Atom Eyes 'Roll The Dice' as they introduce us to the lead single from their forthcoming debut album 'Blue Into Gold'
Having just released their feel good, and irresistibly funky - "guaranteed winter blues killer", Roll The Dice, Edinburgh's Atom Eyes are seeing out 2021 with more positive vibes than most. Lissa Chen Robertson and her accomplished band have been making a name for themselves since forming in 2017 and their latest release is the forerunner to the band's debut album. Due out in June 2022 - Blue Into Gold will feature both it's lead track - Roll The Dice and the subsequent two singles, You Do You and then Building Blocks, both due out next year. The multi-faceted, multi-layered sound of Atom Eyes seamlessly incorporates jazzy inflections, funky rhythms and up-beat percussive flourishes that are all held together by Robertson's soulful vocals. 2022 looks set to be a busy year for Atom Eyes, so before they get too busy touring and promoting we caught up with them to find out a little more.
For those who may be new to your music, how best would you describe your sound?
I suppose it could be described as alt rock/neo-soul, if there is such a thing! I would say we are a fusion of many different elements that influence us each as individuals. Lissa’s vocals would be equally at home on jazz, pop, soul, funk and even rock tracks, where as Alan (keys) is very much from a jazz/hip-hop background. Fraser (guitar) is more from an alt. rock and straight funk background and Tom/Scott on bass/drums have experience in all of the aforementioned genres. With all that said, we try to make sure our songs have a few constant elements; a strong groove, singable hooks, use of jazz harmony where appropriate and a focus on pop/contemporary production. We essentially aim to produce tracks that, whilst they could sometimes be considered harmonically complex at times, are pretty accessible to most audiences.
What challenges have you faced in the music industry so far?
As a female-fronted band we are obviously super aware of the challenges relating to being female in a still male-dominated industry. We could spend an entire article on that and not even scratch the surface but, let’s just say for example that the festival booking statistics (number of female acts v male acts) don’t lie and every female musician has at least one sexual harassment story directly related to the music industry. There’s the sense that the tide is turning a little but, not nearly quickly enough.
In terms of Atom Eyes specifically, our main challenge seems to be ‘justifying’ our genre(s) and working out where we fit into the industry in terms of sound. In the PR campaign for this single alone we have been knocked back from different publications due to being both ‘too commercially viable’ for one, and ‘too niche’ for the other. Those are obviously two conflicting points of view so, I think it’ll take a few tracks and the eventual release of the album in June ’22 before people start to ‘get’ us, which as a new band is totally fair enough in a way.
However, we would probably argue that the best-loved bands are both niche and commercially viable. I’m not sure how many of our favourite bands would ‘make it’ these days! We’re obviously talking about two completely different levels of popularity, but when I get downhearted about people not supporting our music I try to imagine the likes of Jeff Buckley trying to get noticed with the Grace album in the current day music industry. He would almost definitely get knocked back by some for being too niche, others for being too commercial, and probably everyone for putting a punk rock track next to Corpus Christi Carol on the same album. It’s one of the greatest albums of all time and yet you can completely imagine the record company wondering ‘how the hell do we market this….’. It seems that more and more you’re expected to fit into this narrow box so you can be put on the ‘appropriate’ playlist or whatever. How boring. Creativity certainly doesn’t seem too encouraged from some in the industry.
I feel that it’s easier to be ‘safe’ and easily definable but, most of the music we love is neither of those things. We’ll always just write what we want to and not necessarily what can be defined in a few words.
How difficult would you say this career path is in terms of making a name for yourself?
