Since streaming services slashed musicians’ earnings, just how do pop stars earn enough to get by? NME speaks to three musicians about their (very different) side careers
The human rights lawyer
While many musicians get by on bar jobs and office temping, Dutch dreampop magician Amber Arcades has a dual life as a human rights lawyer in the Netherlands’ immigration service. Under her real name of Annelotte de Graaf, she helps decide which refugees’ families are entitled to permanently live in the country.
If anything, Annelotte’s previous job was even more hardcore. While studying for her law degree, Annelotte was an intern on a UN war tribunal for six months, presiding over the fate of three Croatian warlords. Aged just 21 at the time, Annelotte read eyewitness reports of villages being burned down, summarising them to become part of the judgments. “Those cases are obviously very serious work,” says Annelotte. “It takes 20 people three years to settle verdicts. The case I worked had been ongoing for a long time before I even joined. I thought it was cool to be involved in the final six months, as I got to see the end of it.”
Annelotte began working for the immigration service in 2015, a year before Amber Arcades’ debut album ‘Fading Lines’ was released. She describes her job as “super-important,” but admits she’s just as prone to daydreaming at work as any other musician. “My mind does wander off,” laughs Annelotte. “I sometimes get an idea for a song, so I run to the bathroom to sing it into my phone before going back to work. I’m really focused most of the time, though, as I have to be.” There are some parallels between law and music: “You need to be adept at language in both law and writing songs. A tiny word can make a huge difference in a legal contract. Being aware of the power of language is needed when you’re writing lyrics too.”
“I sometimes get an idea for a song at work, so I run to the bathroom to sing it into my phone”
Annelotte is actually in her second spell working in immigration law, having quit her job in September 2016 to write the second Amber Arcades album. The sumptuous, melancholic record, ‘European Heartbreak’, is out on September 28, but standard delays in waiting for its release meant Annelotte was happy to accept an offer this summer to return to temping as a lawyer. “When I quit first time, it was scary to give up so much security and structure,” she admits. Surely high-flying lawyers earn more than musicians these days? “Yes, but I’m very good at living on little money. I saved up enough doing law first time round to live full-time as a musician for a year.”
Annelotte also got a grant from the Dutch government, which funds musicians to commit full-time to their art for six months. “They’re very hard to get: I had to apply three times before I got mine. At first, I thought I’d do music for a couple of years, then return more seriously to law. But now, music is what I want to do with my life. I might have to work in law sometimes between albums, but law feels like the side-job now and music is my main thing.”
Oh, and don’t worry – Annelotte found it easy to catch up with changes in immigration law in the 18 months she’d been away. “Surprisingly, the law is much the same,” she notes. “There were some changes with policy in cases in Eritrea, but the details are probably too much to go into. The hardest thing to adjust to wasn’t the law changes, but the terrible IT system in the office, which is completely illogical.” Some temping workplace rules really are universal….
The tattoo artists
On October 12, tweecore veterans Los Campesinos! reissue 10th anniversary editions of their first two albums, ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ and ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’. In the decade since their release, the seven-piece have seen plenty of changes in the music industry. Hyped at their inception, the band now do a myriad of dayjobs. It’s meant the logistics of their 14-date US tour in November and a homecoming show on October 13 at London’s Forum have been a miracle to pull together.
Drummer Jason Adelinia and keyboardist Kim Paisey run a tattoo parlour together, while guitarist Neil Turner works in high-end food marketing: one of his clients supplies experimental TV chef Heston Blumenthal with his chocolates. Rob Taylor began as Los Campesinos!’ merch seller, then joined the band as multi-instrumentalist, overseeing their artwork and social media. He’s also a freelance illustrator and graphic designer.
Before Carousel Tattoos opened in 2015 in Worthing on the Sussex coast, Jason began working locally as a tattooist in other shops during the recording of Los Campesinos!’ 2013 album ‘No Blues’. It was a seven-hour drive from Worthing to the band’s studio in North Wales. “I’d drive home every Sunday to ensure the shop I was working at was open and to keep the owner happy,” Jason recalls. “It was a bit eventful, I’m not going to lie.”
With Jason as chief tattooist and Kim as shop manager, the decision to open Carousel Tattoos was helped by Los Campesinos! fans making the pilgrimage to get a tattoo from one of the band. “The start of my tattooing career was funded by fans,” Jason recalls. “They were paying my bills and putting food on the table. We still get fans coming in to get tattoos. Sometimes they’re totally excited, sometimes they won’t say anything and I’ll only realise they were fans when I see it on Instagram afterwards. If I was in the same boat and could get someone from my favourite band to tattoo me, I absolutely would.”
