scared of the Police' by Reuben – single release (available on We Should Have Gone To University)
A very early single, and the first song I ever heard by Reuben. It was a molten-riffed monster that had this harmonious honest voice soaring through it. It's still one of my favourite songs from any era in a time when Reuben could do nothing wrong. This was the perfect introduction to a band that would continue to exhibit some of the best UK underground rock songs. It can be found on We Should Have Gone To University, a 47-track compilation of rarities, early singles and B-sides.
Buy Reuben's albums on CD and download.
'A Day in the Life' by Jamie Lenman – Muscle Memory
Though half of this song's parent album was heavier than the heaviest Reuben material, the other half was tuneful, eclectic and unexpected. Still, an a capella song is a star cluster away from his previous band, and this stomping, rousing multi-vocal workhouse-style song is as powerful and thrilling as anything off of Racecar or Very Dangerous.
HalfNoise is the post-Paramore project of their co-founder and drummer Zac Farro. Ebbing pulsating electronica with an indie scope, it's a pretty radical departue from his then dayjob. Zac returned to Paramore early 2017.
'Misery Business' by Paramore – RIOT!
As a co-founder of Paramore, Zac Farro's tubthumping skills have featured on every album up to 2009's Brand New Eyes. From breakthrough album RIOT!, 'Misery Business' is the archetypal Paramore anthem – sheer pop highs riding on pop-punk rules and Hayley Williams exuding attitude and effortless emotion) and a huge hit (over 100 million plays on Spotify - and yet, it's not enough). What Zac did next will shock you.
'Sunsee' by HalfNoise – Halfnoise
Halfnoise (by HalfNoise) is probably the least-likely release to fit on the XMR roster, which is almost certainly why we released it. We like to think we have a diverse selection of music, but there's nothing that sounds like this Postal Service via Caribou release from Paramore drummer Zac Farro. And its understated beauty is summed up in 'Sunsee', an elegant dream-like song with a rippling synth symphony for a chorus. Again, nothing like Paramore.
Buy Halfnoise on vinyl, CD or download
Stringerbessant is an anomaly. Not technically a solo project, and neither is it the band for the songs of one person (as some of the above are) because it's a duo. Stringerbessant combines the songwriting of Gary Stringer and Jack Bessant from 90s rock band Reef, and goes (whaddya know) folky. Is this because it's the easiest and simplest sound to access and the closest to how most people write their songs? Is their some sort of purity in presenting your songs in this way?
'Place Your Hands' by Reef – Glow
If you don't know this song with its bright, feel-good swagger, then you clearly haven't followed the Place Your Hands Twitter account that checks how many copies the song has sold each week (who is buying this song every week?). You're also not one of the over 10 million Spotify plays. There's actually another connection between this song and Xtra Mile, but I'll leave that for another time.
'The Calling' by Stringerbessant – Yard
A gentle acoustic ballad from their first album Yard which gifts Gary's distinctive voice ample room to build into a raw and lovely chorus. When Jack joins in the middle, it gives the song a lift that the simple affecting lyricism deserves.
Buy Yard on CD or download.
Tribes were set for stardom achieving a top 20 debut album in the UK after lots of positive press. However, like so many promising bands, they only lasted four years before moving onto new things. Lead singer Johnny Llouyd quickly set about recording new songs, with Xtra Mile lucky enough to be in the position to offer a platform for his latest offerings.
'We Were Children' by Tribes – Baby
Johnny Lloyd's hazy, hypnotic sound first came to the fore as a member of Tribes (having already spent time in Operahouse) and 'We Were Children' is a dynamic, memorable hit that received heavy Zane Lowe approval, and shows both the relative naiveity, rawness of sound and vital grip on melody.
