Eric Berger interviews

New World, Same Dynamic: Highlights From a Conversation About Atta Boy’s Return

Eric: How are you guys doing with quarantine?  This is such a strange time.  So what are some hobbies or activities you’ve had to keep things going?

Eden: In the beginning of quarantine I was sewing a lot.  I was sewing masks to donate through a collective here. They disperse them to people that are willing to sell. So I was kind of obsessed with that the first few weeks.  And other than that I’ve been very lucky to have a lot of (free) time to just like self reflect and do a lot of retreat style yoga and meditation and all that. So it’s been good!

Freddy: I have been enjoying cooking.  It was something I was starting before quarantine but definitely have learned to try more adventurous things. Some things have gone well, some haven’t.  Some things have burned.  There have been fires on the grill, at some point. I’m managing the band and I’ve learned a lot of stuff. I mean I’ve studied musical business but I’ve never used my knowledge in a practical sense.

Dashel: Um, for my part I’ve been doing all of the fermentation-y side of things that everyone else seems to be doing in quarantine.

Eden: Nice!!

Dashel: I’ve been making beer, I’ve been making pickles, I got a scoby so I can start making kombucha like the dirty hipster I am.  

Eden: Dirty, dirty, hipster.

Dashel: Um, and yeah it’s been fun.  It’s something that requires you to wait around for a few weeks for results but since we have all the time in the world now it’s not all that bad.

Eric: Great stuff! 2012 was a very different time when you guys released Out of Sorts, you know?  YOLO was a thing.  Gangnam Style.  London Olympics.  Obama is running for reelection - so it’s lovely in that sense.  Instagram is on the rise.  We’ve got wild stuff going on.  And you guys released Out of Sorts!  Over the last few years the streams on Spotify have risen dramatically.  And Freddy, I know you’re manager so I was wondering: How’d that all play out?

Freddy: I am not going to take any credit for that, because at that point in time I wasn’t really managing the band.  We didn’t really have anyone in charge... The past eight years it was just kind of a whirlwind of we don’t know if we’re getting back together. We talked about it and it wouldn’t happen.  Then we were all living in different places. Oh! Okay.  This is a sad story but it’s kind of funny too.  So we had a song in a movie called “Five Feet Apart”. And the way that that happened was: Apparently someone wanted to use “Roadblocks (6 weeks)” for the movie and no one had been checking the band email. And apparently she had emailed me, or us, and I wasn’t responding.  

And all of the sudden, it’s really sad, I had to put my dog down. See this is the part that gets weird.  I posted about putting our dog down on Instagram and everyone was like, all these comments like “oh I’m so sorry” “I’m so sorry you had to deal with that” “I’m so sorry for your loss”.  And then this one woman comments “Please check your DMs. Atta Boy inquiry for an upcoming movie.  Thanks”.  And so I checked our email and found out they wanted to license the song for Five Feet Apart.  And that actually helped us blow up in an international sense.  Because all these people from different countries started singing languages (of the songs) of that movie.  And we gained like, you can look on Spotify for the playlist for that soundtrack to the movie and it’s all in different languages. So, I think just Spotify’s algorithm and unfortunate comments on Instagram posts really led to us realizing.  And Lewis was actually the one that sent the text that was like “hey, we gotta do this, we gotta get this together” and then from that point on I took on the managerial stuff.  And as soon as we said which days worked for us I booked the studio time immediately and we made it happen!

Eric: What’s the process (for the new album) been like?  And what was the process of getting together and recording?  And also, what was it like to be back in the studio together after such a long time?

Eden: I think when we decided we were going to record something else, I think all of us had years and years of little voice memos and just ideas.  And we really got into the habit of just sharing those and trying to share whatever into the group chat.  And trying to slowly build on ideas but mostly just hear each other’s ideas from the last seven years or whatever, to sort of incorporate all of our different sounds.  We also made a Spotify playlist as inspiration.  And when I look at that playlist now it’s so cool because there are so many different varieties of sound on there.  It’s just a neat way to implement everybody’s taste and sort of get on board before we go back into the studio. So it was just a lot of randomly sharing ideas.  And then, at the point where we were getting together to record, it was firming down on those ideas that had already been written and completed, and also mismashing the ideas to create the new songs that were born out of cramming while we had the studio time. And just trying to get it done.  It’s always exciting to see what happens in those last minute circumstances when we’re all physically together.  But I think we were all used to being a part anyway.

