What's in a (band) name?

Band names. There are so many things that you can do with them - unless you're a solo performer (in which case it's perfectly acceptable to perform under your own name, less so to choice a naff alias). Your band name should be a mission statement, reflection of your style or attitude, or something similarly memorable. It helps to have the following attributes:

  1. Brevity. You want to be able to fit your band name on even the smallest poster, so calling yourselves 'The Fantastic Inflatable Mr Onion and His Party Posse' is probably not going to do it. Sorry, skippy, it's not the Sixties anymore.
  2. Impact. You want to be able to be memorable, ideally without being too confrontational (unless you don't mind explaining to your mum's friends that you play in a band called Anal Cunt). By the way, it probably helps if you're able to print your band name in a font that can be read by anyone. Your average Black Metal band insists on using a font called Angry Bracken, which is okay by itself but if you're on a gig poster with five other acts, all with spiky writing, it seems unfortunate to have to ask someone which collection of pointy letters pertains to which band. But I digress...
  3. Under NO circumstances include the following words in your band name: 'Funk', 'Blueshammer', 'Soul', 'Hillbilly', 'Swamp', 'Jive', 'Explosion', or 'Boogie'.
  4. Are you the main singer/songwriter/lead guitarist/manager? Good. Do everyone a favour and DON'T NAME YOUR BAND 'THE [Your name] BAND'. You don't need any more credit for putting a band together. Put your ego away and let the band name speak for itself.

Let me provide a bit of personal context: I've had a bunch of bands, and at no point have I felt the need to put my name front and centre (with one exception). Yes, I'm an introvert, but my point stands. Amongst my band names:

  • The Lamingtons (a joke, and yet one of the more fun ones)
  • Highly Unlikely (entirely accurate)
  • Prion (the rogue proton which causes Mad Cow Disease. Funnier to me than anyone I had to explain it to)
  • Chimaera Six (because there were six of us and we had a range of styles, again requiring more explanation than it was worth)
  • LCD (note: NOT LCD Soundsystem, which would have gotten us in a spot of legal bother, but Lowest Common Denominator. On reflection, I shouldn't have even tried with this one)
  • Sophie and the Realistic Expectations (named for our singer, and taking the piss out of the usual Motown suspects like Martha and the Vandellas and Diana Ross and the Supremes. We didn't want to get people's hopes up too high)
  • Captain Pete and the Portholes (okay, to be fair: I didn't name this band, I was merely an accomplice, and had we played more than one gig I would have insisted on a name change)
  • The Skanky Bitch Review (my covers band from working at McDonald's. Yes, we were really called that, and we only played one gig. Thankfully.)

So, if I have a particular weakness in band names, it's that I tend to over-think. But what can one do when so many of the good names are taken? The Rolling Stones is perhaps the perfect rock'n'roll name for the perfect rock'n'roll band.

My latest band name is Neverwoz, which comes from a lyric from a Loudon Wainwright III song:

If the day off doesn't get you, then the bad reviewer does
At least you've been a has-been, and not just a never-was

...a little bit of whimsy and self-mocking pity that stuck with me for over ten years before I decided to do something with it. I knew it would be my new project when I told a former girlfriend about my idea for a new band name. "What will you call it?" she asked. "Neverwoz" I replied. "That's really stupid!" she said. Fortunately, she was a horrible human being and I am confident in finding the right answer to most things 180 degrees from her view.

Neverwoz is catchy, short, part of a mission statement '...the greatest band that Neverwoz!' and has the added bonus of being vague enough to cover a range of emotions, with a smidgen of cynicism and despair. Just the way I like it.

Words to a non-voter

I swear this is a music page. I'll write more about music soon. But I have an important message...

Your passion

Dear reader, have a think about something in your life which gives you great pleasure. Something that you love. Music? John Fruscanti, Pink Floyd, Justin Bieber, Mozart, PJ Harvey or The Wiggles? Film? Scorcese, Lynch, Gilliam, Coppola or Kevin Smith? Literature? Austen, Wilde, Koontz, Tolkien or Dan fricken Brown? Sport? All Blacks, All Blacks, All Blacks (I presume you’re a New Zealander).