'Hello Death' by Johnny Lloyd – Dreamland EP
Noisier, with an almost tropical feel, Johnny Lloyd's solo songs revel in a maturity, a cohesive if warped sound and 'Hello Death' introduces you to the eerie side of his songwriting. For more of that brighter feel, 'Running Wild' lets you into the positive, free-falling pop brilliance he's capable of.
(The Hold Steady)
Franz has spent his life in musical projects from Balka jazz carnies Guginol and World/Inferno Friendship Society's cabaret-punk circus to forming outlaw orchestra Anti-Social Music. He's also toured with label mates Against Me! as well as being most well-known for his exquisite contributions to The Hold Steady. His eccentricities spill out on his solo albums while retaining every melodic sense he's picked up along the way.
'Constructive Summer' by the Hold Steady – Stay Positive
Often described as the world's best bar band, this was certainly true for their two standout albums of which Franz was a part: Boys and Girls In America and Stay Positive. 'Constructive Summer' is one of their most full-speed-ahead thrashes with requisite gang holler and lyrics you can clutch to your heart. It's hard not to buoyed by the brilliance and why would you fight a song this good?
'The Hearts of Boston' by Franz Nicolay – Do the Struggle
Not quieter or slower, but more like extracting the elements that Franz brought to Boys and Girls In America and Stay Positive; a bizarre folk-fiddle-fury with stark vocal acapaella verses, we hear both the charismatic and the chaotic in Franz's solo stuff. It's somehow moving and eclectic, a difficult thing to pull off for anyone, though not for Franz who is unlike most. And check out those words bursting forth like water through a dam!
Buy Do the Struggle on CD or download.
'Marfa Lights' by Franz Nicolay – To Us, The Beautiful!
Franz really captures his rock heart with this album, and Marfa Lights is one of the more tender moments. There's no denying it has the scaling carnival heights and arpeggio parts floating around like 99 scarlet streamers. It's here that his arcane lyrics peak out of the dark and glimpse the heart and love found in the most unusual places.
Buy To Us, The Beautiful! on vinyl, CD or download.
I mean, he had to be here somewhere right? From the ashes of Million Dead came Frank Turner, acoustic in hand. He eventually achieved gold-selling albums, headlined the O2 and his own four-night festival in Camden, played the pre-show for the London Olympics' opening ceremony and has recorded six albums (to date) with a seventh on its way sometime in 2018. Choosing which Million Dead track to compare to his solo was difficult - screaming and fast? Heavy but recognisably Frank? In the end, I went with a track I couldnt imagine him doing with the Sleeping Souls or side project Möngöl Hörde.
'Carthago Est Delenda' by Million Dead – Harmony No Harmony
A six-minute build strung with cryptic lyrics alluding to history (the title comes from the Latin phrase which is abbreviated to "Carthage must be destroyed") and the fatigue of city living overlaid with fury, daydreaming, and peaceful or violent escape. A bass riff, abyssal echoes recalling archecalogical depths, the sudden striking of several layers of guitars, the passages drifting into a brief solo acoustic excursion before an inferno bursts along the frequencies. It's an enrapturing listen that is unlikely to be revisited in Frank's current musical headspace.
Buy Harmony No Harmony on vinyl, CD or download.
'To Absent Friends' by Frank Turner – Rock & Roll EP
This is just a chance for me to choose a song that I think gets lost amid the barrage of hits Frank manages to produce every year. 'To Absent Friends' comes from the Rock & Roll EP, a five-track release that features huge live favourite 'I Still Believe' (featuring the backing vocals and handclaps of yours truly). This came from a transitional period, just as Frank was about to release his best-selling records and things were just beginning to really pick up. So for me 'To Absent Friends' is an excitable and poignant flurry saying goodbye to his former guitar tech Jamie, who had been with him since day one really, as he went off to his new life by the sea, with Frank daydreaming about doing the same and perhaps not realising what was coming next. Then again, he's writing about escape, and embuing it with bittersweetness, energy and life - all things Frank's solo work seem to embody.
Buy Rock & Roll EP on download