When Preoccupations last headlined a show in Portland, picket lines greeted them outside Doug Fir Lounge. "It was the same guy who organized both the protests in Seattle and Portland," multi-instrumentalist and co-founder Monty Munro says. "We went out for drinks with him after. They needed a drink as badly as we did."
This was in October of last year, when the Canadian band, formerly known as Viet Cong, was touring exactly as that. "We started changing everything we could to 'FKA Viet Cong' until we had a new band name," Munro says, "which we didn't at that point."
Viet Cong formed shortly after the dissolution of Calgary band Women, which wasn't long after the death of Women guitarist Christopher Reimer. Lead singer-guitarist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace joined Munro and guitarist Danny Christiansen to figure out what grief and sea change sounded like. While Women made bright, damaged indie rock, Viet Cong became something darker and more fervent in that band's wake.
Back in 2012, little attention was paid to their name while the group was playing to mostly empty houses, peddling the tour-only EP "Cassette" and sharpening their sound into a menace-flecked arcana of motorik rhythms and Bauhaus goth. But by the time their self-titled full-length debut was released in 2015, whatever critical reputation they'd earned was quickly undercut by the backlash against their name. Promoters canceled festival dates, bookers turned them away, and as the band members waffled on how best to ditch the name they shared with a guerrilla army that murdered thousands of civilians during the Vietnam War, they were vilified for their seeming inaction.
"I wouldn't mind being in a band with an offensive name if it was something I could defend. There just really wasn't any good defense for it," Munro says. "We had a bunch of conversations with people who actually fled the war. We knew that wasn't our battle to fight."
After many suggestions were emailed back and forth, a new band name was passively chosen, vetted to guarantee it would offend no one. As an objective third party, musician pal and early Women producer Chad VanGaalen christened the quartet Preoccupations.
"Ultimately [the name] was distracting from the music, which is all we really care about," Munro says.
On their second album, also self-titled, Munro doesn't see a new name as a fresh start. "We tried to make more of a pop record, I think," he says, but considers Preoccupations a pretty natural follow-up. Look only to the LP's 11-minute centerpiece, "Memory," which features Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, to witness the brilliant tension between pop and opaque post-punk that's part of Preoccupations' primordial code.
After this tour, Munro plans to visit New Zealand in January to record with Flegel at the studio of Liam Finn, the son of Neil Finn from Crowded House. Already onto more, Preoccupations have moved way past clearing up any controversy. "Once you look at enough band names, they're all fucking stupid, anyway."
SEE IT: Preoccupations play Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Methyl Ethel, on Tuesday, Nov. 1. 9 pm. $16 advance, $18 day of show. 21+.