the ATOM and his PACKAGE interview

by Tommy Avallone

The only way I can describe ATOM is the nicest guy in the world.

Anyone who goes threw there life not knowing ATOM has missed out.

This is ATOM, from ATOM and HIS PACKAGE and here is the SMALLDOOR interview.

Hope everyone enjoys!

What got you into music?

I've been a music fan for as long as I can remember. My parents played me the Beatles, who I've always loved, and once I got my first turntable and radio, I was hooked.

Was Fracture your first band, and what did you do in Fracture?

I played in a bunch of bands before I played in Fracture. There were a number of us who grew up together who always played in bands that would break up, then shuffle the lineups, and begin the cycle again. In Fracture, I played guitar, and sang a bit in the background.

When your band Fracture ( I think that is how it 's spelled) stopped what made you create ATOM and HIS PACKAGE?

I didn't really intend on making Atom and His Package a band. Fracture broke up, and around the same time a friend of mine played me a song that he wrote on a music sequencer. It was attractive to me because one can write/record/arrange entire songs by oneself with it. The other option I had at that time was to write songs by myself with just a guitar. So, I started writing songs with a sequencer, and recording them on my four track, and playing them for friends. Eventually I started playing shows. It was fun, so it sort of continued from there.

Now I know a couple local bands, Luckystar, Dirty Larry, etc. They started by doing shows around their areas, working out originals, then when it's time to make their first CD it tends to be self-financed, recorded at a small recording studio, they make copies at like discmakers or something like that and put it in local cd stores or sell it at their shows. What was your first CD experience? And how did you go about getting it out?

I recorded it with a friend of mine in an afternoon at his mom's house. We didn't really know anything about recording anything at that point. Actually, we hadn't even read the directions completely for his 8-track recorder, so the music ended up being in mono. It sounds ridiculously bad, but we had a fun time. Initially a fellow from Philadelphia who had seen me play in town wanted to do a 7", but I talked him into doing a CD because I had like 15 songs. He put it out very cheaply with very minimal crappy packaging that was scammed from Kinko's. I just played a lot of shows because it was really fun, and I think that this got the CDs around. Certainly the distribution was practically non-existant, as far as getting the first CD in stores. Some folks liked it, so sometimes D.I.Y. punk distributors would pick it up, and some folks who sell records at shows tended to sell some.

When did you start getting bigger, as in a lot more people were coming to your shows, singing along to your lyrics and buying your stuff?

I guess it happened gradually. I think a fair amount of attention was given to the 3rd CD Making Love, on No Idea Records perhaps due to the success of the one before that: 'A Society of People Named Elihu', but even throughout the entire time I played as Atom and His Package, certainly, the shows got better attendance-wise, but there were always shows that were really small and some with folks who didn't like my stuff at all. I think the second to last show I played had about 15 people there, most of whom paid more attention to Metallica's St. Anger playing over the P.A. system between bands than my stuff.

I read some where that you started a record label FILE 13. What was that like? Was that a way to get your music out to more people or did you just want to have a label?

File-13 Records was fun to do at first. I didn't start it, but my friend Brian and I joined up with a fellow named Matt who had run File-13 for some time. It was fun to put out records that we were into, but it was hard to keep the collaborative nature that was initially attractive to me about it as the three of us got busier with bands that we played with/touring etc. It was also pretty stressful because we never had enough money. We had taken out a loan and it was stressful making sure that we could pay it back.

Now on your DVD (that I was in; sorry I still think that is super cool) it says that you were touring intensely, like for six years. What was that like? How did you set up the tours? What was it like doing shows in Europe?

I did tour intensely for about 7 years. It wasn't a 7 year long tour, but I would go on tour for as long as 3 months, and then come home for a couple of weeks, and go on tour again. It was an amazing amount of fun. Sometimes, it'd just be me on long trips, and sometimes friends would come along, or I'd tour with friends' bands. I got to travel all over the world and see amazing things that I otherwise would not have been able to see. I met wonderful folks, many of whom I consider to be close friends. I did all my own booking in the US in Canada for most of the Atom and His Package stuff. I planned out routes, and from booking Fracture, and from meeting people through that I bugged people to put on shows for me. Eventually through trial and error, I was able to compile a decent list of responsible folks who booked shows all over the US. At the end, some friends started doing my booking because it got really difficult to always be on the road, and from the road, booking dates for a future tour. The trips abroad were always done by folks from those places. My friend Ingo lives in Hamburg Germany and books tours for bands. So, he booked most of my European tours. A 15 year old kid from Tokyo who emailed me and asked if I wanted to play some shows in Japan ended up booking that tour. Similar experiences were had in Australia and New Zealand. Music really is an amazing thing.

