Last month the world learned of The Singles, a new band featuring actress Scarlett Johansson and a few of her L.A. music pals. A few days later, the world learned of another band from L.A. who also called themselves The Singles and had been doing so for 15 years. Oops.
“Due to an unforeseen conflict with the band name, Scarlett Johansson, Holly Miranda, Kendra Morris and Julia Haltigan will be renaming the project and slightly altering the designs,” read a notice on the site of Federal Prism, the label issuing the single from The Singles who didn’t have a right to the name.
As we await this renaming, we look at bands who were either legally required or seriously compelled to alter their names after starting their careers, and how they dealt with it. We hope this will serve as sound advice for Ms. Johansson.
Option 1: Alter the name ever so slightly
The name FKA twigs is somehow an appropriately enigmatic moniker for the chill electronic music that Tahliah Barnett makes. Seriously, how many people have you heard speak of FKA twigs who didn’t seem aware that FKA stands for “formerly known as”? Barnett was known as twigs until 2013 when a Chicago-based pair of alt-rock sisters who had been making music since the late ’90s as The Twigs pressed her to change it. When she came back with the FKA tacked onto the front, the sisters—Linda and Laura Good—sought a temporary restraining order from allowing Barnett to perform in the States, even with the FKA adjustment. Though the judge did not grant the order, the Goods may still pursue a lawsuit. This is a rare documented instance where the original act still publicly objects to the changed name.
When the electronic duo Ejecta received a cease-and-desist from a DJ who called himself Ejeca, members Leanne Macomber and Joel Ford appealed to fans to help with a new name. “The winner will receive copies of every Ejecta release past, present and future, access to live shows, merchandise, breakfast in bed, sex, first-born-sons and possibly more!” they wrote on their Facebook page. Hold up: Iceage and Ice Age can coexist, but Ejecta and Ejeca can’t? Macomber explained to the Dallas Observer that Ejeca “has a really good lawyer and we really don’t have the funds, sadly.” For the duo, the name Ejecta represents a character constantly undergoing rebirth, so adding Young to the front makes sense, and it’s an interesting contrast to the famous rappers who have actually dropped Young or Li’l from their professional names as they got older.
Santi White started to receive acclaim for her 2008 debut as Santogold, and as such, she also received a cease-and-desist order and a so-bad-it’s-good song about the dispute by Santo Victor Rigatuso, the man who legally owned the right to call himself Santo Gold since the early ’80s. Choice lyrics of the song: “Don’t use my name to create your fame. Believe me, kid, this is not a game, cuz I’m the real Santo Gold…I don’t like my name being stole(d).” White decided to amend her moniker by changing one vowel so it reflected her real first name. Now when you type Santogold into a search engine you’ll likely get a “did you mean Santigold?” prompt. That’s got to smart for the real Santo Gold.
Death from Above 1979
This Canadian rock duo was originally just called Death from Above. But that was also what James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem called his record label. Sure, he shortened it to DFA after 9/11, but these two entities definitely knew of each other before singer and drummer Sebastien Grainger added his birth year as a suffix in 2005. Shortly after, Murphy said that he would have informally allowed the band to operate without altering the name, but the band’s label required Murphy to officially sign off on it, which he refused to do. “We spent a lot of money [on legal fees] because we didn’t just wanna be total fucking assholes and just say no,” Murphy told Pitchfork in 2005. “We were trying to find a way for it to actually work.”
The Fucking Champs
The metal instrumentalists who are now known as the Fucking Champs toyed with their name for five years until reaching their definitive moniker at the turn of the century. The first two releases listed the band as Champs and the next few listed the band as The Champs, but there was already a band called The Champs, who also played instrumentals, their most popular being Tequila. The older Champs pressured the younger Champs to change it up, so for one release the younger band employed a sort of hacker-speak moniker and stylized the name as C4AM95. See? It’s that numbers-as-letters thing that your aunt posts links about on Facebook, saying you’re highly intelligent if your brain can process it and read it. That stylization didn’t last long. For their 2000 album, IV, the band finally let their frustrations fly and arrived at The Fucking Champs, the classic name they would use for the remainder of their existence. Oh, how amazing it would’ve been if Scarlett Johansson and co. were to have chosen this solution and announced the very next day that they were The Fucking Singles.
Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge were in their early 20s, signed to a label called Grilled Cheese and playing in a band called Blink. Somehow an Irish band with the same name got wind of this and threatened to sue them if they didn’t change their name. This was in 1995: The most popular search engine was WebCrawler and we were a good decade away from Google Alert, so how did the Irish Blink even hear of these SoCal punks? Regardless, the band didn’t let all the small things get in their way, arbitrarily added the numbers 182 as a suffix and subsequently became way more famous than the other band in the blink of an eye.
While most of the name-change stories inspire ire within hardcore fans of each act involved in the dispute, it’s hard to argue with the record label Verve here, objecting to a spacey Britpop band using the same one-word moniker that they had laid claim to in the 1950s. The label had been releasing albums from some of the greatest acts in the history of jazz (not to mention putting out the first two Velvet Underground records). Maybe Richard Ashcroft didn’t know Charlie Parker, but surely he knew of the Velvets, right? Legend has it that the band, who were notorious for their drug intake, briefly entertained the notion of renaming the band Verv and titling their next album Dropping E for America. Instead, they added a The in front and named the next album a similarly druggy (but not as dopey) No Come Down. A few years later, the band would go on to score their biggest hit, “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” which itself presented an entirely new set of legal hassles.
