photo by Mike Plante
by Jay NeSmith
Surf music is something of a lost art. Seldom do bands delve into this gone-but-not-forgotten genre, and even rarer do they glide through it differently than their predecessors. Like a lot of punk music, surf offers a tried-and-true formula that causes musical innovation to lose its footing in exchange for a trademark chord progression, instrumentation or rhythm.
The Atom Age, from Berkeley, California, hardly knows the easy way. The monotony of three chords and an A-B-A song structure is foreign to a five-piece that slides danceable surf rhythms under varied, driving power chords. They ride the wave, too, of Brendan Frye’s constant billowing on baritone sax player (who has been known to scale the tallest object in the room during their live shows). Plus, it’s music that gives punk fans three guarantees: It's loud, it's fast, and it's fun.
Atom Age is on tour in support of the band’s sophomore effort, The Hottest Thing That's Cool, which was released earlier this year on the punk label Asian Man Records. A few days before their show tonight at 9 at Louis Bar, I asked their primary songwriter and guitarist, Ryan Perras, a few questions about this newest release, their tonal influences and where they see their sound heading in the future.
Hear Nebraska: Many people that I know classify your music as "ska” simply because you have a horn player. What has your experience been when it comes to others classifying your music?
Ryan Perras: I would say it happens a little less than half the time. I don't blame people, though, because the fact is there are very few bands who use horns the way we do, and almost none of them are active so it’s understandable. We do have ska influences like Voodoo Glow Skulls and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and have done well on ska bills, so if people like it, then they can call it whatever they want.
HN: Surf is often a tricky genre to work with. What attributed to your surf influence throughout your upbringing as band?
RP: We are obsessed with ‘50s and early ‘60s rock 'n' roll music, so it was something we wanted to make a part of our sound. To this day, surf music is some of the most badass music written, and it's hard to understand why more people don't implement it. It also was easy to implement because most surf bands had a sax, so we just went for a mutant version of it.
HN: Your newest release sounds a little bit harder and darker than your previous record (Kill Surf City). Is this where you see your sound heading?
RP: Yeah, I think we will keep moving in a more primal, from-the-gut direction. Our new record is more of how we envisioned the sound of The Atom Age to be. Most of the songs on Kill Surf City were written by me before the band even existed, and I'm a sucker for old school pop.
HN: How was the recording process for the new record different than your last release? Did you experiment very much, or did you stick mostly to your same formula?
RP: We worked much quicker and had a clear idea of what we wanted for Hottest. When we made Kill Surf City we hadn't really toured and were still an extremely new band so it took a lot longer and ended up being a little too over produced for our sound. We toured our asses off in 2010 and 2011 and really became a band during that time, so we had a much better time recording the new record. The Atom Age is a tough band to record because we have a lot of parts. The guitars are usually doing something different from each other, plus the sax on top of that, and a ton of vocals and organ. We just have to have a clear idea of what we need to do and it goes smooth.
HN: What are some of your favorite tracks from your new release?
RP: I really like “Dig the Future,” “Cut Paste Kill” and “Hottest Thing That's Cool.”
HN: You guys have come to Nebraska a few times now. What's your impression so far?
RP: I really like it. The people are cool and care about bands and the scene. The DIY venues rule. We've played twice, and it’s been good both times. It seems like a tight-knit punk scene, which is really good for small bands like us because word easily gets around that a band is coming to town. If the scene is too big like a major city like Austin or SF, a band where we are at gets lost in the fray.
Jay NeSmith is a Hear Nebraska intern. He knows we might not have beaches in Nebraska, but come listen to The Atom Age bring their warm-weather sounds to us (especially before it’s too cold to even think about going outside). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.