Music and acting have a long and glorious history of cooperation. Just look at musicals, or the way that the right background song can take a scene from trite to moving with a few chords. So it’s no surprise that many actors have involved themselves both in thespian and musical pursuits. Most of them, though, seem content to break out those talents only when the screen calls for it, impressing audiences with seemingly sudden musical talent. But others have turned their musical interests into a side project, playing in bands, writing songs and performing. Here’s ten actors who’ve released albums.
Beyond being widely recognized for her beauty and as a successful actress, Scarlett Johansson has also dabbled in music. Word got out in 2006 that she planned to release an album and 2007 saw her interest in music taking a more visible role when she appeared in Justin Timberlake‘s music video for What Goes Around…Comes Around, and sang backup on the Jesus and Mary Chain performance of Just Like Honey at Coachella. Her album, entitled Anywhere I Lay My Head, was released in 2008 to largely nonplussed critics, who didn’t hate it, but weren’t sure they loved it. Her reasoning behind the cover album (of the eleven tracks, only one wasn’t a Tom Waits cover), was that she felt she was primarily a vocalist, not a songwriter. She followed that album up a year later with the European-only released Break Up, a collaboration between herself and Pete Yorn.
Michael Pitt, Pagoda
He is best known for his role as the ambitious Jimmy Darmody on the period drama Boardwalk Empire, but Michael Pitt’s band Pagoda is a bit more modern. Pitt, who handles both vocals and guitar, founded Pagoda when he was twenty one. Their sound is comparable to classic, Nirvana-esque grunge, with world music influences and cello accompaniment. Pagoda’s first album, Pagoda, came out in 2007, from Ecstatic Peace Records. A second album, entitled Rebirth, was released online in 2013.
Kevin Bacon, The Bacon Brothers
Since 1995, Kevin Bacon has been splitting his acting career with his musical career, as one half of The Bacon Brothers, the band he formed with his elder brother Michael. While Michael, a composer for film and TV originally composed most of the music and lyrics, Kevin has since taken part as well, with Michael praising his lyrical abilities. Between their busy schedules, the Bacon Brothers have played gigs pretty much whenever possible, helping build up a following (and provide the songs for their 2011 live album: The Bacon Brothers Live- No Food Jokes Tour). They’ve released six albums of their signature bluegrass-rock, with a seventh, 36 Cents, scheduled for release this year.
Juliette Lewis, Juliette and the Licks
Juliette Lewis has always been pretty rock and roll, proof is her role as Mallory Knox in Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. She has also shown musical talent in films like Strange Days, but she didn’t get around to forming her band, Juliette and the Licks, until 2004. They first played at the Viper Room (owned by fellow actor-musician Johnny Depp), and released their first EP, …Like A Bolt of Lightning. The band released two more albums, You’re Speaking My Language and Four on the Floor in 2005 and 2006 respectively, and appeared on tours like the Vans Warped Tour. However, in 2009, Lewis announced that Juliette and the Licks was at the end of its run, and that the band was breaking up. However, that was not the end of her musical career- her first solo album, Terra Incognita, was released in 2009, and saw her exploring new sounds and composition methods, moving away from Juliette and the Lick’s signature hard rock sound.
Johnny Depp, P
We were all very impressed by his turn in Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street, if only because performing Sondheim for your first musical is like learning to swim by jumping into the deep end of the shark tank. But he has been involved in music for far years, mainly as a bassist and guitarist. His main musical accomplishment was as a bass guitarist for P, an alt-rock band fronted by Gibby Haynes (also the frontman of the band Butthole Surfers), alongside fellow actor Sal Jenco on drums and Bill Carter. The band was short lived, releasing only one album, also entitled P, before Depp and Jenco returned to acting. He remains friendly with his former bandmates, and tells interviewers he would be open to recording a second album. Depp is also involved with other musical acts, namely contributing to Iggy Pop’s album Deep Cuts, acting as a guest artist for Shane MacGowan & the Popes, and as a slide-guitarist for Oasis. Depp has helped compose the music on some of his ex, Vanessa Paradis’ albums.
