(Formerly) Silent Lions: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Silent Lions
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We’re here to witness a pair of musicians recover and even rise above the experience of losing their band name.

This band is currently unclassifiable and, intriguingly, indescribable. This band in question, a duo, was until very recently known as Silent Lions (from Toledo, OH). Now, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Dean Tartaglia and drummer/backing-vocalist Matt Klein have proven themselves, with last year’s The Compartments, as qualifying for the Best Of What’s Next tag, but whatever does come “next” from them will be under a new band name. More than that, following a planned hiatus, it will explore a new sound/style altogether. That their name was already trademarked by another band has brought them to a fork in the road where they figured, if they’re being forced to change their name, they’re going to change much more than that. They won’t compromise, Tartaglia says.

The duo (formerly known as Silent Lions,) is Tartaglia and Klein, a couple of Toledo-raised musicians who banded around that scene throughout the mid-late 2000s in various groups that respectively experimented with funkifying typical indie- and punk/pop styles. Initial jams in 2011 slowly solidified their collaboration and two EPs would soon follow.

They’re a small staffed band with a substantially full sound: far from minimalist, it’s quite a muscular massing of electro-punk and spaced-out neo soul, slowed to a strutting, hip-hop tempo, whipped with hooky bass grooves and stirred-up falsetto croons. The occasional skuzzy keyboard effect storms softy back in atmospheric corners along with gritty guitar riffs and bizarre bleats from a saxophone; you could’ve called it agit-jazz or a proggy-soul, something prettier than psychedelic sludge and more sincere than most modern indie-blues concoctions.

After their first E.P. and a heap of self-booked tours, they established sturdy fan bases in Toledo and Detroit, the latter becoming like a second home to them. Between October ’13 and May ’14, they played more than 100 shows in support of The Compartments, spending more time on the road than they were home and hitting every stop on the indie circuit they could while dreaming up their next project, a full length record.

But then they had to go to court.

“Basically,” Tartaglia says, “we unknowingly violated the existing trademark of another musical group.” The name started as a play on words, with “silent” referring to their softer, wispy falsettos through their verses and the “lions” referring to the loud, fiercely fuzzed bass bursts and thrashing drums through the choruses. “Wasn’t that much thought to it,” Tartaglia says, “it just rolled off the tongue naturally.”

“We live in such a detail-oriented society that a band’s name is only a small facet of their identity.”

Both the neo-soul singer FKA Twigs and contemporary electro-pioneer Caribou ran into similar conflicts in the early stages of their careers, leading to a name change. Tartaglia and Klein were aware of another group when they settled on their name but, from online verifications, could intuit that this group was long since defunct. “A band’s very specific images, genre, branding, personal scenes all differentiate who they are in the grand scheme of things way more than their name does. The most obvious example, this year, was the Daylight / Superheaven situation.” (The PA-based punk group were similarly legally blocked from continuing with their original name and are now known as Superheaven).

Tartaglia worries this may become a troubling trend as more and more up-and-coming indie bands strive to establish their presence (i.e. get their name out) with something as dauntingly vast and kaleidoscopic as “the internet” as the inevitable commons for said-up-and-comers self-promotion. “It might be easy, soon, to track down 30 bands online that share the same name,” Tartaglia says, “but they should all function independently of each other if there’s no likely confusion.”

And that’s what lost their name for them, “…the likelihood of confusion” caused for any future listeners who find both bands, despite disparate sounds and uncommon fan bases. “Band names are just words,” said Tartaglia. “A band’s trademark should accommodate much more than that.” Tartaglia feels that each group’s respective fan bases were never confused and had hoped that the common law trademarks could have been “more progressive” by taking that into account.

It’s understandably an emotional experience for a group to have to part with their name, particularly at such an early stage of their trajectory, but it’s doubled for this duo because they’ve decided to go off in an entirely new stylistic direction altogether, all but leaving behind the last two years of their work.

“It no longer felt right to make music as Silent Lions, if we can’t use that name,” Tartaglia said. They couldn’t attempt any sly altering of the name by pluralizing or shortening it to cryptic acronyms because those changes still violate the trademark in the eyes of the law.

“You can do Google searches to find out about trademarks,” Tartaglia says, elaborating on the knottier traps that bands with conflicting names fall into, “but you can’t Google these common-law trademarks, they have to be assumed, which, again, is why the whole trademark system is fucked. (Klein and I) never compromised musically or otherwise, so far, we’re not going to start now. We’d rather start over as a new band altogether.”

This speaks to a universal anxiety shared among countless independent musicians, building that fan base and then maintaining it. How much harder does it become for a band in the endless meet-and-greet of social-network-shareability to continue acquainting brand new listeners to your music when you’ve just peeled off the “Hi My Name Is__” Sticker and reapplied a new one, with a new name?

“We know most people who know Silent Lions will stick with us as we make and release music as a new entity,” Tartaglia says. “From our few fans who know this situation more in-depth, we’ve heard how they appreciate our honesty. Honesty in telling the whole story, no matter how difficult or strange and honesty in how we make our music and in not compromising our vision. Hopefully, any Silent Lions fans reading this article who might have been in the dark about ‘the end’ can realize that not only was it the right decision for us, but the only decision.”

Klein and Tartaglia have spent the last year and a half as working, touring, DIY-musicians, building their fan base in a grassroots fashion and couch surfing between gigs, house shows and festivals. “To anyone living that life,” says Tartaglia, “it’s one of the most rewarding and communal experiences you can ever have. The only way we were able to sustain that type of life was by surrounding ourselves with people who truly care about our journey.” That goes for fans as well as fellow bands, he added, including their allies up in the Detroit scene such as Electric Six and former BOWN-features Flint Eastwood and Tunde Olaniran.

Part of any band’s endurance, these days, is going to rely heavily upon a social media presence, which inevitably brings emphasis back to that damned “branding” issue. But Tartaglia hopes to prove that it’s more about identity. And that a band’s identity is in not just the unique songs written by said-band, but in the performance of said-songs.

“Much more important than ‘good social media plans’ nowadays is making sure your live shows are always an event, something that can’t be missed, and, again, shout out to Flint Eastwood, here. It’s about the community of bringing all those people together in person to experience a great live event that keeps (a fan base) together. It’s really an intangible type of experience and even though we’ve been off the road for a bit recently dealing with the legal situation, it’s that experience that’s kept up our morale and kept our momentum growing.”

For Klein and Tartaglia’s first two years’ of music, they charted an enticingly dark, slow-slamming kinda pop, with sludgy bass and funky keyboards at its center and drums that could go from tight, tasteful struts to demolition-style crescendos.

Well, new listener, or anyone out there, if that’s a fine enough jumping off point for you, then maybe you should acquaint yourself properly with these guys online (or via Spotify) before they undergo the next phase of their evolution.

Their final show (as Silent Lions) is at the Ottawa Tavern in Toledo on Friday, Dec. 19.
“No matter what music we make,” said Tartaglia, “it will be visceral. And it will be heavy. It will be organic. In that aspect, it will always be an extension of Silent Lions.”

Silent Lions – “Stolen In The Heat Of The Moment”