Let’s dive right into it and address the cannibalism-referencing elephant in the room. San Francisco alt-rock band The Downer Party‘s name sounds an awful lot like a certain infamous wagon train of Gold Rush pioneers who got stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-47, and, yes, the pun is intentional.
The chilly connotations of frontwoman Sierra Frost’s name, on the other hand, are completely coincidental. At 20, Frost is already a veteran of the Bay Area music scene. She started singing with established rock band Elephone before she was eligible to vote. She founded The Downer Party in 2008, and has remained the only constant as other members have come and gone.
As a result, the band’s sound has shifted considerably from the teenage power-pop of its debut EP. Frost said the new EP, “Cities,” being released on April 1 with a show at Bottom of the Hill, is influenced by Wilco, Built to Spill and “more mellow, more wordy, more touchy-feely” bands. The group is already working on its next recording, and it is being shaped by the “big ’90s rock binge” Frost has been on lately. The Downer Party’s stage presence has been described as “a walking hangover,” and a cheeky attitude that harkens back to such alt-rock heroes as Pixies is undeniable.
Over a noontime bowl of ice cream topped with Girl Scout cookies, Frost discussed the origins of the band’s moniker.
ATCL: So … why’d you name your band that?
Sierra Frost: I think that originally I wanted the band to be called The Donner Party, but that was already taken. They’re actually a San Francisco band, I think from the ’70s?[Blogger’s note: The Donner Party was active from 1986-89.] I thought that was a fun historicalism, but when we figured out that was taken … we had this drummer at the time who was a total snarky asshole. … So he said, “How about The Downer Party?” For whatever reason, I don’t even know why, it stuck.
It’s not an incredible name. People always say the same thing, like, ‘Do you guys eat each other?” I don’t know. I don’t think it’s awesome, but some people seem to like it. We’re stuck with it now.
ATCL: I would say I’m one of those people that seem to like it.
SF: That’s good. I’m sure if it wasn’t my band name I’d like it a lot more.
ATCL: I think that’s pretty common, to hate your own band name.
SF: After you know what a band sounds like, the band name takes on that meaning. Like the Pixies. If you played someone the Pixies, and then played Belle and Sebastian and then Goo Goo Dolls, they probably wouldn’t pick the Pixies clip to be associated with the Pixies (name). You know what I mean? Now “the Pixies” means that to me, and I think it’s the most fitting band name ever.
ATCL: Can you remember any alternate names you considered? Other than The Donner Party?
SF: One of my favorite band names I had was Not From Sweden. I thought that was a pretty good one. Let’s see … oh, The Dinner Party [laughs]. I mean, everyone goes through that, the slew of shit names they joke around with with their friends. The guy who named the band, his name was Shaw, so we were almost Shaw and The Shaws. …
Another one is Sensual Harassment. I think that’s really funny, the idea of being harassed sensually. …
ATCL: Do people ever get the name wrong? Do they think it’s The Donner Party?
SF: I think a lot of people think it’s The Donner Party. When I tell them it’s The Downer Party, it’s awkward. They always ask us two things: “Do you eat each other?” or “Do you take a lot of downer drugs?” Neither of those (is true). That’s ridiculous.
ATCL: How attached to it are you at this point?
SF: I’m probably not going to change it. It’s not about attachment so much as about practicality. …
ATCL: Let me wrap this up by asking if you have any advice for the young bands out there searching for names?
SF: Go back to college.
ATCL: That’s a good answer.
SF: This is such stupid advice because I didn’t do it myself, but … stay away from trendy band names. Have a trendy band, but don’t pigeonhole yourself with your name. The Downer Party definitely sounds like the name of a pop-punk band, and it doesn’t sound like the kind of band we are now.
And also, Thin Mints and French Vanilla Ice Cream is the shit. It’s unbelievable.
The Downer Party’s CD release show for “Cities” is at 10 p.m. April 1 at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco. Books on Tape and Nero Nava also are performing. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. All ages are welcome. Tickets are $10.