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10 Great Alternative Rock Bands You Have Probably Never Heard of

Updated on August 23, 2015

Introducing the Bands

In this Article we will count down 10 great Alternative Rock bands you have probably never heard of. Some of these bands were never picked up by a Major label, or are on a major label, yet somehow never broke into the mainstream. Many of these bands I discovered back in the mid 90's on either 120 minutes or Alternative nation, on MTV. Other bands I discovered from other sources. Anyway, These are bands that somehow didn't appeal to the masses, but were good in their own right. There is more to making it big in the music industry than just talent. Timing is a big part of it. There were many bands that didn't make it, simply because they were too ahead of their time, such as, The Stooges, and Slade. Others simply got on the boat to late, like Candlebox. Some bands just aren't cool enough, or don't fit into the current fad. Many bands that don't quite make it, influence bands that end up making it big. The Stooges failed on a commercial level, but were successful in breathing some fresh air into a stagnant rock scene. They would go on to influence a whole sub genre of rock. You may have heard of it, it's called puck rock. They were also a heavy influence on Nirvana. But, we aren't talking about the stooges, but we will introduce bands that will probably prove to be just as influential.

Mark Sandman of Morphine
Mark Sandman of Morphine

Morphine Playing Buena Live

10. Morphine

Coming up at number 10, but not for lack of talent, is Morphine. Morphine was composed of:

Mark Sandman - Vocals, 2 string bass, and occasionally on 2 string guitar, and organ.

Dana Coley - Baritone sax, tenor sax, and double sax. He is most famous for playing double sax; which consists of a mouth piece on a splitter that connects 2 saxophones together. He basically played 2 saxophones at the same time.

Jim Deupree - drums and percussion from 1989-93, 1998-99.

Bill Conway- drums and percussion from 1993-99.

Sandman and Coley made up the heart of the wonderfully strange band that was Morphine. Their strange instruments are what helped create the sound that they were known for.Their music is heavily blues based, with just the right amount of funk. What makes their sound so unique is it's focus on the low end. There sound revolves around Mark Sandman's 2 string bass. Deupree adds more to the low end with his choice of instrument. Instead of playing Alto sax like most sax players, he used tenor and baritone saxophones that have a more Bassy sound. There is a tough of Psychedelia to their sound, their music tends to take you on a trip. Songs such as "Early to Bed" and "Top Floor, Bottom Buzzer" Have a certain eeriness, that separates them from other Blues based rock bands. So, check out Morphine, It will breathe a breath of fresh air into any music collection.

Stabbing Westward
Stabbing Westward

9. Stabbing Westward

Stabbing Westward was an 90's Industrial rock band.In the mid 90s with Bands like Nine Inch nails, Filter and Marilyn Manson, the popularity of Industrial Rock soared. The industry became over-saturated with a ton of industrial bands that all sounded alike. Stabbing Westward got lost in the shuffle. I believe that this band stood out of the crowd. They had more to their music than just noise and screaming, like a lot of bands in the genre.

Stabbing Westward Consists of:

Christopher Hall- Vocals, Guitar

Mark Eliopulos- Guitar

Walter Flakus- Keyboards.

Jim Sellers- bass

Andrew Kubiszewski- Drums, keyboards, guitar

Stabbing Westward managed to blend the harder, grittier sound associated with Industrial rock with a softer more melodic sound, an did more singing than screaming. This made them unique among an ocean of monotony. The song "So Far Away" shows that industrial music doesn't just have to be a bunch of noise. They are able to get the Industrial sound without overdoing the distortion. They also have one of the best singers in the genre. In "Everything I Touch" Starts of with an almost whiny vocal, and goes into a raspy yell.The rhythm guitar is very melodic. the redundant beat will put you in a trance like state. If you like Industrial rock you will probably like Stabbing westward.

