Band name cleanup on aisle six!

We return this week to one of my favorite subjects: band names. It’s probably in my top five, ranked somewhere between dairy cow breeds and bluegrass festival signage.

When new bands are formed, a lot of agonizing takes place among the members about the naming of the group. Really, it’s less important than most of us think, because, as with instrumentals, you can pretty much name a band anything. The band will eventually make a musical impression that we then associate with a name, making the name either good or bad in our minds, depending on whether we like the band or not.

Lots of band names came about with a specific theme in mind that may have suited the band at the time but that later became irrelevant. It still doesn’t really matter.

Rhonda Vincent named her band “The Rage” using the initials of the first names of her first lineup of band members to form the word “RAGE” or “RAJE,” as it was originally spelled. Those band members are all long gone, but those of us who like Rhonda’s music are still perfectly happy with the name.

The Seldom Scene, originally so named because they were dedicated to being a part time band playing mostly Washington area gigs, and not many of those, made less sense as a name when the band started playing out more and working the festival circuit. No one cares; it’s the Seldom Scene!

A more recently formed band, Sideline, got its name from the fact that its original members were regular members of other bands and were playing in this new band as a Sideline. Now that’s no longer the case, but we just associate the band as it is with that name. It doesn’t need to have any meaning.

It’s similar to the way we accept sports teams named for their previous home cities before they relocated in search of more fans or a better stadium deal: the Los Angeles Lakers (from Minneapolis), the Memphis Grizzlies (from Vancouver), and my personal favorite, the Utah Jazz (from New Orleans). Fans of these teams don’t care; they associate the name with the image of the team and their performance the last time they went to a game.

I’ve suggested using various bluegrass band naming “kits” in the past (take an adjective from column A, and a nature-based noun from column B, etc.), and that’s fine. Or you can just free-associate and pick two random words, like “Copper Dolphin” (more suitable for progressive bands). You can also take a pronoun, add the name of a bluegrass instrument, and then a number, which is of course how the bands We Banjo 3 and You Mandolin 12 got their names.

Somehow this always brings me back to deodorant scent names, as so often happens, no matter what the original subject was. In this case, it’s because the names of deodorant fragrances also make perfectly adequate bluegrass band names, (e.g. “Mountain Breeze,” or “Cool Silver”). These names tell us nothing about their scent, which is why, as I’ve pointed out before, we’re forced to discreetly crouch down in aisle 6 and remove the caps to find out what “Avalanche” actually smells like.

Old Spice, however, has decided to add descriptions to their fragrance names so in theory we know what to expect, but I found that it only muddied the water (“muddy water” is also a deodorant scent). For example, I’ll admit to having recently purchased a deodorant stick called “Renegade” which described itself as smelling “unapologetically risky.” Having spent a lot of time in my life apologizing for my riskiness, this seemed like it could be kind of liberating. Honestly, though, it smelled like a lot of other men’s deodorants, and I think if I’d have tried another one describing itself as smelling “reassuringly stable,” I’m not sure I could really tell the difference in the sensory impression from an aisle 6 smell test.

So not only do these make for good(ish) band names, they now come with usable abstract descriptions of the band’s sound, too. This is certainly a bonus for bluegrass bands, who rely heavily on non-specific slogans to appeal to the broadest number of people. A fantasy-based deodorant description might help us reduce our reliance on automotive and fuel-based ones (“hard-driving,” “high octane,” etc.).

So the next time you hear about a band named “Phoenix” (and there was a bluegrass band by that name; Glen Duncan will back me up on that) or “Bearglove“ and read that they sound “as great as nature is” or play bluegrass “for the commanding mind,” remember that you heard it here first, inspired by aisle 6.

  • Chris, I wish you would post everyday so I wouldn’t have to go back and re-read your past articles to make me smile. If I had friends-in-high-places at “HBO Comedy Specials”, or “Saturday Night Live”, you would be a very-busy-man for at least the next couple of months (actually, I suppose you are already a very-busy-man…). BTW – thanks for not picking on my band name; there is a good story behind the selection, but I’m saving it for the IBMA awards…WBJ