Atom and His Package: With Only His Synthesizer and Wit to Proctect Him... By Todd Taylor

Mar 29, 2001

Atom and His Package. You have every right to hate him. Some folks do. Deeply enough to threaten to bathe him in blood. Some people in hardcore punk circles adore him like a piece of new gum bound to lose its flavor quickly for them, smacking up his humor in a genre that's infamously dour and straight-faced, almost to the point that to show a smile is a form of weakness. Then there's the several thousand who, perhaps against better judgement and the forefeiture of any toughguy posturing, have found some flashes of something more substantial, perhaps great, in a mild mannered, grandma-loving, non-littering, ex-"non athletic sports" summer counselor guy with only his sequencer and wit to protect and project him around the world.
It's a little bit of alchemy. Somehow he's figured that he could take mid-eighties puffhair, lightweight audial cotton candy like the title track to "Beverly Hills Cop," juxtapose it against muzaked punk standard bearers like the Misfits, give it an indian rug burn, jack its underwear deep into its crack, and make songs that condemn the English tables of measurements, tell tales of joining a gym with his father to become more attractive to Enya, and why he's glad that Judas Priest's Rob Halford came out of the closet. Some of the riffs that he's come up with can worm itself deep inside your brain like a candy corn virus; sweet but somewhat dangerous on how deeply and easily it infects, like a commercial you can't get out of your head.
Believe it or not, he rocked the fucking house.

Interview and pictures by Todd at Koo's Cafe, mid-to-late 2000, Anaheim in Atom's mom's car.

Todd: What's in your stomach.
Atom: Tubular pasta. Soda. I'm not got of thinking of anything funny on the spot. And half a liter of goat semen - oh, don't write that.
Todd: What's your first clear memory of an experiment gone completely wrong?
Atom: This is the best one. I was a student teacher and my quote, unquote mentor teacher for chemistry, I'd just done a lab, and said, "Good job, but you gotta stress the safety factors a little more." So, actually, this doesn't answer your question but it's a good story anyway. Then he teaches a different section right after me. So he teaches and I just observe it and they get done like ten minutes early. So he takes this basin of water - I'm sorry, I just burped and it smells bad - puts some dish detergent in it and he takes a tube from the bunsen burner gas lines and puts it in there so it suds up and they're all filled with gas. And he takes them in his hands. And he had the students - he had a stick with a candle on the end which he gave to the students - and they light it and this big fireball goes up to the ceiling and I was sitting there thinking oh my god. Then he gets the students to do it. And I shit you not, right after - the bell rang, everybody went crazy because they just had fireballs in the classroom - and he comes up to me and he goes, "What's up Gore," because he never got my name right, "So you did a good job, you just got to stress the safety factors a little more." I swear to god that it happened exactly like that. It was insane.
Todd: Explain yourself and the music that you do.
Atom: I kinda think of them as just songs, but I guess if I were to explain it to someone who hadn't heard it, I would say it sounds like eighties pop music but with punk ass motherfucker lyrics that are often really, really clever. I'm really smart. I tend to think of them more as pop songs, really. If they're played on different instruments, they're pop songs.
Todd: Did the LP "Pac Man Fever" affect you all as a child?
Atom: No.
Todd: Was there any difinitive LP that changed your mind on music?
Atom: I don't think so. I've always, definitely, been a music person and always have music on. It's hard to think of one record that I listened to and went "Oh my god, that's my calling." Nothing as dramatic as that but I'm definitely a music fan who believes really, really strongly about the things that I do like and very strongly about the things I do not like, as well.
Todd: When was the last time you were in the hospital and why were you there?
Atom: I dunno. My dad's a doctor. Probably nothing. No good story. Just probably to just say hello. I've never been injured or broken anything. I'm immortal.
Todd: Talking about immortality. Didn't you do an impromptu set at a black metal fest?
Atom: No. But I play - not so much any more - but when I was first starting this out, I'm definitely within the punk scene so I know all the people who did the super crusty punk or the tough guy metal shows, so they would always stick me on. Spazz, His Hero Is Gone, Hellnation, Atom. I played with bands, definitely, that wouldn't necessarily go along with what I do, but I think it works well - lots of people who hate it, so it's really fun for me, too.
