“That would be a good band name.” It’s such an easy game to play … when you don’t have an actual band to name. When you do, a misstep can be the difference between the immortality of a Fugazi, Slowdive or Talking Heads and the infamy of a Death Cab for Cutie, Say Hi to Your Mom or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Local rocker James Adams knows about memorable band names, having played in Boulder City outfits Dangerboner and Dude City before forming his own group, Same Sex Mary. “A name like Dangerboner always got a response, good or bad. People would say, I need to see Dangerboner, see what that band is all about,” Adams says. “When we were naming Same Sex Mary, I was looking for something that would also illicit an emotional response. I misheard ‘same-sex marriage,’ and I thought Same Sex Mary sounded funny. It doesn’t really mean anything, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t well-thought-out.”
Adams and I batted around some band names (some of his favorites: Dead Kennedys, Explosions in the Sky and Modest Mouse) and band-name ideas, which helped lead me to these critical guidelines:
Avoid dumb spelling and punctuation. Portugal. The Man. Chvrches. Iwrestledabearonce. Alt-J (whose actual name is an unpronounceable symbol). The B-52’s (Why the apostrophe? It isn’t possessive!) And the worst offender, the un-Googleable !!!. With the grandfathered-in exception of Led Zeppelin, misspelling a name on purpose isn’t innovative—it’s lame (extra points off to anyone even considering swapping a “z” for an “s”). And doing weird things with punctuation typically only leads to lengthy newsroom conversations about the best way to style a name in print—or whether to just leave it out altogether.
Pop-culture references might seem cool for a minute, but they tend to suck in the end. Save Ferris. Sweep the Leg Johnny. If He Dies He Dies. Just because you really liked a movie doesn’t mean you’ll want to be tied to it the rest of your life. Of course, exceptions prove every rule (I think Mogwai’s a solid film-spawned name; Adams likes Jets to Brazil), and some solid band names have been pulled from other bands’ song titles (see: Boris, Blonde Redhead and The Sisters of Mercy, but again, not Death Cab for Cutie).
Simple can be best. My all-time favorite band name is The Who; Adams’ is Black Flag. They’re perfect in their clarity, restraint and lack of ostentation. Black Sabbath. Shellac. Funkadelic. Misfits. You can practically hear them in your head, even if you don’t know what they sound like. Just don’t confuse simple for generic, or you might wind up in a forest of banality, stuck with all the Wolves (Parade, Eyes, Mother) and Deer (Tick, Hunter, Hoof).