Stabbing Westward- So Far Away

Crispian  Mills of Kula Shaker
Crispian Mills of Kula Shaker

8. Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker is a 90s British Psychedelic band fronted by Crispian Mills, who is the son of actress Haley Mills.. They are a throwback to the British Invasion of the 60s, especially the psychedelic era. Many of their songs are infused with Indian style music, and Hindu chants. Many of their songs feature traditional Indian instruments such as Sitar, Tamboura, and Tabla.

Kula Shaker is comprised of:

Crispian mills- Lead vocals, guitars.

Aloza Bevin- Bass, backing Vocals.

Jay Darlington- Keyboards(1995-1998)

Harry Broadbent- Keyboards(2006- present)

Paul Winterhart- Drums

Kula shaker is a very underrated band. When they came out, they were overshadowed by other British bands like Oasis and Blur, which were more suitable for the taste of the masses. I believe that Kula Shaker is the most talented of the three bands. Their exotic sounds were to much to digest for the Audience at that time frame. They would have been more successful had they been formed in the mid 60s, when adding Indian instruments to rock music was the thing to do.

Kula Shaker's Indian influence is most present in the songs "Tatva" and "Govinda," which feature Hindu chants. "Hey dude" is a solid jam, with very palatable rhythm guitar, and a grooving beat. This song is very much a rock song, lacking the Idian influence of some of their other songs. The band also has a cover version of the Deep Purple song "Hush," That I think blows the original out of the water. The song "108 Battles(of The Mind)" is a major throw back to 60's British rock music. If I played you this song and told you it was recorded in the 60s, you would probably believe me. If you want to listen to a band that takes you way back, or that takes you on a trip, Kula shaker is your band.

The Folk Implosion
The Folk Implosion

7.The Folk Implosion

The Folk Implosion started off as a side project of Lou Barlow, of Sebadoh. They are most well known for their work on the "Kids" soundtrack. Even though the movie "Kids" was a horrid piece of crap, the soundtrack sold very well. One of the the song from the soundtrack, "Natural one" was a hit and made it on the Billboard charts. The Band's name is a play on "Jon spencer Blues Explosion."

The Folk Implosion is:

Lou Barlow

John Davis

Russ Pollard

Imaad Wasif

The Folk Implosion has a eerie, psychedelic sound. Some of their stuff sounds like it was written after a bad acid trip, yet still manages to be enjoyable. "Natural One," has an almost middle eastern sound. The drums sound very mechanical, which ads to Psychedelicness of the song. It sounds very hypnotic. "Kingdom of Lies" has a very low end sound. The lead guitar has a scattered sound to it, the timing is offset on purpose, for effect. Once again it has a very eerie sound to it. The Folk Implosion has a very unique sound, and is very hard to compare to any other band. They are definitely worth the listen.

The Folk Implosion- Natural One

Grant Lee Buffalo
Grant Lee Buffalo

6. Grant Lee Buffalo

Next, we come to a band that I was introduced to while watching the show "sound FX," back in 1994, on FX. Grant Lee Buffalo is a band known for its melodic guitar and beautiful Vocals. All though they aren't that well known, they have toured with bands like Pearl Jam, R.E. M., and Smashing Pumpkins.

Grant Lee Buffalo is made up of:

Grant Lee Philips- Lead vocals, guitar

Paul Kimble- Bass

Joey Peters- Drums

Philips is an extraordinary vocalist, with and incredible vocal range. He hits some beautiful high notes, which is the most apparent in the song "Mocking Birds." Their Most successful song was "Truly, Truly." Although it is a good song in its own right, I still believe it pales in comparison to "Mocking Birds." One of their more rocking songs is "Loan Star Song." It is a song with good contrast. Both heavy and mellow in parts of it. When you listen to Grant Lee Buffalo, you can't help but notice the Neil Young influence. Fortunately, though their vocals are much better.

Grant Lee Buffalo- Mockingbirds

Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams

5. Daniel Johnston

Now we come to the almost famous Daniel Johnston. I Say almost famous, because he almost made it big. He began a tour with Sonic Youth, which could have made him famous. The problem is that Daniel Johnston is Schizophrenic and bipolar, and thought he would perform better if he stooped taking his medicine. The result was, the poor guy flipped out in the middle of a show in New York city, and just took off. This caused the members of sonic youth frantically looking for him in the big apple. They decided the best thing was to send him back with his family. He could of been a very big rock star, but mental illness got in the way.