The point is, you probably have at least something in your life which can delight, motivate and enrapture you. Maybe it’s something you can share with your friends; maybe they’re frightened of you bringing it up AGAIN because oh boy, you’re obsessed with that thing.

That’s okay: we need nerds! We need people who are passionate about things, even if they don’t really matter because aside from acquiring food and shelter, all human effort is subjective and relative. I may not share your enthusiasm for My Bloody Valentine, but as long as that makes you happy to be alive, go forth my friend. We’re all too often encouraged to hide our childlike wonder about the things which give us joy.

Now:  think about That Important Thing. How empty your life would be without it.

THAT’S WHAT POLITICS SHOULD BE TO YOU.

If you’re uncertain about the upcoming election, or disinclined to participate because ‘politicians are all the same’, give me a few minutes of your time.

Politics isn’t the same as politicians. Politicians are the people we elect to make politics happen. For the purposes of this essay I’m going to say politics is the process whereby we reach consensus agreement on how to run a society in which humans interact. If you don’t like the system, or think it’s corrupt, I can’t entirely disagree with you. But this is the way succeeding generations have defined the method by which we have laws, exchange goods and services, and take care of the poorest in society. And if you reject that system and demand another, I have some bad news.

There. Isn’t. One. And your disdain for what we have now doesn’t make it go away.

Furthermore, the only ‘alternative’ to what we have now is revolution. And that’s simply not going to happen, no matter what you graffiti on a wall. For a start, we’re too prosperous, complacent and polite a country to rise up in revolt. Secondly, revolutions kill people – ordinary people who happened to be in the way. Somewhere down the road from the Storming of the Bastille, Robespierre introduced what we now call the Reign of Terror. Is that really a compassionate alternative to organised government?

Finally, after the dust has settled, the heads of the bourgeoisie are all in the gutter, and The People are in charge...who’s going to ensure structural integrity in new houses? Who inspects food to make sure it’s not contaminated with industrial chemicals? Who turns up to put out a fire when you leave your contaminated dinner cooking for too long?

I’ve worked in government departments, and I can tell you that a lot of the mundane, tedious work which goes into a civil servant desk job contributes, in innumerable tiny ways, to making sure society runs.

A real problem of our modern society is our love of superhero movies. We follow the exploits of Wonder Woman or Batman, who single-handedly saves the day when ordinary people fail...and yet, in real life the heroes aren’t the ones with superpowers. The unsung hero is the woman who works through her Sunday to make sure a briefing note is written which ensures safety regulations for freezing works staff are enforced by stiff penalties, so that a bill can be approved by Parliament, which eventually leads to a new standard of workplace safety, which in turn prevents a freezing worker from having their arm cut off.

Your vote is approval for a policy platform, not the politicians who put that platform forth. Stop looking at the face on the billboard as a superhero poster. That politician is merely human, and every bit as fallible as any other person. But in their policy platform they’re outlining what they think is important, and your vote allows you to agree or disagree with them.

When you vote ‘red’ or ‘blue’, you’re not voting for the face. You’re voting for clean water, response to climate change, rights for immigrants, income inequality and mental health, and a hundred other things.

You have a responsibility to find at least one of those things to be as passionate about as Your Favourite Thing.

“But why should I care? Politics doesn’t affect me.” Oh really? You don’t care about whether New Zealanders have clean water to swim in? Do you know anyone who’s ever had a mental illness who needed care that wasn’t there?

Here’s the other thing about politics: the fewer disaffected people that vote, the less likely it is that government policy will change to reflect those things which would benefit the disaffected people. Case in point: have a look at how many shiny new things our current government have been able to offer/bribe the voter with since Labour started rising in the polls.

Can you imagine what might happen if enough people voted that the government changed every three years? It would certainly make the political parties work harder to make sure they retained your vote.

