March, 2020 – in just a few short months, the world went from whispers about a mysterious new virus overseas to a growing buzz around the virus and some signs of concerns. In mid-March, the unthinkable happened: the bars, concert halls, stadiums, and every other live music venue went dark as the virus took root and started to spread quickly worldwide.
As the music world reeled from the sudden and shocking shutdown – and as it became painfully apparent that we would likely be throwing a birthday party for the “two weeks to flatten the curve” promise – bands started looking into different ways to stay relevant during the shutdown.
During the past year, we have seen releases of coffee, graphic novels, and wine from the likes of Lamb of God, Jimmy Eat World, and Incubus.
Jimmy Eat World recently made their 555 graphic novel with z2 Comics, conceptualized from the uncharacteristically sci-fi music video for “555”, available for pre-orders with an expected release date of May 21, 2021.
Incubus’ Make Yourself Foundation has a long history of partnering with various organizations over the years – at least 47 since 2003 – and is partnering with Rebellium Wines on the limited stock “Our Love” Rosé. The label was designed by artists at Secure the Arts, an organization whose ethos is described simply as: “Rebels, trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes.“
One might think it is possible that Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria with The Amory Wars comic series, and Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer) with Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards, largely paved the way for such releases from musicians. Each of Coheed and Cambria’s studio albums (except The Color Before the Sun) tell a chapter of The Amory Wars, beginning with the release of the album Second Stage Turbine Blade in 2002. As a descendant of northern Italian winemakers, Keenan’s passion for winemaking is in his blood: the aptly titled 2010 documentary Blood Into Wine offers insight into his journey, creativity, and personal growth involved in this fruitful endeavor.
This begs the question as to whether these were aspirations of other artists prior to the pandemic.
Comics & Graphic Novels
Long before becoming frontman of the legendary My Chemical Romance, a young Gerard Way found his passion in comics. Pursuing a career in comics, in 1999 Way graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He created Eisner-award winning The Umbrella Academy series (2007) – which went on to become a wildly popular series on Netflix that has a third season in the works – followed by comic mini-series The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (2013) and co-founded DC Comics’ Young Animal imprint (2016).
Canadian electropop artist Lights wrote and illustrated her own comic Skin&Earth – a story of a girl looking for hope in a hopeless world – along with her album by the same name in 2017. Following suit, dancing electronic violinist Lindsey Stirling, well known for editing her own music videos, creating the costumes she wears, and having a huge hand in the choreography of her videos and shows, released her own comic book Artemis in 2019. In it, the story of her album of the same name comes to life, adding another layer of complexity to the already fantastic album.
In 2004, Courtney Love co-wrote the manga series Princess Ai about a female rock star that Love described as, “like my alter ego, bust in a fantasy setting.” The manga was illustrated by Ai Yazawa, the acclaimed artist behind the award-winning music-based manga NANA (2000-2009), which focuses on the pursuits, rise, relationships, and mentality of members of the fictional bands Black Stones (aka BLAST) and Trapnest.
z2 Comics actually specializes in helping musicians tell stories through graphic novels. In addition to Jimmy Eat World, they have worked with Poppy, Gorillaz, Machine Gun Kelly, Dance Gavin Dance, and Ice Nine Kills, to name a few.
In May of 2017, MentalFloss.com offered “10 Musicians Who Have Also Written Comic Books”, detailing some interesting releases from Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave), Rob Zombie, Tyrese, Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go’s), and more. Interestingly, many of the musicians mentioned explore post-apocalyptic themes in their comics in their pre-pandemic releases.
Touring is a grind in and of itself, and many bands turn to coffee to wake themselves up in the morning and keep themselves going throughout the day. Indeed, DrinksFeed.com posted “Metal bands with coffee brands” in February 2020, confirming that many bands have offered their own branded brews, including Korn, Metallica, and Judas Priest. Separate from their bands’ branding, David Ellefson of Megadeth owns the coffee business Ellefson Coffee Co., and Joey Kramer of Aerosmith offers a subscription for his coffee brand Rockin’ & Roastin’.