“We still get fans coming in to get tattoos. Sometimes they’re totally excited, sometimes they won’t say anything and I’ll only realise they were fans when I see it on Instagram afterwards.”
Carousel has tattooed plenty of Los Campesinos! artwork on fans. That artwork’s distinctive pop-art style has led to its creator Rob Taylor getting illustration work for record labels including Light In The Attic and Turnstile, as well as for fellow musicians Group Of Man and Self-Esteem, the solo project of Slow Club singer Rebecca Taylor (no relation). “I want to break out and get some corporate clients,” says Rob. “But then of course you have to play it safer and be less interesting. I did a T-shirt design for Alabama Shakes, but it didn’t get used.”
Los Campesinos! are fortunate to have an artist in their line-up, but Rob believes all bands should be diligent on the non-music side. “We’re a bit more driven than other bands,” he says. “Some bands aren’t willing to put in the legwork that we do. New bands in particular expect it’s all about the music – they often don’t want to manage their own social media, for instance. It’s the bands who are prepared to do the less glamorous stuff and run themselves like a business who stick around.” Indeed, it was the sales of a particularly inspired piece of merchandise designed by Rob – a Los Campesinos! football top – which funded the recording of their most recent album Sick Scenes in 2017.
Los Campesinos! started out at the tail-end of the days when CD sales could still fund music as a full-time career, and Rob admits it can be hard for musicians to re-adjust to the 9-5 grind. “You suddenly realise how amazing you have it in a band,” he explains. “It’s easy to complain when you’re on tour, eating carrot batons in a dressing room in a provincial town. But then you go into a school classroom to give a talk, as I’ve done, and it’s a lot, lot harder.”
To further complicate the band getting together to put any live shows on, Jason and Kim have a baby son, Arlo, born in February. Kim’s brother is Los Campesinos! singer Gareth Paisey – Gareth’s wife will act as Arlo’s babysitter on the US tour. “Touring now is weirdly the best it’s ever been,” insists Jason. “We’re able to say ‘Do we really want to go out on the road?’ There a lot more hoops to get through for everyone to be free at the same time. Everyone is working and we have families, so it’s tougher to organise. But it proves that, if we didn’t totally love being in the band, we’d have stopped doing it. You have to love it to go through so much hassle!”
The indie barman
Wayne Thomas, Trampolene
Since moving from Swansea to North London five years ago, Trampolene bassist Wayne Thomas has seen his trio support Liam Gallagher, The Libertines and Kasabian on arena tours. But Wayne’s had to do that in between working behind the bar at a local pub. Despite such stellar support slots and releasing both full debut album Swansea To Hornsey and a recent 28-song compilation of their many EPs, You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, Trampolene remain unsigned. “Over a long period, keeping the band going becomes more of a struggle sometimes, because it grinds you down a bit,” admits Wayne. “It’s frustrating when the lack of money is a restraint. But we’ve shown you don’t need a record label to get from A to B.”
Wayne has worked at the same bar throughout Trampolene’s stop-start rise, where customers include several famous musicians – Wayne is reluctant to name names, but eventually admits one is the band’s touring partner Liam Gallagher. “You learn that the people you’ve seen on TV all your life are still normal, who speak to you decently and you can have a good chat,” says Wayne. “Being around good people like Liam is good for your own development in a band – it keeps you grounded on how to treat people.”
“Bar work is the job that’s the most easy to get into and come out of”
The temporary lifestyle of bar work perfectly suits musicians who need time off, as Wayne explains: “It’s the job that’s most easy to get into and come out of. The owner of the bar where I work started his pub from nothing, and he sees that spirit in Trampolene. He’s seen our rise and been a supportive patron.”
Despite the frustrations of not being signed, Wayne insists he doesn’t want to focus on a day-job alternative. Both he and singer Jack Jones were promising schoolboy footballers – Jack played for Swansea City, while Wayne was a right-back for Wales Under-16s’ national side and Cardiff City. Once they met, they switched passions to music and Wayne stopped going to school to instead work on early demos. He doesn’t have any qualifications but, as well as Trampolene, he’s an artist and runs a clothing line, Artwork Of Youth: “Being in a band, you never have clean clothing, so I wear the stuff I design.” Meanwhile, Jack is a poet who also plays in Pete Doherty’s solo band, while drummer Rob Steele still lives in Swansea, where he manages a flotation-tank centre – Jack has used its sensory deprivation tank to get inspiration for songs.
There are times when bar work can be more lucrative than playing shows. Wayne, whose band goes on a headline tour in November, says: “It’s not worth driving from London to Dundee and back to play for nothing to a tramp and his dog. We’ve done that and a bad gig like that can still happen. You learn the hard way who the good gig promoters out there are.”