This week we’re hearing from three bands who just finished playing Austin’s SXSW music festival and they are not stopping there. Even though they are all still busy on the road, Seabear, The Blank Tapes and Ezra Furman & The Harpoons took some time to share their thoughts with BTR—lucky us!
Who doesn’t love a good band name? Even if you don’t have a musical bone in your body and will never find yourself featured on VH1, you and your friends have probably stumbled across some phrase or idea and uttered the inevitable, “Hey—that could be a good band name…” Some fantasy projects of mine from college (okay, from last week) include: My New Favorite Polaroid, Stalin the Kitten and Pepto Bismal Placebo. (And yes, those are up for sale—interested parties can contact me.)
Ideas are plentiful when the pressure’s off, but what happens when you’re actually making music? Names shape identity and vice versa, so the choice becomes a defining commitment not only creatively but commercially. This week’s bands rose to the occasion and found unique solutions to address that delicate balance. Here are some thoughts on what really IS in a name from this year’s SXSW artists Seabear, The Blank Tapes, and Ezra Furman & The Harpoons.
Seabear began as a solo project of Icelandic songwriter/musician Sindri Már Sigfússon. By the release of their first album, Ghost That Carried Us Away (2007), it had transformed into a seven-member indie folk band that includes Örn Ingi Ágústsson, Gu∂björg Hlín Gu∂mundsdóttir, Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir, Kjartan Bragi Bjarnason, Halldór (Dóri) Ragnarsson, and Sóley Stefánsdóttir. Seabear is currently touring through the U.S., Canada and Western Europe to support the March release of their beautifully melodic second album, We Built a Fire. Seabear’s Sóley Stefánsdóttir explains the origin of their name:
“Sindri chose it long, long ago in 2001. He found it in some sketchbook he had, so his visual art sketch stuff was his inspiration for the name. When a band becomes a band, you name it, and everything that happens after that of course has to do with the name unconsciously. Like the name Seabear. We all like it a lot and now it’s kind of our ‘trademark.’ Seabear has its own sound now. So it’s more that we have made our own style, and that is Seabear.”
They’ll only be Stateside for two more performances before heading overseas, so if you have the chance be sure to catch this multi-talented group live!
April 1 – Grog Shop – Cleveland, OH
April 2 – Schuba’s – Chicago, IL
*For European tour dates, a music video from their latest album and more info on Seabear be sure to stop by their Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/seabear
The Blank Tapes
The Blank Tapes are a solo-artist-driven project headed up by Bay Area, CA resident Matt Adams. While he does all of his recorded work independently, Adams draws on a broad circle of other musicians to create the full sound he needs when he tours. Currently working with him are: Steve Winchell of Childlike Divine, Indianna Hale, Aslan Rife of Honey.moon.tree, DA Humphrey, Sleepy Todd, Josh Bruner of Magic Leaves and Will Halsey of Ash Reiter. Adams shared some musings on The Blank Tapes moniker:
“I chose the band name back in 2003 after I had just finished recording my first official album Country Western Honky Tonk Saloon Blues (not so much country, just acoustic). It had been my first album completely recorded by myself on 8 track cassette tapes (something I continue to record on to this day) and I felt like I needed a band name rather than just using my own name, Matt Adams. When I came up with ‘The Blank Tapes,’ I was just sitting around brainstorming band names until the right one popped into my head that seemed to represent my new direction. Nowadays there seems to be about a hundred other bands with the name ‘Tape’ in it, but I swear I came up with mine before I heard any of them.
l’d had a few other band names floating around for a while before I knew they were already taken, like Magic Markers. There’s been a few others that obviously never felt right, like ‘Solfeggios’ (however it’s spelled). For some reason ‘Jack & The Beanstalk’ has always sounded appealing to me although I’d hate for people to call me Jack. My theoretical stoner/trance band is called ‘Geodesic Dome Piece’.
The relationship between my band name and music is that my music is recorded on cassette tapes and I’m limited to only 8 tracks. With that format you can’t hardly do any editing or tweaking so what you play is what you get. Although recently I went into the studio with my full nine-piece band to record a live album on some computer program, so in a way I feel a bit hypocritical calling that particular recording ‘The Blank Tapes’. I don’t want to ever feel like I must only record on cassette tapes or I’m not being true to whatever imaginary rules I’ve made for myself, but for the time being it seems to work out alright. All in all I don’t really care how anything is recorded, just as long as it sounds and feels good.”
Adams’ upcoming album Home Away From Home was just released in March through White Noise and features ten new songs recorded on 8 tracks in his Oakland, CA bedroom. For a limited time, the White Noise website is offering the whole album to download for free, so hurry on over and take advantage of some amazing new music! http://blanktapes.playwhitenoise.com/album/home-away-from-home Adams and his crew will be hitting the West Coast through May so you can hear these new creations come to life.
The Blank Tapes
April 1 – Amnesia – San Fransisco, CA
April 2 – Ghost Town Gallery – Oakland, CA
April 3 – Blue Six – San Fransisco, CA
April 4 – Moe’s Alley – Santa Cruz, CA
April 10 – Home Heart House – Marin Headlands, CA
April 14 – Milk Bar – San Fransisco, CA
Ezra Furman and the Harpoons
Ezra Furman & The Harpoons officially debuted at Tufts University in 2006. Despite being a young band, they’ve gained rapid popularity thanks to frontman Ezra Furman’s frenetically strong songwriting and lead vocals, backed by a troupe of talented collaborators including Job Mukkada (bass, backing vocals), Adam Abrutyn (drums) and Andrew Langer (guitar, backing vocals). Furman had a few things to share about playing with “Harpoons”:
“Well, we consulted about it for a really long time and we made no decisions, and finally somebody was like, ‘Listen, there’s a show, you need to give a name.’ So I just didn’t consult anyone and chose ‘The Harpoons’ because I wanted to be able to think of what we were doing as a big adventure. I was reading Moby Dick and I was thinking about adventure. It’s good because it’s got an adventurous connotation, it’s got a little violence. It’s like something you aim at—I don’t know, it reminds me of aiming at something big and majestic and lofty, like a whale. I think it is a good thing to arm yourself with if you’re going on a kind of lonely traveling adventure, you know?
We all talked about it and we all kind of liked it. It was just ‘The Harpoons’ at first. It got my name tacked onto the beginning because, well, the band was worried I guess about—they had already been a previous band together and it was kind of like, who’s the leader of the band? So the band decided to avoid that and just place me at the helm. Kind of institutionalized it… it’s got a nice old-fashioned ring. I also wanted to be, you know, piercing. Who knows, you know—my subconscious brought me to harpoons and that, I think, is one of the main whales I’ve been trying to slay, swimming under the sea of this messy music career…
We don’t want to make sea shanties or anything like that. Kind of violent and adventurous—there’s a poetic quality to it, like a lonely sailor on an adventure.”
After keeping busy with a winter European tour, Ezra Furman & The Harpoons returned to the U.S. in February to start another small round of performances, this time alongside Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. SXSW welcomed them back with open arms for the third year in a row, and they’ll be hitting the road again in the next couple months. Dates and locations are TBA, so be sure to check their website and Myspace for specifics: http://www.ezrafurman.com/, http://www.myspace.com/ezrafurman
Last, but certainly not least, all record buffs/nostalgia addicts take note: they’ve just released their 2008 Inside the Human Body on vinyl—definitely one worth adding to the collection.
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– Britt Sondreal