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10 “Bands” That Are Actually Just One Person

by Alisdair Hodgson
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

The music industry is rife with misdirection—tailoring acts to global demographics, trendy images, and popular sounds just to sell the greatest number of records. But, while this is not usually difficult to see through, sometimes, some big surprises lurk behind the guise of our favorite bands. And none is bigger than them not being bands at all.

These 10 musical acts all play in a band format live and project a band image and name, but whether to retain creative control, secure a record deal, or intentionally mess with our heads, they are really just one person at their core.

Related: 10 Extreme Controversial Bands and Musicians

10 Beartooth

Beartooth – I Was Alive (Official Music Video)

Although metalcore band Beartooth presents to the world as a five-piece both on stage and in their marketing material, everyone but frontman Caleb Shomo is a touring musician, filling out the band for the public but having zero involvement in the studio.

Five albums deep, Shomo has not only written but also recorded every single song the “band” has produced, penning the lyrics, composing the music, and laboriously recording the vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and other instruments to retain full creative control and align Beartooth’s output as much with his vision as possible. Although he is the singer in their live formation, Shomo sees himself more as a drummer and guitarist—but due to the irreplaceable sound of his vocals, he is compelled to sing on stage instead.

While he originally worked with producers on recording and mixing his records, Shomo has moved into an even more isolationist approach in recent years. For his two most recent records, Below (2021) and The Surface (2023), he also handled the mixing and mastering himself, no doubt putting a few more industry pros out of a job.[1]

9 Memory Tapes

Memory Tapes “Yes I Know”

Anyone who has seen darlings of the chillwave scene Memory Tapes live can testify to the outfit’s ability to create a large sound with a minimalist setup. But while these shows typically feature two or three musicians on stage, the singer and multi-instrumentalist Dayve Hawk is the only bona fide member of the band.

Hawk initially recorded under three different aliases—Memory Cassette, Weird Tapes, and Memory Tapes—but it was the latter that stuck. Continuing to experiment with the genre, he took the name and moved from creating remixes for songs by artists like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Britney Spears on the internet to full albums.

Despite not releasing an album or EP since 2012’s Grace/Confusion or new songs since 2015’s “Fallout” and “House On Fire” (released online simultaneously), Hawk has continued to write and play music, albeit in a diminished capacity. This shift came from the responsibilities of his personal life and raising his children, which has taken precedence over what is some fairly niche yet no less beloved experimental music.[2]

8 Falkenbach

Falkenbach – Eweroun [Official Lyric Video]

Viking Metal doesn’t get bad press so much as no press at all, but the musical subgenre has been around since the late’80s and is still a draw for a certain demographic of the metal scene. It is a form of black metal with a thematic focus on—and lyrical obsession with—Norse mythology. While there have been many acts associated with its origins, few are more significant than Falkenbach.

Formed in Iceland in 1989, Falkenbach is led by the habitually reclusive Vratyas Vakyas, who has been responsible for writing the guitar, keyboards, drums, and lyrics on all releases. On three of Falkenbach’s albums—2003’s Ok nefna tysvar Ty, 2005’s Heralding–The Fireblade, and 2011’s Tiurida—Vakyas worked with session musicians to track the albums’ instruments. Still, he remains the sole creative force and has handled most of the recording across six demos and studio albums.

Curiously, Vakyas has claimed that one of his primary inspirations for his music is… well, his own music. This idea is borne out in his frequent re-recording of old tracks, with albums often featuring reworked and reimagined versions of songs from older records and demos.[3]

7 Passion Pit

Passion Pit – Carried Away (Official Video)

The name Michael Angelakos may not mean much on the indietronica scene, and definitely not as much as the name Passion Pit. But it ought to, as they are one and the same. Since 2007, Angelakos has been channeling his emotions and ecstatic musical flair into this appropriately titled project, controlling the process from ideation to the stage.

Despite now playing live shows with four other musicians, Angelakos initially attempted to do that by himself, too, and it didn’t exactly go well. He played several shows like a DJ, with just him singing over tracks he had recorded on his laptop. While the songs were clear winners, the performances left much to the imagination.

Luckily, multi-instrumentalist Ian Hultquist (who wound up playing guitar and synth live with Passion Pit until 2014) was in the audience and approached Angelakos, proposing that they assemble some other musicians to join him on stage. It took several weeks and a deal of prodding to convince him, but the singer relented, creating the impetus for the live experience we know today.[4]

6 Marina & the Diamonds


Electro pop pioneer Marina & the Diamonds confused audiences by adopting a naming format popularized in the 20th century. Often seen with big bands like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, they featured a named singer and distinct band supporting them. But this has never been the case.

The name is, in fact, a creative take on (and English translation of) singer Marina Diamantis’s Greek surname. Despite performing with a live band for backup, there have never been any actual Diamonds, at least not in the “band.” Since the singer’s very first release, “the Diamonds” has instead been the collective name for her fans.

