The Name of the Rose

Neon IndianI have played in several bands over the years, almost all of them falling victim to my unique talent for coming up with horrendous band names.

Some choices from this rogue’s gallery: Feedback, Esoteric, Teenaged Mutant Ninja White Kids (I quite like that one), Fortune Favors the Brave, Widow and the Dusty Orphans, and The Toby Keith Experience.

Yeah…

Reality has been a harsh tutor in this regard, but I feel like, in recent years, I’ve been weaning myself of the habit. Having written about music for the past two years, I have come across more band names than most people will read in a lifetime. Some of them have been even worse than my own inventions. In service of aspiring musicians the world over, I offer these thoughts on band naming:

1. The key is to mix mystique with “knowingness.” The Beatles are the ultimate example of this principle in action. Why is it “ea” and “ee”? What is a “beatle” and why should we like it any more or less than a “bangle”? Ostensibly, the band itself is the only one who knows the answer to this and they aren’t telling. They’re only going to grin cheekily at the camera and keep playing.

2. Beware too many syllables. Three is good; two if you can manage it. Anything beyond three and we’re into troubled territory. The Vines=Good. Neon Indian=We’re getting into troubled territory. Keep it short, sweet, snappy. Think Madonna; think Prince.

3. Naming trends are to be watched out for an avoided. Blink 182 is kind of curious and enticing. Sum 41 is incredibly stupid. When my last band was at its height, we were having this problem with “wolves.” There were Wolves Bound for Rome, Wolves in the Throne Room, Wolf Parade, Pack of Wolves. As I type this blog post, a similar over-saturation is occurring with the word “neon.” We’ve got Neon Blonde, Neon Indian, Neon Zoo, and Neon Trees, to name a few.

This sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME. There is one band with a cool name (which is really just part of a cool general aesthetic) and it inevitably gets aped. Beware of these kind of trends. Buck them whenever possible.

4. No jokes. Fallout Boy has risen to international renown despite having disobeyed this maxim, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. Imagine being told he same joke over and over again every time you put on your favorite record. It would get old real fast. Superchunk gets partial credit on this one. Like The Beatles, they have a name that, while jokey, is not in itself a joke. Something like “The Headliners,” on the other hand, is to be avoided.

Mastodon, Leviathan5. You want to have a name that conjure positive associations, but not so many associations that people can automatically write your band off without having heard it. This is where things get tricky.

Metal bands fall victim this trap all the time. By naming their group something ridiculous like Fear Before the March of Flames they automatically turn off about half the people that might have an interest in their music. Look at metal bands that have broken through in past years. They have names that, while ostensibly “hard,” leave some room for interpretation. Mastodon. That’s a good band name.

This is where things get so tricky because you have to do something that is both unique enough to not get you boxed in, but which also hints at your genre. The band Salem has a problem in this regard. Their name is unique and interesting, but it implies a more Gothic ethos than the band actually espouses. I hear “Salem” and I think “witches, witch-buring, capitol of Oregon.” There’s a disconnect between the group’s name and what the band is actually about.

Superchunk scores another win in this category. The band’s name is sort of playful and a little aggressive, just like the band itself. MGMT also pulls this off quite well. MGMT is cryptic. When hearing that name you can’t really tell what the hell the group’s about, but it sounds authoritative, a little apocalyptic, and if nothing else I want to listen just to find out what it stands for (turns out it’s an abbreviation of “management,”  a  much worse band name).

Implying a genre without committing heart and soul is important. It allows your band to have an identity of its own while not just puzzling the living hell out of anyone with an idle curiosity in what you’re doing.

6. Don’t name your band The Tobey Keith Experience. Just don’t do it.

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