Atheist released probably the best record of 2010 entitled ”Jupiter”. We couldn’t help but asking drummer Steve Flynn about all the details of this monumental piece of work, including production and composing issues, influences of the past and the present, their will to stay with us as much as we want them around and their excitement about coming to Athens in April and have a great time with fans. What follows is the proof that some things happen step by step and with simplicity!
* You can also listen to the audio format of the interview here.
First of all, as a fan, I’d like to thank you for coming back, it is a great joy for metalheads to have you back, especially in discography.
We’d like to know at first, what happened and which was the motive for Atheist to come back, so let’s take it a little backwards and check the reasons that made you come back to life again.
Well, it was a series of small events that just kept unfolding. We had no plan to come back, or to play, or to do anything, we hadn’t been together in 15-16 years, Relapse reissued our first three records and that was the first step and once they did that, somebody said ”Hey, why don’t you play a reunion show?” and we said all ”OK”. So we played a couple of shows, then they said we played some more shows, we said OK, we played some more shows, and it turned into five shows, then ten shows and then twenty shows and then ”How about a new record?” and we were offered a great deal from Season Of Mist. We finally said ”OK, we’ll do it” so, it’s kinda small step by step process. We never intented to actually do any of it and it kinda just happened.
I should congratulate you about thinking it so much, because you didn’t seem to be in a hurry and you looked very carefully in order to create the new album. So, this thing kept growing on and on, we’d like to know when at first these new eight songs were composed. If they were a little older than we can imagine or if they are the result of the upcoming tour you made after the reformation.
Yes, the songs were composed just let’s say, four or five months before we recorded ”Jupiter” (!!!), they’re all brand new, there’s nothing there that’s left over from the past days, these are all brand new songs that were just written this year (2010).
So, this makes me say that many jaws are going to drop, because if these songs are so new as you say, they adapt so perfect to the past of the band like not even a day passed. Which were the main goals of the band, in order to create ”Jupiter” ?
Well, thank you for the wonderful words…
(Interrupting him) It’s just the truth, I mean it’s like being in ’95, not 2010.
Sure, sure. The reason it sounds like the other albums is because Kelly Shaefer (vocals) and I just set down and started writing like we always did. And I think the songs are very much like the previous Atheist records, but they’ re also very new in some ways. I think that comes through in the music. We didn’t have a plan, we didn’t decide we wanted the album to sound this way, or that way, we didn’t say let’s be heavy or let’s be fast, we’ve never done that in the past, we never set down and said let’s be this, let’s be that. We just let the music come out, however it comes out, the only plan that we ever have is that we write music that we enjoy playing and we’d be proud to let people hear, and we did the exact same thing when we set down to write ”Jupiter”. The eight songs that came out were the ones, again we had no plan to make them sound a certain way, they just came out the way they came out.
We’d like to know about production and composing issues, how much did it take you to create the record, and if there is a special message behind the title, because ”Jupiter” used to be the acronym of Zeus, which is the father of the gods here in Greece, and it’s also the name of the biggest planet. So, is this a statement that this is the biggest Atheist album to date?
Sure, it is related, Jupiter represents this big presence, this big force in our solar system, and it does represent a lot of things. It represents as you said related to Zeus and the gods, the sign for Jupiter is number 4 and this is our fourth album and there is a lot of hidden meanings behind it. It’s the largest planet but it’s gasy,it has no surface, it doesn’t have a solid surface and so all these things together combine to make it representative of Atheist. But the album didn’t take very long to produce. I recorded the drums in about six hours (!!!), we did the guitars in about two or three hours (!!!), bass in a few hours (!!!), it only took us eight or ten days (!!!) to actually record everything, get it all ready and then Jason Suecof mixed the record in three or four days, so it was a quick production.
So, with what you just said, many new bands will be humiliated because you make things seem and sound so simple, that you pour out the basic fact of life, all nice things are the simple ones. Did that come on purpose from the beginning, I mean, playing music from the heart without caring how it will sound, and how much is this adapted to the likes of 2010? I mean, not only you keep the old spirit alive but you seem to get it forward like not even a day passed, and you do it with such profound simpleness that it is an example for new bands.
Well, thank you again, that’s a great compliment. We in fact, just like you said, sit down and play from the heart and we don’t care how it sounds. We play very organically and we try to play real and when we did ”Jupiter” we did the same thing. We didn’t stand for one week, you know, just editing drum parts to click tracks, and putting it together and doing songs and sections. When we played ”Jupiter”, what you hear on the record is us, sitting down playing in the studio, some of these songs we did in one take (!!!) and that was it, and we just set down to play all the way through and that how we used to do it. Technology today has made, has given us the ability to have great sounding productions for an expensive. But it also has turned a lot of the music into very… Too perfect, and too sterile, too fake sounding, and we wanted to… You know, when we set down and playing we wanted you to hear everything, including the imperfections, including the little variations in time signature, that’s what gives it a real organic natural sound and that’s important to us!
So, let me tell you a story now of how I think of things and you will tell me if I am right. Let’s consider that Atheist is a man who is born naked. So, at first he has to survive, so he puts out his first weapon which is ”Piece Of Time”. It’s a little rough but it makes him come to the game. Then he evolves with ”Unquestionable Presence” to show people that he’s not only rough but he has many sides. And then he brings out ”Elements” which is also of this, so he does a break, and he puts out ”Jupiter” which is let’s say a sum of all those three. How much Atheist evolved as people collectively and as a band in general? And if this man has a lot steps to do…
I think that is a very very good way to describe it and in fact, and we often describe our music the very same way, we say that ”Piece Of Time” was like a baby, and with ”Unquestionable Presence” was coming into teenage years, and with ”Elements” into early adulthood and in ”Jupiter” he’s a full grown man. We often speak of it very similarly and sort of the evolution of the band over the years.
