Monday, July 14, 2008

Interview: Wade Alin of The Atomica Project

Songwriter Wade Alin formed the Atomica Project with vocalist Lauren Cheatham back in 2004. Since then they have created music with exotic vocals, complimented by spacey beats, that have drawn comparisons to Portishead. Their sophomore effort Grayscale is now available (and features a great single called "Gravity"), and Wade answered a few questions over email to discuss the new album.

NQL: You've spent considerable time in both Chicago and New York City. Can you describe the similarities and differences between the two cities as far as the music community is concerned?

Wade Alin: There's a huge fundamental difference between Chicago and New York. New York has (at least the illusion of) access to all of the major labels, management firms, agents, MTV, etc. and I think on the negative side it causes the music scene to focus on success and money instead of anything legitimately artistic. It's hard to focus on the artistic side of the process when the Geffen office is 4 blocks away and that's definitely reflected in the musical climate there. It gets tired pretty quickly. I auditioned probably 10 vocalists in New York for the Atomica Project. They were all pretty dead set on becoming the next Madonna.
Chicago has a much more honest and open music scene, a lot of people doing what they want to do, however they want to do it. I'm sure somewhere in the back of their head, they'd like to be successful –but it doesn't impose itself the way it does in New York. It's been refreshing to be around. The big plus side of New York is people generally have their shit together. They're knowledgeable, somewhat educated about the music business, and understand the importance of self promotion. It still freaks me out when I go to a Chicago show with 3 bands and there are like 5 people there.

NQL: I read that Grayscale is said to be loosely and partially based on the bipolar weather that too often encompasses Chicago. Can you expand on that at all?

WA: Having grown up (until I was 7 or 8) In Southern Illinois, I'm a huge fan of Midwestern storms. There's nothing like them, the impact of them is just amazing. I wanted to make Grayscale feel that way. Not in the sense of being hard hitting, knocking trees over and such. But to capture the anxiety of an imminent storm, the wonder of its result, and the memory it leaves. People in Chicago still talk about the "great storm of…" and "the winter of..." The ups and downs of the weather here are not dissimilar to life itself, that's what we're trying to tie together on Grayscale.

NQL: Grayscale took awhile to complete. Does that add to any pressure? After pouring so much blood, sweat, and tears into the record will you be more disappointed if it isn't received the way you would like?

WA: Well, honesty, I probably put just as much into Metropolitan, but Grayscale took a lot longer. We had technical issues, personnel issues – it was one thing after another. At one point I just got too exhausted to work on the record anymore. And then I had a daughter. I'm not trying to come off the wrong way by saying this, but getting Grayscale released and moving on was a success in itself. I do hope people like it, but I'm still overjoyed that I even finished the record.

NQL: What can fans expect from Grayscale that is different from say Metropolitan?

WA: Musically, it's a bit darker and more complete sounding. We used much more realistic sampling on this record, especially for the orchestration. My day job is as a composer for television and film and through that I've actually started to become very confident with full on orchestral writing. It certainly seemed to allow me more control over the mood of the tracks. But probably the greatest difference of this record is Lauren. Metropolitan was the first time she'd ever been recorded. She approached Grayscale with a lot more confidence and brought a lot of personality and emotion to the record.

NQL: Any favorite venues in Chicago? And, what cities have you found to be most receptive to the Atomica Project's sound?

WA: We love the Darkroom on Chicago Ave. It's up the street from me and I can almost always count on seeing good bands there. They were also the first venue here to give us the opportunity to play live. I love all of the classics here as well – Metro, Empty Bottle, Double Door, etc. In general, we seem to get a good reception on the east coast, D.C., New York, Boston.

NQL: Lauren's vocals are pretty powerful. How does that lend itself to the type of music and songs you write?

WA: I met Lauren through a random Craigslist ad that I put out. The first time I met her, I didn't even get to hear her sing but I cancelled the ad. I had a gut feeling she was who I was looking for. In the same sense, she brings something intangible to the tracks and makes everything sound so much better than I'd expected. We've been working together for 4+ years now and the process has really started to flourish.

NQL: Have you ever considered adding another "L" to your last name so you can tell people you're related to G.G. for some extra street-cred?

WA: Ha. That's funny. The funniest part is that I come from a punk background so if a few things had gone differently, I might very well be seeking G.G. style credibility.

NQL: Anyone in particular that you and Lauren are listening to while on tour?

WA: I'm currently obsessed with This Will Destroy You and Sigur Ros. Lauren is listening to Katy Perry, Feist, a bit of St Vincent.

NQL: iTunes sells more music in the U.S. now than any other outlet. In terms of distribution, how big of an asset do you feel iTunes is to your band? And do you think iTunes has at all taken away a bit of the thrill of the hunt?

WA: iTunes has been very good to us – mostly the "also bought" feature. We have a lot of people discover us that way. It has probably taken a bit from the thrill of the hunt but, at the same time, it not always good to be on the completely undiscovered side of being an artist. I do miss the separating men from boys process of having to take your band on tour if you want anyone to hear you, though gas prices have a much greater effect on that than iTunes does.


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