It was excellent doing shows in new places. It's really great to see Europe and other places while on tour because you really get to see cities and talk to people who really live there. Certainly, seeing things as a tourist is also really interesting, but sleeping at people's houses and being shown around peoples' towns who are approximately the same age and into the same sorts of things as you is really incredible.

How did the deal with Hopeless Records come about?

A mutual friend of ours told me that they liked my stuff. So, I gave them a call, and we started chatting.

Was it more fun doing stuff without a label like Hopeless or being on it?

I'm glad I got to meet, work with, and become friends with the Hopeless Records folks, but I also loved working with my friends from the Mountain Cooperative, File-13 and No Idea Records. There were benefits working with Hopeless because they're the biggest of the aforementioned labels, so they had folks make sure that fliers were made for shows when I went on tour and make sure record stores carried the records in places where I'd be touring etc. But it was excellent and fun working with the other labels too (with the exception being the label that did the first record, which was kind of a pain in the ass to deal with).

Ahhh maybe a year or less ago I emailed you asking if I could use your music in one of my movies, and you were really concerned if we would have any racial jokes, or anything bad about homosexuals and other stuff like that in it. You talk about this sort of stuff in your music, and I was always curious, what is it that bothers you?  Is it the words or if people intend to hurt someone with the words. Because now a days language calling someone a "fag" isn't really making fun of gay people. Or the word "nigger" sometimes isn't referring to a black person. Really the words don't intend to be used as their dictionary meanings, just as slang words to be used around friends. What is it about this that bothers you?

To answer your first question, I asked you those questions because I didn't want to lend my support, whether that's with lending my music, or whatever to a project that I deem to be homophobic/racist/sexist blah blah blah. I don't think this needs much more explaining... I think that stuff is ... err... bad and don't want to encourage it in anyway.

As for using words like 'fag' or 'nigger' etc. Sure, they're just words, and I believe that it does depend on the context of their use. Not EVERYone who uses the word 'fag' means it to be homophobic. For example, in your movies, a lot of the characters DO throw around the term 'gay' in a derogatory sense, or the word 'fag', but talking to you and from the context of the movies, I don't believe that you guys mean it in a homophobic fashion. However, I think it's important to keep in mind a few things. Firstly, whether or not you mean it to be such, these words DO have homophobic or racist (in the case of 'nigger') associations, and racist folks STILL do use these terms to disempower groups like homosexuals, or African Americans, and ESPECIALLY when people do not know you, or your friends, there is NO way for people to know that you do not intend for them to have these meanings because the connotations DO exist.

I think that the use of these words tends to give people the impression that they're cool and okay to use, and I'm not down with that. I mean, think about the people who may watch a movie that you've made. Probably, a lot of younger kids would enjoy it, and godamn, a lot of them will just absorb that the word is okay to use and may not have the sense that you have to disassociate the homophobic or racist connotations from it. That's why I don't think it's cool to use that stuff.

After you had watched Wasted Apples and Small Kid you pointed out that we do say "Gay" and "Fag" a lot in the movies. Now after watching them I did notice you were right. And even now when I talk I notice it a lot more. I think I never noticed it before because lots of today's generation (including myself) don't mean much by it.

You're right. A lot of people in today's generation don't mean much by it. But, a lot do, and I figure that being gay, black etc. in this country is hard enough, and homophobic/other flavors of dickheaded folks need no encouragement because homophobia and racism etc. are NOT acceptable.

Do you think sometimes people look too much into some things? Do you feel it's ok tell gay jokes if it's not intended to hurt someone?

I believe this all depends on the context. If someone who I knew NOT to be homophobic were to tell me a 'gay' joke in private, I imagine that while it doesn't really ever sit exactly right with me, I would be a lot more forgiving than if I were to overhear someone I didn't know to be ... err... progressively minded, tell it in public. This is complicated stuff, and certainly, like most things, is not black and white. I really think it depends on the context. Whether or not a joke is intended to hurt someone, I think it's impossible to ignore that often intent and consequence do not coincide. Also, as I said before, I believe that the use and sorta normalizations can either make it seem acceptable for other people to act offensively. It can, though not frequently serve to destigmatize the particular word. For example, many gay organizations embrace the word 'queer' or 'dyke', which were once used as words of hate.

Like if a gay person told an Italian hetero joke and it was funny I would laugh, because I knew it was just a joke.