This may be the funniest solution to a name dispute: Just tack on a suffix to suggest you’re the son of the band you once were. That’s exactly what J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph did when a San Francisco band going by the name The Dinosaurs told the Amherst trio they couldn’t call themselves Dinosaur. Weirdly, the band challenging the name hadn’t even released any music by the time they issued the cease-and-desist, while Mascis and crew already had two records under their belt. But The Dinosaurs featured alums from the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and had years of live gigs to their credit, so they presumably also had enough money to hire a convincing enough lawyer.
Option 2: Just tell us where you’re from
The London Suede
In the mid-’90s, the British band Suede was one of the hottest things in the import bin at your record store, when your record store actually existed in a brick-and-mortar capacity. Then a lounge singer from Maryland who also called herself Suede sued the band in 1994, which incidentally looks to be the year that the Maryland Suede last redesigned her website. The result of the suit was that the band were forced to amend their moniker to The London Suede for all matters in the US. The next year, singer Brett Anderson told the New York Times, “The London Suede is not the name I chose for the band, I didn’t change it happily, and I’m not going to pretend I did.”
The Charlatans UK
The Charlatans were a cool young Brit band associated with the Madchester scene in the late ’80s ready to conquer America. On the eve of their first tour, the leader of a San Fran psychedelic band threatened to sue for a reported $6 million if the band used the name that his band had originated in the 1960s. So they became the Charlatans UK. Singer Tim Burgess told The Guardian in 2011 that after two albums they were told they didn’t have to use the UK suffix anymore. “There were cheers from the band, but I didn’t realize how much it meant to them,” he said of the American fans. “There was confusion in the USA with that release. We were asked were we the same band as the Charlatans UK so much that we agreed to change it back.”
The English Beat
Most name change controversies seem to end in one entity making a switch, but this challenge had repercussions for both bands involved. The Beat was the name of a ska group gaining popularity in Europe in the ’80s before they hit Stateside. At the same time, a power pop band with the same name was making a name for themselves in L.A. Each band agreed to allow the other Beat to operate uninterrupted in their respective homelands, but they had to change their names for gigs and marketing in each other’s territory. So when the American version of The Beat played Europe, they became The Paul Collins Beat, named after the lead singer and guitarist. And when the English version of The Beat played in North America, they were known as The English Beat. As for lasting friendship stemming from legal disputes, the two bands agreed to save it for later and toured together in 2012, billing it as “The Two Beats Hearting As One Tour.” Awww.
Squeeze were a British band who definitely had heard of the Velvet Underground. They named themselves after the Velvets’ final (and Lou Reed-less, and obviously out-of-print) album. But that’s not why they had to become UK Squeeze for their American debut. They did it to avoid confusion with an American band named Tight Squeeze, whose legacy seems not to have made the digital leap. (Even that final Velvet Underground album made the digital leap! Sort of..) Maybe Squeeze leaders Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook foresaw that history would loosen its grip on Tight Squeeze and that’s why they dropped the whole UK thing for their second album.
Other territorial switchings
Sometimes bands will only have to change their names in only one market. In Canada, Bush was known as Bush X. In Australia, The Raconteurs are known as The Saboteurs. After Steve Marriott quit the Small Faces in 1968, they became the Faces for their European debut, but remained as the Small Faces when the album was printed in the U.S. The band that Americans know as The Mission UK are also only known as such here. In their homeland and the rest of the world over, they are The Mission. And as is often the case, the bands who have had to change their names remain the more popular acts, despite the changes.
Option 3: Just get rid of one of the words
The rapper and actor we today know as Common began his career as Common Sense. He dropped “Sense” from his moniker after his second album, Resurrection, when he was sued by a reggae band in Orange County. Surprisingly, that reggae band still exists.
British DJs Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons operated under the name of the Dust Brothers when they began, knowing that an American duo of the same name had produced the highly influential Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys just a few years before. The American Dust Brothers obviously threatened to sue, and instead of following in the steps of many of their countrymen and going with Dust Brothers UK, they became the Chemical Brothers and paid homage to their brothers from another mother(land) in another way, by titling their debut Exit Planet Dust.
After leaving Depeche Mode (and writing their most uncharacteristically peppy material, including the hit “Just Can’t Get Enough”), Vince Clarke formed Yazoo with vocalist Alison Moyet in 1981. The duo named the band after an American jazz record label, which we know doesn’t work out well for these British bands. It led to a reported $3.5 million lawsuit and the band losing two Os when represented in America and Canada.
