Tell it to Jetpack UK and Thornton, two local bands who’ve just taken on the risky proposition of changing their names—to The Nobility and Your Operator, respectively—some six years into their careers. But is it really such a risky proposition after all?
For the ’60s pop-rock leaning Jetpack UK, keeping the name was riskier. Three months after forming in 2001, they were made aware by their lawyer of the existence of another Jetpack, but were advised not to worry about it. Reps for the California surf-rock artist named Dan Standiford (who, like the local Jetpack, also assumes the band name as his first name) made contact soon after, with proof he’d been using the name since the ’80s. But it wasn’t until the local act decided to tour outside their hometown and release The Art of Building a Moat a few years later that things turned problematic. Soon both artists’ CDs began showing up under one name on sites such as Amazon and CD Baby.
“One time I was at Grimey’s,” singer and guitarist Sean Williams says. “And I asked Jonathan Rogers if they had the Jetpack album. And he was like, ‘Yeah is it called Planet Reverb?’ And I was like, ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’ ”
For Thornton—the Baptist hymnals-meets-cabaret-pop act whose ID is drawn from the surname of singer and pianist Kevin Thornton—the name change to Your Operator, also the band’s new single, was simply a reflection of their evolution from “sleepy art band” to a “bigger rock band sound.”
“We’ve toured our asses off under the name Thornton,” Thornton says. “We did an expensive radio campaign under that name. There are people in France with Thornton on their iPods…. But flash forward six years, and I’ve found myself with that dream chemistry/musical soul-mate/BFF stuff you read about in band biographies. Really, this has not been my solo project for a very long time.”
Meanwhile, Jetpack had just secured distribution through Heatstroke Records and were embarking on a library tour in support of a children’s book—Inside a Rock Band—written about their experience as young band, as legal pressures mounted. The addition of UK to the band’s moniker was a Band-Aid to buy them some time. But now, with the new album The Mezzanine set for release in July and a management deal with Aaron Hartley, who runs local indie label Theory 8, the band felt it was time to get rid of the legal hassles.
“We’ve played for a lot of kids—a lot of people everywhere from Massachusetts to Austin,” says Jetpack UK drummer Brian Fuzzell. “What if so-and-so in Connecticut liked our CD a lot and can’t find us?” “But this isn’t like Aerosmith changing their name,” adds Williams. “We’re not this money-making entity where everyone’s going to be devastated.”
For both acts, it’s an invigorating fresh start. Thornton says becoming Your Operator has made the band “feel like dreamers again.” “People seem to like the name and the new direction,” says Thornton. “Also, I think it might up T-shirt sales. Who wants to wear a T-shirt with my name on it? I’m an egomaniac and I thought it was a little weird.” For The Nobility, the name change also allows them to shed previous musical missteps. The new record finds the band using horns and flutes to flesh out their sound, with guitarist Stephen Jerkins playing keys rather than riffs. (Bassist David Dewese has departed amicably to pursue his own songwriting.)
But despite both bands’ hard work in establishing their prior monikers, thanks to the Internet age, getting the word out hasn’t been all that difficult. MySpace, for instance, allows you to simply switch the band name in the URL and keep all your hard-earned friends. A few bulletins and emails, and the past is band history. What’s more difficult is winning back old converts.
“What about ’em?” Williams says with a laugh when asked about former fans. “No, I think they’ll be understanding,” Jerkins interjects. “We have a lot of nice fans. Well, there might be some kindergartners out there who are upset about it.”