The Rickshaw Stop was packed for The Tropics' first headlining show. The local rock band was using a wave of buzz to kick off a string of its biggest shows to date. But then, seemingly out of left field, guitarist/keyboardist Eric Silverman stepped to the mic and said, "I think it's time we let The Tropics name go." The crowd was visibly stunned, confused, and a strange tension lingered — then the band's new name flashed on the screen behind it: HEARTWATCH.
What went into the band's decision to change its name is deeper than what appeared on the surface that night. "It was really emotional at first. It was an identity crisis. I felt defeated," lead singer Claire George tells me from beneath a sun-soaked living room window in the Mission.
"But it becomes a business at some point. It's not just an artistic thing."
Facing increased legal pressure from English electronic producer Tropics, and headed toward two festival sets (one of which is this weekend at Outside Lands), the band decided now was the time to change its name. The clock was ticking on the band's decision of what name to put on its upcoming EP, but most importantly, HEARTWATCH wanted to focus on making music instead of defending itself in legal battles. Before the group could get back to making its vibrant indie pop, it had to go through the motions of the name change — from social media, to notifying festivals who had printed its now-former name on marketing material, to spinning the switch to its fan base.
"It's emotional for us, but also for fans, because they feel ownership of it and feel a part of it," says George, whose presence on stage is nothing short of radiant. She's the type of singer that both guys and gals see play for the first time and go home obsessed. With her bleached blonde hair and lips smoothed over with deep red lipstick, she's a powerful vocalist in a small package, often hugged by a tight-fitting dress, and always engaging onstage.
George met Silverman in a previous band they were both invited to join, but the duo "weren't really grooving on it," says Silverman. So they branched off and started a five-piece band with Nate Skelton (bass), Kern Sigala (drums) and Rowan Peter (guitar), named Tropics. Soon after, management for U.K.'s Tropics contacted the band. "They were like, 'we've never been to the U.S., but we might [go]?' so we changed it to The Tropics," Silverman explains. "There was even a British skiffle group from the early '60s called The Tropics that we talked to and they were way cool with us using the name, so we thought that was the end of it."
It wasn't. In 2015, The Tropics and Tropics were both headlining the Rickshaw Stop within a couple months of each other, and Tropics' management had recently reached out to the San Francisco band again, threatening legal action. "We could fight this, but we were at a pivotal time. We had to decide what was important to us: Making music and having fun," George says.
"And I think that it was Outside Lands that did it for us... the final piece of the decision," adds Silverman. "We learned something about the business side of music."
The decision was made: the band was changing its name to HEARTWATCH (after one of the group's older, unreleased songs). But with the new, caps locked moniker came a tedious mountain of tasks: "We made a list of everything and then worked through it," Silverman says. "New email, new website, social media accounts, and getting our Spotify followers to carry over. They didn't, only the play counts did."
Administrative duties completed, the change forced the bandmates to have conversations with each other that they'd never had. "Some of what we had was the anger of the unknown. If you can't be who you thought you were, who are you now?" Silverman asks. George admits that she "...was really nervous to tell our fans. But Eric kept us all really positive and we came out of it much closer as a group and having a stronger sense of who we are."
HEARTWATCH has moved forward since the name change without losing its sense of humor. The group recently put out a hilarious "HEARTWATCH conversion kit" video, where the band, clad in labcoats, details how to place specially sized decals that convert a The Tropics record into a HEARTWATCH one. "Now fans can now be part of changing our name in a really funny way," Silverman says.
The band also chuckles that it won't have to suffer through anymore beach-themed article titles. No more "Stoppin' in Paradise with The Tropics" or "Coolin' Off With a Breezy Set From The Tropics" headers. "We were really sick of palm tree allusions and stuff," Silverman adds.
George perks up from her seat and chimes in, "We made a decision for us. For survival on some level, and we feel good about it and the music we're making. It's brought us closer together as a band and as friends. And now we want to go out on tour." They both look at each other confidently, then look back at me and smile. Next stop: Outside Lands.