Roundtable: Build your own supergroup

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This week’s topic: Last month we assembled a list of our 50 favorite bassists, wrapping up a series of like-minded lists of our favorite drummers, guitarists and vocalists. And if you put together combinations of musicians from these lists, you’d end up with a pretty spectacular supergroup, no matter what variation. So this got us to thinking: Who would we want in our own version of that? In other words: What musicians would be in your ideal supergroup?

Adam Blyweiss: The idea for this roundtable actually stemmed from who “won” our countdowns of favorites at every position in your typical rock band setup. So my supergroup is full of Treble no. 1s: Johnny Cash on vocals (and surely playing some guitar), Prince on guitar (and surely sharing vocal duties), Peter Hook on bass. Since our favorite drummers list was alphabetical, let’s finish off the lineup with a safe, living choice—Dave Grohl could do it, he’s never busy. I think Grohl and Hook’s rhythm section would have to be solid and simple, because a theoretical pairing of Cash and Prince leading a band seems so wildly divergent. Cash’s folk and country could be intense but never rose above a dull roar, while Prince’s slowest, most down-to-earth moments could still be full of squeals and sexuality. With Cash as the lead, I think Prince would actually have the biggest challenge in this supergroup coming down, and calming down, to meet Cash’s tenor. But it certainly could have been done; just imagine their interplay covering something like “Lay Down Sally,” or hearing Prince show tenderness to some spiritual number alongside Cash’s strumming. The name of the band has to be The Bruised: part purple, part black.

Jeff Terich: Thinking over all of the supergroups that have existed over the years, or at least bands comprising members of other bands, there’s often a sense that they’re more attention grabbing than anything. But put together the right set of ringers, and you’ve got yourself something truly special. (See: Mutoid Man.) For the purposes of this exercise, I stuck to artists who are still living and still active, because it makes the very prospect within reach. Some of the most powerful performances I’ve seen on a purely instrumental basis in recent years has been in the soul/R&B/jazz realm, and no supergroup would make me more excited than to have a psychedelic soul band comprising some of the most thrilling artists in beat and groove-driven music in recent years. My group would feature Questlove on drums, Thundercat on bass, D’Angelo on guitars and vocals, Erykah Badu also on vocals, Kamasi Washington on saxophone and, for the purposes of sonic “treatments” a la Brian Eno, Flying Lotus as cosmic engineer. The result in my head sounds something like a blend of Prince and Funkadelic. And for live shows there might inevitably be a few more players on stage, but just imagine how mind-blowing this group would be. You can’t: Your mind is blown.

Butch Rosser: When the boss passed this down, my immediate idea was this: build a better Led Zeppelin. As a result, Jimmy Page is the last man standing, and like the boss I want Questlove on the sticks in lieu of the excellent Bonham. John Paul Jones hits the bench to be replaced by His Purple Excellency, Prince.  Robert Plant is bounced, and since we’re making a super group and not a slightly decent one, let’s have Freddie Mercury on lead vocals. For gits and shiggles, Brian Eno will bring his producing and keyboarding talents, and the Memphis Horns will be like God’s entrance music for when this eclectic omnigenre Gojira stomps on their adoring audience’s heartstrings and/or gets more soulful. And that’s how you build a sleeker, more unleded Zeppelin.

Chris Willis: If I’m putting together a supergroup, I don’t want to see musicians capitalizing on their successes to create something fun but ultimately stale. With any dream pairing of musicians with clashing styles there will most likely be creative dissonance, but finding a smattering of minds that will look to shine a light on something new is key. That’s why I want the vocal duties shared between Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards and Open Mike Eagle. Garbus’ flashy and rapid vocal style would create a comfortable juxtaposition with Mike’s calm and contemplative flow. Behind these two not much else would matter but to provide some extra firepower we’re going to add a DJ and a guitarist. To create beats that will push the two vocalists to match his own skill, Jamie XX would be the ultimate get. He can challenge them with his shift in pacing while simultaneously fitting their vocal stylings and Garbus’ range perfectly. As a cherry on top we’ll throw in the pounding, screeching guitars of Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells. This much mishmashing of styles might be too much of a burden, but it’s just a dream isn’t it?

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