Musical breakups are inevitable but often for the best

When a band breaks up or goes on hiatus, it can be shocking, even devastating, to its members and listeners.

But with the music industry in a slump, breakups are more common than ever. The outlook, however, is not one of despair, but one of hope: Reunions are also starting to spread like wildfire.

Fame and fortune, if ever attained, are transient. But loyal fans are forever, as is a love of writing and performing. For this reason, several bands have not been able to resist the urge to get back together.

Phantom Planet, known for its hit “California,” went on “indefinite hiatus” in November 2008, but, surprisingly, announced via Twitter in November 2011 that a reunion was imminent.

Sure enough, a video soon appeared of the group practicing for the first time since the hiatus. They will perform two shows at the Troubadour on June 13 and June 14, and the first night is already sold out.

But not all bands get to share in the good fortune of a reunion. Other acts like Thursday and Thrice are now facing the opposite end of the spectrum: Both bands announced in November that they would be going on “indefinite hiatus.”

“Indefinite hiatus” is in quotes because fans tend to assume the worst at the mere mention of these words. In many cases, “indefinite hiatus” is a very apropos term to describe what a band is going through.

Bands have a lot on their shoulders, with pressure from financial, personal and social burdens. These stress factors don’t even include the music-making process. Sometimes, bands simply need a break, and they want to be honest with fans so they can understand not to expect anything for quite a while.

If a band goes on hiatus, there is no deadline to finish an album. They do not have to constantly keep their eyes open for touring opportunities or work on designing new merchandise. They finally get to detach themselves from the limelight and the ever-present demands of fans and record labels.

There could also be a strong chance that fans’ patience during hiatuses will pay off. Naturally inspired and prepared to face the grueling grind again, many bands come back rejuvenated, usually generating a tremendous amount of excitement and attention.

In other cases, however, “hiatus” does not even begin to encapsulate what a band is going through. For example, pop-punkers Blink-182 announced that it was going on an “indefinite hiatus” in February 2005, but it seemed clear that the band had no intention of ever making music again.

Guitarist and singer Tom DeLonge, who went on to form arena-rock act Angels & Airwaves, had no desire to be a part of the band. He even changed his phone number so there would be no way for bassist/singer Mark Hoppus or drummer Travis Barker to contact him.

In response, Hoppus and Barker’s side project +44 wrote a scathing attack against DeLonge for what transpired between them. Called “No, It Isn’t,” the song appeared on +44’s 2006 album When Your Heart Stops Beating.

Surprisingly, Blink-182 reunited, likely because of a fatal plane crash that nearly killed Barker and served as a wake-up call to all three members. But Blink-182 is an excellent example of a band whose declaration of being on hiatus actually was just PR jargon to cover up what was an ugly situation within the group.

All this talk about hiatuses, however, should not detract from actual break-ups because they do occur. And when they occur, there is a strong sense of finality to them: Take the storied career of rock group R.E.M., a band with a 31-year career that only recently came to an end.

In a statement on its website, the group said, “As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band … Working through our music and memories from over three decades was a hell of a journey. We realized that these songs seemed to draw a natural line under the last 31 years of our working together,” wrote bassist Mike Mills, referencing the band’s work on its final release, the compilation Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011.

It is expected that bands will get burnt out, whether they are veterans like R.E.M. or relatively new. Even with hiatuses and break-ups seemingly running rampant, there is always hope that artists will somehow release new music in the near future.

If not, the music they did make will live on in the lives of their fans.

After all, even a little band called The Beatles broke up, but no one has forgotten them yet.


Nick Mindicino is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Industry Ballads” runs Fridays.