They are the blokes who lurk in the corner of the stage, just back from the spotlight, probably next to the drum riser. They’re the ones who don’t quite fit: the people playing live with the band who are never seen in the photo shoots, who don’t get any credit on the album sleeves. They’re the unsung heroes – the session men that bands need to realise their sound live, but who share very little of the glory.
Chances are, if you saw one of them in the street, you’d barely know they were musicians, let alone residents of arenas and stadiums around the world. It’s time to give them a little credit.
Jason White (Green Day)
For just over 15 years, Jason White (above) has been walking out onstage with Green Day. Just lately, he was made an official member of the band. Not that you’d know it. Because Green Day are a band that people habitually refer to as a threepiece, despite the fact White has been playing with them since 1999, appeared in the When I Come Around video, performed in the Wake Me Up When September Ends video, set up Adeline Records with Billie Joe Armstrong, was lead guitarist in Green Day sideproject Foxboro Hot Tubs, played with Armstrong in Pinhead Gunpowder and has become a vital fourth cog to the Green Day machine. But he gets almost none of the attention. He almost never does interviews, the band barely mention him, and it took them 13 years to offer him a fulltime gig.
James Dewees (My Chemical Romance)
It was unfortunate timing for James Dewees that, just as My Chemical Romance were looking to bring him into the band as a full-time member, they broke up. As they attempted to write for a fifth full-length album, Dewees – who had been their session and touring keyboard player since third album The Black Parade – was brought in to help the process.
“He had never really written with us – except on the road here and there. So that was a big change,” said guitarist Frank Iero. “With that, came the ability to be super dark and have these ominous things going that really filled us out. Having James around was really cool because he’s an absolute genius. I’ve never met anybody as musically skilled and creative as him.”
But it wasn’t to be. Within months of bringing him nearer the creative hub of the band, My Chemical Romance called things to a halt. Instead, Dewees set about reigniting on his stop-start solo career, drafting Iero in to help him on his off-the-wall Reggie And The Full Effect project. His has been a prolific life in the background – playing with Iero in Leatherface and Death Spells and in Coalesce and the Get Up Kids. Before MCR, he was nearly drafted in to New Found Glory too but settled for simply helping them to write Catalyst. Never has he been the star attraction, and rarely has he been an official member of an act.
He has, though, penned the wittiest response to being a session player in a band. On The Fruit Wizards Of Donnington (sic) on his latest Reggie And The Full Effect album, he sings about being pelted during My Chemical Romance’s 2007 Download headline set: “A wizard threw an apple at my head, An apple at my head,” he sang. “It hit my keyboard instead. And if it hit me, I’d be dead. Stop throwing fruit at me. Black Parade is next and it’s hard for me to see.”
Atom Willard (Various)
For quarter of a decade, Atom Willard has been the engine behind such a wide variety of punk bands that he is either the most prolific or most promiscuous drummer in rock. His career started behind the Rocket From The Crypt kit, but he had been playing since the age of four – hammering pots and pans in his parents’ basement. He joined the band for their second album 1992’s Circa: Now! and was a mainstay for nearly a decade, recording three more albums and persuading the band to tour in a an airport shuttle at one point. But by 2000 he had grown twitchy.
“I was getting disillusioned with the way we were doing business. It was getting harder and harder to survive–those tours where you’d come home with no money, that was getting less cool,” he told Alternative Press. “I didn’t just want to get some temp job to survive and go on tour anymore. I wanted to play the drums; I wanted to play music and make a living off of it. And I thought I could. And we all could. I wanted some changes and [singer] Speedo and I were kind of at odds on that stuff; we disagreed on how we should go about it.”
He quit and became a gun for hire, touring with Weezer, Alkaline Trio, the Weezer sideproject The Special Goodness and recording with Melissa Auf der Maur. By 2003, he had joined The Offspring and toured with them for four years while, at the same time, working on songs with Blink 182’s Tom DeLonge for his Angels And Airwaves project before DeLonge returned to the Blink fold. Next, he played for Social Distortion, then Matt Skiba’s theHELL band, before joining Canadian rock band Danko Jones and then leaving them to play for Against Me! Not once was he considered a proper fulltime member of the band – though in Angels And Airwaves he came close.
