Vagina Panther, Bearstronaut, Milk Dick: Why CMJ Bands Chose Their Names

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Image courtesy of Vagina Panther
By Elliott Sharp

New York's CMJ festival started yesterday and goes through Saturday. Our sister music blog at the Village Voice has complete coverage, including these funny flow-charts about which panels you should see.

Most folks come for the bands, of course, and about all said bands have in common is that they all have names. Animal-inspired monikers are very popular this year at CMJ. The most respected animal continues to be the bear: Bear Crossing, Bear Hands, Bear Trap, and Bearstronaut are all playing.

Also popular this year is the word "blonde," as in House Of Blondes, Blonde Summer, Blondfire and BLONDS. Also trending is the word "gold," as in Gold Fields, Golden Bloom, Goldenboy, and Goldroom. And, for what are most likely Derrida-related reasons, "ghosts" are really in, too: see Ghost Beach, Ghost Pal, Ghost Wave, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, The Ghost Inside, and Ghostface Killah.

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Naming a band is oftentimes more difficult than writing the first song, touring, and learning to play an instrument. It involves sitting around, often stoned and drunk or exhausted, and having a conversation like this:

Drummer: "How about ____?"

Bassist: "Oh, dudes, what about ____?"

Singer: "GOT IT: _____!"

Guitarist: "____ would be awesome!"

Guitarist's Boyfriend: "What [the guitarist] just said!"

The conversation continues like this for several days, maybe weeks (months?), until the band finally arrives at a name. Sometimes the chosen name is terrible, sometimes it is very good, and sometimes it is something in between terrible and very good. Sometimes a band's name seems like total gibberish, but even those bands with gibberish names eventually construct a story about how the name they chose means something to them, and, in some way exemplifies the band. Motivated by this logic, I asked a bunch of bands playing CMJ, namely the ones with particularly ridiculous names, why they named themselves what they named themselves.

A Fragile Tomorrow

"The story of our band name is interesting, really. We started the band nine years ago, and before we really started heavily touring seven or so years ago, we just kind of jammed in our basement (three of us are brothers). I had written this terrible song called 'A Fragile Tomorrow' that we knew we didn't want to work on since it was so bad. At that point, our band name was unfortunately and embarrassingly Acoustic Midnight, but we desperately wanted to change it, so while we didn't like the song I had written, we liked the title of it. Thus, A Fragile Tomorrow became our band name and it has never and probably will never change!" A Fragile tomorrow play 10/17 at Rockwood Music Hall.

Air Traffic Controller

"I was an air traffic controller in the Navy when I started writing songs. It was a very significant period in my life -- working hard at doing a job, while becoming something else. I was recording lonely songs, sending CDs home to family and friends, and the music started spreading. Although ATC wasn't formed until I got home, I always felt the band was born at this pivotal time when I was an air traffic controller." Air Traffic Controller play 10/17 at Canal Room, 10/19 at The Impossible Project NYC, and 10/20 at Bowery Electric.

Archie Pelago

"The name came out of an email exchange between band members Cosmo D and Hirshi, free-associating on a variety of words and phrases. We liked that the name we chose suggests one person even though we are actually a trio. Also, it's a nod to how NYC, our geographic home base, is itself an archipelago." Archi Pelago played yesterday. Sorry!

 

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Basement Batman

"No matter what we're doing, we always have our eyes and ears out for cool band names, so at this point we have a little vault full of them. With Basement Batman in particular, we were brainstorming names for a hip-hop band we were all involved with about six years ago and came up with the name, but it wasn't the right fit at the time. Our home studios have always been in basements so that makes sense. Basement Batman had a great ring to us and the idea of somewhat humanizing Batman, who is this iconic savior, affiliated with caves and beating bad guys' asses felt good. We're probably bigger fans of Ninja Turtles, but when the three of us started this band a couple years ago, there was no discussion -- we were Basement Batman. Hopefully we get big enough for the fine folks at DC Comics to shut us down, in which case it's back to the vault." Basement Batman play 10/19 at Ella.

