It had been a long time since I watched the movie Almost Famous, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, and I happened onto it on Netflix the other day. I barely remembered it but at the time I watched it, I don’t remember being particularly moved. I was coming off three years of touring in the Jam Band Circuit with the Boulder band Zuba and wasn’t interested in a movie about life on the road with a band. Now that some years have passed, I can sit back and enjoy the movie on my couch, not in a hotel room with some smelly bandmate! A lot of the themes were familiar to my experience: sexism, alcoholism, drug abuse, overly inflated egos (especially mine), etc. But the thing that really stood out to me was one of the main themes of the movie – the relationship of music writers/reviewers to musicians and bands. Crowe was relating his experiences in the ’70s touring as an imbedded reporter with the Allman Brothers, Eagles and The Who to his experiences in the ’90s with bands like Pearl Jam. Since I toured in the late ’90s and love ’70s music, I thoroughly enjoyed and related to the movie this time. The main character is apparently based on Glen Fry (that line at the beginning about going and dumping Glyn Johns is a slight clue). Crowe’s character was lulled into a false sense of security by the “cool” bands and ultimately betrayed. Lester Bangs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, reminds Crowe that writers are not cool and honesty is the only thing that he as a friend/reviewer should do.
Fast forward to today – the music business story is quite possibly turned on its head. With a saturation of music and bands on the market and the decline of record labels, in my opinion the purveyors of cool have dramatically shifted. Gone are the days of the crotch dangling, hotel smashing male chauvinist “cool” ’70s style musician (probably for the better) and the tough record execs deciding what “cool” is (also for the better). But now there are so many bands, that someone or something is a necessity to filter them out. If you’re like me and don’t listen to the radio, who do I turn to? It’s the music blog writers and music critics who are deciders of cool, and the successful writers are cooler than bands!
For instance, flash back to the ’70s and ’80s – the reviews of most major bands are unforgiving. Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin even Beatles albums that are considered “classic” were trashed in their day by critics. The public bought them up anyway, and the bands thumbed their noses at the critics. Big Star was a critic’s darling in the ’70s and their record never went anywhere. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of the critics and music buying public being in line. But these days Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan among others can make or break a record or band. A 10 from Pitchfork is now like the cover of the Rolling Stone! I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, I think it makes for an interesting era in the music business. But I’m learning that it’s very important for bands to have it together when approaching blogs and writers – they are probably more important than a record label at this point. To paraphrase Lester Bangs, we as musicians should be brutally honest about our journey and…of course we’re at home, we’re uncool.
Brooklyn native Mike Cykoski, better known by the moniker A Is For Atom, is a composer with a more unique background than most. With a Master’s Degree in Music Technology from NYU as well as certificates from Harvest Works and Dubspot – all of which was inspired by an audition with none other than Gavin DeGraw – Cykoski has already had a storied journey and shows no signs of slowing down. With a pair of EPs “threaded with the concept of the loneliness and the futility of the existentialist’s quest,” it goes without saying that A Is For Atom’s music makes for an extremely unique and enjoyable listen.
Armed with his very own brand of chilled-out indie rock, we expect to hear even more from A Is For Atom in 2015 and beyond. His second and latest EP, titled Song For You, was released in May 2014 and you can stream it in full via Soundcloud and purchase a CD here.