Diamantis writes her songs from initial lyrics and her own piano accompaniment—an instrument that only sometimes makes it into the final product—before moving into a studio environment with producers and session musicians to get each track to where she wants it.[5]

5 M83

M83 ‘Midnight City’ Official video

M83 went from an obscure, French, synth-pop/shoegaze outfit to one of the scene’s most cherished electronic acts almost overnight on the back of just one song: “Midnight City.” The track was featured in French coverage of UEFA Euro 2012 football matches, the 2012 Olympics, on the in-game radio of GTA V, and on real-life radio stations globally. However, the one thing all these outlets consistently got wrong was referring to M83 as a band.

It is, in fact, a project by Anthony Gonzalez, who has been the sole constant member of all releases since 2003. He has hand-picked 17 different touring musicians to play with him live over the years, as the scale of M83’s music could not be managed by one man alone. M83 has also frequently entailed a six-piece act on stage, playing everything from standard electronic and rock band instruments to saxophones, flutes, violins, and electronic wind instruments—most of which are rarely seen in the possession of any major contemporary group.

Despite being the sole creative behind the project, Gonzalez habitually resists publicity. This includes never appearing in his own videos, perpetuating the mystique and associated mistake of M83 being a band.[6]

4 Tame Impala

Tame Impala – Lost in Yesterday (Official Video)

Psychedelic pop-rock outfit Tame Impala has been big news in the music industry since 2015’s dance-oriented Currents, which built on the previous album’s popularity (2012’s Lonerism). And it managed to slingshot straight into the heart of mainstream music.

Kevin Parker is the man behind the Impala, handling all lyrics, vocals, instruments, and production for the songs on the records. Nevertheless, the live band typically comprises six members, several of whom are drawn from other bands and projects Parker has been a part of, including Pond’s drummer Jay Watson.

Despite this having always been the case, for his first EP Parker told the record company that Tame Impala was a fully-fledged band in order to grab their attention and sell the project. And it worked—he signed the contract for the entire “band” and never looked back. Given he now writes, produces, and guest stars with global music firebrands like Mark Ronson, Kanye, The Streets, Diana Ross, and Dua Lipa, it is safe to say the gamble paid off.[7]

3 Mammoth WVH

Mammoth WVH: Don’t Back Down (Official Video)

The Van Halen family is a prodigious bunch, all built from Alex and Eddie’s initial partnership forming Mammoth, which went on to become Van Halen as we know it. Over the years, other members have come and gone from the legendary rock group, including Wolfgang, Eddie’s son, who joined the band on bass in 2006.

After the death of his father and the dissolution of the family band, he set out on his own, forming Mammoth WVH (the name a tribute to Van Halen’s original name). Far from being limited to the bass, and despite the very band-sounding name, Wolfgang has written and recorded every instrument and vocal for the Mammoth releases.

He initially took this on as a personal challenge, seeing if he could replicate what Dave Grohl did when working solo on the first Foo Fighters album, testing his limits as he went. The resulting music was so fully formed and well-received within the rock community that he decided to make this the default rather than taking his touring lineup into the studio with him.[8]

2 Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds (VEVO Presents)

Perhaps the world’s best-known and most highly regarded one-man band, Nine Inch Nails, helped define industrial metal for U.S. audiences and popularized the genre far beyond its initial experimental, punk, and European roots.

And singer and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Trent Reznor was at the head of it all, crafting a unique sound that has deeply influenced most industrial acts since. He initially attempted to recruit a team of musicians to work with him, but nobody was interested in working in the early morning with no pay. As a result, he took a leaf out of Prince’s book by deciding to write and record all his tracks himself and worked in the talents of other contributors after that.

While Reznor has worked with a wide range of artists as Nine Inch Nails, he is the only permanent member, with other session musicians, live musicians, writers, and collaborators cycling in and out of the project for the last three and a half decades. But his collaborators have always appeared live, in the videos, and on the NIN promotional material, something deeply confusing, even for dedicated fans.[9]

1 Gorillaz

Gorillaz – Cracker Island ft. Thundercat (Official Video)

When Britpop kings Blur hit the awkward midpoint of their career in the mid-late ’90s, it was anyone’s guess what would come next. Still, nobody expected an all-animated alt-rock/hip-hop group named Gorillaz. Nevertheless, this is precisely where singer Damon Albarn set his sights, splitting his time between the fragmenting main band and this side project, which soon became his primary creative output in the new millennium.

Appearing as a four-piece group comprised of vocal/keyboardist 2-D, bassist Murdoc Niccals, drummer Russel Hobbs, and guitar/vocalist Noodle, Gorillaz was an instant hit with audiences around the world. Despite the band obviously being hand-drawn (by Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett), that didn’t stop people from believing there really were four individual talents behind the pixels. Alas, the band has always just been Albarn writing the songs and recording most of the instruments and vocals himself.

But why the subterfuge? Why not just launch a straightforward solo project? Well, Albarn was already a well-publicized figure and wanted to be able to make music that was a pure product of his influences while not letting his celebrity presence get in the way.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen