HOW TO NAME YOUR BAND
You don't know tedium until you've named a band. 'They' say the most stressful things in life are death, divorce, and for some reason, moving house. If moving your stuff between two houses makes the list (which you can hire two guys to do in a weekend), then why the hell doesn't naming your band?
This post lays bare the band naming mistakes of my past, in the hopes of helping anyone who might find themselves in need of a band name come up with one, or a better one.
Right now I'm trying to name a new band with a friend for instrumental, movie-ish music. After months of maddening brainstorming, we finally found the perfect name. It ticked ALL the boxes we'd started to doubt would ever be ticked. Then tragedy struck: we found out there's another band with the same name. They're not streaming and no one's buying their stuff on Bandcamp, but we share a home town, so politeness must prevail. I'm pissed off at myself for falling in love with a name before Googling it… amateur mistake! ALWAYS GOOGLE FIRST.
It's extra lame for me, because I don’t feel like I’ve fully recovered from naming Farewell Horizontal yet. That was actually a re-naming - 'Avoiding The Void' came out under the name Methuselah last May. 'Methuselah' is one of those single-word, timeless, non-zeitgeist names that leaves a lot to the imagination. I wanted to buck the ‘obscure name for SEO’s sake’ trend. But as soon as it was out, I knew I'd named us wrong. Firstly, ‘Methuselah’ sounds like a monolithically heavy old band like Black Sabbath or Mountain. Secondly, the SEO was even more awful than expected. Thirdly, it was constantly mispronounced - perhaps even by us. Fourthly, there's a big movie with that title in development - so much for dodging the zeitgeist! What seemed briefly like a great name was actually a terrible name.
Lauren figured we'd just be named after me, but she’s a distinctive drummer with a Ringo-like sonic signature, not some session player - i.e. there's more than one personality in the room. I think of Farewell Horizontal as a band, not a 'some guy'. Your personal name doesn’t represent your artistic style. Nirvana could have been called ‘Kurt Cobain', and been that bit lamer for it. What does 'Kate Smith' or 'Bob Johnston' sound like? I made these names up, but on a planet this size I can assume they're musicians - and yet their names give no clue about their music.
I wanted Farewell Horizontal to have a name that could withstand variety. Prior to Methuselah, I wanted Farewell Horizontal to be called 'Boiling Frogs'. Sounds cool, good SEO, memorable. But I eventually realised why it was wrong: it’s a ‘punk name’. Back in Gnohms and Ohms, we were (only just) punk enough for that name to have worked. But now we’re so studio-heavy with such whispery, laconic vocals, the requisite angst just isn’t there. We needed something more indie rock.
Let me out myself as a nerd and explain what I call ‘the Nirvana-Pavement scale’, with "The Mystical" at one end and "The Mundane" at the other. The idea is that every classic alternative rock band name should sit somewhere on this spectrum. Nirvana = mystical; Pavement = mundane; Dinosaur Jr = between (dinosaurs = mystical, Junior = mundane). Pixies = mystical; Husker Du = closer to mundane (it’s a board game) but a dash of the mystical in that it's "Do you remember" in Danish which is mysterious/evocative. Oasis = mystical, Blur = mundane (albeit quietly psychedelic), Butthole Surfers = between? You have to use your imagination a bit, but I think it works.
Anyway, it was with this over-analysis in mind that I found Farewell Horizontal in my notes. Written down for its “Yeah, this’ll do” quality, and for the fact that Pavement had rejected it as an album title (on the basis that Bob Nastovich couldn’t stomach a yearlong, stupidly-titled ‘Farewell Horizontal Tour’). A cursory Googling revealed that the only other Farewell Horizontal with any online presence disbanded years ago. I ran it past Lauren, got the seal of approval, and that was it.
There are two downsides to being called Farewell Horizontal. 1) People sometimes call you ‘Farewell Horizon’ (not bad, just wrong). 2) Some people thought it referred to my recent recovery from illness - which would have made me, a passive participant in my own medical care, a self-congratulating wanker. I wasn’t very ‘horizontal’ anyway. (And to think I thought people don’t think too hard about the meaning!) These were only small downsides, however.