Todd: Was there an incident in Wyoming where someone said they'd cover you in blood?
Atom: Yes. Me and package would be covered in blood, "Carrie" style. Those same people, I believe, ended up getting the show cancelled for me.
Todd: Had you crossed paths with these people before?
Atom: No, I got a letter from them once saying "You suck. You're a loser. We tried to fart in a plastic bag and mail it to you but it didn't work." So, stuff like that. I got and was like, oh, well, that's kinda funny, so it didn't sound like a serious thing at all. But then I set up this show in Laramie, Wyoming and the guy who I knew who set it up at someone else's house, emailed me a week before the show and was like "Your show's cancelled because those guys who mailed you the letter, they got the guy not to do the show." It's not like I know these guys and I've wronged them, they just think I'm that annoying. Part of me is like, "That's kinda funny," but wait a minute. To be ruin something that really hasn't affected them is really kind of weird.
Todd: Have you ever left anything out in the middle of the road just to see it get run over?
Atom: No. I don't litter. That's why people don't think I'm punk.
Todd: The first toy you played as a musical instrument.
Atom: There was this drum that my sister had that had - it was a big plastic drum, the size of a little cake. It had three metal keys on it that you would think would be like a xylophone, but you would hit them and they were obviously dampened on the end, so I never understood it. It also had a key thing on it, a different kind of key. I don't know. I think it was broken. I don't know the name of it though.
Todd: Do you think if somebody seriously approached you that you could write jingles for commercials?
Atom: It would depend what for.
Todd: Would you do it for the new VW Bug?
Atom: Well no, would it have words?
Todd: These are just open-ended hypothetical questions. No words.
Atom: I don't know. All the music they use for their commercials are too, like, hip. I don't think I could write that. I don't know. Granted, I don't know.
Todd: When was the last time that someone gave you a wedgie so hard that you waistband became a headband?
Atom: Probably at summer camp in sixth grade.
Todd: Nothing recently?
Atom: No. Oh wait, that's not true. My friends did it. I toured a bunch with my friends' band, Franklin and I'm sure at some point they did that, so they're bastards.
Todd: Average lapsed time you see your dad in his underwear in a year.
Atom: Probably about three times a year. No. That's a fucking lie. It's probably like thirty because I go to the gym with him. My dad, he's a big guy and he's getting older, so I actually joined a gym for the both of us, and when I'm home, I go with him and make him go.
Todd: Have you got the Universal's weight past one pound?
Atom: I'm working on it. Actually, I've moved on to the air pressure machines, so nobody knows how much weight I'm lifting, so everyone thinks I'm really strong.
Todd: Why do you think people take such offense to you being funny?
Atom: It always puzzles me that people get so mad and personally pissed off and upset. If there's something that I don't like and I think is lame - and there's countless shit like that, like every pop punk band that I thought was stupid - how could you even live? I dunno. I don't think people are offended by it, but I think that people are upset that people like it when they think it's so stupid.
Todd: Have you experienced any really good cut downs?
Atom: I played this show in Philadelphia - and this is not answering your question either - basically, it was with this band Tenacious D. Apparently they have a television special on HBO. It's two big guys that play acoustic guitars and sing funny songs about wizards or something. A lot of people like it. I know the guy who did the show and it's at this huge place in Philadelphia and he's like, "You should hop on the show, it'll be great. You'll have a really good time." But I guess they attract jock frat boys, kind of. So I'm sitting there on stage in front of 800 frat boys and everyone there was screaming at me through the entire thing - "Fuck you," "You're dead after you're done" - all this crazy stuff and this was one of the things I heard. The guy said, "Hey, I fucked your mom in the ass. Get off the stage, faggot." I was just sitting there, "Huh?" How do you respond to that? So that wasn't really the best cutdown, but that was an amazing thing. After that show, this guy e-mailed me, "You suck. You're a loser. Here are all the things people were saying about you when you were playing." And he listed off things. He obviously spent time on this. I wrote him back. "Why are you wasting your time on this?"
Todd: What's the largest thing you've blocked with your sequencer/synthesizer?
Atom: A liter of pig's blood.
Todd: Really?
Atom: No. No, I tend not to block anything with it 'cause I'm really hypersensitive to anyone touching it or knocking it because if it were fucked up, the next six weeks or so would be really, really boring for me. I would block for it.