“What it really comes down to is that I’ve never been willing to settle,” he told PunkNews.org. “And by settle, I mean that I’ve always wanted the perfect situation where I’m creatively fulfilled and can do things I like to do and can speak my mind and be part of decision-making process for everything – T-shirt designs or songwriting or whatever. So I want that and I want to be in a good environment with people. I want to be around people who I get along with and I enjoy and I’m like-minded with. And after all that, I need to make a living. You can have the greatest time in the world with your friends, but if you can’t pay rent, you can’t go on tour. So it’s really been a quest to find all of that.”
The Sleeping Souls
When a band called Dustball were gigging around the pubs of Oxford in the late ‘90s, earning comparisons to Ash, but never really stepping far out of the local scene, it seemed inconceivable that, one day, they would open the Olympic Games. They played thrilling pop-punk (in the Buzzcocks mould, rather than the Blink 182 one) as best exemplified by the buzzsaw fun of tracks like Yeah, Yeah, Yeah and earned plaudits from Steve Lamacq and John Peel. They split, then reformed as Dive, Dive having recruited the former Unbelievable Truth drummer Nigel Powell. An album, Tilting At Windmills, followed and was well received, but remained relatively underground.
While touring with Reuben, they got chatting to one of the headline band’s roadies – a bloke called Frank Turner, then the singer in hardcore band Million Dead but soon to be forging a career as a singer-songwriter. Turner later remembered them and remembered in particular that Dive, Dive’s bassist Tarrant Anderson had a home studio which he’d offered to let Turner use. So Turner recorded his debut 2006 EP Campfire Punk Rock there, with Anderson, guitarist Ben Lloyd and drummer Powell and somehow Dive, Dive morphed into Turner’s Sleeping Souls backing band.
“I want the band to be kind of like the E Street Band where they are a backing band, but people know who they are,” said Turner. “It’s important to me that people know that I play with the same people, and people know that they are a band.”
Within six years of helping Turner out, the band toured the world, played Wembley Stadium as support to Green Day and played at the London 2012 opening ceremony, in front of a worldwide audience of millions. Which was a bit different to playing Oxford pubs.
Morgan Nicholls (Muse)
Senseless Things were perhaps a band in the wrong place at the wrong time. The British four-piece played the sort of indie-punk that, had it cropped up post-Green Day in the mid ‘90s rather than appearing in Twickenham in the late ‘80s, would have made them stars. As it was, Senseless Things earned a cult following alongside other should-have-made-its MegaCity Four. Having said that, they didn’t always help themselves: the chances of 1993 single Homophobic Asshole charting were always slim.
When they split in 2003, they went their separate ways: singer Mark Keds did a short stint in The Wildhearts before going on to write with The Libertines. Guitarist Ben Harding joined 3 Colours Red, drummer Cass Browne would go on to work with Gorillaz. But bassist Nicholls can now more often be found on the keyboards where he fills in the rare gaps in Muse’s bombast that Matt Bellamy can’t riddle with riffs and solos – not that he ever gets much of a glimpse of the limelight. A one-time member of Streets, Gorillaz, and once part of Lilly Allen’s band he – like the Sleeping Souls – also somehow found himself at the Olympic opening ceremony playing bass for The Who. Yet he’s hardly a household name. He was initially drafted into Muse in 2004 after bassist Chris Wolstenholme broke his wrist playing football but has stuck around, becoming an important fourth (unofficial) member as the band sought to realise the sounds of Black Holes And Revelations.
Ilan Rubin (Various)
Any CV boasting the sort of names drummer Ilan Rubin has worked with is not to be sniffed at: Nine Inch Nails, Paramore, Angels And Airwaves, NOFX and Lostprophets (long before singer Ian Watkins’s dramatic fall from grace). A child prodigy, who taught himself to play aged eight, he joined the band F.o.N in 1997 with his brothers while aged nine. Soon afterwards, he was playing the Warped tour and opening the ill-fated 1999 edition of Woodstock while aged 11. Which is pretty impressive.
Aged 18, he was drafted into Lostprophets but left in 2008 to work on a solo career - using the name The New Regime - before joining Nine Inch Nails in 2009 as a drummer and keyboardist. Yet, somehow, there was still time to co-write Angels And Airwaves songs with Tom DeLonge and drum on Paramore’s self-titled 2013 album. Yet, if you saw him walking down the street, you would barely have a clue who he was.