Freddy: Yeah, I would say before we went into the studio to record Out of Sorts, and then this new album, we probably had three or four solid songs completely done.  And so we would use some of that studio time, because this time we knew we had a hard two weeks of studio time, and then people were going back to their respective places and heading out.  We would use a lot of that time to just play and bounce ideas off each other and then once we had the ideas we would be like “okay, let’s do that”. I was the last person in the studio sending them “I came up with this idea!”, and they’d be like “no, that sucks”.  And then we also work with an amazing engineer and producer, his name is Jason, and he is so good at guiding us, keeping us on track.  He doesn’t get enough credit for being our guru.  He’s also very good at keeping it simple and not letting us overthink anything, which is something that I enjoy about our music. It’s a privilege.  Having stripped down production, he’s a large part of that.  He doesn’t let us get lost in the sauce, or whatever those kids say.

Eric: Your first album, Out of Sorts, was a Kickstarter.  I’d love to hear more about what that was like, having an album that started out as a kickstarter.  And also having the lead single for your new album, Big Heart Manners, putting it out as getting donations for No Kid Hungry.  I was wondering what the process of making that decision was like, and how that went?

Freddy: So, I just think that we were really - I don’t wanna say blessed - what’s another word I could use here.

Dashel: Lucky?

Eric: Fortunate?

Freddy: I’m going to go with fortunate because there are a few reasons I don’t want to say lucky.  We were really fortunate to have all the streams we’ve gotten from Spotify over the past eight years, that we had enough money to not have to put out loans in creating this new album.  Given the circumstances of the world that we’re living in right now, we’re just like “hey, the album is called Big Heart Manners, what better way to show big heart manners then to donate money for the first weekend of the single being out to feeding kids that are losing meals because they’re not able to go to school or daycare.  I mean it was a pretty simple choice, I texted the group and they were like “yeah, that sounds like a good idea”.  They were all about it.

As far as the Kickstarter goes...  At the time someone else was helping us out with the band. It's a confusing situation. He helped us get all together, and helped put together the video for the kickstarter that's still up there. His name is Andrew Urban. He lives in Fiji. That's also a long story that he can tell. He was really helping us out - he was in the studio taking photos of us, and he helped us make the kickstarter and all the prizes that came along with it. Him and I would spend hours making the screen prints that we put on the t-shirts and these baseball cards that we gave to the highest donors. Back then we were fortunate enough to raise the money to create the album.

Which, I don't know if the rest of the band knows this, but wasn't actually enough money for everything that we did. We borrowed money from my mom and I have since been able to pay her back, which she is very happy about. She's very proud of us for going into something where we had to take out a loan and actually pay it back. It was really amazing having all these family members that believed in us and showed up in backyards and high school performances. They wanted us to succeed and we apparently created something that was worth it. I don't know what else happened, but it was amazing to have all those people support us. And a lot of those people are parents and friends of family members, and they're still our number ones and our day ones which is cool.

Eric: When I heard your new song 'Devoted' - which, by the way, I’m a huge fan of - I loved how the stripped down production went with the vulnerability demonstrated on the track.  With your collaboration having happened from afar, was it a conscious effort to ensure the instrumentation matched the song material?  And how was that process over such a short time frame?

Eden: I wrote the song back in early 2016.  I had brought it to the boys just like “I wrote this song” and we tried it live and just went for it.  We ended up using a live version of it for the track which was really nice.  I think what happens with our songs and when we all get together - the four of us, five of us actually, is that we just trust that it’s all going to come together.  And even though there are a lot of different variables that can take shape during the duration of producing or recording or just getting it tracked, it really is just trusting what happens together.  And trust the random ideas that get thrown out there. So I think that’s a lot of what happened with 'Devoted'.  I just kind of knew that whatever was going to happen, whatever the boys were going to bring to the table, it would be the thing the song needed to be an Atta Boy song.  It was really joyous to hear that actually come together, because I couldn’t have imagined it going any better or differently.  

And as far as the pedal steele went, I kept thinking and thinking about the sound of a pedal steel on a song.  I felt kind of stupid about it.  Then I brought up the idea and Jason had a connection to a pedal steel player Marty Rifkin who we basically sent the song to. Just saying “Why not, we’ll send the song to him, see what he does, and let him do his thing”. And we got the song back and it was just beautiful.  It was such a nice addition to the song. I think really a lot of the process having not spent a lot of time together musically since the first record was just about really trusting and trusting each other to vote-in or out ideas. So really just having a lot of trust in the group.