Todd: A human shield.
Atom: Exactly.
Todd: Why is it "Atom" and not "Adam" - are you, as they say, "the bomb" and not the guy responsible for original sin?
Atom: I am really very clever. That's why. I don't know. For some reason when I was a freshman in college, I was like, "Oooh, that's clever." And I just put my name on my freshman door like that. It wasn't like "I'm going to make an alter-ego persona and it will be Atom and I will start this lame band and do that. And I'll be Adam, the normal person." It was kinda a nickname, a synonym.
Todd: Would it have to do with you're interest in chemistry, too?
Atom: I guess partially, that might have been why.
Todd: Do you know any other Atoms?
Atom: Yeah, there's Atom Egoyan, the film director.
Todd: Right. "Exotica."
Atom: Yeah. I really, really hated that movie. I really wanted to like it but it didn't happen. Then there's that Atom guy from Rocket From The Crypt, I believe.
Todd: How many fights and beatings have you suffered because of this?
Atom: Because of this? None. Mostly verbal altercations.
Todd: What about the guy at the Deadguy show you sing about in "Avenger"?
Atom: Oh, that was not related to this. That guy was mentally deranged and basically, he was moshing around, being mister toughguy and grabbed this 90 pound girl by the neck and threw her down. Me and a bunch of people said, "You've got to calm down. You're really hurting people." And he didn't care. So we left because he jumped on a friend of mine and we were like, whatever. We really don't like that guy much. So we left and we were sitting outside. No one who was putting on the show did anything. I'm not a mosh pit police. This guy was obviously being a fucking prick so we went up to the people who did the show and were like, "Can we get our money back? We really couldn't watch the show because of this guy." And they're like, "Yeah, no problem." But by this time the show had let out and for some reason, this guy, who was not friends with the people who did the show, who had no stake in this at all, was like, "No, you're not giving them the money back." I'm pretty good with diffusing situations like that. I was like, "Yo man, don't worry about it. It's not a big deal. The show's over. Let's go away now." He went crazy, threw a bottle, hit my friend in the head, and just jumped on me. It was total lunacy. But then a friend of mine does a zine and he did this thing on me. It was a tour of Philadelphia. I know where the guy who beat me up works, so we went and interviewed him and my zine friend's having a friend of his, who's a psychologist, psychoanalyze his interview. It was so weird. I went up to him later. He's like, "Oh yeah, I heard you wrote that song about me. That's really cool." I was like, "Are you sorry?" And he was like, "No man, that type of shit happens." And I was like, "But I didn't do anything." And he was like, "That's life, man." I was like, "You're fucking crazy."... What did that have to do with anything?
Todd: Fights...
Atom: OK.

Todd: In the liner notes to your album, "Making Love," you say you have evidence that Slayer's a bunch of nazis. What is it?
Atom: I have a metal magazine that I got in France and it has a picture of Kerry King with a swastika on his guitar. And while I find it very hard to imagine - I know Tom Araya is Chilean and all this crap - and that "Angel of Death" is a narrative song, I would be very surprised if they were actually nazis, but I think they use a lot of fascist imagery and I think they use it because it's evil. So that's probably why he has it on his guitar and all that type of stuff, but still, it's stupid and idiotic and he deserved to be called on his shit. But someone wrote me an email saying, "The Dead Kennedys use 'nigger' in 'Holiday in Cambodia,' so would you call them racists?" And I was like, oh my... I tried to explain it then I said forget it, you're lost.
Todd: What did you teach at summer camp?
Atom: I taught all the non-athletic sports because I actually love sports and I love playing them and watching them, but I am not graced with the ability, so I did badminton, wiffle ball, Nerf football, so I was the king of not doing anything sports. And I taught guitar and, man, that was great. Doing nothing.
Todd: Fracture, the last band you were in, and Atom and His Package. Compare and contrast.
Atom: Well, obviously touring is very, very different since I'm by myself and Fracture was with my four best friends at the time. And I kinda do miss touring with your friends because you get that "us versus the world" kind of thing, especially then since nobody liked us and every show was to about two people. I'd hate to say it's bonding, but it is.
Todd: It's also kind of like a vacation sometimes, too.
