"I woke up in this world, and wondered how it all could be so cruel."
Coming in from an afternoon in the sun, or a few hours by the pool, it may be difficult picture the gray skies that so often fill our Midwestern horizons. However, the storms of summer are always looming, waiting to destroy that picnic or delay that ball game. There are also other storms that brew and boil just below the surface in every house across the country. Tempers rolled in like dark clouds, words crash against each other like thunder rumbling through the open air, and finally lightning strikes destroying families and illuminating all of the problems people face.
Since 2004, Wade Alin and Lauren Cheatham have been creating lush electronic music filled with life and imagery. Their debut album Metropolitan was release back in 2005, and now they return with their follow-up release, Grayscale. A concept album of sorts, its focuses on the ever shifting nature of the Chicago sky, and subtly relating to the nature of our relationships. The album is electronic, but organic and orchestial at the same time laying down a perfect bed of sound for Lauren's powerful and passionate voice. This Chicago released Grayscale digitally in April and the physical disc came out late last month.
Recently, Wade Alin of The Atomica Project was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): The title of your latest album is Grayscale, which by definition is an image consisting of varying shades of gray. I've the album is based impact on your time in Chicago. How big of a role did the gray Chicago sky's play in the sound of the album. What can you tell us about Grayscale?
Wade Alin (WA): The concept of the album is definitely inspired by Chicago and all of its climatic highs and lows. The Midwest in general has some top notch storms. They're dramatic and sometimes unforgettable. I've lived under much more drab skies, namely Seattle, but Chicago wins out as far as being an inspiration for the Atomica Project's sound on this record. I also felt the album had a real linear feel to it; that had a bit to do with the title. Each track feels a dissimilar shade of gray to me.
OA: What is your writing process with Lauren like? What comes first the beats or the vocals? How has this process evolved in the last four years?
WA: The first album was entirely my writing – I put an ad out on craigslist and found someone to sing on it. That someone was Lauren. Since then, she's become much more involved in the process with ideas and concepts. The writing usually comes all at once. Music and lyrics inspired almost immediately by the music. If I can't finish an outline for the entire track in about 20 minutes, it usually sits too long, gets over thought, and subsequently thrown away. Having Lauren more involved will hopefully help that process mature a little bit.
OA: Your beats are so clean, almost transparent, and they supply the perfect bed for Lauren vocals. What are some of the things you may incorporate to give your sound such an organic feel?
WA: Thanks! There is a very fine balance going on there. The drums, while entirely programmed, are a blend of acoustic and electronic samples. I like stripping down an electronic beat and rebuilding it with an organic hi hat sample, I like to use a lot of vinyl sounds and tape noises in a rigid quantized environment, just little things of that nature that warm up the feeling a bit. There is also a ton of old school compression going on in our rhythm tracks; I think that helps quite a bit. Some of the tracks just have noise added through out and I think it suppresses everything (in a good way) just a bit. And Lauren has no trouble cutting through on all of the tracks.
Delorian (from Metropolitan)
OA: In your press release you down play past comparisons. I agree that you and Lauren have found a sound all your own, but as a musician are you offended when comparisons are made? Regardless of the band you are being compared to, what are your thoughts on comparisons (or RIYL type of reviews) in general?
WA: Well, you can't avoid comparisons. It's the natural thing to do, to compare something in order to give it a point of reference. I've never been offended by it at all and I understand the process, especially being a relatively unknown artist. We do feel our material is getting strong enough to sit on its own. All that said, Lauren has been compared to Tracy Thorn, Beth Gibbons, Annie Lennox, so many other artists that it's just become obvious that her voice has an air of familiarity that can't quite be pinned down and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.
OA: It is well documented that Chicago has a long history in the genre of House music, but is there currently a thriving Electronic music scene in Chicago?
WA: There is, and there isn't. Chicago is absolutely overwhelmed with artists. I moved here from New York where economy trumps creativity and, in that regard, it's amazing to see so many artists. The obvious downfall is the over saturation and there seems to be an inability to
carve out a scene like back in the day. Leaves me to wonder if anyone will ever get the recognition they deserve. That can be said about a lot of major cities. But short answer – I have seen a lot of electronic music here that has been very well done and inspiring.
OA: What's next for The Atomica Project?
WA: We're currently toying with the idea of releasing a series of EP's that genre hop a bit, at least for us. Since digital releases have become so prominent, the idea of releasing a 4-5 track EP every few months is kind of appealing. Of course, we'll see how that goes. I'm old school. I'm sure I called Grayscale a "record" or "album" somewhere in this interview.
OA: Coffee? If yes, what type of coffee do you prefer, and where is your favorite place to get a cup?
WA: Intelligentsia is my favorite right now, strong as gasoline. I like to get a cup @ Humboldt Pie right around the corner from where I live.
OA: What was the last great book you have read?
WA: A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.
For more information on The Atomica Project please visit their website.