Behind the Band Name: Agent Orange

Agent Orange isn’t just the name of a deadly chemical used in war times, it’s also the name of the pioneering punk-rock band that rose to fame in the 1980s. Credited as being one of the first bands to blend punk rock and surf music, the latter of which is a subculture of rock and roll, Agent Orange quickly made an impression when their debut album dropped in 1981.

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But how did they get the name, Agent Orange? We look at the answer below.

Meaning Behind the Band Name

The band’s original lineup featured lead singer Mike Palm, guitarist Steve Soto and drummer Scott Miller. Despite co-founding the band, Palm admitted in a 1991 interview with the Los Angeles Times that even he didn’t know the history of the band’s name.

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“I never knew what the name meant,” he said. “I pulled it out of a hat. I just found out what the name meant a few years later.”

However, according to one of the early band members, James Levesque, who replaced Soto after he left to start his own band the Adolescents, the name also has a connection to the band’s city of origin, Placentia, California, in Orange County.

“A number of punk bands on the West Coast such as Black Flag, Redd Kross, and China White used colors in their band names,” Levesque allegedly noted in an email to the blog Why Name It That?

When the band formed in 1979, the topic of Agent Orange, a highly toxic chemical used during the Vietnam War, was still being discussed in the news four years after the war ended in 1975. “Levesque claims the band’s interest in spying and being that they were one of the first punk bands in Orange County, CA was the catalyst for the name, though they were also aware of the political nature of the name,” the blog site states.

Agent Orange first caught people’s attention with their song “Bloodstains,” which was featured on their independently released debut EP in 1980. Soto departed Agent Orange just before they released their breakthrough debut album, Living in Darkness, in 1981. The project established their legacy as a skate punk band and featured some of their signature songs “Bloodstains,” “Everything Turns Grey” and “No Such Thing.”

“I started the band with Mike and the drummer Scott,” Soto explained of the band’s origins in a 2005 interview with Razorcake. “That was our first band. I was in Agent Orange up until right after Mike started writing. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna start writing songs, too,’ but he wasn’t having any of it. He was like, ‘I’m gonna write all the songs for this band,’ so I went and started The Adolescents and was like, ‘look! I don’t need your band! I have my own band’…That was a fun band to be in. Mike’s a great songwriter. I played on ‘Bloodstains’ and four songs that are all demos that are on the first record reissue.”

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Five years later, Agent Orange followed up Darkness with their sophomore endeavor, This Is the Voice, released in 1986, and their third studio album, Virtually Indestructible, in 1996. Over the course of nearly three decades, the band has released a series of EPs, live albums, and compilation albums.

Palm and Miller are the last two remaining members of the original lineup: Levesque passed away in 2014 and was followed by Soto, who died in 2018 at the age of 54 due to natural causes. The current Agent Orange roster features Palm on lead vocals, Perry Giordano on bass guitar, and Sandy Hansen on drums.

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