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July 08, 2010

Interview with Adam Goren (Atom and his Package, Armalite)

Adam Goren created Atom and his Package almost by accident. Quickly, the goof project involving only him with occasional guest appearances by his friends, writing joke songs on a synthesizer to make his friends laugh, began to grow exponentially. Soon, he had a fan base well over anything he'd ever imagined, as well as detractors that assumed he'd concocted the project as a mere gimmick to try to become a success.

In 2003 Adam called it quits for the "band", after he learned his wife was pregnant. Still, in the six years that Atom and his Package existed, he managed to write a slew of songs still meaningful today, and leave quite a legacy. Songs like "If You Own the Washington Redskins, You're a Cock," and "Lord, It's Hard to be Happy (When You're Not Using the Metric System)" still speak to ridiculous things in our society today, while songs like "Mustache T.V." (The act of drawing a mustache onto a piece of scotch tape and sticking it to the TV.) still make me laugh.

He was nice enough to exchange some emails with me recently, and answer all the questions I had about songs he had written, the entire experience, and what he's up to now.

Could you explain a little bit of how Atom and his Package came about? You've mentioned before that it was never meant to be serious, so what made that change?

I had played in different bands throughout high school and college, and my band Fracture had broken up because our singer moved across the country. I started to write some songs on the music sequencer for friends and for fun. I had booked tours for Fracture and our friends' band Franklin in the past and I ended up playing a few songs before Franklin played a couple times. It was fun and I kept doing it... then after I finished up a really trying student teaching experience, I booked a tour for me and Franklin, more out of need of a vacation than for anything. For some reason, when I got home, I just kept booking shows and more tours and so on.

You seemed to have a sense of humor about things like people sending you hate mail -- even featuring them on your site. Did it ever get to you, though, or was the positive much greater?

For the most part it didn't. I mean it totally made (and makes) sense to me that the stuff I did was not for everyone and that some folks would think it was really stupid. It was always interesting and puzzling why people would spend so much energy getting mad about something that was really easily avoided.  I mean, it's not like I was punching anyone.

The only times it really got to me would be when people would write threatening stuff, because even though I was pretty confident that it was the result of internet bravery, getting threats that involved burning down my folks' house (who clearly didn't deserve anything like that, even if it was b.s.)

One of my favorite songs, "If You Own the Washington Redskins, You're a Cock", came out 9 years ago, and it still amazes me that they have yet to change their name. Do you think things like that speak to some greater truth about society?

I don't really know what to make of the human race. I'm totally amazed at what people have been able to learn, and to do, but at the same time, repeatedly and totally discouraged by what folks do.  This is why giant ants should come and eat us, and why many of us would deserve it.

You seem to be really into metal (Unless covering a band like Brutal Truth and singing about it frequently is a quirky joke I've misread). Why have you always played more punk-oriented music, then?

I love lots of different kinds of music, and definitely love a bunch of metal bands (the new High On Fire is a great one. Converge is also a favorite), but growing up, punk/hardcore was the best thing in the world for me. I met tons of cynical, but smart and productive folks when I was spending much of my days at school where I had few friends and felt like most folks were total jerks at worst, and not my type at best.

So, according to Andy Daly, he invented Mustache TV. Any legal action in the works? Do you feel like you missed out on a merchandising opportunity?

I'm pretty sure that when Andy Daly contacted me about his Mustache TV idea, a friend and I immediately took and emailed him the photograph that I've attached to this email. I assured him that I had no intention of marketing the idea and just thought it was a good idea that a friend shared with me (a good example of convergent evolution, me thinks).  I am curious as to who would pay for something that could be made with a piece of Scotch tape and a Sharpie though.

Wait, so Andy Daly actually contacted you and your friend to ask if you had any intention of marketing the idea, and when you said no he went out and trademarked it himself so he could sell it? Haha, wow. I thought it was just a coincidence.

I think that Andy Daly and my friend independently had the same really great idea. Andy had been marketing them and then I guess came across the Mustache TV song and contacted me about it.

You stopped doing Atom and his Package because you were starting a family. Any chance you'd return to it when the kids are older? You did play another show a few years back, maybe a "reunion" tour in the future?

