Cultural Dissection: Anatomy of an Indie Band Name



Indie Band Name Cover

In which I try to dissect the essential elements that make up an indie band name – through an infographic and a Venn diagram.

I confess. These days, I’m unabashedly biased towards indie music. Yup. It’s not that I have no love to give to the other genres – that’s not true at all. I love pop and rock and classical and electronic and country as much as the next guy. In fact, have my iPod. The diversity of my song selections is unbelievable, especially when you get to the part where I keep my “Barney & Friends” album. But I digress.

I guess the only explanation as to why I’m biased towards the indie genre is because it’s the kind of sound that I am into as a musician and songwriter. My excuse is that exposing myself to more indie music helps me write along that style better.

Since I’ve been constantly listening to & evaluating indie artists as they approach my radar, it’s not entirely surprising for me to have noticed many glaring similarities shared amongst their kind. Like you know how pop punk male singers have almost the exact same annoying way of pronouncing their words, as if they’re chewing on wood shavings? That sort of similarities.

I’ve found that aside from popular chord progressions and certain rhyming patterns shared by the genre, the indie music scene’s taxonomy (way of naming) is a wholly interesting ordeal altogether.

If you have at least 20 indie artists in your music playlist, it’s not very hard to draw out parallelisms. Take for example the indie world’s inclination towards using animals as a crucial band name element. I’m definitely not the first one to pick this trend up, but isn’t it quite funny how it’s an actual thing? Haven’t you ever wondered why it became a thing? Who decided that naming bands after animals was cool (because it actually sounds pretty cool)? Are there any other naming trends we just were never aware of?

This super long infographic I have so lovingly designed, researched, and prepared for, is my attempt at breaking down the indie scene’s name game. Of course, I didn’t really stop to consider whether the bands had personal reasons or detailed stories behind their own names. This is all by basis of assumption, inference, and good fun. Below, you shall witness me trying to identify common naming patterns and decoding why certain words are more appealing to the indie folk than others.

After much sifting through my digital music library + additional internet scouring, I’ve divided as much indie bands I’m aware of into five, separate (and entirely made-up) categories.

Animalia – deals with all sorts of creatures from the animal kingdom. Well duh.

Mother Nature – anything to do with landscapes and waterscapes and sky-scapes and all things that grow and bloom and flourish.

Clubs, Cliques, and Congregations – anything remotely group-related goes into this category

People and their Parts – tackles people (both common and proper nouns accepted) and their personifications. As well as their body parts.

Etcetera – for things I could only sub-categorize but not categorize, they all belong to this dump

Shall we begin???

 

IndieBandAnatomy-Animalia

Lions + Tigers

The “animal” trend is one of the most obvious in the indie music scene, and these two, large felines in particular seem like favourite band name add-ons. Wild guess, but I think their menacing reputation as rulers of the jungle seems to be doing the trick? They immediately add a strong face to a band that could very well be a Ricky Martin cover group.

Lions are a symbol of courage and nobility. If Narnia’s Aslan or Gryffindor’s mascot aren’t enough proof, look up some heraldic family crests and you’ll most likely see a bunch of lions trying to stand up amongst ribbons, leaves, and swirly ornamentation. The general public has many images for the lion – lions jumping through flaming hoops, lions living domesticated lives with two normal men (hi Christian), lions that roar at the start of movies, and lions awkwardly flirting under the moonlight (sup, Simba and Nala). Top choice, these lions.

Tigers on the other hand are slinky – careful in the way they graze the tall grass. Watchful and ferocious, they are usually seen embroidered on the back of biker jackets and silk bathrobes. In popular culture, tigers are chocolate bars and energy drinks. Tigers are pets to Arabian princesses who enjoy carpet rides. Tigers have bouncy tails and give priceless life advice to little boys named Calvin. Eye of the Tiger remains to be the number one song that automatically plays when engaging in combat. Tigers are cool, you guys.

Given all that information, I still don’t know why they are both popular building blocks for indie band names, but I’ve done my research. Go make your own conclusion.

Bears

Bears are like a double-edged sword. Men deem them as both gruesome and loveable creatures. On one hand, there are the grizzly bears who may or may not maul strangers upon first sight. And on the other, there are the Pooh and Paddington Bears, who are peace-loving & primarily snack on sticky sweet goo.

