Naming a baby is probably easier than naming a band. Children’s names are typically recycled from one generation to another, and most don’t get plastered on record covers, theater marquees, and T-shirts.
The pursuit of a poetic, Googlable band name has led local bands to some odd places, and there’s often a story behind some of the oddest. This week, I played the Annoying Coworker and asked some Twin Cities’ musicians how they named their babies.
Bad Bad Hats
When the AV Club included Bad Bad Hats on a 2016 list of “funny, bad, funny-bad, or otherwise notable” band names, they missed the Madeline reference. Most people do.
But sure enough, singer Kerry Alexander was inspired by a 1991 TV short wherein the titular redheaded schoolgirl dubs her misanthropic neighbor Pepito a “bad hat.”
“If I was causing trouble or being naughty, my parents would be like, ‘Are you being a bad hat right now, Kerry?’” Alexander explains. “And I hated being called a bad hat. I was a good hat.”
When Bad Bad Hats were forming at Macalester, the phrase popped back into Alexander’s head. Pepito was a fitting muse for a band that sounded so innocent while singing about revenge sex.
“It was a nice balance,” Alexander says. “I was trying to start an indie rock band that made sweet music, and we had this cartoon troublemaker as our mascot.”
Bob Ross Mob Boss
Sometimes genius is simple. City Pages’ 2019 Best Band Name winners Bob Ross Mob Boss had their aha moment in a group chat.
“Both [bandmate Braden Fischer] and I spend a lot of time tossing around puns,” singer Aaron Frederick says. It was Fischer who threw out the painter-based double rhyme. “We actually have a screenshot from the exact moment we decided on it. We just thought it’d be funny and went with it.”
Other names that popped up include Pfft and Vegan Cannibal. There was one more option that’s equally as absurd as Bob Ross Mob Boss, but the band’s saving that one for the name of their forthcoming EP.
Elliott Kozel first conceived of Tickle Torture as a children’s music project, but soon he realized parents might blanch at a fetish-themed band with “torture” in the name. That wasn’t the end of the line for the moniker, as it re-emerged around the time Kozel started wearing glittery face masks.
“I changed that project name to Googly Guy,” Kozel says. “Then a year or so later, I started making sex-pop music and realized Tickle Torture might be a good name for the project.”
Lunch Duchess is a name frontwoman Katharine Seggerman had in her mind since she first moved to Minneapolis in 2014. The name was even considered when she was founding her previous band, B.O.Y.F.
“When I was rather deep in my depression and living with [former member Nicky Steves], they would cook incredible food that I would bring into work in little Tupperwares,” says Seggerman. “I felt like the queen, or at least duchess, of lunch.”
Steves worried that the name would be “too silly to take seriously,” but it stuck. Blame it on the pleasing assonance, or Seggerman’s full-tilt commitment to the bit on the cover of EP My Mom Says I Have a Rich Inner Life.
Fecal Cannons. Family Circus. Futile Clam Mans. People just can’t seem to get the name Fragile Canyons right. I accidentally dubbed the band Fragile Crayons the first time I wrote them up.
“I don’t think our name was correct on any piece of press, concert poster, or marquee for at least two years,” says singer Andy Engstrom. “We did a T-shirt giveaway earlier this year to see who could come up with the best fake band name, and the winner was Fugly Crackers.”
Despite Engstrom’s lighthearted meme-lording on social media, Fragile Canyons’ music is vast yet introspective, two aspects of the band the songwriter wanted to capture in one turn of phrase. Inspiration struck when he was sorting his records, and he saw Yes’s Fragile sitting next to Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon.
“I was trying to make music that was musically interesting but still personal and intimate,” Engstrom explains. “So I thought I would combine the two.”
Adopted as a baby from Bogota, Colombia, Eric Johnson didn’t see his adoption paperwork until he was 18. That’s when he discovered his birth name.
“I had an original Colombian birth certificate, and my biological mother did name me,” Johnson says. “That name was Elkin Ernesto Mosquera Guillen.”
While Johnson started making dysphoric basement pop music in 2017, he was also reconnecting with his Colombian birth family. They found his music persona “funny and endearing,” so Johnson wanted his solo project’s name to reflect his rekindled family connection and also his childish sense of humor.
“Elkin is not the most common name, but also just didn’t feel like it stood out enough, either,” he says. “Smellkin is pretty dumb right? Memorable enough and stands out, though, right?”
The Controversial New ‘Skinny Pill’
If you’re looking for word of the new record by the Controversial New ‘Skinny Pill,’ check your spam folder.
That’s where bandleader Skyler Nowinski found the name, and much like the internet snake-oil the title evokes, the Controversial New ‘Skinny Pill’ wasn’t supposed to last.
At the time, the musician was “very, very underemployed” and forming a band to play transition music at a variety show at the Bedlam Theatre. “All the songs were super, super, super short. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, not an official band.”
But the Controversial New ‘Skinny Pill’ has stayed around, playing nearly weekly at the Kitty Cat Klub and releasing an ever-more-ridiculous stream of songs. Still, Nowinski wonders what might’ve become of the band if they’d been named more sincerely.
“It happened to be a phrase I saw a day or two before I had to make a decision about the band name,” Nowinski says. “I like to fantasize that all the emails that would’ve gotten me booked on wildly huge shows are getting filtered out because we have such a terrible band name.”
The “Yam” in Yam Haus is actually an acronym, standing for “You Are Me,” which helps explain why this pop group’s name sounds like the property of a German spud farmer.
“People think we’re talking about sweet potatoes,” saw singer Lars Pruitt. “So we’ve come up with alternate names, like Sweet Potato Shack and Squash Crib and Gourd Hut.”
The group started out as roommates, and their Hudson house was known as the Yam Haus for its policy on mutual respect. They originally called themselves Afton, for the town across the St. Croix, but they found out that name had already been trademarked. Left with few non-litigious options, they simply took on the house’s name and started spreading the hospitality to their fans.
“I like the ‘You Are Me’ thing,” Pruitt says. “I can get behind it on a heart level.”