Eric: You guys had a collaborative playlist that was filled with inspiration for the new album, what were some of the songs on that playlist?

Dashel: It’s a really wild range! And like Eden said, it was really cool to see what everyone was listening to and to see the inspiration people were drawing from... I know it really ranged.  Lucy Dacus came up a bunch.  I know I put on a lot of Janelle Monae, I listened to that a lot before we were recording.  I know Eden sent a couple of Eliott Smith songs I hadn’t heard which I really dug.  I think Lewis sent two in a row which were a Brian Eno song and then a Miley Cyrus song, or maybe it was two different people, but I like the juxtaposition there. It was good.

Freddy: I think it was both, man.

Dashel: Which is awesome.  I think that kind of speaks to the fact that we all have tastes that are all over the place between what kind of music we enjoy and what we end up bringing to our songwriting.  It varies a lot, but I like that a lot about us and our collaboration and the songs we write.  Because even when songs have stylistically really different parts especially on this record I think it still really sounds like us at the end of the day.  I still don’t really know how we do it, honestly. Something happens in the studio, I think it has a lot to do with Jason.

Eric: What can we expect from the new album? I know it’s supposed to come out June 26th which is so exciting.

Freddy: Yeah, so, what to expect?  On this album, rather than the last, we have a few songs that are more character driven. Our new single is called 'Shade'.  I think it’s a really cool song especially based on the little blurb Eden wrote about it.  I didn’t know until like a month ago what the song was about - I just thought it sounded cool and I was really into it.  And then I read what Eden wrote and thought “Oh my god, this song just got so much cooler!”

Eden: So I had this strange dream about a set of twins, a brother and a sister that lived in a big castle.  They were separated by, I don’t think it was their parents, I think it was their adopted parents or something.  They were driven to so much despair by not being able to be together.  The house was set up so that there was a courtyard in the middle and both of their rooms were apart, but they had a window facing each other.  And by the end of the dream, they both fall to their deaths from their respective windows.  It’s really dark, but it really stuck with me for some reason.  And also, I don’t remember what I wrote, but there’s a morse code thing.

Freddy: You said they could talk through the walls!

Eden: Oh yeah! They said they could talk through the walls using morse code.  And I think the rhythm for the melody was inspired by the idea.  It’s really vague and clear in my brain, but it just sounds like a crazy idea when I say it out loud.  It also makes sense when I write it down on paper like with Freddy but saying it out loud just sounds suuuuper stupid.  But that’s where I got the idea from.

Eric:  And what’s it like returning in the midst of a pandemic?

Dashel: It’s certainly less than ideal. I hope that music can be a relief for people if that makes sense.  Something to look forward to, something to enjoy in a time that I know is stressful for myself and most people, I imagine.  That is my big hope: it can provide some levity in what is otherwise a trying time.  Obviously, things like touring are postponed for now but I certainly hope that once things are okay again, in terms of people being allowed in big groups, we can do that again!  I think it’s all stuff to look forward to and I hope people just enjoy it.

Freddy: Yeah!  And like, we contemplated.  We were like “Is this the right time to release music?” And it crossed our minds but all the messages we were getting since releasing the single are saying “We want it now! We want it now!” And I’m like “Oh my god, okay.” So we were totally wrong about releasing it right now.

Just saying, artists make music and make people happy and we’ve got messages about making people happy and getting people through tough times - which is something I never thought I would ever hear in my entire life.  It is so amazing and beautiful to hear and we are so thankful that we have that kind of impact on people.

And it’s - just on a personal note, I have anxiety and I go to therapy and I work through it.  Just knowing and talking to people that are going through something similar, being able to put something into words that other people weren’t necessarily able to do, just knowing I’m being heard and others see me and understand / go through similar things makes me feel less alone.  And anything we can do to make anyone else feel less alone is so amazing because I know how much that’s done for me.

So I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, I’m trying to pat Dashel, Eden, Lewis.  I just come in, play the guitar, do my little thing.  And you know, you are giving artists the platform.  This is really our first interview as a band ever!  So really thank you so much for doing this and I hope people watch this.  And people are like “Oh! I get to know a little bit more about these people I’m listening to.” It’s cool!