It’s not everyday that your typical rockstar ends up becoming a profound scholar of horology or that a famous boy band member takes on a gig as a certified contractor. How about a popular drummer trading in his drumsticks for a pitchfork? And a member of an influential rock band studying the physics of astronomy? These may sound like sentences that were plucked straight from Mad Libs, but surprisingly, these are actual careers from musical artists who strayed away from the public eye to find more fulfillment working regular jobs — and by “regular” we just mean “outside of the music industry.”
The glitz and glam of being a rockstar can be overwhelming and even tiring, and while it is certainly rewarding, these artists wanted to pursue other passions that worked out well for them. In fact, several musicians have left the spotlight — whether it was for a brief period of time or even for good — to begin new careers and feel somewhat normal. Wondering what some music superstars do for work when they aren’t earning money making tunes? Let’s get into some of the musicians who went on to pursue regular jobs.
Erykah Badu works as a doula
When songstress Erykah Badu stepped onto the music scene in 1997 with her album Baduizm, she stood apart from other R&B female artists. Badu’s sound sparked comparisons to Billie Holiday, and as she told The New York Times, she was inspired by Lady Day as well as the likes of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Badu won several Grammy Awards throughout her career for her soulful music style and has released five studio albums.
While music may be her first love, Badu ventured into something completely out of her realm: She became a doula. A doula
according to the Dona International website, “provides physical, emotional and informational support” to pregnant women “before, during, and shortly after childbirth.” In an interview for Origin magazine (via the Huffington Post), the singer revealed that she became a doula after a friend was in labor. After flying out to see her and staying throughout her friend’s pregnancy, Badu found her calling. “I just continued to be present at different people’s births, and I started studying on my own, different techniques, and the variables of what being a doula is about,” she said. “I learned to originally be like water, in the place that I was, so that I could be a container for whatever they need.”
When she appeared on Sway’s Universe in 2015, Badu shared that she has helped out with “at least 40 births” and added that the children refer to her as “Badoula.”
Kevin Jonas put pop stardom aside to build homes
Kevin Jonas, best known as the eldest brother in the Jonas Brothers, figured out another way to make some sort of income after the band broke up in 2013 due to, as a source told People, “creative differences.” And no, this isn’t about Married to Jonas, the E! reality show starring Kevin and wife Danielle Jonas that lasted for just two seasons. To many fans’ surprise, Kevin took on something completely outside of the entertainment industry.
As the New York Daily News noted, the guitarist became a certified contractor in his native New Jersey after enjoying the process of customizing his own home. “I’ve always looked at everything I do as a business, including the Jonas Brothers,” Kevin told the outlet. “I like to get my hands dirty. I’ve been blessed in my life where I get to say, ‘You know what? I want to do this.'” The musician formed Jonas Werner Fine Custom Homes, a family business (which has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018), and even sold his New Jersey home for $2.25 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. During his time as a contractor, Kevin got a chance to make a cameo on The Real Housewives of New Jersey when he led the construction on cast member’s Kathy Wakile’s home.
In 2019, it appeared the three brothers put their differences aside. The Jonas Brothers reunited, released the album Happiness Begins, and went on tour.
Tiffany Darwish opened up her own clothing boutique
Singer Tiffany Darwish, better known as just Tiffany, was a teen pop sensation in the ’80s after releasing the mega hit “I Think We’re Alone Now.” She was idolized by young fans across the globe who got the chance to watch her perform in various malls across the U.S. while on her nationwide tour of shopping malls in the latter half of the decade. But her career as a pop star fell short and she would never see the same amount of success after the release of her debut album, even though she would go on to put out nine more albums from 1988 to 2018.
The former teen idol opened up a boutique in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012, rightly named Tiffany’s Boutique, selling everything from vintage to modern clothing. She told People at the time, “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to open up a boutique that is a little bit of glamour, and a little bit different?’ I work with local designers around Nashville, and buy different items from around the world that can be tailored.'” People also pointed out that Tiffany continued to work on her music as a store owner, but “on a smaller scale.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Tiffany did admit that she was itching to get back into music. “I love music and I want to do this, and I’d be happy playing rock festivals, you know, the s*** spots when everyone’s parking the car,” she shared.