I think I’ve covered most of it above but, making a name for yourself in the music industry is a difficult enough path when you follow what could be considered a conventional approach to writing etc. When you start trying to fuse genres the way we do it becomes even more difficult. We hope that, as we release more tracks and eventually the album, people start to agree with our feeling that, just because there’s an audience in the jazz/soul world that will appreciate what we do doesn’t mean there isn’t a pop audience or an alt-rock audience that will also enjoy it. When it comes down to it, your average listener could sing the hooks or groove along to the tracks and we’ve been fairly deliberate about that whilst still promoting freedom of creativity. It just so happens that the jazz crowd will dig the reharmonised chorus at the end, or the chord that only appears once in the whole song. I’ve experienced it fairly often in the music industry where you get rejection feedback from a track along the lines of ‘really enjoyed the track, very strong! A few too many chords for this audience though’ and I just think…give your audience some credit. If you play it and everyone hates it then…fair enough! Only promoting music from a narrow set of criteria to the mainstream seems a little sad to me, and even a little insulting to the ‘average’ listener but it is what it is I guess.
How important is it for you to have creative control over the work you produce?
We write and produce all the material ourselves and we're all heavily involved in decision making at the mixing/mastering stage. It’s not coming from a place of wanting ‘control’ as such, I think sometimes that can have negative connotations. It’s more…we have spent several years writing the material for the singles/album and have fairly clear ideas of our influences and what we want the overall vibe to be.
Where do you draw influence and inspiration from for your work?
In terms of similar sounding bands, Hiatus Kaiyote, Moonchild, Radiohead, J.Dilla, Incubus. We probably sit somewhere in the middle of that diverse group, sometimes leaning one way more than another on particular tracks or sections of songs. In terms of overall vibe/approach to writing, the likes of Jeff Buckley, Incubus, Radiohead are all super inspirational. Take early Incubus for example, you’ve got full on rock tracks sitting next to funk and even soul, or Jeff Buckley with his punk next to opera next to a ballad.
Basically, anyone who has gone down the ‘You want 12 of the same track on the album so you can sell it easily? Nahhhhh’ route is a hero of ours. Our approach has always been whether it’s a Dilla groove, a Radiohead bassline, a string section, a keys solo, a soul vocal or a combination of all of the above, if it fits the track, it goes on the track.
If you could collaborate with anybody going forward, who would you choose and why?
I imagine each member would have wildly different answers to this one! Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote would probably be the dream collaborator for all of us overall. We have endless respect for Hiatus Kaiyote, they seem to be one of the few bands of the last while that are truly, truly unique and you get the sense that they’re not thinking about playlists or defining themselves or fitting into a mould, they’re just throwing all of their collective creativity into their work and the results are always incredible. Or Thom Yorke. Or Nai Palm and Thom Yorke. Tough question!
Tell us a random, funny fact about you that not many people know.
Not sure how funny this is, probably more terrifying to us. In the early stages of this project, various things led to the band stalling. I deleted all of the early material to make space on my hard drive and, to be honest, out of frustration that the band hadn’t taken off. About 6 months later we decided to start Atom Eyes up again and as it turns out, all of the deleted Logic sessions were still sitting in my recycling bin and of those sessions about 3 or 4 tracks have ended up on the album. Don’t delete your songs kids, you never know when you’ll revisit them!
Do you have definitive aims or goals for your career?
We’re under no illusions about being a huge mainstream success or anything! We really just hope people enjoy the upcoming singles/album and to raise the profile of the band. We’d love to play some cool festivals, perhaps a little further afield in Europe and beyond. Landing a support slot on a tour or attracting some management/label interest is a definite near-future goal. We’ve been fortunate enough to have Andris Mattson play flugel/trumpet on one of our tracks so we are in very early discussions with him about perhaps doing a gig together sometime. We’d love to work with other people on tracks and have a few guest appearances on the next album. Having someone sample one of our tracks would also be super cool.
Where do you hope to be this time next year?
Probably back in the studio working on album number 2 after a busy summer of touring! Hopefully these singles/album are well-received and we can raise our profile a little and kick on from there.
What should we expect from you in the coming weeks and months?
Roll The Dice, the 1st single from our upcoming album Blue Into Gold will be released on November 26th. This will be followed by 2nd single You Do You ft. Andris Mattson in late February, 3rd single Building Blocks in Mid May with the album to follow in June. We’re also touring on the back of this in the first few weeks in June with Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London almost confirmed. Things will be quiet in early 2022 in terms of gigs, but with the tour in June and then festival season we’re aiming to have a super busy summer and beyond.
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