Atom & His Package
It’s almost as if the music world doesn’t quite know what to think about Atom & His Package. A one-man band out of the suburbs of Philadelphia, Adam Goren sat down in 1997 with a QY2O Sequencer, learned how to program it, and scribbled out some lyrics about friends, expunging aggravating people with a giant crane, and a girl composed simply of a head. The result was an odd conglomeration of punk rock and circus music — a guitarless, bleep-and-blipping hybrid that’s so painfully funny and catchy that instrumentals entitled “After School Special Stands for ASS” and “Tim Allen is Not Very Funny” seem almost commonplace.
There’s something oddly charming about Atom & His Package that places him a notch above any regular gimmick band out for a few laughs. Possibly it’s his high-pitched nasal voice that qualifies him as a grand entertainer, or maybe the childish-yet-strangely-intelligent persona that comes across so strongly through a song about using immensely obese NHL goalies. Granted, this isn’t anywhere near a typical musical outfit, but that’s what makes it all the more appealing. And with endless band references and strangely alluring melodies with the tonal structure of a Nintendo game, Atom has produced a truly engaging product.
Currently riding the cusp of his third album on a national tour, Atom stands alone on stage while his sequencer (“package”) feeds musical noodles through a PA system, delighting most crowds with a show that’s as animated as a one-man band can get. Occasionally accompanied by the Packettes, a group of three girls in outrageously colored wigs who dance along in synchronic routine, Atom’s endless pool of cleverness and originality is poised to take the world by storm — laughing and scratching its head the whole way.
What’s involved in putting together a song on a sequencer?
Well, the sequencer basically has 600 different instruments in it and 50 different drum sets. And how it works is you set an internal metronome to a specific time signature and tempo, with whatever you want, and you basically choose an instrument and play along with the metronome on the keyboard. Then you choose a different sound and you keep overdubbing different instruments until you have all the instruments in the song.
How many layers do your songs contain?
I don’t know. I mean, I think you can get up to 32, but it usually can get pretty messy if you have all that stuff.
You’ve apparently had a hard time getting reviewed in Maximum Rock and Roll …
I don’t know, I don’t read Maximum Rock and Roll very often. People always tell me, “man that’s so fucked up.” And like, I don’t know, for me, I kind of understand their position that they want to cover bands that they want to cover, and if they cover guitar pop, then that’s not what I am. So, I completely understand, and am kind of like “OK, that’s fine.” But I just like to whine about it. But it’s really funny like when people are like “I’m writing them a mean letter telling them to fuck off,” and I’m just like, “Relax, you really don’t need to do that. It’s quite OK.”
Now, I know you’re a big Ms. Pac-Man fan, right?
Yes. I was a lot longer ago than I am today, I’ve kind of been slacking, but I am definitely a big Ms. Pac-Man fan.
How do you answer the claim that Ms. Pac-Man is nothing more than Pac-Man with a bow?
No! She’s very, very much cuter, and she has lipstick, too. And there are two of the tunnel things on each side of the board. So, yeah, that was a good answer.
Being a one-man band, do you ever feel lonely or empty on stage?
Uh, no, not really. I don’t tend to play huge places, so it doesn’t really feel ridiculous, although sometimes it probably should. But, I have played a couple big places that are totally huge, and I do feel completely dumb. But the interactions with the audience are definitely a plus and more fun for me, and I think make the live show better. I don’t know. I tend not to play gigantic places anyway.
Do the Packettes tour with you?
No, they don’t. They only play certain shows that are special for some reason that they can get to. They have real jobs.
You recently received threats from a band in Laramie, WY, that, had you played there, they would have dumped blood on you “ Carrie -style.” Was that the Homeless Wonders?
Yeah, that was them, apparently.
Do you know them?
I have not ever talked to them or met them before. I guess they just think I’m really lame or really stupid, but instead of just thinking that or coming to the show and fucking with me or something, they have decided that I will not play there. But that’s fine, because, actually, I played a show the following evening in Salt Lake City, and the bands that were coming from that direction got snowed in. So, perhaps the Homeless Wonders are agents of God that pave the way to salvation. Or something.
