If you’re a fan of Mac Miller, Prince, Queens of the Stone Age, or U2, you probably know their biggest hits and even their smaller releases. But did you know they’ve all released secret albums under various pseudonyms? Read on to find out if you’ve ever heard of these underground releases.
Mac Miller – Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival
Rapper and record producer Mac Miller was most well-known for his upbeat hip-hop rap songs with light jazz influences. In 2012, Miller was characterized as a “backpack rapper,” which seems to have several definitions but implies that Miller’s music was more of the underground, non-commercialized type.
Challenging the idea people had of him and his music, Miller released the jazz-blended EP “You” as Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival. The 2012 5-track EP is just over 20 minutes long and features Miller as he croons over smooth and jazz-influenced instrumentation.
While Miller never commented on why he released the EP under a pseudonym, it may have been a project that allowed him to step outside of his comfort zone and explore new territory. The songs featured in “You” have no more than 12.5 million streams, compared to the hundreds of millions of streams his songs under his real name have. This may have allowed Miller to try something new without the pressure of whether or not it would be well received.
Miller released his second studio album, “Watching Movies With The Sound Off,” under Mac Miller six months after the release of “You.” The album was successful, maybe in part due to revamped creativity, selling over 100,000 copies in the first week of its release and marking number three on the US Billboard 200.
Prince – Madhouse
Largely regarded as one of the best musicians of his generation, singer-songwriter, musician, and record producer Prince released two albums under the pseudonym Madhouse. Both albums were released in 1987 under the titles “8” and “16.”
Prince became interested in making a jazz album following his work with saxophonist Eric Leeds for the 1985 side project, “The Family.” Prince and Leeds secretly created the narrative that Madhouse was a project of the fictional keyboardist Austra Chanel. Their official bio also said that John Lewis and Bill Lewis played on the album, even though Prince and Leeds were the only ones playing.
“8” landed the 107th spot on the Billboard Top Pop Albums Chart and reached 25 on the Billboard Top Black Albums Chart. Madhouse’s second album, “16,” did not appear on the charts.
Even though Madhouse didn’t see much-commercialized success, recording under a pseudonym allowed Prince to explore the jazz influences he grew up namely his jazz pianist father. He also began to familiarize himself more with jazz musicians in the eighties, leading up to the creation of Madhouse.
Although short-lived, the birth of Madhouse gave Prince and Leeds a space to create music without the pressure of Prince’s earlier hits.
Josh Homme – Desert Sessions
Founder of and only continuous member of the rock band Queens of The Stone Age, Josh Homme, is also the founder of the Desert Sessions, an ongoing musical collective started in 1997. A native of the general region, Homme hosts the Desert Sessions at Rancho de la Luna, a recording studio founded by Fred Drake and David Catching in 1993.
Each compilation album and EP features different artists, including Dean Ween, John McBain, Josh Freese, PJ Harvey, Les Claypool, several of Queens of The Stone Age bandmates, and many, many more.
After a 16-year hiatus, the Desert Sessions released “Volumes 11 and 12” in 2019, featuring Billy Gibbons, Matt Berry, Libby Grace, Carla Azar, Les Claypool, Matt Sweeney, Mike Kerr, Jake Shears, and Stella Mozgawa.
In an interview with GQ, Homme describes the collective’s origin, saying, “I was looking for a way to keep playing without having a band and have it be kind of genre-less.” Featured artist Mozgawa adds in the same interview that Homme “basically” said, “Every musician we know is at a different caliber of success, whether it’s personal or monetary or whatever, but the thing that binds everyone is we all want to get back to that place of playing in the garage with our friends for the sake of making music.”
Like many other musicians on this list, it seems Homme was looking for the space to be authentic in his musicianship without the commercialized pressure of the industry. Homme adds that the stakes are low, that is, “if the record is terrible, it’s not your fault, and if it works, you were a part of it,” Homme said.
Homme’s attitude toward the Desert Sessions implies that the process of making music is more important than the reception of it, making an alias the perfect method.
U2 – Passengers
2022 winners of the Kennedy Center Honors, U2, released “Original Soundtracks 1” in 1995 under the pseudonym Passengers.
Working with U2, Brian Eno, collaborator, composer, and record producer, shared in an interview that after the recording of the 1993 U2 album, “Zooropa,” the band had “hit a stone wall” and became obsessed with the tiniest of details. Eno suggested the group improvise, telling Moon, “I suggested we do some improvising sessions, just turn the tape on and play, so we were working with a broad brush rather than the one-hair brushes we’d been using. It was designed to open us up a little, and it proved to be a good way of originating music.” This then led to the release of “Original Soundtracks 1,” a compilation of songs pulled from the sessions’ twenty-five hours of recording, most of which were written for imaginary films, as movie soundtracks were taking over the US charts.
Lead guitarist of U2, the Edge, told an interviewer that the group had wanted to work with Eno on a project unrelated to U2. The Edge added, “We went into the studio with Brian, really just to explore this idea of collaborating, songwriting, composing, whatever you want to call it together.” In the same interview, Bono, frontman of U2, said that they wanted to approach the album almost as if it were a jazz record.
Although the album didn’t receive much praise, U2 and Eno used Passengers as a way to get away from the conventional U2 sound, perhaps making it a successful venture after all.
The general consensus for the above albums may not seem like the most successful of stories. However, each artist was allotted a space in which they could stray from their typical sound and try something new without the constraints of their most popular hits. Though each secretive album may not have the typical sound of your favorite artists, have a listen anyway. The vast experimentation of the records is reason enough to check them out.