They Walked Away
June 25, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Three talented musicians who abandoned their careers in mid-stream - Mark Hollis, songwriter and vocalist for Talk Talk, who also released one solo album. Harriet Wheeler, songwriter and vocalist for The Sundays. Christina "Licorice" McKechnie, vocalist for the Incredible String Band.
posted by davebush (55 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
The last two Talk Talk albums are some of my favorite music ever. Hollis' solo record is also quite good.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 7:32 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


They just turned their pretty heads and walked awaaa-eee--yaay?
posted by spicynuts at 7:45 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


At first I thought this post was saying that they were working on something together, which would have been bizarrely awesome.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:00 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I think of artists that just walked away from music the first ones that come to mind are Lee Mavers of the Las and Captain Beefheart.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:02 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just walk away, Renée.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:03 AM on June 25, 2011


Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish pretty much bailed, too.

People come to realizations that despite what might be prodigious talent, there's not much hope of making a living at the traditional "record album, tour incessantly" music business model, at least without working yourself half to death. Look at all the former touring/recording artists who are now making real money in the movie business, like Randy Newman, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, et al. Talented guys, who figured out a way. I know a thousand musicians who are plenty talented and skilled enough to keep up with the U2s and Coldplays of the world, but there's just not room for them all. Lots of them just kind of get on with life when the illusion they've been sold finally reveals itself as such.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 AM on June 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


Lee Mavers of the Las

Was that really a walk away, or was it a 'Hey, you might want to lay off the heroin for awhile'/'No'? (See also Peter Perrett of The Only Ones.)

The Sundays were amazing, incidentally, if a tad on the Smiths-if-Morrissey-was-a-girl nose.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 AM on June 25, 2011


From a financial point of view, I should've walked away from music, too, years ago. I mean, I've kept myself afloat, but I've always had to have some other sort of part-time work, in addition. To keep the old head above water, you know. But for the time and effort I've put into it, there hasn't been, exactly, a truly commensurate reward, in hard dollars and cents.

Might be in an institution now, though, if I had quit. Or desperately unhappy. Anyway, I certainly wouldn't have traveled the world as extensively as I have, and I certainly wouldn't have met so many good people in so many far-flung places.

I think it's pretty amazing how (as mentioned above) Beefheart just did an about face. Glad he could make a go of his visual art throughout the rest of his life, though. That guy working 9 to 5 in an office? I don't think so. Me neither.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:44 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mick Jagger pretty much walked away from his musical career in 1985.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Morrissey/Smiths producer Stephen Street produced both The Las and The Sundays. Thus The Smiths sonic connection.
posted by punkfloyd at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was like "i never heard of The Las" and now thanks to punkfloyd i know you meant The La's.
posted by spicynuts at 9:09 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love that Mark Hollis record, but for some reason the cover has always bummed me out. Funny.
posted by mintcake! at 9:13 AM on June 25, 2011


Jen Trynin is my favorite example; she released two brilliant rock albums in the mid-90s and then kind of disappeared. She's written a book about the experience, Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be, that's very good--it describes what it's like to be the Hot New Thing and then have it all implode. (She's since joined a band called Loveless, although it didn't last long.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:26 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was like "i never heard of The Las" and now thanks to punkfloyd i know you meant The La's.

Knowing when to use the grocer's apostrophe is a good thing.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The last two Talk Talk albums are some of my favorite music ever. Hollis' solo record is also quite good.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 3:32 PM on June 25


Seconded, as hard as it is possible to second something.

Seriously, people. If you haven't heard "Spirit of Eden" and "Laughing Stock" you need to correct that as soon as possible. You can have fun seeing how much is owed to this jaw-droppingly gorgeous music by many of the more recent artists you thought were mining a new seam (I'm looking at you Doveman, Cinematic Orchestra et al.)
posted by Decani at 9:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I believe John Squire (Stone Roses, Seahorses) said about 5 years ago he'd given up guitar for good in favor of painting.
posted by scody at 10:09 AM on June 25, 2011


The Sundays were amazing, incidentally, if a tad on the Smiths-if-Morrissey-was-a-girl nose.

That's an interesting take on the Sundays that I hadn't thought of before, even though I'm a huge Smiths and Morrissey fan. Maybe it was just the context of the time when the Sundays emerged, but I always thought of them as a more accessible version of Cocteau Twins if Lis Fraser sang intelligibly.
posted by The World Famous at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I really hope Mark Hollis comes out with some more music. I'd think he has to really care about music, judging from his output, and I don't know how he could stop altogether. Maybe he's just stopped recording; I'll live in the hope like I did about Salinger, that he's still producing and someday it will just come out.
posted by Red Loop at 10:12 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Might be in an institution now, though, if I had quit. Or desperately unhappy.

