Creativity and the allure of change often go hand in hand. When the boredom begins to settle in, many musicians abandon projects-but the disappointment inevitably falls heavier upon the shoulders of their fans and not so much on theirs. There’s always something new to explore artistically and many of the greatest indie artists of the past decade only reached their true acclaim after disbanding from their original lineups.
Flashback to 2001, when in the blistering heat of small-town Arizona, Nate Ruess and Sam Means of The Format were beginning to launch their career. The alternative indie rock group, which gained an underground following due to their unique, incomparable style: they sounded like blissful 1960’s pop, but Ruess crooned with hollow nostalgia and melancholy about present-day concerns, even throwing in clever references to the falsities associated with social media, as in “All the girls pose the same for pictures / All the boys got the same girls’ hair” in “She Doesn’t Get It.” Even the band’s name was intended as irony; it mocked the predictability, or “format,” of songs that the mainstream demanded. The Format’s devout fans connected with the simultaneous idealism and cynicism presented in songs such as these, which often referenced real experiences in Ruess’ life, laying him bare through his music. Nowadays, Ruess is less melancholic and more political, having become heavily involved with social activism. He sings for the pop band fun., which has succeeded where The Format failed—or perhaps the other way around, depending on where your loyalties lie. And the division between new and old fans is often clear; The Format is often lamented as a serious loss to the indie scene, while fun. serves merely as its less artistic, more vapid successor. Nevertheless, The Format’s break-up in 2008 signified a turning point.
In 2003, The Honorary Title began in Brooklyn. Originally comprised solely of Jarrod Gorbel’s musical talent and observational lyrics, the band grew over time and eventually got signed to indie label Doghouse Records. The single “Stay Away,” simultaneously moody and intimate, still finds its way onto countless nostalgia-laced indie playlists. There is something deeply regretful-and relatable, to many-about the way in which Gorbel asks, “Are you not the slightest bit confused?” in the opening strains of the song. Ultimately, during its existence, the band stood for everything that one could hope for within the constraints of the modern music industry: Gorbel had extensive knowledge about various classic styles of music including soul, which gave The Honorary Title a subtly charismatic and difficult to define quality. He also clearly understood heartbreak, as was evident in his keenly observational and heartfelt lyrics. He also struggled financially and emotionally while going through various lineup changes and artistic disagreements within the band, and nowadays, Gorbel has chosen a different path: he writes and performs as a solo artist, as he did at the beginning of his musical career.