The spectrum of emotions that can be evoked by the word “bear” is far and wide, thus, or so goes my theory, making it a good indie band name.

Noteworthy:   Minus the Bear. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it sounds cool, but it does? It’s math that doesn’t make sense.

Horses

Oh it’s always horses. Horses are the prized animals of competitive little girls who dream of littering their vanities with jumping ribbons. In fairytales, they are the top choice of princes from far off castles, and of  princesses running away. Used by soldiers in war, used by the Trojans for deception, used by cowboys and commoners alike – the horse is truly an animal with universal appeal. Put a saddle and it’s manly. Put a braid and a barrette and it’s a show pony. Versatile is the horse.

Woodland Creatures

Nothing says whimsy and fantasy more than a sprinkle of woodsfolk. Put a deer, a fox, and a field into the equation and you’ve got a picture straight out of a Little Golden Book. The indie music scene lives off lush imagery, and they want you to always be thinking of animals in green meadows and pristine cliffs and snowcapped mountains and wolves in the night. That sort of thing.

Animals in the House

I am not convinced of the appeal of rodents and domesticated animals, but there it is, as an actual naming trend. See, why does “Modest Mouse” sound so cool as a band name, but sounds plain bizarre when you take it in context. Can you imagine what an actual modest mouse looks like? Does it wear clothes and a frilly bonnet? I don’t know. I will never.

Birds

Ah, the indie music aviary. Birds are lovely things. They are fragile and tiny and perched in branches and electrical lines. They tweet and chirp “songs” by your window, and they cover great distances with the span of their little wings. And as we’ve learned from Disney, they make great companions.

They can help you make a ball gown (see Cinderella) or can fawn at your hand and foot (see Snow White). They can be your eye to the human world (see The Little Mermaid), and they can be wisdom from on high (see Winnie the Pooh). But careful, cause birds can be basic b*tches too. Ring up The Lion King & Sleeping Beauty to confirm.

So they can be sweet or savage, wise or derogatory, loyal or treacherous at any given time of day. They’ve got all bases covered.

Water Creatures

I believe the most mysterious creatures on Earth are the creatures that live literally in the deep. There are, with slight exaggeration, a gabajillion undiscovered species that swim in our darkest waters, and they all look like things we can’t even imagine.

There’s something deeply philosophical in ruminating about what mysteries lie on the ocean floor. I guess a human attempt to come close to that hefty unknown is to name your band after water creatures that live among us. You know – like crabs and seals and urchins and all the other stuff I listed down. Except for The Crocodiles – they live in the swamps. I don’t want to miseducate.

Extinct of Mythical

The human population LOVES the extinct and the mythical. How many girls have personally claimed the unicorn as their spirit animal? And how many boys have had dragons hastily tattooed on their arms one drunken night? And who doesn’t love (the idea of) dinosaurs? Nobody.

Animal

I’ve allotted this afterthought of a sub-category to the bands who wanted to be fair to all animals and didn’t want to do the handpicking. Animal Collective, you are basically Noah’s Ark in the guise of an indie band and I’m watching you.

Etcetera

Since I can’t specifically classify all the animals used by the indie music world, there’s got to be a place where I can dump the rest of the strays into one neat category. Let this be it.

 

IndieBandAnatomy-Nature
Elements 

In my list, the conclusion seems to be partial towards heat and fire. And mineral. That’s it, really

Seasons

As Westlife would say, “We have joy, we have fun, we have seasons in the sun”…

I don’t know what else to add, except winter is a picturesque scene to imagine, what with all its whiteness and purity and virgin-like attributes.

And that’s probably why Bon Iver has been named Bon Iver (translates to “good winter”, just in case you didn’t know)

Forest + Greenery

In conjunction with the woodland creatures category, all the foxes and deer of the indie world must have a place to chill in, don’t you think?

Therefore, there was a demand for places where frolicking, happy dancing, and merry-making for both animals and humans would be possible. And those places must not be without the appropriate flora.

Thus the birth of The Crayon Fields and Fat Tulips.

Stand-out Indie Band Name:  Language of Flowers – it’s such a beautiful name, it should’ve been a Sylvia Plath novel.