Each party has a ‘base’ whose support they can mostly rely on. There are also ‘undecided’ voters who can be swayed. The enormous group, the non-voters, can (and have) been safely ignored by the major parties for decades now. Why should they offer YOU anything, if you’re not going to reward them with your vote?

Well, in theory we should all want the same thing: a safe, supportive and prosperous country. We don’t need a left-wing government to have that – a right-wing government could do as good a job. My concern is that our present government has NOT done a good job. Commenters will say they’ve been good business managers, but when international organisations like Unicef and the OECD publishes reports about the rise of income inequality, and Al Jazeera can broadcast a damning report about the state of our water...you have to understand that a government that fails to keep us prosperous and clean needs to do better. You can’t make them do better by letting them continue what they’re doing, and only promising to do better in election year when they might be voted out.

If the left-wing alternative doesn’t do any better, we should vote them out too. Keep doing that, and eventually the message will sink in: you don’t succeed in government by just doing enough to keep your base happy. You need to act for ALL New Zealanders, including the ones who don’t usually vote.

Well, vote now. If not for yourself, for someone you know who’s negatively affected by the state of politics in this country. All the problems won’t go away under the next government...but they might start to change for the better.

You don’t have to treat the leader of the political party who gets your vote as an All Black or rock star. They’re a servant, nothing more: they serve the needs of the society we all live in. And like a servant, if they do a poor job we should not reward them for that by letting them continue to do the bare minimum.

But in order for them to get that message, there is one very easy way to deliver it. It costs you nothing, it takes a matter of minutes, and it could make all the difference.

Sure, you can protest the injustice of the system by not participating. And in 30 years’ time, you’ll be living in a poorer, unhappier and more desperate society, still not able to revolt, still not able to convince yourself it’s worth participating.

And by then, you may well be right.

But are you a political band?

So, if you’re reading this, it means you’ve visited the website. Which in turn means you’ve been faced with the very first page, the tab to watch the Hollow Man video. Which probably means you’ve watched it, because let’s face it, people come to a music site to read blogs as much as they buy Playboy for the articles.

So, let’s assume you’ve seen Hollow Man, and you have the idea that Neverwoz is a political band, something like Rage Against the Machine but without guitar solos which sound like electrocuted chickens. Or Chumbawumba without that one song. (Did you know that Chumbawumba was actually a hardcore punk-rap-folk anarchist rock group whose oeuvre stretched from a capella anti-war songs to thrash metal? No, you didn’t, because you’re now singing Tubthumping in your head, aren’t you...)

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, politics...

(WE’LL BE SINGING)

If you haven’t read the Nicky Hager book ‘The Hollow Men’, do so immediately. It’s several years old now, and pertains to the backroom dealings between the National Party and Crosby Textor leading up to the 2005 election. If you’re too young to remember that one, or weren’t paying attention, it’s the one where Don Brash came within a whisker of winning the election against Helen Clark. The whole sordid tale is too complicated to unravel here, but it’s compelling, fascinating and infuriating. The main villains are the faceless suits of Crosby Textor, the PR firm that has branches around the world and specialises in training conservative politicians to hide vile policy behind bland doublespeak and vilify their opponents.

One of the stars of the book was a young National MP by the name of John Key, who proved to be far more adept at the Crosby Textor script than his hapless boss, whose ‘gone by lunchtime’ soundbite about reversing New Zealand’s anti-nuclear stance may have saved Labour the election.

Anyways: Hollow Man, the song, was written not long after reading the book, and doesn’t (necessarily) pertain to any one three-way handshake-attempting, ponytail-grabbing, catwalk-strutting, morning radio-presenting, scandal-denying politician. No way. No sirree.

(WHEN WE’RE WINNING)

So put that aside. It’s a very simple song, because it’s a very straightforward message. But it’s not a message I’ve carried through in any other song. I felt the need to express my outrage at the vacuity of modern politics and the tendency to obscure horrific policies behind snappy soundbites, deflection and assigning blame to the poorest in our society. But now that I’ve shared this song, I don’t feel the need to write a concept album about politics, or walk around in a beret. Now I’m going to sing about time travel and hedgehogs, ex lovers and ex friends, spare parts and broken hearts.