Beach Day

"I was visiting the mountains of North Carolina. It had been like two months of non stop cold, rainy, gray weather. I started missing Florida badly. I was born and raised in Florida, the land of no seasons. Beach days are everyday here. It's the land of orange trees, alligators, lizards and swamps. We were seriously missing that wild feeling. We went into the rehearsal space and just started messing around with surf music. That's when we wrote our theme song, 'Beach Day.' The band was born." Beach Day play 10/18 at XPO 929, 10/19 at Cameo Gallery, and 10/20 at Public Assembly.

Bearstronaut

"We picked our name from a Brad Neely video called 'Future Thoughts.' It's a character briefly mentioned in the video, but we thought it was ridiculous and went with it. Looking back now, we wish we had maybe taken some more time in picking the name, but it certainly has stuck with people and helped our audience grow, so we can't complain." Bearstronaut plays 10/20 at Left Field.

Butter The Children

"We chose our band name because it is a veiled reference to A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift, and now we're the first thing that comes up when you type Butter The Children into Google." Butter The Children play 10/17 at Webster Hall, 10/20 at Legion Bar, and 10/21 at 285 Kent.

CALLmeKAT

"Some people choose their own name when it is for a very personal project," says CALLmeKAT's Katrine Ottosen. "However, for my music, even if it is a one-woman venture in the writing process and my personal heart child of music, I wanted to name it with a band name that was definitely not my private name for two main reasons. One: my native Danish name is hard to pronounce correctly for people who aren't from there. Two: when it's not my own name I can step into this specific world of work and have a sort of creative carte blanche to do anything I feel within the frame of imagination and language of music. That's the idea of the project: to be a melting pot for composing, expression, searching, old keyboards and basically just music and love for music.

I was playing some shows around Europe at the time, and I heard myself repeatedly saying 'You can just call me Kat' every time I had to say my name to somebody. And so that basically led me to the band name. Many of my friends also just use the short version of my name, so it was a positive thing. People always think it has to do with the animal world... cats and feline stuff, but it doesn't at all. The reason for the way of typing it was a bit of a cheesy, funny result of today's world of internet info searching; by making it easy for people to see that it is three words but put together inside one word, it in return gives an advantage of narrowing down search results when people are finding info about my band on the web." CALLmeKAT play 10/19th at Zirzamin.

 

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Come On Caboose
Come On Caboose

"Come On Caboose doesn't have much meaning except that the name just came to me in May of 2004 as I was listening to the final broadcast of my favorite radio station, 97X Woxy, known for playing indie and modern rock and made famous by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man ('Bam! The Future of rock and roll'). At the time, I was in another band, but I thought if I ever started a solo project, I might call myself Come On Caboose. A few years later, the band broke up and Come On Caboose was born. Also, strangely enough, I found out later from some hardcore gamers there is apparently fan fiction for the video game Halo called 'Red and Blue' with an infamous quote 'Come On, Caboose!' I had never heard of it until asked about the band name, but there is no intentional connection." Come On Caboose play 10/19 at Parkside Lounge.

Deathrow Tull

"We were looking for something sensual, yet daring. Any old pun just wouldn't do, so we locked ourselves in the Buffalo's closet (he's our drummer) which was pretty cozy for seven bandmates dressed in velvet and spandex. That's when the visions began. There was a significant amount of sweat and saliva, maybe some salvia as well, and when we emerged, we were undeniably Deathrow Tull." Deathrow Tull play 10/18 at The End, and 10/20 at Arlene's Grocery.

Fat History Month

"I had this book called The Fat Man In History by Peter Carey back when we started the band and wanted to come up with a name that had something to do with that. My brother came up with Fat History Month and we laughed for a year. Then on President's Day I started thinking about how no one knows much about William Howard Taft except that he was the fattest president, and I thought that's pretty awful, so the name took on some political meaning. People should be able to be whoever they wanna be, whatever they look like. To quote a prominent philosopher of physiognomy, 'Fatness is the final frontier of physical qualities that you're still allowed to shit on people for and not be a social pariah.' That's dumb, so we started a movement. Also, it's kinda funny." Fat History Month play 10/20 at The Paper Box.