Atom: Definitely. Absolutely. And this is still a vacation. I love this. It's so much fun. But I miss that type of thing. But I don't miss, you know, when you're with a bunch of people you can't do exactly what you want when you want it and you have to babysit some people if you're the more responsible of the five. I think I miss the people in that band more than the actual band. Another thing is that nobody liked us and there are at least some people who tend to be into what I'm doing.
Todd: Do you think the humor that's in your song is a way to cope with the anger you have at the world?
Atom: I don't know. I'm pissed at a lot of stuff. People compare me to Wesley Willis all the time and to get the comparison to someone who is mentally disturbed. I think I have real opinions and I have strong opinions and I think they're pretty well founded and I'm pissed off at a lot of stuff, but for me, a lot of the stuff that I'm pissed off about is stuff that I don't think that I can really do too much except laugh at it and go "Oh my god, how stupid is this? How dumb are these people?" Me, personally, humor is a way I deal with a lot of stuff.
Todd: How many times, that you can remember, that you've ripped off Dag Nasty?
Atom: Oh, I was actually thinking about voluntarily doing it for the first time, but maybe.
Todd: You quote, loosely "We used to be like brothers, man, and now we walk on by."
Atom: Oh, right, right. That would be the only thing but then I got a fancy new sampler and I was going to rip off the beginning of one of their songs on "Can I Say?"
Todd: Good people to rip off musically, though.
Atom: Yeah, I think so. Well, they went down hill pretty quickly at a certain point and there are some songs I can't listen to without being embarrassed that I'm listening to them, but then again, this is coming from someone who listened to Queensryche today so nevermind.
Todd: What part of the equation of Atom is being Jewish?
Atom: Well, I'm Jewish.
Todd: Do you think it fuses into your music - its cultural or religious aspects? Do you worry about your parents when you swear, that type of thing.
Atom: Oh no. But apparently my grandparents get really upset about it, which is really weird because my grandparents are amongst the coolest people ever. My grandmother is a doctor. She used to be an obstetrician. She's over 80 years old. For a woman to be a doctor back then is super impressive. But not only that, she's a kickass person. She still charges her patients - she doesn't see too many any more - but she charges them ten dollars a visit. They're people I totally respect and people that I think know what's right and what's important, but for some reason, they were very upset that I used "fuck" twice on my webpage, so that's kind of weird. Huh. What am I talking about? So, no, my parents are really, really awesome and supportive people, too. They get the jokes. I have a song about what us Jews do on Christmas, basically playing on the right-wing conspiracy and I guess they brought it up once: "Do you think people know that you're kidding and making fun of that," and I would think that that's obvious, but there's a lot of things that I think are obvious that a lot of people seem to miss. Yeah, I'm Jewish and that's part of me and that's a part of me like... a lot of other things. That's... a really good, coherent answer.
Todd: Who currently are the music kings of Philadelphia?
Atom: Lots of people seem to like Ink and Dagger a lot.
Todd: Explain the SEPTA case, where you were using public transportation and you got maimed.
Atom: That's not going so well. I think I'm going to have to drop the charges. But their gate punched me in the head. It was quite painful. My face was pretty blown up. It was pretty embarrassing.
Todd: Why do you think Reggie White is stupid?
Atom: The future Hall of Famer defensive lineman who played for the Eagles and played for the Packers - first of all, he's a complete lunatic and he's a reverend too. He's a lunatic. He retired once and then he said that god came to him in a vision and said he should play for the Green Bay Packers. He's a complete jackass, a homophobe, but the Wisconsin legislature brought him in to talk because they thought he represented someone in Wisconsin and he went on this lunatic rant. He's just a bonehead. Anyone that thinks that Jesus cares about football is kind of ridiculous.
Todd: What is the most banal English measurement?
Atom: The hogshead.
Todd: What is a hogshead?
Atom: I don't know. It's in my notebook and it's in the conversion table. But it's truly an English measurement. I think it some number of barrels or something.
Todd: What's your metabolism like?
Atom: I don't particularly have good, fast metabolism.
Todd: How can you exist without eating fruit?
Atom: Well, for a while, my grandma, the doctor, was telling me to take Centrum Silver, which is for people over fifty, so I took that for awhile, so maybe that's what brought me this far. I don't know. It's horrible.
Todd: Is your heart going to pop? Do you lose feelings in your hands?
