Philly musicians, TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb, are the oddball group of creative spirits armed with whimsical imaginations and guitars that you didn’t know you needed in your life. The guys recently released their new album, ‘Dancing out the Door’, and are currently on the road trekking through the East Coast. I caught up with Dan Bruskewicz and Dan Martino to discuss ‘Dancing out the Door’, each of their bizarre stories of getting tattooed, upcoming tour dates, karaoke with Meatloaf and more.
Let’s start off with a bang. If you could metaphorically affiliate the lyrical content of ‘Dancing out the Door’ to the characteristics of an animal, which animal would you choose and why?
Dan B – This record is like an epic poem, it’s a strange and beautiful trip. Lyrically, it is closest to the Arctic Tern which is the bird with the longest yearly migration on Earth. Every year they travel from the Arctic to the Antarctic region and back, seeing two summers in one year and living a carefree existence along the European and African coasts. That bird has some stories to tell.
DM – There’s something about this record that makes me want to drive very, very fast. I see a chariot race. Horses breathing fire, chains rattling and wooden wheels splintering into tinder. Ben Hur meets Mad Max meets Mario Kart.
What was the most important challenge that you all were able to overcome in the studio which in hindsight, turned out in your favor?
Dan B – Time. We really wanted to capture the rough and raucous magical feel of our live show with these songs. So we decided to record everything live to tape in a two-day session. We gave ourselves a time limit to add that seat-of-your-pants joyride feel to the proceedings. It was a real challenge but we worked with some great people at Kawari Sound outside of Philadelphia: Bill Moriarty who produced the record and Zach Goldstein who engineered with him. They were able to work in the moment with us and capture some lightning on tape. We later added elements like horns with overdubs but the guts of that live two-day session really make the songs.
DM – We recorded the whole thing live, in studio, in two days. In the past, we’ve tried recording in piecemeal, drums on a click track in a room by myself. Doing that felt so clinical and robotic. The live shows have so much life and grit. It was important for me to capture that kinetic energy, for better or worse. Recording live comes with its challenges. You only get two or three passes through a song and you move on so if you flub a line or hit a cymbal wrong it’s going to be on the final record so there is a – not so much pressure – but a focus that comes with that. So you have to strike a balance between laser focus and freewheeling kinetic energy. The tape soaks it all up.
Any upcoming tour or festival appearance plans that you can fill us in about?!
Dan B – Yes! Our album release tour starts on October 26th in Boston and we will travel down the East Coast with dates in NYC, Philly, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina throughout November. We’re visiting all of our favorite Waffle Houses.
DM – What Dan said. Especially the Waffle Houses.
If you could go out with any fellow musician for a night of Karaoke at a local dive bar, which musician would you choose and why?
Dan B – Easy. That’s Prince. Hands down the greatest Karaoke date of all time. Can you imagine Prince singing “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes? He would set fire to buildings.
DM – Meatloaf. I want to do a karaoke duet of “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” where I sing the female vox. Who doesn’t want to see that?
Let’s talk tattoos. Dan, tell us the backstory pertaining to your venture into tattooing and what sparked your interest.
DM – I got my first tattoo at a house party when I was 17. I dove right in and got a skull and crossbones on my middle finger. It wasn’t planned or anything. There was a dude in the basement giving $20 tattoos so I grabbed a pen and drew it on my finger. He basically saw what I did, shrugged, and fired up the machine. I was immediately hooked. I bought a huge assortment of colors and needles. Way too much gear for a novice. If anyone out there plans to start tattooing, stick with black ink and liner needles first. I had big plans to tour with bands as their green room tattoo artist. Basically be a traveling tattoo party. It didn’t really work out. I spent my first year giving really shitty flames and grim reaper tattoos to neighborhood kids in South Philly. There are a few decent tattoos I’ve given out there. I even have a few I did to myself including the Gogol Bordello slingshot on my leg. I sat and watched action movies, hunched over my calf and did the whole thing with a liner. It didn’t hurt as bad as you’d think. I don’t really remembering it hurting at all. But anyway, I eventually traded all my gear in for a bike and the dream ended there.
Tell us about some of your favorite personal pieces and the artists that you have collaborated with to bring the tattoos to life.
DM – I have XO on the top knuckles of my middle and pointer finger that my friend Noelle gave me in a kitchen in New Orleans. All my favorites tattoos are on my hands. I also have “chump” written over my heart. It was in an oddities column from a 1930’s newspaper. I got that from Josh Crowell while visiting Hawaii. Some are more sentimental than others. My sleeve is a bit of a downer. A buddy of mine started it but never finished it. He has since died. I’m not sure if I want to start over or finish it. I also lost a bet in college and have to as some point get “Breastmilk” tattooed in big gothic letters over my navel.
How do you perceive the cultural shift in perception toward tattoos and body art has advanced the art and expanded the vision of tattoo artists around the world.
DM – Tattoos and piercings are ubiquitous. It’s almost become more unusual to not have a tattoo. I feel like the stigma is still there but it’s fading fast and easy to avoid. Tattoos used to be for prisoners or sailors or the Russian mafia. Now some punk with a few extra bucks can buy too much equipment off the internet and start tattooing their friends and neighbors. This means that generations of artists who previously had no access to an apprenticeship can get started after watching a YouTube video (for better or worse). I’ve seen some truly incredible artists bend the traditional standards. People like Curt Baer in California or Brett Burnham in Baltimore.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self when you first starting making music, what would you say?
DM – Join the marching band. Rudiments matter. Keeping time matters. Nothing brings a band down like a rhythm section with no rhythm. I grew up in punk bands. I learned how to play very hard and very fast but my timing sometimes suffered. Also, explore world music. You’ll find Calypso, Punk, Swing, Rock, and Balkan influence in our songs. Sometimes an amalgamation of several styles. Try everything once. Except heroin. Don’t do that shit.
Dan B – Don’t be afraid of your voice. It’s different but that’s great. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t hold it back. Don’t smoke so much. Smoke just enough. Learn how to jog and sing in tune at the same time for long distances, it’s how Destiny’s Child does it.
What do fans of TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb have to look forward to in 2018?
Dan B – A whole lot of touring and recording our next album. We’ve been cooking up some tunes while we put the finishing touches on this record. They’re strange and intimate and we’re pretty excited about them.
DM- Our bassist, Josh Machiz, does stand up now. It’s pretty good.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?!
Dan B – Throw your phone in the river. Live free. Dance.
DM – Work hard and respect each other. Easy on the soda. Love over fear.
TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb Social Links: