Unlike one’s birth name, a musical artist has a say in what their project will be called. So if you wind up with a name like Diarrhea Planet, Anal Cunt, or Foxygen, you can’t blame your parents. It’s your doing, and you just have to live with it. It’s the identifying text that will appear on show flyers, record jackets, and—if you’re really lucky—in Kurt Loder’s MTV News on-air eulogy when your drummer ODs in an extended stay motel in Fresno. It’s also a tool listeners use to immediately suss out music they’ve never heard but are pretty sure isn’t for them. (Use of numerals and backwards letters, for example.) Prospective bands, rappers, and solo artists best keep the significance of their decision in mind when selecting their name, because once it’s picked, there’s no going back. Or is there?
When speaking to Rusty P’s recently, we learned the long-tenured rap project used to be called The Rusty Pelicans. While it’s absolutely understandable why the P’s shed the name, it’s hard to overlook the risk associated with doing so. Aside from being the musical equivalent of a grown man telling people to call him “Scooter” in public, artists also run the risk of alienating fans, rendering old material essentially obsolete, and—in many ways—being forced to start from square one. It became apparent that Rusty P’s aren’t alone in taking the linguistic leap. Whether to avoid litigation, to clear up confusion, or to usher in a fresh start, here are 11 more cases of name changes in Milwaukee music.
1. Altos (formerly, Group Of The Altos, Thunderpaw)
It only makes sense that a band currently 15 (!) members strong would have multiple former names. In 2006, long before Altos became the overstuffed “surly high school orchestra” they are today, they were a metal-leaning five-piece called Thunderpaw. Three years later, the band took on new members, a new classical and avant-garde bent, and a new moniker: Group Of The Altos. When time came to release their (excellent) debut album in 2011, however, the group chose to simplify their name to Altos, reflecting a streamlined, sparse, and seductive sound.
2. Catacombz (formerly Catacombs Of Rome)
After a couple regrettable high school band names (L-mo and Face For Radio), then-Appleton-based youngsters Catacombs Of Rome had a decent name worthy of enveloping its beyond-its-years Mars Volta-esque audio output. When members Joe Peterson (aka Rio Turbo), Issac Sherman, Aaron Bethke, and Casey Marrnocha moved to Milwaukee, they elected to go for the more search engine friendly Catacombz. As the material delved into more psychedelic territory, the informal Z seemed to fit even better.
3. Dana Coppa (formerly Dana Coppafeel)
Choosing a band name or rapper handle is a lot like choosing an email address or a tattoo: what seems like a good idea when you’re young may come back to haunt you years later. That appears to be the case with Milwaukee hip-hop stalwart Dana Coppafeel, who goes by the shortened, less-juvenile Dana Coppa as often as he does his original, grabby moniker. Sometimes, Beastie Boys become beastie men, and [email protected] covers up that full-color Crash tat.
4. Myles Coyne (formerly Myles Coyne & The Rusty Nickel Band)
While the currency-themed play on words is funny in its own way, Riverwest troubadour Myles Coyne couldn’t exactly bank on his wordy name being written or said correctly. One too many “And The Rusty Nickles Band”s, a rotating cast of members, and an increased focus on solo shows found the namesake recently shedding his convoluted suffix.
5. Field Report (formerly Conrad Plymouth)
For Field Report to come to life, Conrad Plymouth had to die. Wanting to make the seemingly solo venture into a full band affair, Field Report said goodbye to its preceding project with a song called “The Last Time I Saw Conrad Plymouth” for its self-titled debut. It didn’t make the cut (though Conrad Plymouth’s “Fergus Falls” thankfully did), but it eventually saw the light of day as an iTunes bonus track.
6. Jaill (formerly Jail)
We’ve been through this before. When the band Milwaukee knew as Jail inked a deal with Sub Pop Records, it was also forced to change its name because a short-lived European band had the name in the 1970s. No problem. An extra L was tacked on and life continued.
7. Airo Kwil (formerly Airhythmatic)
Rapper, producer, and instrumentalist William Rose currently performs under the moniker Airo Kwil (pronounced “Arrow Quill”). But that wasn’t always the case. In a rare case of a pun being too good to be read correctly, Rose found Airhytmatic (pronounced like “Arithmetic”) to hamper him. “Airhythmatic was pretty much impossible for people to spell or pronounce. It’s hard to work as an artist when people can’t find you,” Rose told us. His forthcoming Dark Cinema will be his first release as Airo Kwil.
8. L&R (formerly Logic & Raze)
Former Hollowz member Logic and longtime solo artist Raze began what would become a fruitful collaboration in 2011 with the excellent (and long-in-the-works) album …Still Untitled. Back then, the duo simply went by “Logic & Raze.” Two years later, the rappers were given a slick L&R makeover, which seemed to suggest a more permanent partnership. A 2013 self-titled album set things in stone once and for all.
9. Midwest Death Rattle (formerly Revision Text)
Midwest Death Rattle and Revision Text are barely held together by a thin thread, but the names are connected nonetheless. After The Servos parted ways, guitarist Nick Perow started Revision Text. Originally started as a solo project, the effort quickly took on more members. With the influx of collaborators, a new sound emerged. Keyboardist John Dykstra says, “we changed the name to create something that all of us had a say in.” While Midwest Death Rattle usually plays new material on both land and water, they’ll occasionally toss a late Revision Text cut on a set list for family and close friends.
10. Tapebenders (former Elusive Parallelograms)
Local psych mainstays Elusive Parallelograms were as prolific as they were great, releasing a handful of gorgeous full-lengths and EPs in roughly four years. But let’s face it: their name kind of stunk, and it was hard to spell. Hell, even the band hated it. Looking for a reboot and a less-clunky moniker, EP rebranded themselves as the Tapebenders earlier this year—and even unveiled a Mark Borchardt-directed video, to boot. A new album, Chasing Ghosts, will be released this week.
11. The Wildbirds (formerly Number One Fan, The Robins)
A long time ago (the early 2000s) in a city far, far away (Appleton), a pop rock quartet called Number One Fan was taking the Fox Cities by storm. The WAMI-worthy band inked a deal to short-lived Universal Records subsidiary, Pat’s Record Company. After re-releasing its only true album on the label in 2004, the band briefly changed its name to The Robins, then became The Wildbirds—evolving into a brash garage rock band in the process. By the time The Wildbirds arrived in Milwaukee, no semblance of NOF remained except front man Nick Ziemann. He and many of his Wildbirds replacements have since re-allocated most of the focus on Hugh Bob And The Hustle. Ziemann also plays in GGOOLLDD.