I don't know. I mean, there's no reason why with more time on hand, I may not find myself being interested in writing and recording new songs, but I think touring is done though. I have very little desire to go any further from my home than an hour north of here, where my brother lives.

You teach now, right? How many of your kids have found out about your musical past/occasional present? Have any become fans?

Yep. I teach high school physics and chemistry. It seems like kids tend to find out about my music stuff. I'm happy to talk with kids about music stuff. One of my student's had a Sunn shirt on this year, which was pretty hard for me to get my head around. Pretty inaccessible stuff for a 16 year old, I'd think. Students somehow seem to think I'm cool for about 5 minutes because I had a poster on the O.C. for a season... they get over that pretty quickly though and all street cred is lost.

What made you fall back into teaching after AAHP, instead of maybe moving into other aspects of the music industry that might be more family-raising-friendly?

I dunno... the teaching schedule with summers off is pretty darn family friendly. I'm also not entirely sure what else I could do in the music industry. I tried running a record label with some friends but didn't find it to be very rewarding.

Yeah, I don't know enough about the music industry to know average wages and hours spent doing things like producing, etc. I was just curious if you'd felt creatively drained or if you just wanted a safer bet for your family. I mean, not that teaching isn't creative. Both of my parents were teachers, so I have some second-hand knowledge of how rewarding it can be.

I definitely felt creatively drained. I think I'm just starting to get over it honestly. I don't know the first thing about what I could offer to anyone in the music industry.  Teaching is pretty fun, though.

You frequently used Atom and his Package as a platform for venting your frustrations at anything from offensive sports team names to the non-use of the Metric System. Do you miss having a place to complain about things like that?

Nah, though perhaps my friends and family do because they get the run off now. It's strange... I used to love to play around with the sequencer and/or the guitar, but I am rarely moved to do that anymore. I don't know if I just overdid it, but I think it started before I got busy with double dadding 'n' stuff. I still love music and can't imagine living without being a huge music fan, but I spend energy seeking out good stuff rather than spending a ton of energy making stuff that I feel sorta 'meh' about.

Will you be crushed if your kids don't share a love for the same music? I enjoy exposing my 2 year old to my music -- or at least the more appropriate stuff. Currently, if she tells me she wants to dance, that means I'm supposed to put the new Devo CD in. Are you the same way with your kids?

Wait... honestly, please tell me about the new Devo CD. I am afraid to listen.

I will not be as crushed as they will be... literally... in the trash compactor, if they don't love the kind of music I love.

Actually, they both love music. Sam loves High on Fire and the soundtrack from Cars (and Joan Jett) and Ruby loves Papas Fritas, the Ramones and Municipal Waste. I actually deserve for them to both like opera, as my dad LOVES that and all three of his children can't stand it.

It's actually pretty damn good. There are a few tracks that take some getting used to, and I think it suffers a bit from their whole marketing scheme where they put it through focus groups to pick the tracks and order and such. But that marketing scheme was hilarious, so it was probably worth it.

Is Armalite still together, and if so, are you putting out a second CD?

We are sort of together, in the way that we really have never been a functioning band.  We get together and play from time to time, and currently, the idea is to record a 7".  Unfortunately, everyone keeps telling me that we need to write songs to put out another record.

Well, thanks so much for spending some of your summer vacation answering my questions. Enjoy the rest of your time off!

Hey thanks, Alex. Take care.


B. Jason said...

God damn, did I love this guy back in the day. I think he might have thought I was a stalker or something. We hung out in the lobby during an MSI show in Massachusetts. Schumow, his lovely wife, was there as well now that I think back. Actually, I kinda wish I had caught some of the MSI show, because I picked up a copy of "Frankenstein Girls" shortly after and fell in lurve.

Anonymous said...

"party favors for your binders!"

Nik said...

Great interview. Shame about the photobucket pictures expiring.

Alex R. Cronk-Young said...

@Nik - Sorry, those will come back tomorrow. Didn't think it was worth the trouble of transferring every image on the site when it was only a few days.

Jere said...

"I don't really know what to make of the human race. I'm totally amazed at what people have been able to learn, and to do, but at the same time, repeatedly and totally discouraged by what folks do. This is why giant ants should come and eat us, and why many of us would deserve it."

Leave it to Atom to come up with the all-time best quote to sum up humanity.

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