Friday, October 19, 2012

To be or not to be? Sharing a band name

Sunday night my husband and his band of twelve years will reveal its new name during a show at The Milestone celebrating its drummer’s 40th birthday. It’s a bittersweet occasion because for the band, Husky, it marks the end of an era. You see, the instrumental three-piece that has been embraced by the small but supportive stoner rock community and have sold albums overseas (Europeans especially seem to dig it), weren’t looking to change its name.

When they took the name over a decade ago there was only one active Husky in existence - a Polish electronic duo. No confusion there. The last time we checked online recently there were eight Huskys - enough to drive a sled carrying my 400 pound father through an Arctic blizzard. In February Phil (that’s my husband) was contacted by a band from Australia with the same name. We didn’t think much of it as an Australian, American, and Mexican Husky co-existed at the time, but the name issue became obvious once I started receiving press releases about Australian Husky’s appearance at South by Southwest and US tours from its new label - Sub Pop. 

This seemed more of a problem than a band playing The Milestone adding an (AUS) to the end of their name - a solution Phil and Australian Husky’s lead singer (who is actually named Husky - so you can see why he’d want to keep it) had loosely agreed on at first. And as months passed it became apparent that Australian Husky (who never applied the AUS) wasn’t going back to the Outback any time soon.

Our Husky spent months discussing options - pursuing the name legally, taking a new one, adopting a song or album title as the name, or adding the obvious “US?” But really who remembers who sued the Charlatans UK or the London Suede? My husband and his bandmates spoke to a lawyer (as they have released two albums under the name and have records dating back a decade). The problem is they failed to file for a trademark. I spoke to a few trusted publicists that have worked in the industry for years. All advised that the fight wasn’t worth the cost if my husband and his band weren’t planning to take over the world.

Our Husky is a home grown outfit. They record and practice in our back room between jobs and kids. So they begrudgingly are changing the name. I spoke to another musician earlier this week whose experimental jazz and avant garde bands have shared names with other acts from completely different genres. His argument was is there really any confusion? In our Husky’s case Phil was already getting texts from friends who “saw” his new album at a store or whose wife heard a song on the radio.

Change isn’t necessarily bad. I've listened to the band and my husband’s writing and arranging evolve from moderately heavy blues-based stoner rock to something more experimental and unusual over the past nine years (it gets pegged kraut rock in reviews). The upcoming album, “Garnet,” is a departure from their first two. So separating or differentiating themselves from the old name and old sound probably more aptly represents where they are now as a band anyhow. Of course this doesn’t soften the blow of watching your band name go places you likely never would (like to SXSW, on WNCW’s playlist or on tour with the Head and the Heart).

But given that there is now this Aussie folk-rock Husky, Mexican Husky, old Polish Husky, and a new solo hip-hop producer also going by the name, the need to separate from the name is even greater. Hence a new play on the name, which isn’t a dig on those other bands but a stake in the old name itself. I’ll leave that reveal to them though.

The lesson here, which I’ve been preaching to anyone that’s serious about its band’s name since February, is to pursue the trademark (which can actually get quite pricey for a grassroots, independent band given the different things that need to be trademarked - for performance, merchandise, etc). But if you’re making a big, long-term commitment, it’s worth considering.  

Husky plays its final show at The Milestone Sunday, October 21, with Hectorina, Secret Hospital!, and Musket King, which also features birthday boy Nate Wilkinson on drums. 8 p.m. $5.