I'm right there with you. I "quit," as in this is not a smart job, but didn't quit. I still play, perhaps as much as ever, but now I don't concern myself at all with what others think, or if they're going to give me money for it. I play because I can't not play. It's a big part of who I am, but it's no longer a big part of how I feed myself or my family, and maybe ultimately, it's more freeing. When I was actively trying to "make it" in the music business, whatever that means, I spent way too much time trying to figure out what "the public" wanted to hear, and no where near enough time just playing what made me happy, and maybe that's one of the myriad reasons I failed ultimately to build a career out of it. Now play whatever the hell I feel like, opinions of some ill defined audience be damned. I a metric fuckton happier this way, and if you offered me a grand a week to go on tour tomorrow, I'd think about it, but I'd probably turn you down.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh... My career in music went about as well as my career in proofreading comments. Don't hate the typos.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:18 AM on June 25, 2011


A question that remains unanswered (as far as I'm aware) - what does Mark Hollis actually do now? How does he spend his days? What did he do today, yesterday, the week before? Does he work? Does he sit around just reading and sipping tea? Does he travel the world? Where does he live?
posted by The Discredited Ape at 10:20 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, I love Mark Hollis and Talk Talk. Later stuff is great, but I'll still blast "Such a Shame" frequently. Love it to bits.

Not in a musical vein, but for those interested of writers who have walked away or either just never produced much themselves even though they are recognized as being geniuses, are at least skilled people who should've or could've produced more, I highly recommend "Bartleby & Co.". It's a novel that's very meta, mixing in fact with fiction, real writers with a fake narrator and all that that's kind of amazing in its examination of people who just choose to not.

In fact, reading about the "writers of the no" in this book has totally changed the way I look at how I relate to my creativity and how I produce things. It's one of those books I can say has profoundly changed my outlook on life and I still thank the person that recommended it to me practically whenever I see them.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


what does Mark Hollis actually do now?

I've wondered the same thing, often. Anybody?
posted by davebush at 10:22 AM on June 25, 2011


The idea of "leaving" music is an interesting one, given that it has so many possible meanings. An old bandmate of mine - one of the most effortlessly creative people I know - decided about 10 years ago that music was too much of a psychologically-tormenting thing for him and completely quit music in every sense. It made me sad when he told me about it, but I can also see that he is a far happier person, so I can't say he made the wrong choice. There are also a lot of people who quit music as a business venture and continue to make music on a personal level, and we see a lot of that on MeFiMusic, where people post incredible music all the time that is done basically as a labor of love.

As for brilliant and commercially-successful musicians who leave the business to pursue other life paths, I hope that they are leaving with a full bank account and that they continue to make music that makes them happy. I love the thought that there are kids growing up with Harriet Wheeler singing them to sleep and that she is making music on her own terms - whatever those terms are.
posted by The World Famous at 10:33 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's also Linda Perhacs, who went back to her career as a dental hygienist.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:49 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


My boss and I have had this conversation a couple of times. Both of us trained in music, him on piano, me as a vocalist, and neither of us make our living at music. And both of us agree that it is more freeing to not be beholden to whatever or whomever, and just make the music we want to make. And both of us continue to do so in our own ways, despite full time jobs.

I would go so far as to say that I feel the same way about being an academic outside of the academy. Not being beholden to a grant or tenure committee, nor being subjected to the kind of petty politics commonly found in departments, means I can do the research I want to do, at the pace I want to do it.
posted by LN at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can understand why some might think The Sundays sound like The Smith's, but I'd disagree, because none of it comes even close to Marr playing. He probably wouldn't write a two chord song either. :) I recall The Housemartins getting the Smiths label quite a lot too.

Speaking of walkouts, there's always Cat Stevens.
posted by readyfreddy at 10:58 AM on June 25, 2011


The Cat came back.
posted by davebush at 11:00 AM on June 25, 2011


Shirley Collins hasn't sung in public for over thirty years.
posted by Dr.Pill at 11:02 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gordon Peterson, aka Indio, also pulled a vanishing act (you might know this song, covered well by Eddie Vedder).

