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Monday, August 27, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Music

What a great name for a band!

Seattle Times staff reporter

What's in a name?

A good story, for starters. Especially when you get to choose your own. We picked six Seattle bands whose names were so ear-catching that we had to ask: Where'd you get that? A dictionary. A TV special. An African safari. Who knew?

Read on for our answer to Behind the Music: Tell-all tales of the makings of local bands Carissa's Wierd, Dope Smoothie, Raft of Dead Monkeys, 764-HERO, Beautiful Soup and Ellen Says No.

Carissa's Wierd

The first time, it was a mistake. But then it stuck.

"We actually did screw up on the (first) flier, and everybody gave us a bunch of flak," recalls Matt Brooke, singer-guitarist and a founding member of Carissa's Wierd. "It was Carissa who insisted that if the band was going to be named after her, it had to be spelled wrong."

That puts to rest the debate over the "Wierd" part. Now who's Carissa?

Just a girl they once knew, growing up in Tucson, Ariz. "They" is Brooke and Jenn Ghetto, the band's other original member.

"She was eccentric, you might say," says Brooke of Carissa. "We grew a fondness for her."

Carissa's Wierd moved to Seattle in 1998 and has since added a violinist, a drummer and an accordion-playing pianist. Together, the five twentysomethings — Sarah Standard, Ben Bridwell and Jeff Hellis round out the group — play what Brooke calls "really scaled-down, mellow, depressing music." Musically, it's not really Carissa's bag: "She's a little more into punk rock and heavy metal."

Where is Carissa now?

"I have no idea," Brooke says. "That's a really good question."

Information: www.brownthelabel.com/carissas

Raft of Dead Monkeys

We could tell you the story behind Seattle rock band Raft of Dead Monkeys. But guitarist John Spalding does it so much better:

"I was on this trip with my dad, and we were on a safari kind of thing in Africa, in this town in Nigeria. We were out in the middle of fields and stuff, and it was just like, I don't know, you grow up in the city and then you're out in the fields and you're out by the river and there's all sorts of animals ... I just thought of Raft of Dead Monkeys."

Got that? Maybe you had to be there.

"It's just pretty much a visualization thing," Spalding explains.

The vision hit him about four years ago. Two years later, he was sitting around with bandmates Jeff Suffering (bass), Davey B. (drums) and Doug Lorig (guitar), trying to come up with a name for their indie/modern rock group. Then there it was again: Raft of Dead Monkeys.

"It just came up and everyone went for it," Spalding says. "It fits us."

Information: www.raftofdeadmonkeys.com

Beautiful Soup

It's a nonsensical name, says Ryan Polivka, lead singer of Seattle band Beautiful Soup, but think about it for a minute, and it starts to make sense.

"Beautiful Soup" is the name of a poem from Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland." Polivka and bandmate Ross McMeekin, guitarist, are both English majors.

"It's kind of fitting that we got our name from the third most quoted work in the English language, after the Bible and Shakespeare," Polivka says.

He and McMeekin were college roommates at the University of Washington a couple of years ago when they caught a film version of the literary classic, starring Martin Short, on NBC.

"There's a scene where Gene Wilder comes on and sings the (poem) to Alice," Polivka recalls. "It was so bad that it was funny. ... So we thought, Beautiful Soup should be our band name."

The duo added a drummer, Jeremy Durr, and decided to call themselves Beautiful Soup "until we think of something better." That was two years ago.

"People think it's so many things that it's not," Polivka says of the name. "They'll say, `Oh, I get it, it's a combination of rock and jazz and folk, it's a soup of music.' We never say anything."

Information: www.beautifulsouphq.com.

Dope Smoothie

"Believe it or not," says Josh Bate of Dope Smoothie, "our name is not drug-related."

He gets that a lot. But in fact, says the vocalist-guitarist, inspiration for the moniker came from a chance encounter in the pages of a dictionary.

"I was looking up a word ... I think it was 'esoteric,' " Bate says. "And I came across the word 'dopester.' " (dopester: n. One who analyzes and predicts future events, as in sports or politics.)

And the Smoothie?

"The Smoothie was just the smooth side of the music."

Bate and bandmates Ian Anderson (percussion/vocals) and Zach Clements (bass/vocals) relocated to Seattle from Colorado Springs last year. Dope Smoothie plays what they call "alternatively generated art rock with a jazz influence."

Bate recalls hours spent lounging on his couch in Colorado, considering and discarding one band name after another. One that almost made the cut: The Stove.

Dope Smoothie plays the Rain Dancer in Seattle on Sept.6.

Information: www.dopesmoothie.com

764-HERO

John Atkins' philosophy on band names goes something like this:

"As long as we have a name we don't hate, we'll just try to be a good band," says the vocalist-guitarist for 764-HERO. "You don't think of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones and go, 'Oh, that's a good name.' You just think of the band."

So when a friend suggested 764-HERO to the nameless trio — Atkins, drummer Polly Johnson and bass player Robin P. — before its first gig five or six years ago, they went for it.

"Polly was like, 'That's good. It's good to have something with numbers in it,' " Atkins says.

It was also good to have free advertising all over the freeway, courtesy of the phone number printed on signs to report violators of the HOV lanes: 764-HERO.

"I was actually worried at first that we'd get in trouble," Atkins says.

So far, the only run-in they've had over the name was in Santa Cruz, Calif., where a girl approached them at a house party and said she used to be in a band of the same name.

"We were like, 'Yeah, right,' " Atkins recalls. But it turned out the same friend had suggested the name to another band in Santa Cruz, where he went to school.

"He didn't think they were going to use it," Atkins says. "It's actually even cooler for a band in California because it's not anywhere near where they have the signs."

Information: www.764hero.net

Ellen Says No

It was a year ago, May. Four twentysomethings had just formed a band and were sitting around playing poker, tossing cards and band names around.

"We came up with some horrible, crazy names, like JFK-Y Jelly and Rage Against Mr. Clean," recalls Ryan Hooper, lead guitarist for Ellen Says No.

Hooper's cousin, Ellen, was there.

"Every name we came up with, she was like, 'No. No. No.' Finally, out of frustration, I said, 'Well, how about Ellen Says No'?"

Everybody laughed. Fast forward to two months later. "We were putting out a demo, and we had nothing better than Ellen Says No, so we went with that."

Introducing, then, Ellen Says No: Jon Stewart (lead vocals/guitar), Jeff Hatchel (bass), Brandon Gebhardt (drums) and Hooper.

As for Ellen, now 22, Hooper says: "She's a combination of flattered and completely embarrassed." Ellen Says No is scheduled to play the Ballard Firehouse on Sept. 3 and the Rain Dancer on Sept. 14.

Information: www.ellensaysno.com.

Pam Sitt: 206-464-2376 or psitt@seattletimes.com

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