Ryan Gosling, Dead Man’s Bones
While dating Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling met Zach Shields, who was dating McAdams’ sister, Kayleen. Turns out they had some shared interests: music, horror movies and ghost stories. Originally, their plan was to make a ghost-story themed musical, but this had to be shelved because it was too expensive, and instead, they focused purely on the music. The result was the band Dead Man’s Bones, and the album of the same name, released in 2009. The album has twelve songs, all focused on the eerie and slightly macabre (“My Body’s a Zombie for You”, for example), featuring the members of the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children’s Choir, for an extra spooky kick. While recording, they adhered stringently to their own, self-devised, rules, including: they had to play all the instruments themselves, no electric guitars, and no more than three takes per song.
Zooey Deschanel, She & Him
She’s popularized the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, but Zooey Deschanel has definitely got her feet on the ground, juggling her acting and musical careers, as well as having each judged on its own merits. The team of Deschanel and M. Ward met on the set of 2007’s The Go-Getter, and the indie pop group of She & Him was born shortly after. The vintage pop sound of their songs is more than just them paying homage, but also might have something to do with their preference for analog recording. Their first album, Volume One, was deemed the year’s best album by Paste magazine, and their fame has been rising since, releasing four albums in total, Volumes One, Two and Three, as well as 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas.
Jack Black, Tenacious D
Jack Black is a funny guy, this much is evident from his imdb.com page, but it’s also visible in his musical work. His rock (or mock-rock, or maybe comical rock-opera? Critics aren’t quite sure what to qualify it as) group, Tenacious D, consists of Jack Black and Kyle Gass. the duo been a cult sensation since the 90s.
The band’s music lovingly skewers metal lyrical tropes, while promoting marijuana, and the band’s intimidatingly impressive musical and sexual abilities. Tenacious D’s first major exposure came through their HBO miniseries, Tenacious D, leading to them being signed in 2000 by Epic Records. 2001 saw the release of their first album, Tenacious D, with Dave Grohl helping out on drums. Their next album was the soundtrack for their movie, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny which provided a fictionalized version of the band’s forming. The film was a flop, but the soundtrack topped iTunes, and DVD sales have somewhat redeemed it’s disappointing box office performance. Tenacious D’s latest album, Rize of the Fenix was released in 2012, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Comedy Album, and was generally well reviewed.
Russell Crowe, The Ordinary Fear of God
He wowed us all as Javert in Les Miserables, but Russell Crowe’s singing ability has surely not been kept a secret. Since the eighties, he has been involved in numerous bands. With Billy Dean Cochran, he formed Roman Antix, a band that would later evolve into 30 Odd Foot of Grunts (or TOFOG for short). TOFOG released four albums in total, from 1995 to 2003, but in 2005 the band dissolved. 2005 saw Crowe entering into a collaborative effort with Alan Doyle (of Great Big Sea), with the new band, The Ordinary Fear of God (also shortened to TOFOG), which had a more folk-inspired sound. That same year saw the release of My Hand, My Heart, and they played “Wintergreen” on 2010’s John Williamson compilation album.
Donald Glover, Childish Gambino
Donald Glover is known as Troy Barnes on the wildly popular sitcom Community, as well as receiving a Writers Guild of America award for his writing on 30 Rock. Under the name Childish Gambino, Donald Glover has also found success, performing rap and hip-hop since 2006 (there was an album released in 2005, but he’s drastically distanced himself from it, so we’ll skip it). Glover has released two studio albums, 2011’s Camp and 2013’s Because the Internet, which hit 11 and 7 on the US charts, respectively. He’s also self-released six mixtapes over the past six years, available via digital download. Not only is this actor a successful musician he is among the most popular.