...and what about David Roback from Mazzy Star? Check out the spooky guitar on Happy Nightmare Baby
posted by superelastic at 11:10 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Goddamn I miss The Sundays. When OMD released a new album last year, I thought, surely this is a sign that The Sundays and Cocteau Twins will soon do the same!
posted by Brocktoon at 11:30 AM on June 25, 2011


Some of you guys may have missed the Sundays, so here's their hit, "Here's Where The Story Ends." So great. Not at all like the Smiths as far as I can hear.
posted by escabeche at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love Mark Hollis, just brilliant. And for my money, the best Sundays is their cover of Wild Horses.
posted by biscotti at 12:00 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Tanita Tikaram.
posted by WalkingAround at 12:14 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always wondered what happened to Anna Domino, myself..
posted by pxe2000 at 12:30 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought, surely this is a sign that The Sundays and Cocteau Twins will soon do the same!

That's an illusion it would be wise to forsake permanently.
posted by mykescipark at 12:42 PM on June 25, 2011


Also, Tanita Tikaram

Living in obscurity, but still making music. A teaser is up for a new album.
posted by dhartung at 12:49 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's an illusion it would be wise to forsake permanently.

Oh yeah I know, I read that article awhile ago. She sure knows how to amp up the drama. Jeez, get over it and make some music and some money, I say.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:19 PM on June 25, 2011


The only thing I don't like about the final two Talk Talk albums are those lyrics.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 1:32 PM on June 25, 2011


Does Elizabeth Fraser count here? She did release one single a couple of years ago, and did an interview with the Guardian about the same time, which suggested that we probably shouldn't hold our breath waiting for the next thing.

Which is a shame, because she is probably one of the greatest vocalists in the world.
posted by Grangousier at 1:42 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Sundays were wonderful, and nothing like the Smiths in that the songs had tunes and real emotions and Harriet was a superb vocalist. Tanita Tikaram, on the other hand, was utterly talentless and was lucky she had even five minutes as the next big thing. People walking away from the pop music business is hardly a new thing though, did everyone in the 50s and 60s who made a record or two stay in the business all their lives? Of course not. Pop music would be much the poorer if every 19 year old who ever released a single was still grinding it out in pubs and leagues clubs forty years later. The problem isn't that too many people walk away from pop music, the problem is not enough of them do.
posted by joannemullen at 4:32 PM on June 25, 2011


Some of you guys may have missed the Sundays, so here's their hit, "Here's Where The Story Ends." So great. Not at all like the Smiths as far as I can hear.

For what it's worth, I like both bands, but The Sundays have always been very much a post-Smiths outfit - and there's nothing wrong with that, but if you can listen to the guitars in that track and not hear an enormous chunk of Johnny Marr, then maybe you haven't listened to much of The Smiths, particularly their earlier songs.
posted by bunglin jones at 4:50 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh, I forgot about Tanita Tikaram and confused her with Tasmin Archer, another one-hit wonder with a pretty great song Sleeping Sattelites in the early '90's.

I too was heavy into Talk Talk in the day and that Mark Hollis album was on major heavy rotation one summer in the late '90's. Have to get that one out again. Such a great late-night album.
Loved the Sundays too. Saw them at The Phoenix here in Toronto when I think it was still the Diamond Club. Her voice is great, for sure. All pure and sweet and on pitch. There's something about it, though, that I can't get all the way through a CD at once. At least since I've tried in the last decade. It's like I get ear-fatique or something. I get the same thing with Rufus Wainwright.
The Smiths thing is pretty obvious, from the production to the very Johnny Marr-ish guitars.
posted by chococat at 4:59 PM on June 25, 2011


nothing like the Smiths in that the songs had tunes and real emotions

what

Now, I'll concur that the Sundays were superior in nearly every respect--Wheeler clearly comes out on top vs. Moz wrt vocal ability--but let's not get silly. The Smiths were more tuneful and emotional than 98% of anything before or since. That the Sundays arguably fall into that remaining 2% does not change that.

I'll go out on a limb, though, and argue that the Sundays' major failing (in crass commercial terms) was that they were indeed too tuneful; many of Wheeler's vocal melodies are virtually impossible to hum along with, even when one knows the songs by heart.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:01 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


she is probably one of the greatest vocalists in the world

Her version of "Song to the Siren" (This Mortal Coil) is the single best vocal performance I've ever heard.
posted by davebush at 7:36 PM on June 25, 2011


I saw The Sunday's at Paradiso in, maybe 92? They only released two albums so, when they worked through all of them, and the audience wanted an encore (rare enough in Holland), they just played a couple of songs over again...I think My Finest Hour (their best, IMHO), and something from the second album, not their incredible Wild Horses cover.