Bodies of Water

Likewise, the creatures of the deep need their water too. Thus, we have oceans and lakes and rivers and bodies of water in all shapes and sizes – you take your pick.

Standout Indie Band Name:  Great Lake Swimmers – who comes up with these? The imagery is fantastic that I already have a short story idea in my head playing out.

Sky + Beyond

In poetry, the sky is always written about and romanticized, maybe because it more obviously represents the idea of vastness and infinity than the ocean does. As humans who sit by the window seats of cars and planes, we always look at clouds with wonderment, trying to trace familiar shapes out of fleeting forms. We are wired to always be fascinated, even enamoured by things out of our reach. And so, we look to the skies.

 

IndieBandAnatomy-Club

Odd Jobs and Strange Occupations

This is possibly my “most” favourite indie band name category, ever. Double superlatives, yo. I would never know how people managed to come up with these words randomly strung together to form hilarious band names. I’m guessing they were all high. No wait, I’m confirming that.

Some gems:  Archers of Loaf, Butthole Surfers, Apostle of Hustle, BMX Bandits, The Softies, The Moaners.

Archers of Loaf honestly kills me. I love it.

The Club Word

The word “club” denotes a group of people united in a common goal or interest. It suggests exclusivity to outsiders, and gives a sense of belonging to those inside. I once overheard that putting the word “Club” next to any random word automatically makes it sound like an indie band name. The Bread Club. Children of the Corn Club. Club McDonalds. The Bikram Yoga Appreciation Club.

I guess it works.

Standout Indie Band Name:  Secret Secret Dino Club – the repetition of the word “secret” just adds the extra punch. It’s like a sworn childhood secret, complete with a makeshift headquarters fashioned out of cardboard. Splendid name.

Congregations

It’s all about pooling a group of people together who would be game to either do highly random things or be severely stereotyped.

Bands I actually listen to and love:  Company of Thieves, Kings of Convenience, Local Natives to name a few.

Standout Indie Band Name:   World Domination Enterprises. I could already imagine the logo and branding of this band. I volunteer to do it, even.

The _____ and the ______ Formula

This one’s painfully obvious, and I bet there are so much more names that I missed listing down.

The noteworthy pattern is that the first blank is usually filled by a certain person (mostly a name) and the second blank, a completely unrelated noun. I’m guessing it is used to tell an odd story from the get-go. Take Elizabeth and the Catapult, for example. Why is Elizabeth around a catapult? Is she playing a mere childhood game, or is she about to be launched on-air like a makeshift cannonball?

Another thing I’ve noticed is putting together two things that are in a similar genre, but not entirely connected – see Noah and the Whale (Biblical references from two different stories), and Belle and Sebastian (two characters in two separate Disney movies).  Although Belle and Sebastian doesn’t fall in this particular example and probably does not refer / at all / to any Disney film, in my head the pairing is quite uncanny, and not coincidental.

 

IndieBandAnatomy-People

Named People

There’s something sentimental about naming your band a flowery name that rolls off the tongue. Like a writing a dedication or signing the end of a letter, naming your band after a person’s name gives it a certain “relatability”, making the band Mae just seem like your old pal from elementary.

Noteworthy:   The Olivia Tremor Control – for some reason, it sounds like a medical research project or an operation and I like the ring to it.

Gender

I am not sure why the indie world so loves referring to gender in naming bands, but I’m assuming because the pursuit of girls by boys, and the waiting of girls on boys are the real core of (most, if not) all the songs ever written in history.

And I suppose there is a point in specifying that the butcher is a boy in Butcher Boy and that the dum dum is indeed a girl in “Dum Dum Girls”  – but, I must’ve missed it.

Kids and Kings

I guess putting the word Kid in your band composed of grown-ups makes pulling off crazy stunts a little bit more okay than if there was no “Kid”. The word softens blows. As for the Kings, people like feeling important and that’s probably all there is to it.

Giants

I go back to the allure of the myth and say it’s easier to convey beautiful imagery with things that leave so much to the imagination. Like yes, giants.

Body Parts

My second favourite next to Odd Jobs, Body Parts was a category that I didn’t predict would come up in my research. It just sort of fell into place, as every “eye” and “hand” I encountered started piling up into a small but sizeable stack.