Lamb of God’s second signature coffee, the Overlord dark roast, was revealed in December of 2020. Frontman Randy Blythe mused, “I like my coffee strong, dark, and BLACK like my soul.” Both blends’ beans were grown in El Salvador. In collaboration with J Gursey Coffee, Korn first offered nu metal fans the chance to “Wake the F Up” with some fair trade Korn Koffee in 2018.
Green Day dropped a sustainably grown organic coffee through Oakland Coffee Works in 2019, which was named “Father of All… Dark Roasts” – a name derived from their thirteenth studio album Father of All Motherfuckers (censored as Father of All… or FOAMF) released in 2020, but recorded prior to the game-changing year.
Wines, Beer, & Liquor
Wines that Rock boasts the production of wines for many artists, such as All Time Low, Pearl Jam, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, KISS, and for Graceland and Elvis Presley’s estate. Made for The King of Rock ‘N Roll’s 86th birthday, the limited-edition wine is quite reasonably priced at only $24 a bottle.
Slayer’s Reign in Blood red wine comes in tantalizing packaging consisting of blood-like red wax dripped from the cap, Slayer branding, an inverted typographical cross, a limited edition coffin-shaped box, and other features, resulting in quite a work of art inside and out that appeals to both wine aficionados and music memorabilia collectors.
Over the last two decades, craft beer has enjoyed an explosion in popularity. Unlike wine and many other alcoholic drinks, many beers take two weeks or less to go from the raw materials to a cold, refreshing beer. As the turnaround time is much shorter, it is far easier to set up a collaboration that is still relevant when it comes out. A great example of this is the ongoing collaboration between the Deftones and San Diego-based Belching Beaver. By far, the most popular of the six beers to come out of this is the “Phantom Bride,” first brewed in 2016.
Dogfish Head created “American Beauty,” a Grateful Dead-inspired beer with granola and wildflower honey which was first released in 2013. Less Than Jake offered a limited edition beer by JDub’s Brewing Co. in 2018. Last, but certainly not least, is the Queen creation appropriately named Bohemian Lager. Brewed in Pilsen – the Bohemian now-Czech Republic city where the Pilsner style originated from – the limited edition beer was brewed in 2015 for the 40th anniversary of “Bohemian Rhapsody“.
Finally, we have liquor. First is the Motorhead vödka made in Malmköping in Sweden since 2019. Motorhead also partnered with Hillrock to make some very limited bourbon, retailing for a whopping $275 per bottle.
Bob Dylan unveiled a line of whiskeys called Heaven’s Door in 2018. Multiple artists have their own tequila brands, such as Justin Timberlake, Rita Ora, Sammy Hagar, and Nick Jonas. Timberlake entered the tequila business in 2009, co-founding 901 Tequila – which was rebranded as Sauza 901 when Beam Inc acquired a stake in 2014. With hopes to push boundaries in the industry as a female-founded brand, Ora launched Próspero Tequila in the US in 2019.
Hagar has been in the tequila business for almost 30 years, having launched the award-winning Cabo Wabo brand in 1991. In contrast to the once-Van Halen frontman, Jonas is the most green of the listed musicians, having joined the game in 2019 with Vanilla One.
These are just a few of the many types of alcoholic beverages that musicians have owned, made, or collaborated on. Ultimate Classic Rock shared an impressive list of “73 Rock Star Beer, Wine and Booze Brands.”
While the pandemic has indubitably unleashed a tsunami of projects that fall outside the typical domain of the music industry, the question one must ask when examining said projects for originality is: are these artists trailblazers, going down a path none have tread before, or are they innovators in their own right who take a path others have cut before them to bring a product to market that the world might not have expected from the source? The overwhelming body of evidence is that in the decade or so before the pandemic began, the trends in the industry were increasingly leaning toward this path. As such, releasing coffees, graphic novels, and wines during the pandemic may not be a unique course of action, but it does allow for creative release in a different medium, and perhaps an opportunity for many of them to manifest a once-dormant dream into a delectable reality.