Husker Don’t: Picking a Band Name and Learning to Live With It

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that you’re deciding what to do on a Friday night. You’ve looked at the schedules for all the venues in your area, and you recognize none of the bands playing, but as a good little Rock Band fan, you are committed to the idea of seeing some live music, however unfamiliar. The imaginary headliners of these imaginary shows are as follows: "Deth Crucifixx", "Hip Hooray for Baby Seals", "Sully and the McDrunks", "The Infinite Sadness" and "Funk in the Trunk." Is it fair to say that you have a preconceived notion of what type of music these bands will play – possibly enough to determine your evening’s plans based solely on their band’s names? More than likely, you’ve already pulled on your platform shoes and Members Only jacket and are hopping in your Chevelle to see Funk in the Trunk... because that’s just how you roll.

Personally, I make these kinds of snap judgments all the time, for better or for worse. I avoided seeing The Acro-brats for years, for example, because I assumed (mostly falsely) that they were some sort of hip-hop act featuring dudes with handlebar moustaches wearing unitards. It’s not logical, but hey, the brain does what it does and lord knows mine ain’t designed for logic. Or multiplication beyond single digits.

The reality is that people will make assumptions about your band based on its name, so it’s important to pick something that not only doesn’t sound outrageously stupid (unless that’s your thing – I mean, it worked for the Butthole Surfers), but also will draw unfamiliar fans who can appreciate the type of music that you play. So let’s just start things out right off the bat with this piece of firm, inflexible reality: all the good band names are taken. To prove this, try to think of a band name and  do a web search on it. Yup. sadly, "Farticus" is already taken. Once you’ve accepted this reality, you can move forward and attempt to come up with a band name that suits you while simultaneously embarrassing the crap out of your parents.

Recently my former bassist Leeanne (who is also a former Harmonix artist) found the list that VAGIANT drafted when we were brainstorming band names. Now, I’m not going to claim we were entirely sober, but I hardly think that our inebriation can fully explain some of the names in the following list:

- The DP’s

- Statue-whorey

- Violent Outburst

- Reverse Cowgirl

- The Old Men

- The Gross-Outs

- The Stilettos

- The Something Somethings

- Urethra Franklin

- LoWreck’s Awesome Band

- The LoWreckening is Upon You

- Sexy LoWreck and the Ugly Ducklings

- Hotty McLoWreck and the Other Ones

- Snow Sneal

In the interest of saving space, I have truncated the list. Yes, there were more. Some I can explain (I remember thinking that Violent Outburst would translate easily to super-disgusting logos) and others I cannot (does anyone in Rock Band land know what a "Snow Sneal" might be?) I show you this list, dear readers, not to once again illustrate how ultimately uncreative I am and how adorable my drummer is, but in order to demonstrate why we ended up going with the band name VAGIANT, (which, by the way, I totally stole from this dude named Tim Catz who was in a Boston band called Antler and who is far more clever than me.) 

Choose wisely - Fish McGill

For the record, my band name is pronounced "Vah-JYE-int." It rhymes with "The Client," "Le Pliant," and… "Buh Giant." As you can see, my band stumbled upon one of the most common mistakes that bands make when creating their moniker: a name which lots and lots and lots of people will mispronounce. This isn’t always a bad thing – if you happen to be a member of one of those uptight hipster indie bands, it can actually HELP your band achieve success if only a handful of people actually know how your band name is pronounced. How many times have you heard a conversation like the following (and I assume it’s far, FAR more if you live in Williamsburg):

Overly eager girl with too-tight pea coat: “So, I’m totally into this new band from Lithuania, they’re called Bias Phase?”

Girl trying to "effortlessly" look like Jean Seberg: “Um, did you mean ‘Bee-ahs Fashay’? Yeah, I was totally into them, like, 3 months ago when I saw them open for Les Savy Fav."

So basically, if you want pretentious people to like you, go with a really tricky-to-pronounce name – it will make your fans feel like insiders and want to talk about you all the time just to prove that they know what your band name is. Otherwise, you’re going to spend the rest of your life cringing at radio announcements, promoters, and even fans. And fans don’t generally like being cringed at… Morrissey fans excluded, of course.

Once you and your bandmates have compiled a list of names and checked the internet to make sure that the band name isn’t already taken (which it will be), try the names out on your friends. Under no circumstances should anyone in the band ask the opinion of someone they have a crush on – it will make it really, really hard for the rest of the band to convince you that no matter how cute and clever young Tyler is, "Dreem Kittenz" is not a good band name.

When it all comes right down to it, your band can rock whatever name you pick – as long as you can commit to the name. Some of the best bands in history have stupid names. I know that this is bound to inspire a slew of youthful backlash, but Led Zeppelin is a stupid band name. It works, mind you, but that is due to the unassailable coolness of its members and their music. They owned the name in such a way that it headed down the trail to Stupidville, took three right turns, and ended up all the way back in Awesometown. If you own your band name, it will most likely become cool. It worked for Pearl Jam. And Klaatu.

Having said that, here are the basic rules you should follow when selecting a band name:

  1. It’s not as funny as you think it is. It’s not even as funny as your chronically depressed singer thinks it is.
  2. Imagine the band name in all the forms in which it will be used: written, incorporated into a logo, on a tee-shirt, and most importantly, spoken. If you can’t bring yourself to say the phrase, "Hi, we’re ‘Pocketful of Boobs’ from Floodwood, Minnesota!" then maybe you should hightail it back to Floodwood and flip to a new sheet in your lyrics notebook.
  3. Don’t over think it too much. Irritatingly clever is much, much worse than run-of-the-mill "we totally stopped caring" stupid. As much as I love terrible puns (a lot - just ask any number of the people who preemptively groan and run away when they see me), even I would not go to see a band called "Sarah Impalin’"... and I just spent 26 whole seconds thinking that one up!

Good luck, future rockers. And by all means, feel free to ignore this advice as you see fit. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, people in glass VAGIANTs shouldn’t throw stones. Make a list, hash it out, and share what you’ve come up with on the forums! I look forward to hearing from you... and also possibly stealing your band names.