Vanilla Ice flips, flips homes
Vanilla Ice, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, shot to stardom when he released his rap song “Ice Ice Baby.” According to The Ringer, his catchy hit became the first rap song to top the Billboard Hot 100 and his face was literally everywhere, even on “a board game that came with a toy boom box.” Unfortunately, his music career was short-lived and was declared a one-hit wonder artist.
Vanilla Ice found a totally different path in life when he invested in real estate and became a home remodeling expert. His passion for fixing houses even got him his own reality television show for the DIY network called The Vanilla Ice Project, which premiered in 2010 and ran for nine seasons. When the first season of the season premiered, Vanilla Ice told the New York Daily News that he’d already “been flipping homes for about 10 years” at that point. “I enjoy it,” he continued. “I like to sit back and cross my arms and think, ‘Look at what I’ve accomplished.'”
At the time of his reality show’s release, the rapper compared his new found success with the song that made him famous back in 1990. “I think people are embracing the whole underdog thing – it’s kind of the American way. I think it’s my time right now. I had a nice wave that was big back in the day, and I caught another wave today and am just enjoying the ride,” he told Billboard.
Jethro Tull's frontman Ian Anderson became a fish farmer
Ian Anderson is both a rockstar and a former fish farmer, farming salmon in his home in the Scottish islands. Anderson is best known as the lead vocalist, flutist, and acoustic guitarist for the British rock band Jethro Tull, but early on in his career as a musician, found additional income by investing in salmon farming in the ’90s, according to CNN Money.
At the time, salmon farming was on the rise and Anderson took advantage of it by starting his own fish farming business at his Isle of the Skye estate Strathaird, in Scotland. Anderson’s business was prosperous, with the rocker telling The Telegraph, “We had 11 fish farms, a smokehouse and two processing factories. At one point we were employing 400 people, mostly in factories, and turning over GBP 12 million a year.” The exceptional flutist owned the largest independent smoked salmon firm in the U.K., even sharing that his day job was not that different than rocking out on stage. “It’s not a million miles away from rock and roll. There’s a little bit of theatricality about it, too,” Anderson said in The Telegraph.
Anderson eventually stepped away from his fish farming business, explaining to former Entertainment Tonight reporter David Weiner (via It Came From…) that he didn’t feel running the company was “ethical,” sharing, “And so some things about the intensive nature of fish farming and some of the environmental issues, they kind of helped me decide that it was probably time to get out of that.”
R.E.M.'s Bill Berry had enough of the spotlight
Bill Berry is best known as the drummer of the rock band R.E.M., which he formed in 1980 with fellow members Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe. The band saw incredible success in its 30-year life span, recording 15 albums and even getting inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. However, Berry had plans to leave the group in the late ’90s and lead a more private life away from the spotlight — a move that didn’t happen out of the blue. As Diffuser recounted, “it became clear to the other members of R.E.M. that Berry was no longer happy in the band.”
“I found myself wandering out to the beach and looking at the waves and stuff while the other guys were inside working away. I put some things on tape, but my heart wasn’t in it,” Berry shared with Addicted to Noise (via MTV News). After suffering a brain aneurysm on stage in Switzerland in 1995, Berry admitted that his “priorities shifted” and talked with his bandmates about calling it quits. Thankfully, they respected his decision and Berry went on to work on his hay farm in Georgia. He now lives a much more peaceful life away from the Hollywood lights.
Anthrax's Dan Spitz became a watchmaker
Dan Spitz was the lead guitarist for heavy metal band Anthrax from 1983 to 1995, making the decision to put away his guitar to get back to something he cherished since he was a child: watchmaking. Spitz explained to Hodinkee that his band life became “mundane and more like a job,” and admitted that he simply “needed a break.” So, Spitz bowed out and “decided to commit to learning the higher levels of watchmaking.”
Spitz told Hodinkee that he enrolled at the Bulova school of watchmaking in New York and then continued his education at WOSTEP, the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program, in Neuchatel, Switzerland. As Monochrome notes, he went on to create his first watch movement called the Calibre J11.13, which he spent the past three years trying to perfect in the United States.
Spitz did not totally part ways with Anthrax. In 2005, he reunited with his former bandmates for a reunion tour, but later left the band again to solely focus on his watchmaking.
Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones hunts for treasure
Anyone might call bassist player Bill Wyman crazy for leaving the Rolling Stones for good back in the ’90s, but it was a decision the musician was happy to make. As he said in the documentary The Quiet One (via Star Tribune), he wanted to live “a normal life.” Wyman was in the band from 1962 to 1993, and as he shared in the doc (via Los Angeles Times), he collected just about every piece of Rolling Stones memorabilia he could find. His passion as the band’s “archivist” turned into another career for Wyman: he got into metal detecting.
According to the BBC, Wyman has been a “serious detecting enthusiast” since buying his first metal detector in the 1990s. His love of treasure finding even led him to create his very own metal detectors called the Bill Wyman Signature Metal Detector, which has been described as “far and away the best machine for starting out in the hobby” (via Ultimate Classic Rock), and he’s also published a book titled Treasure Islands that illustrates his findings in Great Britain and Ireland.
However, Wyman shared that there is no bad blood between him and his former bandmates. “I’ve always been so proud of my 31 years in the band and I’m still good friends with the boys,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a family thing, although it sounds corny. It’s not business anymore.”
Queen's Brian May is an astrophysicist
Before being known as the lead guitarist for Queen, Brian May had to make a big decision that would change his life forever. Should he stick to completing school where he was studying astrophysics or become a rockstar? May ended up choosing the latter and would be known for creating hits like “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” alongside Freddie Mercury. He shared with Time, “When I was about to finish my thesis it was just the beginnings of Queen and I had to make a choice. And my choice was made on the assumption that I wasn’t very good at physics and I might be quite good at music.”
May told Time that his unfinished thesis, which was on zodiacal dust, “became very in-demand again” 30 or so years later. So, he got right back into a classroom to complete it. According to the band’s official website, May received his PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College in London in 2007, and as noted by Time, “he became part of the NASA team responsible for New Horizons, the spacecraft that in 2015 reconnoitered Pluto.” He’s even written a song called “New Horizons” to honor the spacecraft, which also flew past Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited.
Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson became a pilot
Any heavy metal music enthusiast knows who Bruce Dickinson is. The British singer and songwriter became the lead singer of Iron Maiden in 1981 after replacing Paul Di’Anno, and kicked off his career as a member of the band for their third album, The Number of the Beast. Besides rocking out on stage, Dickinson also enjoys flying planes.
According to Pilot‘s profile of the rockstar, Dickinson learned to fly in the ’90s and “pursued a career in Commercial aviation when he broke with Iron Maiden.” He was employed by Astraeus Airlines as a pilot and marketing director, and according to the Daily Mail, he “stepped in to fly stranded passengers home” on more than one occasion. As noted by the Daily Mail, the airline has since ceased operations.
Dickinson also shuttled his band around the world on their very own Boeing 575 during their Somewhere Back in Time World Tour from 2008 to 2009, according to BBC. The outlet also points out that Dickinson flew an even bigger plane — a Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet — for Iron Maiden’s The Book of Souls World Tour in 2017. Besides flying around the world, Dickinson also has his own aircraft maintenance facility in Wales, called Caerdav (formally known as Cardiff) Aviation which also provides training services for airlines, according to Louder.
Cindy Birdsong left the Supremes and became a nurse
Cindy Birdsong’s name is synonymous with the Motown sound. Birdsong was a founding member of Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles in the ’60s and was later hired by Motown record founder Berry Gordy to join the Supremes and sing alongside Diana Ross, according to Last.fm. Birdsong remained a member of The Supremes until 1976, even though Ross parted ways with the group in 1970 to pursue a solo career. As the outlet recounted, after she left her musical career behind, Birdsong went on to become a nurse.
The singer worked at UCLA Medical Center and then went on to work for Motown executive Suzanne de Passe before she became a minister, according to Greg Hernandez of the Daily News Los Angeles, (via Out in Hollywood). Speaking to Hernandez about living her life away from the public eye after her time with The Supremes and Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles, Birdsong shared, “It was a glorious time and the biggest education I’ve had. We traveled to all nations, heard all tongues and even hobnobbed with royalty.”
She added, “People don’t know where I am and what I’m doing. I haven’t lived a fairytale lifestyle for many years. I’ve been up and down – a roller coaster it’s been.” The songstress even confessed that she wasn’t the biggest fan of the musical Dreamgirls, which was loosely based on the Supremes.
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