The Name Game
A Survey of Seattle Bands Burdened with Same-Named Competition
Finding a good name for your band is hard. Finding a name for your band that nobody else has found already is damn near impossible.
Nirvana were sued by a has-been UK psych band of the same name when Nevermind blew up. Dan Snaith had to change his stage name from Manitoba to Caribou because of a lawsuit threatened by Richard "Handsome Dick" Manitoba of punk footnotes the Dictators (even though Manitoba wasn't even Dick's real last name and there's a whole goddamned Canadian province called Manitoba, which is infinitely more likely where Snaith got it). Portland's Starfucker found some other Starfuckers out there, changed their name to Pyramiddd (extra d's because, of course, there were Pyramids out there, too), and then changed it back. Local post-chillwave, pre–Altered Zones duo U.S.F. became an initialism when, to their chagrin, they discovered there was already an obscure theme park called Universal Studios Florida. You get the idea. Here, then, a survey of some Seattle bands burdened with same-named competition.
The home team: Seattle's Walls are a four-piece hardcore band featuring drummer Jensen Ward of Iron Lung, guitarist Nick Turner of KEXP's Sonic Reducer show, vocalist August Alston of Silentist, and bassist Evan Soto. Last year, they recorded a three-way collaborative 12-inch with Iron Lung and Pig Heart Transplant (John Kortland of Iron Lung's other band), and the record is an unruly pile-on of blown-out screaming and bass, sludgy headbanging riffs, anxiously palpitating drums, and a surprising amount of menacing ambient space. On their own, as on this year's Stare at the Walls 7-inch, the vocals are clearer, still strangled but sometimes intelligible, the guitar is sharper, the bass chugging, the drumming martial—and it includes an appropriately electrocuted cover of Die Kreuzen's "Live Wire," on which you can practically hear Alston involuntarily spasming with shock.
The competition: The other Walls are the duo of Sam Willis of Allez-Allez and Alessio Natalizia of Banjo or Freakout, that record slow-churning, heartbeat-thumping, shoe-gazing electronic music for esteemed German label Kompakt. Synths wash up in soft static, little guitar melodies float by, tambourine-shushing drumbeats drop in to break the eyelash-fluttering reverie, and everything is given a shimmering, techno-colored halo.
Who wins: Well, the first page of a Google search for "walls band" turns up only a couple of British bands called the Walls and Tilly & the Wall, but "Walls Kompakt" turns up five million results to 100,000 for "Walls Iron Lung" (Iron Lung is also the name of their DIY record label). Victory: ambient electronic dream pop (although our guys would probably win in a fight/mosh pit).
The home team: Our Emeralds are a five-piece band of hair-farming heshers signed to basement label GGNZLA Records. These guys can dispense classic, fast, and technically flashy metal riffing over primal galloping-into-battle drums; they can slow things down until their guitars and drums seem to emanate actual gravity, reminding you why it's called heavy metal in the first place. Then, as on "March of the Mule," they can roar to life as nothing more than one mightily sustained swell of cymbals, echoing wails, and white noise that will shake and disorient your inner ear, making you double-check that no earthquake or other natural disasters are occurring in the world outside your headphones or speaker zone.
The competition: A trio from the greater Cleveland area that specialize in expansive ambient gasses and antic synthesizer arpeggiations that fold in on themselves to attain trance-inducing states. These fellows were, depending on your tolerance for this sort of thing, either cheeky or forthright enough to title a 2006 CD-R Bullshit Boring Drone Band.
Who wins: Cleveland's Emeralds are prolific, releasing work on such revered underground noise labels as Hanson and American Tapes (as well as Thurston Moore's decidedly less underground if no less respected Ecstatic Peace). And they've opened up for Throbbing Gristle, so that pretty much seals it. Sorry, guys. (Possible new band names for our Emeralds: Amethyst, Malachite, Quartz, Agate, Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli—all of which are, admittedly, a little less '70s-fantasy-epic-sounding and a little more new-agey- healing-crystal-business, which, weirdly, might better suit the other Emeralds. Ah well.)
The home team: Seattle's Wet Paint, who have already added a distinguishing "DMM" to their name to avoid any future mix-ups, are a young guitar/drums/vox trio that make a strident, discordant post-punk racket that resolves into unexpected and unsettled grooves. Vocalist/guitarist Jamey Braden sings at times with an arch enunciation reminiscent of YACHT's Claire L. Evans and at other times with a theatrical warble not unlike Rachel Carns of the Need, whom Wet Paint DMM also echo in their wedding of shattered-glass guitar parts to alternately heavy-rolling and tight-clamping drumwork.
The competition: A relatively polished London, UK, quartet whose alternations between insouciant noise bursts and ambitious, artful pop hooks land like yet another echo of prime-era Sonic Youth.
Who wins: Wet Paint UK probably have the more radio-friendly future, but Seattle's Wet Paint DMM are making some of the most delightfully weird, confrontational yet fun noise in town. DMM for the win.
The home team: The Lights that call the 206 area home are a trio of dudes that trade in what you might loosely call "garage rock." Their jangly, folky (in the way that a boozed-up, train-hopping hobo is folky) song "New New" is an unbeatable earworm and features prominently in the Lynn Shelton–directed MTV web series $5 Cover Seattle (Shelton has also directed a video for their song "Setting Sun"). On all the band's songs, guitarist/vocalist Craig Chambers cuts a charismatic figure, his guitar mean, his voice snarling with a slight twang, his lyrics glum but lit up with a kind of bar-stool camaraderie that draws you in. Chambers also plays in mind-melting garage duo LoVe TaN, bassist Jeff Albertson cuts it up with jokey booty-rap crew Lambor- ghiniz, and drummer PJ Rogalski has done time in the infamously unstable lineup of Hardly Art band Unnatural Helpers.
The competition: Plenty. First of all, there's Drag City–signed band Lights, a white-witchy trio of three young women from NYC who boast a blood relation to Pearl Jam yarler Eddie Vedder and who, according to Dave Segal, "find the golden mean between mid-'70s Fleetwood Mac and Funkadelic." Damn. Then there's Toronto's Lights, a Lilith Fair–touring singer-songwriter who, according to her MySpace bio, is "a fairly small-sized, Canadian girl who makes intergalactic-electro music" as well as acoustic guitar versions suitable for a Starbucks in hell (they have multiple locations there, of course).
Who wins: The Lights got that attention from MTV (online) and have released their latest album on long-running Montana independent Wäntage USA, but then, NYC's Lights got a really positive Pitchfork review and Drag City is nothing to sneeze at, either. Let's call that one a draw and just agree that the Canadian girl is the clear loser.
Akimbo (our stoner- metal dudes vs. world-beat acts and Czech industrial bands); outré, Crucial Blast–signed shredders Wildildlife (whose solution to a well-merchandised, California douche-rock band Wildlife, who claim "there are many imitators but this is it if the wildlife is what you are looking for," was to add that extra "ild"); Bird Show of North America (not to be confused with the transcontinental Bird Show of Kranky Records); the Girls (defunct, survived by culty pop weirdo Girls); and ambient astral traveler Secret Colors (whose Chicago doppelgänger spells it all British-like, "Colours").