INTERVIEW: TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb Talk About Expanding on Their Unique Sound on "Dancing out the Door"
TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb are truly one of a kind. The Philadelphia quartet has carved out a little niche for themselves in a genre that lies somewhere between americana, punk, blues and 60's garage rock that fans have aptly dubbed "post apocalyptic blues." Frantic instrumentals, which include piano, organ, horns and harmonica coupled the traditional lineup of guitar, drums and upright bass (yes, there really are only four members in the band) situate perfectly alongside vocalist Dan Bruskewicz's deep baritone and dark lyricism.
With their new album, Dancing out the Door out on Friday the 13th of October - naturally - TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb are in the midst of getting fans excited for new music and preparing for their annual Halloween party, which will double as their album release show. Dancing out the Door, in true TJ Kong fashion, is a wild ride from start to finish, and as it turns out, the band felt the same while while recording it, too. I won't give it all away here though - read all about the new album and listen to the band's most recent single, "John Wilkes Booth" below!
Interview by Dom Vigil
Can you tell us a little bit about TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb for any readers who might not be familiar?
Would love to. We're a band from Philadelphia which is the sarcasm capital of the world. We are the tallest band in America. Which is a fact that not every band can boast about. We play 60's garage rock crossed with a little country and blues. It's very sweaty. Picture Otis Redding playing Merle Haggard songs backed up by The Sonics. So sweaty. And very fun.
Your sound fits under a really unique genre that people are calling post apocalyptic blues. Was this something that you wanted to accomplish when first starting out, or did it sort of just happen?
No, this is just what people started calling our music. We have always loved the phrase though. We really aim to live in the moment when playing live and make each show a special voyage, to create an experience that feels like an end of the world party. There's something about the rough baritone vocals and the garage / punk drums and bass that creates a sort of "dancing with doom" feel. It's something that happened very organically and we just went with it.
Your new album, Dancing out the Door is an exploration of those sounds. Did you have any goals in mind when working on it?
We did. We wanted to definitively record the feeling of our live show experience. We've been trying to do this for a while. Through the years, we've really boiled down our studio approach with the help of Bill Moriarty, the producer here and Zach Goldstein at Kawari Sound. They've helped us find a less-is-more modus operandi. We wanted to take that even further with this record to create more of an urgency that you can feel when listening to the songs. We recorded everything live to tape with very few overdubs, even vocals. And we did it in just a few days so we could recreate the manic feel of the live show. We took those guts and then worked with them in mixing and what we came out with was a very energetic, living, breathing, honest and exciting human record. We're really happy with it.
Were there any stories that you wanted to tell on Dancing out the Door?
Our experiences touring the country since we released our last full length have really shaped these songs. We wanted to paint a big portrait of what that feels like. We take a lot of inspiration from our travels and, like all of our songs, there are real stories we've lived through in these tunes and also wonderful, strange tales we've heard along the way.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a band with the writing and recording of Dancing out the Door?
We wanted to experiment with new flavors on this record and expand our pallet, so to speak. There's a lot of organ and piano and some tack piano played by our friend Mike Frank that adds another dimension to the songs. We brought some members of the amazing Philly Balkan brass band West Philly Orchestra into the studio as well, that was really exciting. I think in general, there's more of an experimental feel to the songs & instruments that adds to the in-the-moment experience that we really wanted.
The album was recorded live to tape. How do you feel this has affected the overall sound and feel of it?
It's the only way to fly. This is the second project we recorded to tape at Kawari Sound and the vitality of it is so great. Also the process of embracing the live room and throwing caution to the wind really has changed the way we think about recording and our band's sound in general.
Were there any challenges you came across when working on the album?
For sure. We gave ourselves 2 days to record the album live in the studio. We did some overdubs later for brass parts but we wanted our band to get recorded in those 2 days. And it was really freeing and the energy was exactly what we wanted but it was also a challenge - especially for Bill and Zach who did an amazing job working fast and in-the-moment. The biggest challenge was that we couldn't do the organ live with the rest of the band because Mike was playing piano parts live and we wanted both. So after the whirlwind of recording all the songs in 2 days we had to pick our favorite takes to make sure Mike had enough time to record all the organ parts at the end of day 2 in the studio. I remember Mike had a dinner with his wife and her parents scheduled that night so there was also this pressure to get Mike to dinner on time! I don't think we've ever picked takes for a record that fast before.
What would you like fans to take away from the album or even your live performances?
A sweaty shirt and the pungent aroma of their own pheromones.
With the album out on Friday the 13th of October, do you have any plans for some album release shows? What’s next for TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb?
We're having a large party in Philadelphia at Underground Arts at our annual TJ Kong Halloween Costume Ball Rock N Roll Murdershow which is a huge halloween party we throw every year. This year it's also our album release partay. Then we're gonna play some of our very favorite dives in some of our favorite cities in late October and through November followed by a longer trip in Spring 2018. Keep an eye out for dates!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Absolutely, it was our pleasure. We'd like to say that love is the only way forward. And that openness is the only true way to find love. It's scary sometimes but in the end that's the spice of life. And the spice must flow.