You can take Farewell Horizontal with you into any artistic territory without being stylistically straitjacketed. Its abstraction and syllable count also push it beyond obvious commerciality. It nods to nineties indie rock, which the Pigeonholers That Be can use to put us on potential fans’ radars (I won’t bore you with how I don’t think we fit a pigeonhole - every band, wrongly, thinks that of themselves). Most importantly, it isn't embarrassing: I can actually tell you I'm in a band called Farewell Horizontal without wincing at my own stupidity, and that’s not easy! This is the REAL test of a good band name: it doesn’t embarrass you.
Having named (and renamed, and renamed) many bands, I have strong views on what (and what NOT) to do. Here's every band name I've been in before Farewell Horizontal, and the lessons learned from them along the way:
The Unexplained (aged 11-12): This was a UFO segment on Unsolved Mysteries, but everyone at school thought we were The Unexpected. Lesson: You want a name that’s at least memorable.
Spatula / The Invertebrates / Pracus / The Cattle Stampers / Y? / Grim / Grind / Painforest (12-14): We couldn’t agree on a name for more than five minutes. Conall was right; Spatula was the best.
Hemlock (14-17): a poisonous plant, this was my dad's suggestion and it suited classic metal well enough. Just not a great word, and it was annoying hearing other kids say it, with devil horns and a hint of mockery no less. Lesson: You want to enjoy hearing people say your band’s name.
Nale Asylum (17-18): This was a metal band where we stuck metal-sounding words together, which we then misspelled to be ‘modern’ (2003) and get signed to Roadrunner and become billionaire rock stars forevermore. Naturally, it has aged terribly. Lesson: Don’t try to be too 'current' - you’ll just go out of date way faster.
A Friend Of Mine (19-26): We were into left-field, wacky alternative stuff, and we wanted the name to look different. It just looked crap. I’m sure the name held us back, because we were good. (A bandmate suggested ‘Dear Leader’, which I dismissed but now realise was a good name. I wanted to be called ‘With:’ in order to confuse people on gig posters. Why? Because I was an idiot.) Bizarrely, we ALL thought A Friend Of Mine was a great name - we must have thought that causing confusion was a good thing. I’ve seen it used by others since, and I wince at the familiarity of their mistake. This is the ultimate “What’s your band called?” “A Friend Of Mine.” “A what?” “A Friend Of Mine.” “Yeah but what’s your band called?” name. Lesson: If you have to say the name to people twice, it sucks. There are no exceptions to this.
Zombirds (24-26): I got everyone in the band to whittle down my ‘shortlist’ of a hundred names or so, and we ended up with the name I least suspected, but ended up loving. Dark and pastoral, yet humourous, which suited my weird-folk leanings at the time. Lesson: Notwithstanding that you should trust your gut, try to be open to names that seem counterintuitive at first.
Poor People (24-26): This was a joke name, but in retrospect it sounds like it's mocking the poor - or worse, describing our broke-yet-thoroughly-middle-class arses as "poor". Besides that, my only regret is that we didn't call our self-titled album "Poverty Porn". I just thought of that. A missed opportunity. Lesson: If the name could be seen as mocking the marginalised, forgetaboutit.
Shooting At Unarmed Men (25-26): This band was named before I joined. Weird, off-the-cuff, wordy and with a hint of aggressive righteousness, it suited the style to a tee. Bonus points for starting with a verb and not being terrible! At one gig, the band was hilariously listed as "Shooting at One-Armed Men".
Ohms (27-31): A technical word written on speakers. It was so throwaway it was just irrelevant: it neither suited us nor didn’t. I didn't even dislike the name, because it felt so remote from us. I still love our music, but such arbitrary committee decisions were typical of us. Lesson: Don’t use a throwaway name. If you don't care, nobody will.
Gnohms (31-32): Gnohms was essentially the renaming of Ohms, but altering it as one member had left. Great SEO and looks weird in a good way. An inspired fix for an uninspired name.
Well, I feel drained from all this remembering. I don't think I've thought so much about band names in my life! Next time I'll do a "Part 2" and give some examples of what (and what not) to do.