For Albany band Bishop, name is sacred

 http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-features/article/For-Albany-band-Bishop-name-is-sacred-7962951.php?cmpid=twitter-desktop via @timesunion @AmyBiancolli

What's in a name? Ask the members of Bishop, the longstanding, hard-charging Albany metal band. To them, their name contains everything: Their history. Their reputation. Their recordings. Their fans. Years and years of heavy music and hard work on the club scene.

They don't take any of it lightly. Never did. That's why, 14 years ago, they trademarked their name, wedging a teensy "TM" above the "P." Since then they've fended off occasional rogue Bishops that have drifted onto the scene, including a straight-edge band out of Florida.

When a female singer-songwriter emerged last fall, going by the same priestly appellation, it was almost business as usual. Almost. But then the saga began. One after another, people associated with this new Bishop — a husky-voiced, expressive artist who had already made a splash on an Acura commercial with the dark-edged alt-pop tune "Wild Horses" — asked to purchase the rights to the name. The band said no. The offers kept coming. On it went.
"The thing that is odd is that usually when somebody says 'no' to you, 'no' means 'no,'" said Rocco Semeraro, discussing the sequence of events with his younger half-brother and fellow band member Vinny Padula at a Starbucks recently. Semeraro plays drums and sings; Padula plays bass and sings; a third brother, Tom Semeraro, handles guitar and lead vocals.

The three have been playing together since 1999 — after the previous bassist left and then-teenage-Vinny replaced him, morphing the band from Dead Bishop to Bishop. Their second-ever gig was the 1999 Woodstock Festival in Rome, Oneida County. In 2002, they trademarked the name. Since then they've performed all over the country, Las Vegas included, and earned sponsorships from Budweiser and Molson. One of their songs, "Got the Way," was featured in a 2005 NASCAR display. They've released four albums, the latest being the happily thrashing, musically solid "Hate Wide Open."

The band has never been their chief income-generator. "We do it because we love it," said Rocco Semeraro. He and Padula both own their own businesses — in web-developing and carpet-cleaning, respectively — and they both know their way around the world of sales and "pushy sales people," he said.
So when the first email from the first lawyer arrived in October, asking to purchase the name for a then-unidentified client, the band resisted. Not for sale, Rocco Semeraro said. Then came the email and phone call from the manager of the still-unidentified artist. Again, not for sale. Rocco Semeraro said the manager returned with a promise to change the name to Bishop Briggs, a tribute to her parents' hometown in Scotland (Bishopbriggs, north of Glasgow).
Then a second attorney reached out and offered $5,000, and the band began to wonder what was going on. Rocco Semeraro's response: "'It's not for sale, it's not for sale, it's not for sale, it's not for sale.'" When attorney number three phoned in March, the band brought in its own lawyer, Paul Rapp, "and the offer incrementally went up. You know, $10,000, $12,000, $25,000, $35,000 — then it jumped to six figures within a 24-hour period."

It was a low six figures — a lot of money, but not a life-changing, either. They said no. Finally, Rocco Semeraro spoke directly with this third and final attorney ("very nice guy"), promising court action if this woman Bishop didn't stop using Bishop. In mid-April, word came back: yes, she would start using Bishop Briggs. That was all the band had wanted since October, Rocco Semeraro said.
In this same, final go-round, Rocco Semeraro said, he learned why the powers that be had been so bent on the name to begin with: they liked the mononym. "Their whooooole thing is to make it positioned that she's the next Lorde," Rocco Semeraro said. "Lorde!" Padula repeated.
"Lorde," Rocco Semeraro reiterated. "Bishop. Adele. And I go, 'Really? ... It sounds silly. Because, I don't know, if the music's good, the music's good.'"
Since the issue was resolved, the L.A.-based singer has been releasing her bluesy, catchy tunes under the new handle. According to a May 25 interview with TheFader.com,"Bishop Briggs" was, she said, "really how the name originally was on paper."
She acknowledged the flurry with Bishop, adding: "They did own the trademark, which is so important when you're releasing your music, to both be on your own journeys and respect each other ... wishing all the best to the other band that has that name."

In a phone interview, the singer's publicist, Beth Martinez, said that "Briggs" was dropped from the name in October, when the manager and others agreed that "Bishop sounded better." Contradicting Rocco Semeraro and Padula's version of the story, Martinez added that the trademark negotiations "almost went through — that is why she didn't change her name to Bishop Briggs initially. ... They were open to selling it." (In turn, Rocco Semeraro contradicted hers: "We were never close," he said.)

"There was no malice on anyone's part," Martinez said. "From our perspective there was no controversy about this."
In an email, Doug Davis — lawyer number three — declined to comment formally on the months-long episode, saying only that his "positive interactions with Rocco will reflect the respect we and our client Bishop Briggs showed him and the band with respect to the matter."
From the band's point of view, all they ever wanted — besides their name — was to be taken seriously. Early on, they suspected that they were being pegged as a little Albany metal band that wouldn't resist persuasion.

"Now, maybe we don't know how 'these things work' in the big music business," said Padula, who directly contacted music sites and services (iTunes, YouTube, Amazon, etc.) with the trademark concerns. Rocco Semeraro said that from October to April, the singer's "marketing, promotion and publicity rollout continued as Bishop, even after we said 'no' to selling the name."
In their lawyer Rapp's view, the drawn-out campaign for the name was "sloppy going in" and "inexcusable" in the internet era. The singer's team should have known better, he said. "They were trying to argue that it's a different kind of music with different fans — but you know, in the era of iTunes and Spotify, there's only room for one."
It reminded him of a similar episode some 10 or 15 years ago, when Celtic folk-rockers Hair of the Dog got wind of an identically named hair-metal band in L.A. "Some lady entered one of their gigs and said, 'I bought this CD for my daughter for Christmas — but is this you?' And it was a picture of guys with sky-high hair and spandex pants."

For Bishop the rock band, a few lessons are worth retaining and passing on to fellow artists. "Out of all this, the takeaway is, A, you don't need to get stonewalled, and, B, protect yourself," Rocco Semeraro said, adding: "Your online presence and your online brand — it is important. It is easy to trademark yourself, and it's easy to make your brand unique and distinctive. And it has value no matter who you are, if you play a little club in Albany or you play all over the country."

The whole flap reaffirmed the band's commitment to its own music and its own brand. "It motivated me," Padula said. "It kicked me in the butt." They're proud of "Hate Wide Open" and its recent video, "Bleeding Lime," a funny clip with snarling guitars that was shot in Saratoga Springs and stars a guy in a gorilla suit.

In the end, the boys of Bishop would like to make one thing perfectly clear: They don't blame Bishop Briggs for any of this, and they have nothing against her. To the contrary, they enjoy and admire her music. As they tweeted at her back in April: "we truly wish u the best of luck! your talent shines through no matter what name you use!" The singer clicked "like" in response.
So if the opportunity came along to collaborate with her? "I would love to," Rocco Semeraro said.
"I would love to," his brother echoed. "That," he added, "would be awesome."

[email protected] • 518-454-5439 • @AmyBiancolli

« Back to News