Foxygen

"Sam France and his friend Libby were talking over AIM one day, and she called a cute boy she had a crush on her 'Foxygen.' Sam and Jonathan Rado were in sixth grade at the time, and they decided right then that Foxygen would be their band name. Libby does not recall this exchange." Foxygen play 10/18 at Brooklyn Bowl, 10/19 at Public Assembly, 10/19 at Bowery Ballroom, 10/19 at Pianos, 10/20 at Piano, and 10/20 at Fuzz NYC.

Grape Soda

"I'd been kicking around the name since I was a high school armchair Dadaist. Back then, I chose it randomly and liked it because it was a nondescript consumer product without any connotations. When we started playing music together, it seemed like a good illustration of our sound: murky, saccharine, and heavily carbonated." Grape Soda play 10/17 at Union Pool.

 

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Landon O'Brien
Letting Up Despite Great Faults
Letting Up Despite Great Faults

"It's a ridiculously long name for a band, but it serves as a reminder to myself to not be afraid of showing yourself because you think you suck. Writing music shouldn't be a competition, and as long as you're genuine in your effort, then you are successful." See cmj.com for Letting Up Despite Great Faults' shows.

Milk Dick

"We're actually not even sure why we're called Milk Dick. Megan, our drummer, is a big perv and she put her foot down on this one. I mean, we definitely wanted to have the word Dick in the name because Dicks rule but she won't tell us why she wanted Milk Dick so badly. Most people think I made up the name because I can be creepy." See cmj.com for Milk Dick's shows.

Plates Of Cake

"It's a phrase I came across in of my favorite novels, The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles. It has a great phonetic ring to it. It got stuck in my head and inspired endless other nonsensical phrases, like Crates of Lakes, Drakes of Steaks, Rates of Dates. I originally tried to pawn the band name off on some friends -- an all-female psych rock band that ultimately decided to call themselves Good Housekeeping. They broke up. A year or so later, in 2009, when I started the band, Plates Of Cake was still lingering in the back of my mind and we went with it, for better or worse." Plates Of Cake play 10/20 at The Gutter.

Raccoon Fighter

"We were inspired by an ex-drummer in one of our high school bands. He started a project back then with his best friend called Raccoon Fireman Bird Feeder, which was the craziest band name we had ever heard, so when we we're trying to find a name for our not so serious (at the time) recording project, we came up with Raccoon Fighter. In time we began performing live and the name just stuck. I always find it interesting how people react to the name. At our first show we actually met someone who had recently shot a raccoon with a 9mm for destroying his garden." Raccoon Fighter play 10/17 at Spike Hill, and 10.18 at The End.

Rice Cultivation Society

"It takes a lot of people to effectively grow rice, digging for irrigation, everything has to be timed perfectly on a large scale. I started using the name while performing on my own because I believe the same applies to songs, all different strains of literal and symbolic, planned and impulse, needs to work together. I am glad the name also works to describe us as a band, since we all come from much different musical backgrounds. We also all grow rice in our spare time." Rice Cultivation Society played yesterday. Sorry!

Vagina Panther

A: "Understanding why a band would name themselves Vagina Panther can be hard to get your head around. But who cares? Vaginas RULE and Panthers are COOL. Understanding what VP does is easy. We melt faces."

B: "Vagina Panther was originally the name of an underground drug-running syndicate. The pay sucked though, so we decided to follow the money and start a rock band. It has really paid off."

C: "Due to some copyright issues, we could not use Dick Wolfe. Vagina Panther became the next logical choice."

D: "All of the above." Vagina Panther plays 10/17 at Trash Bar.

We Can't Enjoy Ourselves

"We're afraid there's not too much romance behind it, unless you consider sublimating a death wish romantic. We simply thought it was a name of exquisite sensitivity and refinement; the kind that decorates great ships, submarines, or at least the gravestones of great ships and submarines. As to whether it sinks or swims, nobody worries about making a gravestone sea-worthy. So we don't. Gravestones are generally landlocked." We Can't Enjoy Ourselves play 10/20 at Cake Shop, and that same day at Union Pool.

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