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An Interview With The Atlas Moth

Chicago's The Atlas Moth mixes the harsh tonalities of sludge metal with the layered synth work of early-era Pink Floyd to create a gritty psychedelic sound that is quite unlike anything out in modern-day metal. I had a chance to speak to guitarist/vocalist Steve before a recent show in New Brunswick, NJ about their new album, "A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky," the advantage of having synthesizers and three guitarists in the band, his love of Pink Floyd, and much more.

Heavytothebone2: Tell me a little bit about the band’s formation, from the beginning to the present day.

Steve: Basically, I had another band happening and it totally dissolved. I was going to start a studio project and do that for a while. Tony, our drummer, was hanging out at my house everyday and I said, ‘Hey, what to play drums? I got Pro Tools in the basement, let’s record a record.’ We started and all of a sudden, we got Dave playing guitar for us, and Beetle, our bass player, who was playing with Tony in another band. We wrote the EP (“Pray For Tides”) and we found this guy Andrew to record it and we went and recorded it with him and we liked him so much that we decided to get him into the band. That was basically it; a studio project that turned into a band.

Heavytothebone2: What were the band’s influences heading into the studio?

Steve: Man, I’ve been so disillusioned with the metal thing for so long. I hate the triggered drums. Everything sounds so fucking fake. I can’t stand it. It’s not real to me. The idea was to go in there and make a raw, live record. That’s something we try to always do; make it sound like how we sound live. Neurosis is awesome or raw stuff, even like the Deftones, are a huge influence on all of us. Something raw and dry and kind of lively is always what we go for.

Heavytothebone2: Describe the band in two words.

Steve: You mean genre-wise?

Heavytothebone2: When somebody hears the Atlas Moth, what should they think of in two words?

Steve: Um (laughs). How about three words?

Heavytothebone2: That’s fine, sure.

Steve: What the fuck. (laughs)

Heavytothebone2: The band’s debut album, “A Glorified Piece Of Blue Sky,” was recently released. What is the significance of the title, if there is any?

Steve: The more you get into the music industry, you grow up thinking that what you do is that you fucking play some shows and some asshole is there that is going to fucking sign you to a giant recording contract and you’re going to be Metallica. That’s a load of horseshit. The entire idea of just being in a bigger band is a glorified piece of blue sky. It’s something that is so amazing and big and epic, but it’s such a cluster fuck at the same time and it’s a lot of work. You live in a van and drive around and you’re scraping by. It ties more around life in general. You build stuff up, you go to school and you try to do all sorts of shit and it’s all for what? What’s the endgame?

Heavytothebone2: Is the rest of the album built around that concept about life?

Steve: There are a couple of different themes on it. Our guitarist Dave, who does all the clean vocals, is really into shamanism and ancient Sumerian type stuff. He really digs on that type of shit. There’s definitely a vibe of that in there and there’s some lyrics that talk about stuff like that; more of an open-mindedness. Whether you believe in anything, there’s always another side of the coin. Basically, in religion, you can look at it like that. There’s Judaism and Christianity and Buddhism and everything…there’s a million people in this world, there’s not just you. There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of things to understand type of thing; kind of open-mindedness is more of the idea behind it.

Heavytothebone2: Let’s talk about you guys signing with Candlelight Records. How did that happen?

Steve: We have a friend, Kim Kelly, who worked at Candlelight and informed a lot of people about us. That was the first step. She actually got Steve from Candlelight…on our first tour, he came and saw us play in a basement in Delaware. Talk about the whole Metallica rock-star thing, ‘Oh, somebody is going to see me and I’m going to be signed.’ It was not quite like that, but it was pretty funny to see a guy who is working for a big record label to come and see you play in a fucking basement. That was a great indication to us, especially in this day and age where it is so faceless. You don’t talk to anybody on the phone. You fucking e-mail and MySpace and that’s your correspondence with a whole lot of people.

That was the beginning of it and then our friend Blake, they bought out his label, Battle Kommand, and made it an imprint of Candlelight. When Blake and I first met, he was really into the band and we talked about putting out a record alone on Battle Kommand, but he had gone through a whole lot of financial strife. He had a flood and lost a whole lot of stuff and he couldn’t, so when the opportunity of an imprint came up with Candlelight, he was like, ‘You guys want to do this?’

Candlelight has been awesome. They have really stood behind us and did all that shit for us. They have believed in us since day one and that was a pretty easy choice for us.

Heavytothebone2: How did the recording process go for the debut album compared to the EP?

Steve: Well, it was different for sure. We started initially to record the album in chucks and try to make it sort of little snapshots…sort of like life documentation was the initial idea. We did the first session and we were not happy with the sounds. We thought it could be better and we did it again and thought it could be better. We got the contract from Candlelight and we were like, ‘Let’s just fucking record this god damn thing.’ So we went and holed up, Andrew works at a great studio, and he does records bands periodically, though not metal bands. It was cool man. We spent two to three weeks holed up there doing that and Andrew spent two months fixing it. He really put some work into it…it was a long process compared to the first recording, which was done in two days. It was literally load in, record, mix, done; it was like 48 hours of pure adrenaline. This is a much more drawn out process, but the results are way better than it was in two days.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think it’s interesting finding somebody who dips in all different kinds of genres, instead of one whose strictly one type of genre, like sludge?

Steve: We’re from Chicago and we could have gone with Sanford Parker, which was an obvious choice. At the same time, like I was saying, none of us are really into newer metal. All of us are very much into retro, original stuff. Sanford does a great job with that, but it was just an obvious choice to go with Andrew, since he is in our band. We all listen to everything. I barely listen to metal anymore as it is and our drummer is huge into funk and old jazz. It kind of made more sense to go with somebody who wasn’t a big metal producer that was going to totally metallic out our sound. When you listen to the record, it could easily be a rock band without the screaming. It made sense and was a better choice for us than going with a metal producer.