Firstly, it's impossible to ignore the difference between the amount of hate that is concentrated on different groups. Certainly, Italians are not hated, nor treated as badly, whether it's in how the laws are set up, or in people's stances towards their group as homosexuals. It's not comparable, so to feel like you can identify what it feels like to be the butt end of a 'gay' joke because of an 'Italian joke' you may have witnessed, I'd find that to be a stretch.

Also, again, I feel that it depends on the situation. Guess what? If I overhear a bunch of dickheads standing on South Street telling 'gay' jokes or calling someone a 'faggot', whether or not the humor in the particular joke is clever, I am NOT going to find it funny at all. This type of shit is disgusting I think.

Or when black people call white people crackers, I don't get mad because I know it's just a word. Now if they were like you dumb cracker and wanted to hurt my feelings or personally hurt me, I might think different. See I am stuck. Because I think jokes of race, jokes of gay or straight, or just jokes in any way are funny. It's just when racist, gay or straight jokes/comments result in violence it stops being funny.  I feel if people were not so quick to punch someone different then them and just laugh, people would get together better. How do you feel?

Unfornately, the world doesn't work like that, and a lot of people telling these sorts of jokes or hearing these jokes don't have the same peaceful feelings as you. Also, violence is not the only negative outcome from stuff like this. For example, in general, black people are not given the same resources and opportunities as white people in this country, and this as well as other mistreatments may not be directly violent, but do, in a sense come from an institutionalized racism. Sure, jokes aren't the cause of this, but jokes as well as stereotypes about different kinds of people certainly can be viewed as a symptom of this problem, and an aid in reinforcing the stereotypes, no?

To go back to your music and stuff, on your DVD of your last performance you have a video for Undercover Funny. And even your cameo on Here's to Yesterday. Is it different for you to see yourself on camera than to hear yourself on CD?

Honestly, I don't really see myself very often. I didn't even really want to watch the reference version of the DVD because it just feels weird, but I had to watch it to make sure it was all okay to release. On CD, I'm in control of what exactly is being released. I have time to tweak and make the music sound like I want to (well, on the last few CDs anyway). It's a lot easier to be more comfortable with the final result.

The day after your last show how did you feel?  Were you happy/sad, did you feel like you made a mistake?  How did it feel to close that six year chapter of your life?

I had mixed feelings. I was sad, not to have played the last show as Atom and His Package, but because I would miss seeing the friends that I had made over the years of traveling. I have a lot of friendships that have survived because I knew I'd be visiting them a couple of times a year. I have some wonderful friends who live in Germany that I really miss, and don't have plans in the immediate future to see them, and that's sad.

Also, I spent 7 years of my life almost exclusively doing Atom and His Package, and it's always a bit sad/weird making such a significant transition. It reminds you that life is moving forward, and usually at speeds faster than we'd like. I feel very confident that I made the right decision though. I don't miss playing the songs at all. I don't miss the shows. I played SO many times that I had had enough. It's wonderful to be home, and I'm having a great time with my new daughter and spending time with my friends and family.

How is your new band?

It's fun. It's really nice to be doing something 100% recreationally and because you want to. Sure, I loved doing Atom and His Package, but it did have a bit of obligation. I had a fantastic time, but doing something entirely for fun, with no pressure for success is a different flavor of fun.

Do you like playing with people other than just being on stage by yourself?

I feel a little awkward playing live with the new band, not because of the music, but I never know what to say between songs. The songs feel like they need less of an introduction, where as the AAHP songs always seemed natural to blab about. It's really fun though.

Do you feel you will run into the same problem with touring a lot with this new band that you did with ATOM and HIS PACKAGE? Did you give up something just to jump back into maybe the same problem?

There are no intentions to tour with this band. We'll be playing shows in the area and northeastern part of the US, but there will be no tours.

How was it having a baby? (when that day comes for me I will be very scared)

Very insane/fun/worry inducing/wonderful/funny/tiring/amazing.

What was your favorite show you did?

I played a few shows at a great all ages club in Santa Ana, CA called Koo's Cafe. They fucking ruled and were among the most fun I've ever had in my life.

Overall, what are your sentiments about  ATOM and HIS PACKAGE?  Over the years you touched a lot of people, made some great music, toured all over America and Europe and been a rock star. Would you do it again if you had the chance?

I'm flattered that people were interested and touched by what I did. Really... people have been amazing, and touched me with their kind words. I feel incredibly lucky that I"ve been able to have the experiences that I've had. I would do it again without hesitation if I could redo it.

And that is the end, Thank you ATOM.

Thank you anyone that reads this.

For anyone who wants to contact ATOM here is his contact info

Atom po box 39720 philadelphia, PA 19106 USA

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