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Atom And His Package - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 13 / 5 / 2003

Atom And His Package - Interview


Atom and His Package is the moniker for Philadelphia electro-punk Adam Goren, who appears on stage with just a guitar, a mic and a CD player . Ben Howarth meets with him to talk about his fifth album 'Attention ! Blah ! Blah !' on his latest British tour

It’s 5 o’clock on a damp, grey Thursday evening. It’s pretty much a typical day in the South West of England. Exeter is a lovely city, with some really interesting things to visit and some amazingly nice people, but most of its residents have normal lives to lead. They’re making their way home from work, doing some shopping or just grabbing a coffee. For a small group of music fans, however, this is a night that they have been looking forward to for weeks. It’s the reason I’m standing outside the Cavern Club in the pouring rain. Two people stroll up to the door of the club. A girl and a boy, both in their 20s. “Oh look, there’s a note, ‘ATOM – GONE TO GET RIVER. BE BACK SOON. CALL PIPPA’.” “Are you guys wanting to get inside as well?” I ask. “Oh, yeah. We’re in the support band, Sixty Stories. I’m Sarah, this is Paul.” Another guy is approaching. He’s wearing a thick hoodie top, a baseball cap with a woolly hat pulled up over the top and glasses. “Hello, are you Ben?” Adam Goren is a 27 year old from Philadelphia who performs as ‘Atom And His Package’, a one man show, with his name changed to ‘Atom’ as a reference to his past as a fully trained chemistry teacher. The Package is a collection of synthesisers used to program the music, though on stage it becomes a CD player that he plays guitar and sings along to. In February he released a brand new record on Hopeless, “Attention…Blah, Blah, Blah”, his fifth and one of the best records I’ve heard in a long while. He’s a couple of weeks into a European tour that will take him through France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and a couple of dates in Denmark, one in the Czech Republic, one in Hungary, one in Austria. Sixty Stories are from Winnipeg in Canada, and are on their third Atom support tour, and will be with him for a month of the trip. They are relatively obscure in England, but have a really great CD out called 'Anthem Red'. It comes highly recommended. “Oh, there’s a note outside the venue. I haven’t a clue what it means”, says Sarah to Atom. “Gone to get river? Erm, well it’s raining hard enough already. Do they need any more?” It seems that Atom will have to wait until they get back to find out what they’re talking about on the note. “Does everyone want to stand and wait in the rain, or shall we go and get a coffee?” We all head next door into the Boston Tea Party. It’s a really nice coffee shop. I’d say a little overpriced, but overall I’m quite a fan. Everyone gets coffee and heads upstairs. I’ve arranged for a 5.30 interview with Atom, so we decide to sit down for it now, as the Sixty Stories folks head off to read their newspapers. Atom has a quick flick through 'The Independent' and then answers some of my questions. PB : How has the tour been going so far? A : It’s been good. It’s really nice to travel with friends. A lot of the travelling I have to do by myself which is good, but it’s a lot nicer to do it with other people. PB : Where are the nicest places you’ve visited on tour? A : In Europe, a lot of the cities are really striking. The cities are much older than American cities and they’re really pretty to look at. I’ve been able to visit some amazing places. I’ve been to Japan, visiting Tokyo was amazing, and I’ve been to New Zealand. It was really really gorgeous. Prague, Stockholm and Copenhagen are also really really amazing. PB : Is there anywhere else that you’re itching to visit in the future? A : At the moment, I’d have to say no. I mean, I’d like to visit some of the further East countries, like Poland – though I’m going to the Czech Republic and Hungary this time – but I travel a lot and I guess I’m not as restless to travel anymore, so there’s nowhere else that I’m itching to visit. PB : Do you get a different response to tour shows in Europe than you do in America ? A : It kind of varies along the same lines. In the States sometimes people are really enthusiastic and sometimes not so enthusiastic and the same here. In the States the shows are generally better attended, which is to be expected because I’ve played a lot more and the record labels I’ve put stuff out on have been American. But in terms of audience, it’s very similar. Obviously in England people speak English OK, and in mainland Europe people tend to speak English very well. I speak a bit of French, so it’s always fun in France to talk about the songs in French. There may be some things that are lost when I talk in French, but I think a lot of it translates okay. PB : What’s the best song you’ve ever written? A : I like most of the songs, bar a couple that I’m not so keen on. There are a few that I really like. There’s a song about a crush I have on Enya, ‘Pumping Iron (FE) for Enya’, that I really like. I just think that the music and the lyrics