Option 4: And now for something completely different
It’s almost as if producer Ryan DeRobertis was doing some sort of assignment for a marketing class when he started calling himself Saint Pepsi. “I haven’t gotten the attention of that cola giant yet? Well, how about if I use a logo that’s just the Pepsi logo, but in pastel or in little blocks?” We’re still waiting for his term paper about this project, but earlier this year he announced he’ll be calling himself Skylar Spence, inspired by Drew Barrymore’s character in Everyone Says I Love You. We say “inspired by” because (spoiler alert if you haven’t see this 1996 Woody Allen film) Skylar Dandridge ends up breaking up with Holden Spence before they marry, so we suppose that DeRobertis was hoping they’d have a happily ever after.
Even if the Spanish band who are now known as Hinds are no longer called Deers, their garage-y psych sound is still something you’ll fawn over. As is often the case with the cease-and-desist, it came just as the band’s buzz was building earlier this year, when they received a message from a Canadian band called Dears. “We received an email from a Canadian lawyer saying that our name created confusion with his band’s name. And that name is not even Deers. (LOL),” the band posted on their Twitter. Seriously, if a prog band from Providence called the Dear Hunter can coexist with Bradford Cox’s outfit Deerhunter, why can’t these women keep their original name? Incidentally, “hind” is another name for a female deer.
On TheMorningBenders.com, singer Christopher Chu wrote a heartsick goodbye letter to his band’s original name in 2012. He describes the Morning Benders’ first European tour when people would ask if he was trying to make some sort of statement with his band name. “For those of you reading from America, you may still be confused. Well, it turns out that the word ‘bender’ in the UK and many parts of Europe is a slang term for ‘homosexual.’ We were told our band name was the equivalent of ‘The Morning Fags’ in America. We had been called The Morning Benders for five years, and we were just finding this out now? It was shocking. And quite sad, to say the least. We had spent those years touring night and day, championing our name everywhere we could, only to find out that the name had an alternate meaning—one that made us look hateful, or at best, ignorant.” They changed their name to Pop Etc. in 2012.
Many argue that punk rock wouldn’t exist without The Dictators. Neither would Caribou. Though Dan Snaith’s gentle psychedelic music owes more to bedroom experiments than punk rock, the Canadian artist called his musical project Manitoba for his first two albums, before Dictators singer Handsome Dick Manitoba threatened to sue. Shortly after the name change, Snaith told the Canadian website Exclaim.ca, “It got to the point where I was like, ‘It doesn’t matter that this case is ridiculous, it doesn’t matter that in some sense I should fight this because he’s getting away with murder.’ I just realized that if I spend all my time thinking about this and dealing with this annoying little guy, that’s just such a waste of my time, so I was like ‘Why don’t I just change my name and move on?’” Good move, Snaith!
If Yardbirds bassist and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja hadn’t served a cease-and-desist order to Jimmy Page in 1968, the world over might have forever debated over which album rocks more: New Yardbirds II or New Yardbirds IV. After the original Yardbirds dissolved, Page, who was not even an original member, briefly ran with a slightly amended moniker and recruited members of what would eventually become Led Zeppelin. New Yardbirds certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool as a patch on the backs of jean jackets everywhere, would they?
Option 5: Pay somebody a bunch of money and don’t change your name at all
The boy band from Britain that everybody knows as One Direction faced a challenge to their name in 2012, when a California band who had started using the name earlier brought a $1 million lawsuit. The lads who brought you “What Makes You Beautiful” are on Simon Cowell’s label, which means they have a lot of money behind them, so they countersued. Although no settlement amount was disclosed, the California band became Uncharted Shores and signed off on a statement that read in part, “All of the parties involved are pleased with the resolution and wish each other success.” Translation: “pleased with the resolution” must mean the California band who had to change the name they had for longer must have received a lot of money from the band who got to keep calling themselves One Direction. And that’s what makes it beautiful. But does “pleased with the resolution” on the end of Harry Styles and crew mean that the other One Direction gave them all of the unsold T-shirts with their names on them?
There was a psychedelic band in London in the ’60s called Nirvana, which had reunited a few years before grunge started to seep into the airwaves. Apparently Kurt Cobain didn’t learn of this band until his band was beginning to take off in the early ’90s, and the leader of the original Nirvana brought forth a lawsuit. Bolstering the case was the odd coincidence the baby on the cover of Nevermind was positioned in almost the exact same way as the winged boy on the cover of The Story of Simon Simopath, which if you aren’t able to figure it out, is the title of the 1967 album by the psychedelic Nirvana. The bands settled for a reported $100,000, and both got to keep their names, and although it was likely not a term of the settlement, the psychedelic Nirvana even recorded a breezy cover of “Lithium.”
You may not remember George Michael ever singing songs with titles like “Be My Lovemaker,” “Superslick” or “It’s Worth Waiting For,” but a 1978 album attributed to Wham! exists in this world. The thing is, it’s not the same Wham! It’s a disco band from Nashville. The UK duo were forced to slap the proverbial “UK” onto their debut in the US, but by the time they released “Make It Big,” the US Wham! had dissolved and the UK Wham! bought the copyright that gave them the freedom to drop that pesky UK from their name for an undisclosed amount. It’s entirely imaginable that they also bought all remaining copies of the album with the cover that looks like it was drawn by a pinball machine artist with unsettlingly aggressive sexual tastes.