The main fact that fans think, is that not only ”Jupiter” is one of the best albums of this year, but there’s so much more to come, that they can count on Atheist not as an old experienced band, but like… you sound like 20 or 25 years old, being in the top of your shape and you have a lot to give. So, at first fans would like to know how much Atheist are going to be around us, because they really want it, and second, which are your expectations of this album?
When we started, when we reunited, we didn’t know how far we would go, and it’s really been the fans that pushed us to where we are today. We will continue to go as long as the demand, as long as the fans like what we’re doing and keep asking us to play… We will continue. My expectations… I just hope… Let me put it this way, we released ”Piece Of Time” and ”Unquestionable Presence” and ”Elements”, a lot of people don’t remember them, the music is now well liked by the fans, back then we had a lot of good reviews and press, we had a lot of people talking about the band but when we were out to play, people didn’t like it. And when we were doing ”Jupiter” people would ask ”What you think is gonna happen?” and I would tell people ”Atheist has never put out a record that people liked when it was released”. People really began to like Atheist maybe five, six or seven years after we did ”Elements”. This is the first time for us, we never put out that had critical acclaim from the press and the fans. So, this is new territory to us, so we’re not quite sure exactly where it’s gonna go, I don’t know what our expectations are, we hope that people will embrace it and people will get it and listen to it and come see Atheist play live.
I consider a very critical moment the re-releases of the first three albums. Many fans were searching for them, so they could either make very big bids on E-bay or buy bootleg editions. When Relapse re-released these three godly albums, I think it was like a spark and fans began to work with Atheist again. Also, we’d like to know which is the response so far from the press worldwide, because here in Greece there is not a single man, that only liked the album, but I could say they bow down to you, we are with very profound lust to see you live again, because we have the best memories from the first time you came here.
I think everybody in the band will agree that the shows we played in Greece were some of the best we’ve played, in terms of the support of the fans, how great people were to us, how beautiful it was, just one of the most amazing and most memorable times and when we set up the show in April in Athens at An Club we were very very excited. We’ve been talking about it, and in fact we were just talking about it the other night at rehearsal, we’re talking of how excited we are to come back to Greece and to play for Harry (the promoter). We’re really really really looking forward, it’s one of the best places we came to play, the support of the fans was really amazing throughout all that. The press worldwide has been very positive. Almost all the way around we’ve been really fortunate, we have received great reviews, wonderful articles in magazines, ”Jupiter” has been embraced, it’s been talked about album of the year, by different magazines and in different countries around the world, so we could not have asked for it to have gone better to this point.
So, do you think that after all these years of silence, does this do justice in the effort that the band has done, which is the least honest? You didn’t form for the money.
Oh, yes, I think so, it does. It holds up to everything we did in the past, it holds up very well. It’s real, it’s aggressive, it’s fun, it’s heavy, we’re really excited about ”Jupiter”. We in the band, those that recorded it, those of us that wrote it and recorded it are really enjoying this and are proud of it.
Could we have some of your influences? First of all yours, as a drummer and second for the band in general. Which were your influences when you were beginning and if there are any new bands that you like very much right now.
Sure, our influences are certainly for me Rush and Neil Peart is the reason I started playing drums, still to this day he’s a very very heavy influence on how I compose drum parts and Rush is as a band had a huge impact on Atheist as a band. So did early albums by Iron Maiden and early albums by Slayer, Dark Angel and Metallica, early Metallica albums, early Anthrax albums, all those collectively had a huge impact on all of us. Each of the individual members of the band have really really really different influences that they bring in. Some of the modern bands we really love like Gojira, The Mars Volta and Obscura, some of these bands are just so amazing, so incredibly talented musicians, like The Dillinger Escape Plan, really just amazing and taking what we started to a level we never thought even existed before. That’s wonderful because all those bands continue to have influence on Atheist.
I was expecting you to say about Obscura, I had a question about this because they seem to relive the spirit of old Atheist, old Death, old Cynic, it is a great proof that some of the old like you did something very phenomenal and special that affects bands until two decades forward. Which is your opinion about them, because I know they are big fans of yours and you did a tour with them also.
Everytime someone comes out and says he’s inspired by Atheist is so incredible, especially bands like Obscura or The Dillinger Escape Plan or Gojira, who said they’re inspired by us. We’re so humbled and thankful that we’re able to inspire these bands, it’s so amazing they count on Atheist, since we reunited and have been touring and playing, we’ve come across so many bands and so many people that said Atheist inspired them. It’s just an amazing and wonderful feeling to see that happen over so many years.
One last question before we leave you is to answer whatever we didn’t ask you and you’d like to add and leave a message to all Atheist fans, not only in Greece but worldwide.
First of all I’d like to thank you so much, you have no idea what it means to us to have such great support after all these years to be embraced the way we are now, to have such positive feedback about ”Jupiter”. We’re so excited to come and play in Athens in April, that’s one of the shows we’re most excited about, and we really hope everyone comes out and say hello, hang out after the show, maybe drink some ouzo and have a great time. We’re really excited about Athens, thank you so much!
Interview by: Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras.