Local up-and-comers The Crowd become an Empire

A critical early component of any band's career is their name, and the process of coming up with a suitable one is fraught with peril.

Dumb names, tossed off names and too-clever-by-half names can all retard a band's progress--witness Broken Social Scene, who labored anonymously in Canada as the window of opportunity narrowed, until finally someone figured out that they weren't some lame vegan hardcore band. Surely you've never heard the Rockin' Vicars? That's what Motörhead might be called to this very day had good sense not prevailed. Or what about Def Leppard, man? It's amazing a contract was ever signed with such a foolishly named group. Cocaine is a hell of a drug, indeed.

In the modern era, plagued by the world band-population-explosion problem, a new danger has emerged--naming yourself something that's already taken. Time was, bands would resolve such a problem by appending a "U.K." to their appellation, but if you're not from Old Blighty, what then? If you're J. Mascis, add a "Junior." If you're Susanna Hoffs, add "-les."

If you're Tucson's The Crowd, a rowdy brigade of up-and-comers who play in the psychedelic pop style, you go with "The Holy Rolling Empire."

"We loved 'The Crowd,'" singer Orin Shochat tells me. "It became us." But as it turns out, "The Crowd" was the previously claimed moniker of an old Orange County punk band.

"They never really did anything--we thought they had broken up," says guitarist Ian Carstensen. "But they're apparently making a resurgence, doing some soundtrack stuff, and we couldn't get booked at any California venues because of it." So after more than two years of establishing their brand as "The Crowd," it was back to the drawing board.

"We knew we wanted to go on tour soon, so we decided to (make the change) as quickly as possible," adds Noah Horton, who also plays guitar, and sings.

I'm sitting with four-fifths of the band at a local haunt--bassist Bryan Moran is present but the reticent type, and drummer Dave Mertz is out of commission for the moment. The rest of them describe the renaming process.

Says Shochat, "We all made a list and compared names, and nothing was really emerging out of it, and we couldn't agree on anything. The day before we were supposed to make the final decision, (Noah) threw 'Holy Rolling Empire' out there. We were like, 'There it is.'"

So now the Holy Rolling Empire picks up where The Crowd left off, about to tour and then record their first full-length. "This will be our first real tour," says Carstensen. "We're going to hit San Diego, the Bay Area, Reno, L.A."

They reflect on the value of MySpace as a resource that didn't even exist three years ago. "We've gotten the opportunity to find hundreds of bands that we otherwise would never even have known existed," says Horton.

The plan is to write, record and release an album by fall, with the intent of shopping it to a label. "The album is going to be more detailed and polished than (previously released EP) Secret Serpents," says Carstensen of their planned studio output. "We've had time to think it out and create what we think is a more mature sound."

"Plus it's a good opportunity for us to make a couple of changes," says Shochat of the transition that will necessarily arise out of the name change. "We've been riding on (Secret Serpents) for a long time. After the tour, we're going to take a month off and just write songs."

Taking time off was not a choice for drummer Dave Mertz. After breaking his leg a few months ago while engaged in a robust bout of slap-and-tickle, Mertz re-broke it in painful fashion just before a performance in San Diego. Somehow, he got through the set that night, but he later required surgery and a permanent rod in his leg.

Thus, when the band takes the stage on Saturday at Plush, it'll be Phil Collins-style, with the drummer as lead singer. "I've been drumming since I was in sixth-grade," says Shochat, whose excitement at getting back on the skins is tempered by the sympathy he feels for Mertz. "It's been interesting to adapt to being without Dave, and I love playing drums, but we're eager to get him back in action."

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