work well together. There’s a song on the new record that I wrote about my grandma (‘Does Anyone Else In This Room Want To Marry His Or Her Own Grandmother?”). And there’s another song called ‘I’m Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just A Hammer’, again on the new album, that I really like, and there’s a song about the Washington Redskins which is an American football team with a totally racist name that’s really good ('If You Own The Washington Redskins You’re A Cock’). PB : What are your favourite bands? A : I can always listen to the Beatles and the Pixies. I really love a couple of Pink Floyd records, and I love a couple of early Metallica records. There’s the Minor Threat discography that I like a lot, and the Dead Kennedys have done some amazing stuff. I like the Misfits stuff. It’s really catchy and there’s a couple of XTC records that I think are amazing. There you are! PB : What’s your favourite food? A : I like homemade bean burritos. Also, I really love Indian food and Sushi. PB : Name three people you really admire ? A : My father, my mom and my grandma. PB : Is there anything that you especially hate? A : Just from reading the paper, there seem to be endless things that people do to each other that I really dislike. Being mean to people that don’t deserve it is really really awful. PB : If someone was to promise you the best day of your life, what would do you do ? A : I would not have to walk my dog and sleep in a little bit. I’d go out for breakfast and coffee, and I’d stay home in Philadelphia with my family, and then in the afternoon I’d listen to records. Then in the evening I’d go out for dinner with my family and my friends and just have a really warm night out and sit around and talk.. PB : You say in a lot of interviews that you’d love to have children. When you do will you have to stop touring and playing? A : I’d have to imagine that when I have children I’d have to be home a lot more and raise my child. Music I definitely love to do, and I’ll always do it, whether it’s in this incarnation or with friends, but I’ll doubt I’ll be able to keep up this hectic pace, so I’d decrease the productivity of music in my life. When we’re done, everybody makes their way back down to the Cavern Club, which by this time is open. Atom introduces himself to the couple that run the club. “We were wondering what River was?” “Oh God, that’s terrible handwriting. It’s meant to say Rider – we went out to get the food.” The Cavern Club is just that. An underground venue that’s really nicely decorated, and is run by two fantastic people, Pippa and David. Atom is really struck with them. "They’re two super nice people” he says later, more than once! Everybody gets to know each other, whilst a combination of the new NOFX record and some of Super Furry Animals’ ‘Rings Around The World’ plays in the background. Then two members of the local support band (called Robolint) arrive with some of their stuff. Their singer Chris turns out a to be a huge Atom fan, and he’s a really enthusiastic and friendly guy as well. Chris tries to cajole Atom into making an onstage appearance with them, but he’s a little nervous about “unrehearsed stuff. I’ve had some bad experiences with it in the past.” Still, later on Robolint topped the Atom idea by getting most of the crowd up on the tiny stage with them, so never mind! Atom takes hardly any time to soundcheck, which makes a lot of sense considering that all he has is a guitar, a mic and a CD player. He gets the chance, therefore, to practice his pinball skills. That’s until the machine breaks! It’s probably the only bad thing that happens all evening. Unfortunately, Atom has recently been diagnosed as diabetic, just before he set off on this tour. “Playing and exercise affect my blood sugar level and I’m still learning to get a handle on it. At the first show that I played in Germany my blood sugar level went right down and I felt shaky and terrible and had to take a break for a while, so that was the most awkward situation I’ve had. It wasn’t like I was embarrassed, but it was the weirdest experience I’ve had whilst playing.” I’m really impressed that he’s still touring at all. I don’t know how I’d cope knowing that my life was going to fundamentally change. Needless to say, I wish him all the best. Atom is certainly one of the nicest, most approachable and interesting people I’ve ever met. He makes music that relies on humour, and doesn’t take itself seriously. Unlike some bands that try to use humour, Atom, however,, makes you think a lot and he is genuinely hilarious. On his new album, there are songs that help you reconsider you’re relationship with friends and family, your lifestyle and you’re political position. It’s also a record though that you can put on and listen to with an enormous smile on your face. “I don’t think that by having a humorous side it negates the value of the music. It’s not always necessary to use it as a tool but it can be useful and can make it less alienating. There are times when it calls for being really heavy handed with an idea, and just hitting it over a person’s head, but there are other times when it can be a less alienating way of putting a