Heavytothebone2: What kind of dynamics does the synthesizer work bring to the sludge metal sound?

Steve: We always talked about the electronic element of adding something, but not faking it, like triggering drums and stuff; just another layer, like Pink Floyd. It was a really natural thing to go for. It was what we should do, because with the sludge, you could hear so much of it. As much as I love a lot of the sludge bands, there isn’t a whole lot of differences between them. More so, I think sludge is more of a tone, and not a genre. You could say ‘Oh, Rwake is sludge or EyeHateGod is sludge,’ but those bands sound nothing alike, except maybe tonally. The idea of adding another layer and making it that much deeper…it’s definitely a different element that is present.

Heavytothebone2: Do you feel the same way about the band utilizing three guitars as well?

Steve: I always thought that was a unique thing, and yet on this tour, I don’t know what the deal is, but we’ve played with a lot of three-guitar bands. I don’t know if it’s a new thing. It’s weird and initially, when we got Andrew in the band, he was going to be doing synth. He’s a bass player and he learned all the parts on bass just so he knew the songs coming in. He started playing guitar and its kind of an odd transition in general. I do think it does add another element; it’s another person writing songs. It’s three guitar players with three amounts of riffs, the whole nine yards. It’s definitely different and it adds another layer, which once again, is what we are all about. More, more more.

Heavytothebone2: Explain the songwriting process for the band. Is it a collaborative effort or do the individual members all come in with ideas?

Steve: We all have our different ways of doing things. All of us kind of have a different writing style to begin with. It’s 100% a collaborative effort. If Dave brings an entire song in, I will add my parts in; nobody writes my parts and nobody writes Andrew’s parts. There’s sometimes that we harmonize, but it’s pretty much 100% collaborative.

Heavytothebone2: What kind of change have you seen from the band since last year’s EP “Pray For Tides?”

Steve: I definitely think there is a confidence change to begin with. When we recorded the EP, we were nobodies; it was supposed to be a demo and it got a little bit more credibility than it was supposed to. From the humble beginnings of just being four guys not knowing what the fuck is going on to doing what we did and trying to be like, ‘Ok, this is our sound. Where do we take it from here?’ That’s always been a constant issue, ‘Where do we go now?’ The obvious evolution is five guys playing longer together. In a year from now, we’re going to sound different. Not necessarily completely different, but hopefully a better version of what we have now.

Heavytothebone2: Do you wonder where the band is going to head? I know the first album just came out, but are you thinking ahead?

Steve: Oh, we’ve already started writing another record. Nothing’s complete; a lot of ideas, a lot of jam stuff. There’s definitely more, more, more. I would probably be jerking your dick if I was like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s heavier, blah, blah, blah.’ Who knows what it’s going to fucking sound like? Even when it comes out, if somebody asks me what it sounds like, I’m going to tell them the same shit. It’s just another year later; another year in our lives. I don’t know, I’m hoping it goes good (laughs), I hope it’s awesome. We’ll see.

Heavytothebone2: Were there any songs leftover from the recording session?

Steve: I know for sure there was one that we wrote and it was fast. There was a fast song on our EP, so I said there should be a fast one on this one, just to have it, because I enjoy playing fast stuff. It did not make it, we really didn’t like it. It’s all about a vibe thing and, now hearing the record completed, would not have fucking fit at all; it would have stuck out like a sore thumb. There was definitely one song that we wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote maybe 15 fucking times and it actually turned into “Grey Wolves.” That one had such a different feel when we started it; it was almost like a Helmet song. It was definitely really odd and it was the last song we finished up for the record. It’s one of my favorite tracks off the record, so it’s kind of cool to think about it like that. Nothing left over, no bonus tracks lying around. If there is a Japanese release, I think we have to record some stuff, but we’re going to play it by ear. Everything that you hear is what we got.

Heavytothebone2: What is the band’s touring plans for the near future?

Steve: We’re taking the rest of the year off. Obviously, it’s December, you know. We have some stuff happening in the early of the year and definitely Europe is up in the air as well. We’re all people that spend time on the road; this is what we live for, so there will be some touring for sure.

Heavytothebone2: Are you guys excited to be heading to Europe?

Steve: I still have two weeks left of this tour and I’m bummed that it’s almost over. Yeah, we’re going to be out there for sure and we’re all sitting here and saying, ‘Oh fuck, we got to go home.’ I can’t wait to get to Europe. I think the record is actually a little bit more understood over there, from what I can tell from the press, which is kind of cool. I’m stoked to get over to Europe.

Heavytothebone2: Do you think, comparing American and European audiences and press, that the Europeans have more of an appreciation for metal?

Steve: I saw Faith No More when I was 12 or 13 in Chicago and it was at a festival and they headlined it. I think more than half of the entire amphitheater left when they played. That’s fucking Faith No More. Then they go away and their popularity has gone way higher up in general because they haven’t been around. You go on YouTube and watch them play to 100,000 people at Download Festival. There’s definitely a question raised whether it’s more passion or want to see a band like that. I definitely do think that Europeans are more appreciated of musicians in general. Over here, I think you are looked down upon to a certain extent. So I think Europe has a better idea of what’s going on in the metal world and just gives more respect to musicians, as opposed to the states, where nobody gives a fuck and everybody and their friend has a band.

Heavytothebone2: If you could tour with any band, past or present, who would it be and why?

Steve: Obviously, the answer is Pink Floyd, but then again, who the fuck wants to open up for Pink Floyd? You’re basically asking to get fucked every night (laughs). If there was a possibility, I would love to tour with the Deftones. They have been my favorite band for a long time. I think they get terribly tagged as a nu-metal band, when they are clearly something better and different than that.

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