If I had to give a name to my solo music endeavor other than my own, it would probably have a body part shoved in somewhere. I’m still deciding on which one.

 

IndieBandAnatomy-Etc

As I’ve mentioned, to make this infographic, I took the liberty of grouping as much indie bands in my music arsenal by name composition (disregarding self-named bands like Tegan & Sara). Then, I enlisted the help of Google to discover more bands I did not know existed, so as to fatten up my list. But not all the interesting band names that I encountered could be successfully grouped under my four main categories. Therefore, a separate distinction had to be made, under the guise of the Etcetera umbrella.

Far Off Places

Again, there’s a sentimentality and romanticism to any mention of a city or country other than your own. Given that, I’m just waiting for some Tahitian band to name their group The Metro Manilas. It has quite the potential.

Standout Indie Band Name:   Dublin Duck Dispensary. Beautiful alliteration too. BBC as well, when it was a newer name to me.

Band I actually listen to and like:   Bombay Bicycle Club. Phoenix. Tokyo Police Club.

Transportation

I can never explain why this is a naming trend. I literally can’t come up with any logical reason.

Standout Indie Band Name:    We Were Promised Jetpacks. I want to be greedy and steal this name for myself. I’m dismayed that somebody thought of it first.

Foreign Words

International appeal, maybe?

Space

SPACE, HOW YOU BAFFLE HUMAN RACE! – see I’m quoting my own song. My analysis gets shorter and shorter as the list goes further down.

Noteworthy:   The Mercury Program – Thank you for giving homage to the first ever astronaut training program of NASA. Any space reference is a “one up” on my plate.

Greeting 

Noteworthy:   Allo Darlin’ – I imagine a bearded captain of the ship with a cigar on his mouth, hand on the steering wheel, saying this to me.

Non-Descript Places

Nothing sets the tone better than a random, seedy location thrown off the bat. See Neutral Milk Hotel. Doesn’t that sound like a super old, broken down hotel you encounter on the dead of night whilst on a road trip gone wrong? Can you imagine the reeking smell and the peeling floral wallpaper?

Standout Indie Band Name:   My Little Airport, and Sissy Bar. MLA sounds like the go-to destination of jet setting My Little Ponies, and the mention of airport gives me chills for the basic reason that I love airports. Also, Sissy Bar -cause  it sounds bratty, like an insult, and I like it.

OVERALL STANDOUT INDIE BAND NAME: We Were Promised Jetpacks. I’m still not over it. Some nights I lie awake and think about my lost opportunity of calling my musical act “We Were Promised Jetpacks”. I hope you guys break up soon. I’ll be watching your Wikipedia page.

OH, AND HERE’S A VENN DIAGRAM, while I’m at it!
Indie Venn Diagram Final

 

CONCLUSION: I have none, really. I just wanted to go through all the trouble of making this bloody infographic (which turned out quite well, if I’m allowed at all to semi-gloat) just to prove one point that isn’t even all that important. Indie band naming is quite a predictable game. (Yup, take it from the girl whose band name is the very unique “Reese & Vica”). I’m not saying this is necessarily bad. At the end of the day, music is music, and the band name is just like this frilly outfit that you put over. Pardon me for I’m just really into dissecting things, making diagrams, and writing biting commentary along with my visual aids.

By the way, sorry if I have committed typographical errors in the infographic. I didn’t really have the luxury of time (or the patience) to proofread lol. Please let me know if you spot anything and I shall correct and edit accordingly.

If you want to see the full infographic in one long, seamless, jpeg, here’s the link. And here’s the Venn Diagram.

To peruse through my old dissections:

Design Dissection: Reviewing the  Electoral Campaign Posters of the Philippines

Cultural Dissection: On the Origin of Hipsters

Cultural Dissection: Blogging: A History ( and how it has everything to do with my insecurities )

And you have reached the end of my post., goodbye.

 


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12 comments
  1. We have been trying to reach you via email. Please reply to our message.

    Thank you for your time, Miss Reese! :)

  2. Damn, this was a good blog post! And it made me sure that my secret future band’s name, will be quite good… Hohoho
    Mad props to you and your cosy funky visual thingies.