How NOT to Front a Band - Leadership Week on BTR


Kings of Leon taken from WikiCommons via ELOdry

Is the classic rock star persona–smashing guitars on stage, destroying hotel rooms, and over-indulging in “recreational” back stage activities–still alive? Legends like Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne were known for their antics both on and off the stage that helped establish their reputations as bad boys (or the “prince of f#*@king darkness,” if you prefer). The fact is that their edgy, devil-may-care swagger worked for them.

Leave it to the newbies to go and mess it all up in a string of very pubic and downright amateur meltdowns. Nathan Williams, guitarist, singer, and songwriter for Wavves, had to issue an apology after a infamous set at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound Festival in 2009, during which he played mangled renditions of the band’s hits, mocked the crowd, and was (shockingly) booed off stage. All not before his drummer poured an entire cup of beer on Williams’ head. Not bad for the second show on the band’s tour.

More recently, Kings of Leon suffered a similar public meltdown at a show in Dallas in late July. Front man Caleb Followill decided to excuse himself from the stage rather than wait for his band mates to turn on him. Followill complained to the audience that he was not at the top of his game that night, repeatedly insisting that his lackluster performance was due to heat exhaustion and not from drinking too much. Regardless, he told the audience “I’m gonna go backstage and I’m gonna vomit. I’m gonna drink a beer and I’m gonna come back out and play three more songs.”

There were many things that Followill said he was “gonna” do. However, he did not come back out. The band decided to end the show then and there, saying that Followill was “unfit to play.”

Granted, earlier generations didn’t have YouTube or mobile phones to worry about capturing their every mistake. Still, is this the best our generation has to offer to the world of rock ‘n roll? It’s like they’re trying to screw it up. That being said, the following are some highlights from what might be a To Do List if you want to not succeed in music.

The stage is a place for any pent-up energy, so DO feel free to express it.

Who needs anger management when you can take out your issues on your band in public? Take it from Nathan and Caleb, and channel your frustrations into a disastrous performance. Not only will your music suffer, but you might even get as explosive of a reaction from your band mates, just like the Wavves front man did when his drummer decided to cool him down with a nice beer shower.

Public meltdowns make for way better entertainment than a quality performance, right?


Interact with the audience.

If you are slow to provoke your band mates, try getting the audience in on the act. When Followill found that he was having trouble singing his own songs, he left the lyrics up to the audience, saying that his voice was shot. When things were going south for Wavves at Primavera, Williams thought it was a great idea to imitate the audience by pretending to be on ecstasy. While the act of imitating someone under the influence surely must have been a stretch for him, we’re sure he managed.

NOTE – For those of you saying, “But wait! Antagonizing the audience is at the heart of punk rock!” here is a good example of how to call out your audience during a show. In the video below, Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl actually kicks out a fan for trying to start a fight during the band’s set at this year’s iTunes Festival:


Alright, back to the last and most important point in how to successfully drive your band’s career into the pavement.

Completely ignore your limits when it comes to substance abuse.

It’s important to remember that a rigorous schedule of boozing and partying cannot be interrupted by pesky sold out concerts. You must have a set of perfectly acceptable reasons to cancel a show before you even decide to strike out on stage. As a rock star, you have the right to bail on a gig at the drop of a hat, or anything else for the matter.  For instance, when KOL canceled a show due to inclement bird droppings.

Sold out arenas be damned, you’ve got other things to do and they’ll get their money back… probably.

In fact, both bands eventually acknowledged that substance abuse was part of what lead to their performance’s untimely demise. After the disastrous KOL show in Texas, bassist and brother Jared Followill tweeted “I can’t lie. There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade.”

Likewise, Wavves frontman Williams issued an official apology after his meltdown in Barcelona, saying “Mixing ecstasy, valium and xanax before having to play in front of thousands of people was one of the more poor decisions I’ve made (duh) and I realize my drinking has been a problem now for a good period of time. Nothing else I can do but apologize to everyone that has been affected by my poor decision making.”

It’s impossible to tell what would have become of shock rock icons of the babyboomers had there been cameras rolling 24/7 the way they are today. The thing is, they would have been too into their performance to have noticed or even cared. That’s because they remembered the one rule that seems to have been lost on today’s generation of rockstars: It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling out arenas worldwide or an up and coming act catapulting. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you had before you went on stage. What matters is that the show must go on.

Written by: Mary Kate Polanin