On Being an Indie ArtistOn Music

What’s in a Name?

Names. They can mean everything or they can mean nothing to the band so titled, or indeed to their audience. They can be serious, political, witty, pithy, nonsensical knowing, ironic, or just ever so simple. Some artists must regret the choice as the weight of their decision dawns on them after the first few years. Others catch the zeitgeist and can come to represent their era or genre. Some names lose any relevance to the reference that produced it – when you think of The Rolling Stones, do you think that they “gather no moss?”, or when you think of Joy Division do you think of the Nazis and sex slavery? R.E.M., or Talking Heads become so synonymous with the bands, we forget those names represent other things.

There are recurring trends and these come and go. There may be a spate of bands using the definite article to prefix anything from a banal noun, to a kinetic verb. Recently there has been a spate of mis-gendered naming of bands, privileged cis white boys claiming irony as they name themselves anything from Girl Band, to Mean Girls, to Cheap Girls. Another example of a trend to come and go, being puns on other celebrity or band names; anything from Dananananaykroyd, to Chet Faker or Eltron John are fair game.

Back in the early 2000s, on their XFM radio show, Ricky Gervais and cohort Stephen Merchant often discussed band names, devising what they believed a sure-fire way to tell if an artist had a great name. Now play along at home, won’t you? Imagine yourself a stage-announcer, at Wembley stadium, something like Live Aid, maybe. You’re announcing the next artists to take the stage: “Ladies and gentlemen, won’t you please welcome to the stage… Queen”, or “The Eagles”, or “AC/DC”, or “…Led Zeppelin”. It’s somewhat less easy to hear: “Ladies and gentlemen listening around the world, won’t you please welcome to the stage… The Flatmates”, or “…Orange Juice”, or “…Arab Strap”. Of course, that I’d often rather be listening to the latter than the former is a discussion for another day.

Thinking back to my own band / artist naming endeavours over the years, I can think of some excellent, and some terrible names I’ve chosen for projects over the years. When Iain, Paul, and I first played together, for a short time we decided upon the moniker “Metronomic”, for a band that were anything but. After that, and somewhat incomprehensibly, we considered “Fourteen Minutes” to be a stronger choice. Thankfully, Andy came along and suggested the enigmatic, “Troika”. Not long after this, I joined a band with a fantastic name, “Skappah-flo”, loosely named after Scapa Flow, a body of water in the Orkney Islands.

Post-Troika, in 2005, Sarah and Dave of Valentine Records – a Manchester label of some repute, came to visit Glasgow and we got ourselves a little drunk, and with some friends tried to record a record in an evening. The names of those tracks have to be seen to be believed; “Tweemo”, “FC Cunto”, and “Kicking Bishop Brennan Up The Arse”, the latter a Father Ted reference that spawned the name of the project, and one of my favourite ever band names, “Nuns are people too”.

As I tried my hand at solo artistry, I did everything I could to avoid using my own name, the reasons for why, have long since evaded my understanding. I tried “A Crowd of One”, “Cinematica”, “Microcassette”, “twentysecondsbeforesleep”, and eventually settled on “beneath us, the waves” in 2009. It didn’t take me long to get bored of that one too, and before long I’d begun writing and performing under my own name.

When I was fortunate to find myself as the final member of a classically infused Varsovian post-rock sextet, we had a mythical struggle to decide upon a name. We each brought lists upon lists to rehearsal, and each suggestion had to win unanimous support. Not one did. One evening, after an enjoyable early rehearsal, I mentioned an upcoming trip home to Scotland, to which one of the band, I forget who – though I suspect Dave – commented on my trip hope to “the Frozen North”. As one, all 6 of us had an epiphany. That’s the name.

And so it was.

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