A Conversation With Atta Boy
For many bands, a hiatus often signals the end of an era. Whether it stems from creative differences, in-house conflict or other miscellaneous reasons, band members taking a break and heading toward different pursuits is just a part of musicianship, and always has been. It’s not very often that fans see a group break off after their very first album, especially when that album is a commercial success. For Atta Boy, this may have just been the key to success eight years down the road, with the release of their second album, “Big Heart Manners.”
Playing live music together as early as the 7th grade, Atta Boy’s journey to their newest work has been an emotional rollercoaster. Their first album, “Out of Sorts,” was produced thanks in part to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Keyboards player Dashel Thompson noted the first album as “a sort of culmination of the music [they] had been working on together for a few years,” and that the group as a whole had “no real expectation that anyone beyond [their] friends and family would hear it.”
But here in 2020, Atta Boy has over 160,000 monthly Spotify listeners, with most of the songs on their first album amassing one million plays each. Fans waited eagerly for new music, and now that it’s finally here, I felt the need to sit down with the band and get the full story.
JO: In the eight years since your guys’ debut LP, there was mostly silence on your end. Take me through an abridged timeline of the hiatus if you can. Was there a breakup? Creative differences? A loss of passion for the work?
AB: “When we did the first album, we were already engaged in pretty different occupations and circumstances, and I think the hiatus after recording was just an extension of that. We were working to fulfill different passions of ours outside of just the band. I don’t think there were ever terribly serious intentions do be a band full time, but I’m grateful it happened. There was a lot of growing to do both musically and interpersonally. I can’t really believe eight years went by so quickly because we all stayed in touch a bit. I just think we needed to explore other areas of our lives that asked for our attention and I’m grateful for that.” – Eden Brolin (Lead Vocals)
JO: Over how long of a period of time were these songs written? Were they spaced out over the eight years or did you guys come together just recently to compile your ideas?
AB: “Some of them were written as early as 2013, but quite a few of them were written when we were in the recording studio. It was fun to take older songs and make them new, or the synthesis of separately written lyrics and music and then just smushing it all together when you are together.” – Eden Brolin (Lead Vocals)
JO: “Big Heart Manners” takes the subtle elements of folk and country from your first album and makes them significantly more pronounced in the instrumentation on most tracks. What was the motivation behind this?
AB: “I think it was just a natural shift that occurred. I attended college for music and got really into arrangements. Our good friend and talented musician, Stephanie Meyers, actually wrote the woodwind arrangement for ‘Boxer.’ We knew something was missing there, and Steph helped fill it with beauty. While dealing with more knowledge of arranging, we didn’t want to stray to far from our simple stripped-down sound. I don’t think there’s too much motivation behind it other than the warmth and comfort certain sounds bring us.” – Freddy Reish (Guitarist)
JO: My personal favorite track on the LP, “Boxer,” closes with this lyric: ‘If I had a dollar for all the times I left you wrong, You’d think I’m rich but I’m broke just for singing this song.’ Can you speak on any metaphors that carry throughout the song and what these lyrics mean specifically to you guys?
AB: “I wrote ‘Boxer’ sort of as an ode to people that tend to put their significant others onto a pedestal and in the process, leave themselves and their own sense of self-worth behind. There’s a pleading to be wanted and known, while there is equally a resentment in the knowledge that that’s not the way to find it. I don’t know if that makes sense.” – Eden Brolin (Lead Vocals)
JO: The song “Broke” rides solely on this beautiful arrangement of piano instrumentation, making it unique amongst the other tracks on the album. What was the motivation behind that choice?
AB: “The band and [our producer] spent a lot of time contemplating how to best support what was originally called ‘Eden’s Piano Song,’ and we finally came to the conclusion that that’s what the song was about. It’s Eden at a piano pouring her thoughts and feelings out, and anything too big would diminish that. We did add samples of rain and trains to create an environment though. Also, Dashel [Thompson] is playing pump organ on the track to add a nice mellow underbelly.” – Freddy Reish (Guitarist)
JO: The song “There” offers repeated lyrics in each verse, all referencing going back “there” or speaking of “there.” Is there a location you assigned to this concept or is “there” a larger idea altogether?
AB: “My take is that ‘there’ is the memory of people and relationships in the narrator’s past. The narrator going ‘back there’ is her revisiting those memories.” – Dashel Thompson (Keyboard)
“It’s pretty broad. There’s an idea in my own head but I think it’s more fun to leave that one up to the imagination of anyone listening.” – Eden Brolin (Lead Vocals)
JO: Is it true that you guys have been donating your Bandcamp funds to various charities since May?
AB: “Yes, we’ve donated to No Kid Hungry and The Marsha P. Johnson Institute from our Bandcamp funds for our singles. We’ve also matched our fans donations and raised $2,000 donated to the Know Your Rights Camp, ACLU, Movement for Black Lives and two other organizations fighting for the end of systemic racism.” – Freddy Reish (Guitarist)
JO: There may not be an answer to this question, but is Atta Boy back now? Or do you guys envision another break on the horizon?
AB: “I don’t think that, in our minds, we were ever completely gone. I hope we’ll find an opportunity to do a little tour at some point, mostly because I really enjoy the boys’ company. They’re great friends and I’d love the opportunity to play with them as much as I can. I definitely get in my head about playing in front of people, but I’d be really stoked to explore it with them.” – Eden Brolin (Lead Vocals)
JO: If you have any fellow bands or musicians you’d like to shout out, feel free to do so!
AB: “Our dear friend Stephanie Meyers is an incredibly talented musician and did the gorgeous woodwind arrangement on Boxer!” – Dashel Thompson (Keyboards)
“I’d like to give a shoutout to HeadCount for teaming up with us to help people ready to vote. Also shoutout to Caeser Martinez for playing all of the woodwinds, Maya Richardson for awesome band photos, Marty Rifkin for the awesome pedal steel and lap steel, and Jason Hiller for just being the best.” – Freddy Reish (Guitarist)
“My good friend Sam is the lead of this garage rock (that’s what I’d call it) band called The Bobby Lees. They’re really sick. Kyle McNeill who went to school with us has been a great inspiration to me through the years. Our friend, Zander Hawley, is an amazing artist who we also went to school with. Hannah Cohen was someone we only met once, but I just saw a show of her’s for the first time and I was dumbfounded. There are so many people but I’ll leave it at that for now.” – Eden Brolin (Vocals)