A Selection of Musicians Who Took Ages to Record Under Their Own Names

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Perhaps the most interesting music-related news to emerge over the long weekend was the fact that Blur singer and musician-about-town Damon Albarn is releasing a solo album in late April. The album is entitled Everyday Robots, and it is, remarkably, the first album that Albarn has released under his own name. Albarn’s always been a prolific album, of course, but has always preferred to collaborate — and the fact it’s taken him this long to work under his “real” name got us thinking about other artists who’ve taken similarly surprisingly large amounts of time to step into the spotlight on their own.

Damon Albarn

It took… 23 years!

Blur’s first album was released in 1991, and in the two-and-a-bit decades since, Albarn has released music as a diverse array of projects — there’s Gorillaz, which has arguably been his most successful incarnation (definitely on this side of the Atlantic, anyway), Mali Music, DRC Music, Rocket Juice & The Moon, and The Good, The Bad & The Queen. As such, it’s a surprise it’s taken him this long to make a solo album, but here we are.

Jack White

It took… 13 years!

Like Albarn, White’s been part of a diverse array of projects — The White Stripes, obviously, along with the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs and production duties. It wasn’t until 2012 that he put out a record as plain old Jack White, though. Curiously, the genesis of this album came in an abandoned session for RZA, of all people.

Mick Harvey

It took… 16 years (or 26 years, depending on how you look at it)

For 30 years, Harvey was a key part of a succession of Nick Cave-centric projects: The Boys Next Door, The Birthday Party and The Bad Seeds. As he told your correspondent a few years back, “I don’t write very much, but something pops out every so often,” so perhaps it’s not surprising it took him 26 years to release an album featuring his own compositions — 2005’s One Man’s Treasure. It wasn’t his first release under his own name, though — he released two albums of English-language Serge Gainsbourg covers in the mid-’90s.

Dean Wareham

It took… 26 years!

It feels like Wareham’s been inching his way toward a solo release — his bands have slowly stripped away surrounding elements, and the monikers have also become less exotic: from Galaxie 500 through Luna to the decidedly utilitarian Dean & Britta. And finally, late last year, came the excellent Emancipated Hearts, an album that will hopefully be the first of many.

Bill Callahan

It took… 17 years!

Callahan’s always worked on his own, but it took him the best part of two decades to abandon the Smog moniker and release music under his own name. These days, he told the Quietus last year, he looks at Smog and Bill Callahan as “…different people. [Smog] is there forever for anyone who needs or wants it but for me, I’ve had to take it off the scales. It’s not something I invite to weigh in on the rest of my life.”

Will Oldham

It took… only 6 years, actually

Oldham’s relationship with his various monikers is just as intriguing as… well, just about everything else about Will Oldham. It’s complicated enough that at one point it stretched to having Bonnie “Prince” Billy “cover ” a bunch of songs released under his various Palace pseudonyms, an exercise that he told me at the time was “beyond the capacity of this simpleton to explain.” In amongst all this name-related weirdness, he has only released one album under his own name: 1997’s Joya, which came between the last Palace record and the first Bonnie “Prince” Billy project.

Aaron Freeman

It took… 22 years!

The man formerly known as Gene Ween is these days plain old Aaron Freeman — he released his first album under his birth name in 2012, 22 years after Ween’s debut album GodWeenSatan. Abandoning his alter ego seems to have been something of a catharsis for Freeman: last year he released the last recordings from his former life, explaining that “20+ years of near-fatal drug & alcohol abuse (thankfully culminating with intensive but successful rehab), Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) was left in a dire financial situation. All proceeds [of this release] will go directly to Aaron, as he continues down the path toward creative freedom and personal health.”

Johnny Marr

It took… 29 years!

You could argue in favor of 2000’s Johnny Marr and the Healers, but the former Smiths guitarist’s first release as plain old Johnny Marr didn’t come until last year, 29 years after his former band’s debut album. It was, y’know, OK.

Paul Banks

It took… 10 years!

Let’s never speak of the whole Julian Plenti thing again.

John Mellencamp

It took… 15 years!

And finally, a memory of the Really Bad Old Days of the record industry: Mellencamp’s first manager basically forced the singer to adopt the “Johnny Cougar” stage name, apparently because he thought Mellencamp’s real surname was no good from a marketing perspective. “I was totally unaware of it,” he told an interviewer years later, “until it showed up on the album jacket. When I objected it to it, he said, ‘Well, either you’re going to go for it, or we’re not going to put the record out.’ So that was what I had to do… but I thought the name was pretty silly.” It was, John. It was. And it took him 15 years and 11 albums to get rid of it once and for all.