Well, that’s nice of them. Although, the threat was rather gruesome.
Yeah, well, that might have just been to get me to not go to Laramie because they knew the snow was coming. That’s why I tend to be very optimistic, which would lead me to think that would be the case. No, I’m just kidding. I really don’t know. I mean, I can understand why people might think that what I do is stupid or even hate it, I guess. I don’t know. It always kind of surprises me. I tend to get a lot of people who spend lots of energy telling me how much I suck, but I’m always like, “Oh, okay. Well, why don’t you listen to something else then?[Ed Note: For the Homeless Wonders’ side of the story, see “Scandal,” at the end of this article.]
Going through your songs, there are only two I could come up with that could conceivably actually bother people. The first would be “Hats Off to Halford” (a tribute to Judas Priest’s Rob Halford coming out of the closet — mainly about the probability of metal band members being gay). Have you gotten any angry metal dudes from that one?
Yeah, I got a letter from a metal dude who yelled at me for the last line (“Ooh I’d love for everyone in heavy metal to be homosexual/ if not just to make the Nazi fucking pricks in Slayer a little uncomfortable”), and they yelled at me and told me that Slayer were not Nazis, and I sent them a letter back. And while I don’t imagine that they’re full-on Nazis, and I’m sure that they’re just “Ooh, fascism! That’s scary and evil, we’re evil! Whoo!” But I do have this picture of Kerry King, one of the guitar players from Slayer, with a swastika on his guitar. So, I figure that if it’s dumb enough of him to do that, then he deserves it.
The other song possibly offending people would be “What WE do on Christmas” (a sarcastic examination of when, according to Atom’s liner notes, “The Right Wing crazies talk about the Jewish conspiracy, and how the Jews control the banks, the media, the government”).
It’s all sarcastic. I mean, it’s not like it’s broadcast on television, so everybody… I think the people who tend to listen to me tend to be the punk rock kids who either a) have no idea what I’m talking about, or b) just think it’s funny. You know what I mean? Granted, if some of my friends’ parents had listened to it, they might not be too happy about it. But then again, they’re not listening to it.
I always found it odd that you’re into black and death metal, as it doesn’t really sound anything like what you produce. Is it a joke?
No, I mean, I am… like any kind of music, there are tons of shitty black metal bands and tons of shitty death metal bands, but there are a few that are quite good. And, I mean, I do like a lot of different kinds of music, and death metal is one of them.
Haven’t these bands been known to kill each other?
There were a couple of the bands I like that were pioneers of the black metal stuff, and they did some really evil stuff because they’re truly evil. Actually, a lot of them are idiotic white power people, so I do a lot of research before I buy stuff.
Your new album, Making Love , came out on Gainesville’s No Idea Records. How’d you end up on there?
I’ve know them for a while, from when I used to be in an old band with real instruments and real stuff like that, and I did a lot of the distro for a record label that I used to do. And I did a lot of the distro for the first two Atom & His Package CDs, so I’ve worked with them a whole lot through that, and I’ve just been friends with them over the years. And so they were like, “You should do a record” and I was like “OK!”
Before that, you were on Mountain Records. Who are they?
They’re actually a cooperatively run label from Brooklyn. It’s a small label. They’re just friends of mine. I mean, everything that I’ve put out has kind of been just with friends, except for one CD, which is kind of just, well… I’m not going into that. But, yeah, they’re a label that does roughly hardcore, emotional or political hardcore stuff, and I guess… actually, I thought they were kidding when they asked me if I wanted to do it. And it’s just friends of mine and I thought they were fucking with me, but I guess they weren’t. And I made a record.
Does your friend Ralph (from “Happy Birthday Ralph”) ever get ridiculed in response to the song?
Ralph is a huge baby, and whined about it a lot and told me that it was mean and stuff, and I pointed out that it was all true. And so, yeah. He whined for a while, but he’s OK now. And as far as I know, not too many people say too much stuff. But he can handle it.
What do you think of being considered the “Punk-Rock Weird Al”?
Ah, my favorite question. I mean, I don’t know. I think a lot of people do like it just because they think it’s funny, and I appreciate that and that’s totally cool and I’m not going to be like “No, you should like it for this reason or that reason.” Because if anyone likes what I’m doing, then that’s great. But it makes me happier when people are like “Oh, you’re really funny AND it’s a good song!” Actually, I don’t think too many people think that I’m writing music, but I am, and I guess Weird Al kind of doesn’t, really. You know what I mean? So, I don’t know. Whatever. It doesn’t bother me, but I don’t know. Just for me, it’s nicer to hear when people are like “Oh, that’s a good song.”
Now, judging from this awful picture you have of yourself on your Web site (http://www.atomandhispackage.com), you’ve had some mullet days. Correct?
Well, no, I had a mullet five-minute, though. I know the picture is pretty amazing, though. I mean, I had this huge afro, and whenever my hair — I have really curly hair — and whenever my hair would get wet, it would kind of come down in the back. As I was cutting my afro off, my hair was wet and I had my hockey jersey on, and it looked too good to not take a picture of.
So, I guess you’re not qualified for my question, which was that if you were aware that you had a mullet — the haircut butt of a national joke — while you had a mullet.
Yeah, I was very, very aware of it.
You’re a certified teacher, correct?
I went to graduate school and got a masters degree in education and got certified to teach high school biology and chemistry. So, I’m really smart… I’m just kidding!
So were you on your way to teacherhood when Atom & His Package took off?
Well, what happened was, I was doing it while I was in grad school, but not… I mean, obviously, it didn’t start off as, I wasn’t like, “I will be in a band, that will be a one man band and play shows and people will like it.” Basically, my band had broken up, and a friend of mine played me a song that he wrote on his sequencer, and I was like, “Oh, that’d be fun. I would love one of those! I could write songs while I’m not in the band, and I could just do it myself” and I graduated college and then I got a sequencer and wrote all these stupid songs for my friends and recorded them on a four-track to make them laugh, and stuff like that. And then I went on tour with my friend’s band, Franklin, and they were like “Oh, you should bring your thing and play some songs before we play every night” and I was like “Oh, OK.” And then by the time I got home, I had like a million songs, and it kind of went from there. I was doing it while I was in graduate school, but I mean, after graduate school I was like, “Ahh, I don’t really want to teach just yet, I’ll just go on a huge tour and see what happens.” And so, that’s how it started.
Do you think you’ll ever actually teach?
Yeah, I think so. I think it would be good, if I were in the right place. I mean, the place I did the student teaching at was definitely not the right match for me, but I think that there are places that I would really enjoy teaching, so probably at some point. And I do not imagine that people will be into this for all that long.
Well, hey, three albums strong…
Yeah, that’s kind of… funny.
According to Brandon Carlisle, the drummer of the Homeless Wonders, the band was on tour for the majority of October and early November, which was around the time that Atom received threats under their name. Furthermore, neither he nor his bandmates had ever heard of Atom, and therefore, obviously, have no ill feelings towards him.
However, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.
Earlier in the band’s six-year career, they came home from a tour and found a death threat — written in newspaper cut-out, ransom note style — from some kids in the nearby town, who followed up their letter with a violent physical attack on the band’s members. Later, they discovered that in their absence, a rumor had been started that the band had raped a girl.
The Homeless Wonders deny any involvement with the incident, real or fiction. And although they have their suspicions as to who the mysteriously vindictive third party is that continues to soil their name, they have no conclusive evidence to actually accuse with.
“It seems every day is another rumor,” explains a jaded Carlisle. “And then you wonder why some people don’t even leave their house. This is the worst part about being in a band, and it sickens me. I kinda feel like a rock star… death threats, propaganda, people trying to corrupt our name. Wow!”