Now let's get down to the nitty gritty, and discuss his music. Daniel Johnston's music has a real folkiness to it. His music is very Dylanesque. Johnston is a very proficient rhythm guitarist. He has a high pitched wirey voice, and although he isn't the greatest singer, his voice is suitable for his music. You can really hear the Bob Dylan influence in "True Love will find you in the end" and "I live in broken dreams." These to songs are very folky and are very heartfelt.You can tell that he pours his emotion into his song writing and performances.

One of my favorite songs by Daniel Johnston is "Sinning is Easy." The instrumentation is very well done, and his drawn out whiny vocals round out the psychedelic sound of this song. In the song "life in vain," Johnston describes the agony of struggling with mental illness. It's hard to not break down in tears when you hear this song. You really feel the man's pain. That's what makes Daniel Johnston's music so great; he is so good at expressing his emotion in his music. While writing this article, I was listening to more of his songs, and Had to move him up the list from number 9 to number 5.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. From left to right: Jon Spencer, Russel Simmins, Judah Bauer
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. From left to right: Jon Spencer, Russel Simmins, Judah Bauer

4. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

What do you get when you put Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and The Who in a blender, douse it with gasoline, and strike it with lightning? That's right you get Jon Spencer blues Explosion.They are an alternative rock band from a band from New York city.

Composed of;

Jon Spencer- vocals, guitar, and theremin.

Judah Bauer- guitar, backing vocals, harmonica, and occasional backing vocals.

Russel Simmins(Not to be confused with Russel Simmons of Def Jam Records)- Drums.

Jon Spencer got his start in bands: Boss Hog, and Honeymoon killers, before forming Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The band is a mix of Rock n' Roll, Blues, Punk, Rockabilly and Noise Rock. I remember when I was introduced to the band. Blues Explosion is right! That music made my head explode. It was this new, original sound that I had never heard before. It was similar to hearing Nirvana for the first time. I first heard them on 120 minutes, on MTV. I remember Matt Pinfield introducing them, and thinking it was a cool band name.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is such a unique band in the sea of redundancy that is the music industry. First of all, How many other rock bands, or bands in general have theremin in their music. The band is is a wonderfully noisy blend of the best genres of popular music. Spencer's performances are very energetic, and full of life. Within a few seconds it is obvious who the band's leader is. The band has mastered blending different genres, to make a style all to their own.The song "Two Kinds of love," lays down the funk. This is a grove that makes you want to get up and dance. Simmins lays down a very rhythmic beat,The guitars are very overdriven and bluesy. In "Strange Baby" Jon Spencer sings in a Rockabilly style vocals. The guitars Screech away to the hypnotic beating of Simmins' drumming.The theremin break in the song is outrageous and helps the song reach it's climax. "Bell Bottoms" sets the mood with twangy guitars. The drums are playing almost a marching beat, and the over the top vocals by Jon Spencer, really get the adrenaline pumping. So, check out Jon Spencer Blues explosion, they are sure to blow your mind.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Performing Strange Baby on David Letterman

Paul Chastain and Ric Menck of Velvet Crush
Paul Chastain and Ric Menck of Velvet Crush

3. Velvet Crush

Velvet Crush has an early 60s influence that has been filtered through the lens of the Alternitive Rock explosion of the 90s. They are a Power Pop band from Rhode Island. The band broke up in 96. and reformed in 98. The band's second album "Teenage Symphonies to God," was taken from Brian Wilson's description of the music he intended to make for The Beach Boys' Album "Smile." I guess that was their way of siting The Beach Boys as an influence.

