Putting the Super in Supergroup

When members of Midlake, Franz Ferdinand, Grandaddy, Travis, and Band of Horses started exchanging ideas via email in 2013, they probably didn’t care that they were taking part in a long, if sometimes neglected, tradition in the music world. Nor should they—the idea of putting together a supergroup for its own sake is pretty dumb, unless you’re Sebastian Bach. This motive tends to be secondary to the usual reasons that musicians get together, like playing with others whose company they enjoy or taking a break from the pressures of maintaining a major act.

That this particular congregation of musicians savored the chance to play together and socialize is reflected in the title they chose for the project: BNQT, pronounced “banquet.” The nods to the Traveling Wilburys in both the album title and the jangly folk-pop sound of BNQT’s debut release, Volume 1, suggest that they’re well aware of the historic code of the supergroup. We can only assume that the question of who got to be Roy Orbison was determined by rock-paper-scissors.

They’re hardly the only example of a group in recent years who have abided the same code, one that gave us Blind Faith and CSNY at the best of times and Damn Yankees at the not-so-best. Certain musicians, such as Jack White, Damon Albarn, and Dave Grohl, have been repeat supergroup-participators, evidence of their many musical interests and extrovert tendencies, and the century has also seen a boom of free-floating collectives whose members have many extracurricular activities—Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, UNKLE—but who nevertheless swagger like a supergroup whenever they deign to convene.

Contemporary definitions of a supergroup can also stretch to contain side projects like EL VY, fronted by The National’s Matt Berninger, or Nice As Fuck, featuring Jenny Lewis, though traditionalists may reserve the term for more conventional matchups between musicians with equally illustrious resumes, like Divine Fits (Spoon + Wolf Parade + New Bomb Turks) and Minor Victories (Slowdive + Mogwai + Editors). Even if these equations don’t always result in the irrefutable chocolate-and-peanut-butter deliciousness we hope for, supergroups can still be super, as these choice cuts prove.

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