Rant: Crappy Band Names Trump Indie Appeal

By Peter Kimmich 2008-05-28 21:59:14
We know about physical, people-type overpopulation. That’s when there are too many new neighbors moving in all at once – then their cars use up all the convenient street parking, grassy fields turn into slum hives, and suddenly one-bedroom apartments with no washer or dryer rent for 1,700 a month.

Well, as you might have guessed, the same thing can happen in music. It’s what happens when too many indie rock bands form all at the same time, and with all the same ideas. What logically follows is a phenomenon pretty nicely stated as rock-overpopulation, or to be more succinct, “overrockulation.” When overrockulation occurs, bands start elbowing each other off the good rock real estate by using up all of the good riffs, taking all the cool styles, and – in the most prominent and embarrassing manifestation – taking all the good band names. What’s left behind are the cardboard-shack and overpass-tent band names, the 12-syllable fixer-uppers that are so far out there it's impossible to imagine moving into one by choice. It’s a shameful degradation.

For example, maybe there was once, back in the innocent ‘90s, a group called One-Inch Punch. Maybe they were happy living in the glow of their catchy, three-syllable, “adjective-noun” name. Maybe their name was becoming cherished, whispered from the lips of their followers into the ears of passersby. Then, maybe one day, the front man decided to move into the blossoming genre of indie rock.

“I like the name One-Inch Punch, can I still have it?” he might have asked the indie-rock landlords. “No,” they would have said. “There’s already an Australian hardcore band and a San Diego metal band with that name. We’re about being different from everyone. Choose something else.” Desperate, our victim might have scoured the landscape, being turned away at every juncture. Every good name was taken! Finally, he was forced to settle on an overly dramatic and entirely cantankerous shack of a name, She Wants Revenge. It’s clumsy, it’s impetuous, and it’s the ugliest name on the block, but it was all that was left. Sorry buddy.

Or perhaps our hero’s band had a cool, random name, like Mukilteo Fairies. Say this band grew accustomed to having a good band name. That is, until they moved onto indie turf.
“Nope,” the landlords would have said. “We need something simpler and easier to spell. We’re about anti-intellectualism.”
“What about The Fairies?” our hero would have compromised.
“Taken.”
“Damn,”
our hero would have said. “Where can we go?”
“Over there,”
the landlords would have said. “Next to that dumpster called ‘I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.’ Your new indie band name is …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.”
Our hero’s jaw drops.

And there are likely similar stories – probably as many as there are overzealous, clunky, painfully long indie band names evoking a cartoonish amount of anguish, or a pointless level of confusion. What torment did Neutral Milk Hotel go through to finally settle on their isolated spit of a name? Was Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly threatened with worse forced indie innovations? (“It’s either that name, or we make you add a lap steel….”) Then there’s the tragically isolated !!!, which inhabits the Easter Island of band names – eighth graders debate over how to pronounce them.

When one takes a step back, one is forced to wonder: is being indie really worth it? If your music is going to be cool and popular, are you okay with it being associated with a miserable, eight-syllable sentence fragment no one can identify with? Are you willing to always be prefaced by “no – they’re good, trust me”?

If you ask me, it’s time for indie rockers to take a stand and make up their own rules. Why do your names have to be dark and brooding? Why do you have to confuse people with your cryptic meta-poetry? Why do you appeal to a mind frame that hovers so far above everyone that most people have to fake it?

I propose indie bands start giving themselves mundane, nondescript, run-of-the-mill peasant names. How about naming your band ‘Kevin,’ or ‘Dusty?’ Is it already taken? How about ‘Dusty Johnson?’ Or, dammit, ‘Dusty William Johnson of 1334 Lake Drive, Indio, CA?’ If you ditch the need to be darker and deeper and cooler than everyone else, and just settle for being normal, it will make people damn sure they can identify with your music – it might as well be them, or their drool-dribbling toddler. And the best part is, since there are as many available band names as there are people with distinct social security numbers, no one will ever run out. Problem solved, at least until “Myspace stalking” gives way to “identity theft.” But that’s not as big a deal.
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