Atom: I eat lots of legumes. I'm a bean fan. I like some vegetables. I love orange juice but I can't eat an orange. It's ridiculous. It's so embarrassing. And I only eat three or four vegetables, too. When I was in tour in Europe and I was in Vienna and the person who did the show was like, "My friend works at a health food store. She's going to steal you all these sandwiches and you can go eat them." I was, all day, "Can we get something to eat?" She got on the phones and the sandwich came. It's rude to refuse someone's kindness. I was like, gulp. I emailed my mom from there, I was like, "Mom, there's a pickle inside of me for the first time in my life. Do you think it's OK?" My body might have been, "What the hell is this? Get it out of here." But it turned out OK. Often, when people make me food, I just go, "I'm going to get something over there," and people are probably like, "What a dick." It's not my fault. I really try.
Todd: Has anybody, from your name, mistaken you for a strip show?
Atom: No. People mistake me for Sean Na Na and visa versa, though because we're playing fifteen shows together. Sean was going to make posters that said, "Which one's the Jew?" So, no. I only took my shirt off once.
Todd: What would you do first if you were invisible for a day?
Atom: Wow, that's a good question because that would definitely be my super power of choice. I would do a lot of stuff... I'm not good of thinking... I would go see "The Omega Code" because I want to see it 'cause I've heard it's ridiculous and funny but I don't want to pay for it.
Todd: What's "The Omega Code"?
Atom: It's this Christian movie that's geared towards converting people to Christianity and it's about a fellow who is trying to convert all these people before doomsday and apparently it's really, really funny unless you're taking it seriously, in which case is very frightening to me.
Todd: Why aren't you just a novelty?
Atom: I think that there are a lot of people who do like it and think that it is a novelty and like it because they think it's funny and I imagine those people will be bored with it really, really soon. I'm not like, "Fuck you, I'm a musician. Ggrraah." If people like what I'm doing, that's great. For me, I like the songs and I think of myself as a songwriter although I'm sure anybody who ready that line will go "hah, hah, what a moron." They are songs. I can imagine a lot of people being bored with it really soon, but I know there are some people who are like, "That song is so good. It's such a catchy song." So, whatever. If people hate it, I'll go do something else.
Todd: So do you find yourself getting more and more popular?
Atom: Yeah. Granted, this is way more popular than I would ever, ever think this would go. I didn't even mean this to be a band. It always surprises me.
Todd: How did this start?
Atom: Fracture had just broken up and a friend of mine played me a song that he wrote on his sequencer and I was like, "Oh my god, I've got to get one of those." Not only am I a sucker for eighties poppy songs, but I was like, "This is perfect. I can write songs without anybody. For now, when I don't have a band, I can sit down and write a song myself." So then I graduated from school and was unemployed for awhile and I would play with it all the time and record songs on the 4-track, like funny songs of my firends; just give them tapes. I wrote songs for every friend that I had and I think that by the end, people were like, "Don't write me a song for my fucking birthday this time, OK?"
Todd: "I want a fucking present."
Atom: Exactly. Then I set up a tour for my friends' band, Franklin and I was just going to go and tag along because they're good friends of mine and they were like, "You should bring your thing and just play a song before us every night." And I was, "All right, I'm not doing anything else on the tour." So, basically, I would just do that and everyone would just stare at me and then at some point, I guess when I got home, I realized, "Oh my god, I've got fifteen songs. I should play a show." So I played a show in Philadelphia and eventually people wanted to put out records and stuff.
Todd: What would you do now that you wouldn't do ten years ago?
Atom: Ten years ago I was fourteen. I would probably drink a beer. I still am scared of getting in trouble. Sean came to the show the other day and he had this big Old Dirty Bastard thing that was on the back of a bus stop bench. I was like, "How'd you do that?" And he was like, "We were just out late and we just kicked it off, and I took it." For me, I was like, oh my god, I would never do that. I would be so scared. Granted, no one's around, you can pretty much get away with it but I wouldn't do that. I'm such a baby. Even when I was with friends in Reno, they were like, "Yeah, there's this easy theater we can sneak into." And I was like, "Why don't we just rent a movie and bring it back to your house?" What am I blabbering about?... I don't do anything now and didn't do anything then, either.

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