point across.” I think that the words to these songs prove that point completely: “THE PALESTINIANS ARE NOT THE SAME AS THE REBEL ALLIANCE, JACKASS” YOU’RE SO LEFTIST, YOU’RE SO FOR PEACE. YOU HATE THE DEATH PENALTY, BUT LOVE IT IN THE MIDDLE EAST. DON’T KNOW THE FACTS, JUST CATCHPHRASE WORDS. NO DIFFERENT THAN THE NAZI BONEHEADS, THE OTHER SIDE JUST GOT TO YOU FIRST. CRITICAL THINKING? NO THANKS, NOT AT ALL. ADMIT IT, YOU JUST LIKE POSTERS OF MEN WITH MACHINE GUNS ON YOUR WALL. MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD? MAKE YOU FEEL RIGHT? SIMPLIFIED COMPLEXITY, IT’S EASY TO CHEER WHEN IT’S BLACK AND WHITE. I’M IMPRESSED WITH YOU’RE BADASS, I’M IMPRESSED WITH YOUR DEFIANCE. YOU DO KNOW THAT THE PALESTINIANS ARE NOT THE SAME THING AS THE REBEL ALIANCE, RIGHT? SAY STUPID THINGS, “THE US IS THE ONLY TERRORIST NATION”. HA, HA, HA, HA, NICE EDUCATION. ADD INANE, HIP ARGUMENTS. ALL THE WHILE WEAKENING AND INVALIDATING LEGIT CONCERNS! SUPPOSED TO BE CRITICAL, SUPPOSED TO BE CYNICAL. BLIND LOYALTY, DUMB JOCK-Y POLITICAL. “DOES ANYONE ELSE IN THIS ROOM WANT TO MARRY HIS OR HER OWN GRANDMOTHER?” HEY GRANMA, LETS GET MARRIED. I KNOW IT SOUNDS LIKE A CRAZY THING TO DO. WE’LL MOVE YOU AND YOU’RE SAMPLES DOWN TO PHILADELPHIA. STAY OLD WITH ME AND I’LL GET OLD WITH YOU. I’LL PAY THE BILLS, WE’LL CROSS THE WORDS AND WATCH MURDOCH. WE’LL DINE ON SAMPLES AT THE GROCERY STORE. WE’LL FIND A PLACE AND PAINT THE WHOLE HOUSE PURPLE. PURPLE-IZE THE WALLS AND WE’LL PURPLE-IZE THE FLOORS. AND IT BREAKS MY HEART T O SEE YOU ALONE, GRANDMA LETS ELOPE. How touching is that? As he uses humour, some people don’t appreciate his music but this doesn’t worry Atom at all. “I don’t tend to be angry. If someone says I suck or says what I do is stupid, that’s totally fine. I know that what I do is not for everyone and some people are gonna think it sucks. I just think, ‘Okay I have fun doing it and I like it, and so do other people so if you don’t like it, fine, I don’t mind’.” Another aspect of using humour is that he gets tagged in with other artists whose act revolves around a joke. Har Mar Superstar has got a lot of attention recently. In fact Atom toured the States with him a few years back, but whereas Har Mar is a character, a construction, Atom is a totally sincere reflection of the personality of Adam Goren. Atom has also been compared to Weird Al Jankovich, who satirises other people’s songs. “I write songs and work hard at writing songs. I guess I can understand why people say it, though I don’t think that the comparison is actually correct.” And, for what it’s worth, the Jankovich records are a one trick act, a joke that wears thin really quickly, whilst Atom has outstanding original electronic music to back up his vastly superior jokes. And, as I’ve already said, Atom’s music is genuinely thought provoking and enlightening – not just a joke. Atom’s music is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. He combines synth pop with punk in a new and exciting way. It’s catchy and sharp at the same time. Each track is short but infectious. “I’ve done 5 full-length albums now and I certainly think the last couple have been better. I do the entire recording, and I’ve got better at that, and I’ve got better equipment so they sound a lot better. And as I get older the songwriting has progressed and I do feel that the songs are better and stand on their own. A lot of the early stuff I like the songs for sure, but a lot of that early stuff sounds a little kitschy to me, so I like the newer stuff a lot better.” I raised the point that he seems more comfortable with a guitar on the later records, and wondered if he’d gone off the instrument after his previous band Fracture had split up. “No, it’s not that well thought out really. I mean when I first started I didn’t really intend for it to be a band. My old band had broken up, which I’d played guitar and sang for, and a friend of mine played me a song he’d done on a music sequencer and it was really attractive to me because you can write and arrange and record entire songs on it. Where the other choice was to play guitar with no one, because I had nobody else to play with. For me, it’s just kind of evolved because I’ve gotten better stuff and it really wasn’t planned. I just write songs that sound good to me and that I like and for some reason in the last couple of years, I’ve been playing guitar and it’s sounded and felt better to me.” It was a pleasure to meet Atom. He takes a genuine joy in his life and in what he does, and I find that very inspiring. I’d recommend his records to anybody; they’ll light up your life.

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Atom And His Package - Interview

Atom And His Package - Interview

Atom And His Package - Interview

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live reviews

Cavern, Exeter, 15/5/2003
Atom And His Package - Cavern, Exeter, 15/5/2003
Appearing on stage with with only a mike, a CD player and a guitar for company, Atom and His Package (aka Adam Goren)gives "perfect show" at the Exter Cavern, combining "genuine musical originality and brilliance" with hilarious banter

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