(WE’LL BE SINGING)

So, if you liked Hollow Man for its message, thank you and I can put you on to some other cool music which has a political slant. If you like the song for the melody and music, but don’t care for politics, good news! I have 11 more songs to share which don’t share the topic, but may just infect your ear.

Just a reminder: don’t take political advice from musicians. Do enjoy the music, and if it makes you think, check out Nicky Hager for some really incisive political journalism. And if it makes you angry, use that anger productively to make your voice heard.

And now back to the earworm:

I GET KNOCKED DOWN! BUT I GET UP AGAIN!

On preparing an album

One night in September 2016, I stepped out of the control room at the studio where my album was being recorded to go to the bathroom. When I got back, my producer had opened up a new window on the computer. Neatly aligned down the screen, in twelve rows, were all of the tracks on my album.

Now, why am I writing this down? Because that night marked the point at which we moved from one stage of the project to another. The album which I'd spent months and months painstakingly guide towards mastering...was now being mastered.

This whole process has given me the deepest respect for anyone in the music industry. You hear a song on the radio, or in a friend's car, or on your phone, and it holds your attention for 3 or 4 minutes (if it's good) or 30 (if you're into Prog Metal or Pink Floyd). But the effort to get those few minutes into your earholes is IMMENSE.

You either need to spend years and years and years getting very good at performing music and capture the few takes necessary to record a masterwork, or you need to put little bits together, and spend years and years making something to be proud of. Neither of them is more 'right' than the other: The Beatles recorded their first album in slightly over 10 hours; by 1967 it took well over 40 hours of studio time to record ONE song, 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. The joy of hearing 'I Saw Her Standing There', bum notes, rushed timing and all, is just as wonderful as singing along to "Let me take you down...." They're two very separate experiences, but the point is that the artist made the effort FOR YOU.

Let me do a very brief summary of the last couple of years for you:

  • I bought a house with my fiancee
  • I had ongoing and debilitating dramas with a former landlord which involved several court hearings
  • I got married
  • Work life got progressively worse
  • I jammed with my band, rehearsed songs, played gigs, and desperately tried to pretend I could ever afford to record an album
    THEN
  • I got head-hunted for job in the private sector paying way more than my former job
    SO
  • I immediately quit my shitty job and
  • I met with Chris the Producer to plan a recording

Now, my cunning plan at the time was to bring my rhythm section in to the studio, record 12 songs over a hard-out weekend, then overdub a few guitars and BOOM! album in the bag, baby.

It didn't work out that way.

Now, I'll spare a LOT of details about the time since then, but suffice it to say I've had some real work and personal issues which have brought me down low. In particular a very sudden redundancy, and finding myself in dire financial straits severely curtailed the amount I could spend in the studio, and I felt my goal stretching further and further into the distance.

I thought my fortunes had turned when I got another full-time job, and it certainly paid enough to continue recording sessions; in truth, I had rarely been more miserable. A dead-end job with people who despised me as much as I despised myself for being in the position where I had to take their money. And yet...

As bad as it got, I had one nugget of hope inside me, one thing which gave me the mental fortitude to get up on Monday and go to the horrible day-job: I was recording an album. I was noticing improvements from week to week, and every time I got a new mix I found something else to be proud of.
[NOTE: this is some first-world bullshit. At the same time I was bemoaning my fate, I had a wife, two beautiful cats, both parents AND MY OWN HOUSE. So I really shouldn't grizzle too hard, should I? Having said that, if I couldn't find things to grizzle about, I wouldn't have written an album in the first place. But I digress..]

I'm scared, right now. Because the thing I started creating, is finally ready to be called a complete piece of work. It's easy to hide behind a work in progress and say "Fools! I'll show them! I'll show them all!" (Lightning, etc). But very soonI'll need to stand back and show what I've spent years practicing, weeks rehearsing, months recording and half my life daydreaming about.

Right now, there's hope and belief. Soon, there will need to be faith and courage that I can let others see what I've devoted all this effort to.