Thursday, August 21, 2014

Offensive: Vomit Launch

Vomit Launch: Stillness

Choosing a band name should be a big deal. You would think that deciding how you are going to be known to the world makes a difference. Although I’ve never been in a band, lacking sufficient musical talent and all, I’ve always imagined deciding on a name is an important issue for the members to hash out and come to some sort of an agreement. Often, the name of the band sends a signal to what the music is going to sound like. I mean, Gentle Giant is going to be a prog rock band, Metallica, is, of course, metal and The Pure Prairie League will play country rock. For a while, in the 80s, you knew that if a band was called The [insert generic noun here], the likelihood of seeing a bunch of guys in skinny ties playing poppy new wave was pretty high.

Punk rock, though, by its very nature, wants to shock, and its emergence led to a bunch of bands that purposely chose names to offend. The Sex Pistols, of course, were not the first punk band, but they may have opened the door to a more widespread use of offensive names. I remember being told by the WPRB station manager that we couldn’t say the name of the Dickies, which to this day seems overly cautious, especially since he never seemed to have a problem with the Dead Kennedys. Bands that choose aggressively offensive names, mostly punk and metal acts that I won’t specifically mention because they might show up during this theme at some point (but here are a couple of good lists) did so to signal that they didn’t care about mainstream success and were thumbing their noses at major labels, big time radio and large venues. In some ways, it was a kind of reverse psychology—attracting people by being repulsive.

But, frankly, this strategy can backfire. If you make music that actually might be popular, is catchy and not at all offensive, choosing an off-putting name could essentially torpedo your career. And, it appears, that may have been what happened to Vomit Launch.

Vomit Launch was started in 1985 by a bunch of friends in Chico, California who decided to form a band. After a few rehearsals, they were offered a gig, and therefore needed a name. According to the band’s website, a couple of the band members “drank a bunch of wine and created a list of possible band names for future use. Unfortunately among these names were Truckload of Fuckers, Fuckload of Truckers and Vomit Launch. Needing a name with a ‘gig’ fast approaching, the band decided Vomit Launch would be a fantastic choice!”

I would suggest that they were wrong.

Although the band released a few albums, opened for some well-known acts, and even had a video that aired once—partially—on MTV, by the end of 1992, they were done. Like so many obscure bands, they still have their fans, who reminisce longingly about their short career, but I’d like to suggest that with a less offensive name, they might have been more successful.

I’m not exactly sure how I first heard of Vomit Launch. I’m pretty sure that it was as a result of my eMusic account. When I joined that service back in 2005, it was a quirky service focused on small, indie label acts and allowed an incredibly generous number of downloads a month for a low price. (Apparently, there was a period when it was essentially an all you could eat buffet, but I missed that). You overlooked the wonkiness of the website and its strange policies because it had lots of interesting music, cheap. And this allowed you to download stuff that you might not otherwise consider. Over time, eMusic has morphed into a service that has most, if not all, major label content. It is still somewhat valuable, but Its quirks are less charming now that it is competing directly with iTunes and Amazon. I think it is still worth it, especially at the low, grandfathered rate that I pay. But that’s another issue entirely.

My best recollection is that one of their songs was a free track, and admittedly amused by the name, I downloaded it and found that contrary to its name, it was a good, wholly inoffensive, new wave-ish song. I downloaded a second, similarly good song, and pretty much forgot about the band, until recently, when I got into a discussion somewhere (Facebook?) about bands with offensive names. Coincidentally, I wrote about a song by the Butthole Surfers on another site, and that all led to this theme.

I hope this didn’t offend anyone.

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