Velvet crush is composed:

Paul Chastain- Lead vocals, Bass

Ric Menck- Drums, Back up vocals

Jeffery Brochette- Guitar(1991-98)

Velvet Crush is a great band, mixing melody, vocal harmonization, overdrive guitars, and rhythms you can tap your foot to. "Life is killing Me," Blasts off with a scorching , raunchy guitar intro! Then it slips into very melodic vocals. This song is definitely a rocker. The vocal harmonies of "Star Trip," takes you on a journey back in time. It's a very mellow tune, without being boring. Now days, people forget the power of beautiful vocals."Star Trip" will help you remember. It the song "Going to My Head," They demonstrate they can have a overall clean sound, add a fuzzy guitar and still make it work. Velvet Crush is an experience you shouldn't miss.

Velvet Crush - This Life is Killing Me

Loud Lucy
Loud Lucy

2. Loud Lucy

Loud Lucy is one of my Alternative Rock bands. Unfortunately they broke up shortly after their first Album was released, and that is why you have probably never heard of this awesome band.I remember seeing their video for "Ticking" on "Alternative Nation," on MTV, and Immediately going out the next day and buying their album.

Loud Lucy is:

Christian Lane- Guitars, vocals

Tommy Furar- Bass guitar

Mark Doyle- Drums.

Loud Lucy is just one of those bands that get in you head. They know how to blend the right amount of noisiness and softness. They know when to rock and when to slow it down. Much like Nirvana, they knew how to use contrast to make their songs powerful. The song "Breathe" is a power anthem with just the right amount of punch. The melodic verses give way to a chorus with heavily distorted guitar, pounding drums, and a powerful bass line. The Single "Ticking" has a very complicated rhythm, that shows Christian Lane for the great guitarist he is, and his over the top vocals are the icing on the cake. The song "Down Baby," Has a funky bass line that really gets the groove going. Then the Heavily overdriven guitar kick in, adding some raunchiness to the song. Lane's guitar solo is total genius. It's a shame this Incredible band didn't make it. Check out the album "Breathe," from Loud Lucy. You won't be disappointed.

Matthew Sweet
Matthew Sweet

1. Mathew Sweet.

I have reserved the number 1 spot for the great Matthew Sweet. He is one of my favorite Alternative Rock artists. My introduction to Matthew sweet didn't not come from my love for music, but from my love for Anime(we called it Japanimation, or Japanese animation back then). My friend told me about this guy who had Anime in his video. That guy was Mathew sweet, and the video was for the song "Girlfriend," which featured scenes for an Anime called "Space Adventure Cobra." Soon after that I became a huge fan, and was introduced to more of his songs while watching the shows "Alternative Nation" and "120 Minutes," which I watched religiously as a teenager. Mathew Sweet is considered Power Pop, and is possibly the best artist's in the genre.

Mathew sweet rocks out on the song "Girlfriend," The lead guitar is awesome and beautiful at the same time. It's a very upbeat song, not slow by the stretch of the imagination. His music is a throwback to a day when the emphasis was on creating a good melody, when vocal harmonization was the thing good bands did. "Divine Intervention" is a bit slower than "Girlfriend," but doesn't rock any less. The sweet vocals, with the distorted but melodic guitar give a warm feeling to this song. Like always the lead solo is freaking awesome. The song "Sick of Myself" is bittersweet, mixing the feelings of joy and sadness. This song is truly beautiful. The raunchy guitar is awesomely done, the guitar solos are out of this world. so, take a listen to Mathew Sweet, and find out why he is one of my favorite musicians.

Mathew Sweet- Girlfriend


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      2 years ago

      I need to seriously dispute the "unknowness" of Matthew Sweet. The guy was all over alternative radio in the 90s. In particular he was an integral part of my early 90s mix tapes recorded from WFNX in Boston. More than anyone on this list, he's probably collaborated with the greatest number of "known" musicians, including Michael Stipe, Susanna Hoffs, and Darius Rucker. Not to mention that he is, in the words of the inimitable Alphaville, "Big in Japan"

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      3 years ago

      I like Grant Lee Buffalo's Fuzzy and Matthew Sweet's Sick of Myself. Will check on the other bands. Thanks


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