A is for Atom
Brooklyn, New York
Alternative Rock, Rock, Indie, Indie Rock
Beatles, Elvis Costello, Coldplay, The National, Radiohead
A is for Atom - If you like @Coldplay & @The_National, then you'll love @aisforatom http://bit.ly/Ps3p6p - #CyberPR
About A is for Atom
It was 1998 and Mike Cykoski had just started playing bass with the promising Colorado-based jam band Zuba. The group had previously self-released 3 albums and had a robust touring schedule of 175 dates a year. The esteemed slapstick movie screenwriter and director duo the Farrelly Brothers used snippets of Zuba tunes in Kingpin and were planning to use full songs in the upcoming There’s Something About Mary, and major labels were sniffing around the swampy folk quintet. Mike was on the verge of a lucrative career but things didn’t go as planned. “The band ended before a deal happened. It was a bummer, we had a great tour booked and we cancelled it. I remember looking at the itinerary, thinking ‘I’m going to be successful, it’s going to be great,’” he says with a laugh. “And then it was like ‘Oh no, now I’m going back to work at the restaurant.’” After an exploratory journey involving sideman gigs, relocations, and music school, Mike now resurfaces with a two-EP solo bow of literate, conceptual, thoughtful and playfully-orchestrated modern folk-rock.
Ironically Mike’s decision to leave the hired-gun musician hustle came when he netted an audition with pop-rocker Gavin DeGraw. “That was the trigger on the path to becoming a solo artist,” Mike reveals. “I was in his apartment and he played many songs on the piano; they were all so good and he impressed me. It was right before he flew to LA to do the showcase that got him a record deal.” Inspired by songcraft and the art of composing, Mike enrolled in the prestigious NYU music technology master’s degree program, wisely taking a job at the university that paid for his tuition. There he met his producer Julian Cassia in a film scoring class. Julian was a fan of Mike’s compositions and grew up in England, France, and Beirut. His appreciation for Mike’s writing style and his international aesthetic perspective provide the tunes with some tastefully ethnic flourishes and, at times, some sturdy Brit-pop hooks. The project began in earnest nine months ago when Mike finished his master’s thesis and landed a steady job. He was feeling optimistic and introspective. “I wanted to set some goals, and I really wanted to do an album,” he explains. “I got this job, I got the funding, I got this producer; I said it out loud and it happened.”
The two five-song EPs are threaded with the concept of the loneliness and the futility of the existentialist’s quest. Packed within this overarching theme Mike alludes to a film noir-like sense of big-city alienation, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Campbell, the Meat Puppets and Kurt Cobain, and the artful logic of classical compositions like Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” The three five-song EPs shift conceptual perspectives on this theme and favour distinct musical dynamics to mirror each piece’s central mood. EP 1 ponders life’s meaning from an introspective point of view and the musical treatment here is appropriately more atmospheric. EP 2 boasts a more outward visage and its compositions are more upbeat and lively. EP 3 has a darker trajectory and the accompanying music has an elegiac elegance with spare beats and acoustic flourishes.
“In the first song of EP 1, ‘Creation,’ the desire is to create companionship to deal with the ultimate form of isolation and the fear associated with it. It’s based on Joseph Campbell’s Power Of Myth in which a compilation of creation stories illustrate the similarities of these seemingly disparate stories. Basically, a being discovers it’s aware and lonely so it creates the universe, like, ‘I realize that I exist, now I'm afraid. I'm lonely therefore I create companionship,’” Mike explains. “It’s based on experiences in the city, searching to find the perfect situation in the evening, a relationship, a good time, and chasing that with no success. I wrote it after an all-night bender while I waiting for the train, asking myself ‘Why am I chasing this stuff?’” The track has a new wave-esque sense of classical composition, like the film scores of Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh. It unfolds with refined but unassuming grandeur taking you on a journey with poetically romantic lines like Down From Endless Roads/I See A Million Ways To Create You. “The next song, ‘See you Again,’ is about fearing love but still wanting to find it, like ‘I hope that I don't fall in love, but I want to see you again.’” On this track there is a whimsical logic to the arrangement that evokes finding yourself in a place you never thought you’d be, mirroring the juxtaposition of fearing love but finding yourself falling in love. The track bursts forth with a jubilant 1960s mod feel that unexpectedly unravels into an Eastern-flavoured raveup. Overall it’s a panoramic approach to folk-based songcraft that recalls the modern psychedelia of the Flaming Lips or even the 1990s indie-cult 1960s- fetishists Elephant 6 Collective.
EP 2 finds the protagonist in EP 1 desperately looking for meaning in that perfect night out, and that outward quest mirroring the inner existentialistic one. “Bombs Away” adds the layer of war-as-metaphor-for-love to the mix. The parallel is between a WW2 bomber knowingly entering a death-is-the-only-way-out warzone but carrying on the mission nonetheless, and a gun-shy lover pursuing a romantic interest. The track has an ebullient gait with an infectious groove set against a winsomely lax vocal melody. Mike’s soulfully weary vocals and bittersweet harmonies recall the tender introspective side of Kurt Cobain, when the grunge pioneer was channelling both his inner Beatle and David Bowie. The Seattle Scene of the 1990s was a formative influence on Mike and he’s remained committed to that movement’s thoughtful and sincere content. “I came up with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. The Meat Puppets were one of the first bands I ever saw playing fast music with crazy harmonies. I got really inspired by that and early punk, like the Minuteman and Black Flag,” he reveals. “I never wanted to play that but it informs what I’ve been doing.”
Mike’s knack for melding emotionally direct lyrics with refined, nuanced compositions stems from the dual influences of his parents—his mother was an Irish folk singer and his father a film-score buff. In music school, as an undergrad and a grad student, he was able to study and readily identify the qualities of film scoring that he was initially attracted to, like the classical structure of these evocative pieces of music. “I listen to classical music, how operas are written like stories, and my lyric structures appropriate this compositional style where the chorus is an aria and the verse is a recitative,” he explains. His inspiration also extends to the literature of magical realist writers like Milan Kundera and Gabriel García Márquez. One of the remarkable aspects of the EP project is, despite the headiness of the conceptual bend that the feelings conveyed have a stark power and resonance. The assuredness and clarity reflected in the EP’s boldly vulnerable feelings could only come from the introspective journey of leaving the safety of playing someone else’s music to discover the music within.