I distinctly remember that, for the first two or three songs the notoriously tricky acoustics of Paradiso fucked Harriet up. I now strongly suspect that she was used to a very close miking technique relying on the reverb and compression to get her message across (and NOTHING wrong with that), but that famous venue (a former church) was just was too overwhelming. She got over it (as did whomever was front of house). In her defense, the utterly astonishing Alison Krauss has the same problem the first time she played there.

Anyway...this just to say that I got the strong impression they were just a group of people who never really expected to get famous and never really (the inside kind of really) wanted to deal with it, which is why they quit and decided to raise kids instead.

I once played with a blues journeyman who who for whatever strange reason dug me and once told me, "You've got this nice apartment and this nice girlfriend and nice life. You don't have to give that up to be a star...but you have to be willing to."

And some people just aren't willing to. Not for long, anyway.
posted by digitalprimate at 7:49 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Incredible String Band are incredible. I love 'The Minotaur's Song'. They should be silly but they have enough darkness to make it work.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:15 PM on June 25, 2011


Man, I love this thread. Talk Talk and The Sundays. And of course the inevitable segue into Cocteau Twins and The Smiths. Harriet Wheeler was an incredible vocalist, and there are songs by TT via Mark Hollis that flicker with so much aching beauty they hurt (Myrrrman), not to mention the wonderful hits the actually had that were played on the radio.

I saw them open up for the Psychedelic Furs at concerts on the pier in NYC I guess it must of been mid or late 80s. They put on a great great show, and to the P Furs credit they really aced it as well that night with my personal high point being India.

Anyhow, this walking away thing. Music, I believe for these folks, Hollie, Wheeler, Fraser etc...has just got to be an emotional commitment, and I think keeping that passion going in the face of the pure bullshit that the industry is composed of, and the utter slimy people on the business end, and the dealing with bandmates constantly flirting with addictions and the grind of touring and performing material that is so personal and intense and transporting (transcendent even) has got to take a massive toll. I know it does actually. The very same beautiful thing you wrote can sorta make you lose your way, and abstraction can quickly become an end unto itself and that gets mentally and emotionally crazymaking. And you can get stuck in it.

When I finally quit my first band of seven years, I felt like a mountain had been lifted off my back. I never found a way to really be more pragmatic about it.

My 2 cents.
posted by Skygazer at 10:41 PM on June 25, 2011


Does anyone have access to this promo cassette, Mark Hollis Talks about Laughing Stock? I spent about three hours last week attempting to track it down, but to no avail.
posted by SomaSoda at 6:19 AM on June 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Try here:
posted by Dr.Pill at 7:39 AM on June 26, 2011


Thanks Dr., I couldn't get those links to work...
posted by SomaSoda at 9:12 AM on June 26, 2011


SomaSoda, try opening with VLC, it works.
posted by Red Loop at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2011


Afroblanco, Linda Perhacs didn't return to her job as a dental hygienist: she never left it. Her record was made because one of her dental patients, Leonard Rosenman, was a producer who became interested in the unusual musical ideas she told him about during a dental visit. He produced Parallelograms, which while astonishing, was scarcely noticed by the public or critics.

Linda did not do any of the public musical things that you would have expected to have led up to the recording of an album, nor did she follow it up with same--at least not for three decades. When I tracked her down in 2004, she gave her first proper interview for publication, and now she's finally playing shows.

She's also, by all accounts, one heck of a dental hygienist.
posted by Scram at 7:34 AM on June 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


And so everything comes full circle. Linda Perhacs Parallelograms, is a bewitching presence on WFMU that it seems every DJ there falls in love with at some point or other and it's an astonishing piece of music. Just amazing.

An if the Leonard Rosenman is the same who scored the soundtracks for East of Eden, and the absolutely stunningly beautiful music (I could listen to it forever) for Rebel without a Cause, well then, that's just perfection.

Scram, are you involved with WFMU?

Also, your mag looks fab.

posted by Skygazer at 6:19 PM on June 27, 2011


Yes, the same Leonard Rosenman. The guy had great ears, even in the dental chair.

I'm not involved with 'fmu, except as a fan and friend of a DJ or three.
posted by Scram at 10:55 PM on June 27, 2011


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