Musicians' Extracurricular Activities

Musicians such as Melissa Auf der Maur, Ellie Goulding, Scott Ian, and Paul Gilbert indulge in nonmusical passions to offset the daily musical grind
  • Photo: Emi Gilbert
    Paul Gilbert
  • Photo: Ben Pruchnie/
    Ellie Goulding
  • Photo: Copyright Iron Maiden Holdings Ltd.
    Bruce Dickinson
  • Photo: Chelsea Lauren/
    Scott Ian
  • Photo: Barry Brecheisen/
    Zach Myers
  • Photo: Bennett Raglin/
    Melissa Auf der Maur
April 19, 2012 -- 3:05 pm PDT
By Bryan Reesman /

While the constant grind of being a professional musician is bound to keep one continually harried and hurried, many artists find time to indulge in outside passions that not only satisfy themselves, but often surprise their own fans.

Some geek out over nonmusical hobbies or their prized collections, while others indulge in a different art form or activity altogether. Cases in point: Lenny Kravitz owns and runs a commercial and residential design firm. Metallica's Kirk Hammett is an avid surfer. Grandmaster Flash collects ceramic mugs. Breeders' guitarist Kelley Deal likes knitting and has authored a book on the subject. Blur's Alex James is a cheesemaker. Surprised?

For bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, a different artistic slant allows for a new mode of expression. A photographer since age 12, Auf der Maur majored in photography at Concordia University and picked up the bass at age 19, but she thought it would be more realistic to be involved with rock music behind the lens. The reverse happened, and during her subsequent tenures with Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins she photographed not only herself but her surroundings on and offstage. Auf der Maur's work has been shown in various museums and featured in National Geographic's Music On…Photography series.

"I've always seen it as the one art form that wasn't sacrificed by any industry," Auf der Maur says of her photography. "I have never been exposed to managers or big publishing deals that can really disappoint you in how the artist most often comes last in those kind of situations. I sacrificed music a long time ago — I still love music, and I work to reclaim it in many ways — but my photography has remained pure and will continue to. I can do it until I'm 100, whereas I won't be playing a metal festival when I'm 98."

Anthrax and Damned Things guitarist Scott Ian feels similarly about his recent love for poker. "It's just become this thing that I have a great passion for, as much as I have for music," says Ian. "I feel like it's something I could do for the rest of my life because you can be 80 years old and sit at the poker table and play as long as you can still figure some math out in your head and still have enough of the sensibility to have a feeling when you're in the right spot or not. It's something that I'll never stop learning. It's the same as playing guitar or writing. I'll never stop learning music and I'll never stop learning poker as long as I live. You can never perfect it, you can just get better at it."

Shinedown guitarist and the Fairwell frontman Zach Myers enjoys bling of a different kind, having developed an interest in collecting watches back in 2008.

"It was just something I saw class in," says Myers. "All of a sudden I'd pay attention to people with nice time pieces and there was something classy about it. They are a very sexy accessory. I'm probably at about 30 watches right now."

Myers says he always looks for watches while on tour, and he looks forward to visiting Houston "where they have a Tourneau, which is an amazing watch chain." His three most prized watches are an International Watch Company Portuguese Perpetual Calendar, Panerai Luminor Black Seal and Breitling for Bentley (the latter was a present from Shinedown bandmate Brent Smith) "just because they are three that will always go up in value."

The list of other artists who are passionate about their hobbies is long and varied, including Steve Vai (beekeeping), Joni Mitchell (painting), Bruce Dickinson (flying planes), Geddy Lee (collecting baseball memorabilia), Jack White (taxidermy), Jeff Beck (building hot rods), and Miranda Lambert (salt-and-pepper shaker collecting), and Ellie Goulding (running).

Goulding took her passion to a competitive level by participating in Nike's Run to the Beat half marathon in September 2011, clocking in at No. 857 with a time of 1 hour, 42 minutes, 42 seconds. "The feeling that you get when you finish a run is like nothing else," said Goulding in 2011. "I want to keep feeling that high because it's better than any other high I've experienced."

Mr. Big guitarist and solo artist Paul Gilbert has always loved eating, and he credits adventurous parents, plus the need to feed himself in guitar school, as inspirational factors in his adult cooking adventures. He spent a couple years in Japan and greatly admires their chefs. The guitarist's passion for cooking has only grown, and it has served him well when traveling.

"At the very least, I always make fresh orange juice [on tour]," says Gilbert, who enjoys fresh food that has been lovingly prepared. "I used to carry a heavy-duty juicer on tour and have 10 pounds of carrots on the rider every day, but now I just ask for oranges and carry a little hand-squeezer and a knife with me. Sometimes the venue will have a kitchen, and then I'll take a look to see if I can make something more substantial."

Gilbert recalls getting to one venue early and finding a refrigerator full of fresh vegetables and eggs, so he whipped up omelets for the whole band and crew, much to the chagrin of the caterer, who now guards her stash whenever he plays there. "She's a great cook, so I don't mind," says Gilbert. "Anyway, some rock musicians get in trouble for throwing TV sets out the hotel window. I get in trouble for making omelets and using up all the mushrooms."

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

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