ATOMIC OPERA'S "GOSPEL COLA"
BREAKS ALL THE RULES
THE RULES: No more than four chords are ever needed for one song and everything should be based on a simple pentatonic scale. Never run a twelve string guitar through distortion, and the same goes for mandolin, which really shouldn't be on a rock album at all. Harmonies are to be used very sparingly, and no more than two parts are ever needed. Rock music should always be played in a four/four time signature. The kick drum should be on "one" and "three," and the snare should be on "two" and "four." If you do not provide a solid back beat in this manner, the music will not rock. The bass guitar should never be replaced with a stick, because the stick does not sling down to the players knees. Resist all temptation to use instruments like cello, organ, recorder, basouki, dulcimer, jembe, ocarina, harmonica and acoustic guitar because they will make the music sound puny. Lyrics should be about damsels and/or automobiles or else they should be simple whimsical gibberish. Lyrics should not be too poetic or too thoughtful. Never discuss religion or politics and stay away from all controversial subject matter. Make sure and allow only ten songs per album and do not place a picture of the band on the cover (unless one of the members is a cute girl.) Last but not least, never allow a band to self produce an album or else they will be totally self indulgent and break all the previously mentioned rules.
ATOMIC OPERA & METAL BLADE: In 1999 Metal Blade Record's A & R genius, Bill Metoyer, called Frank Hart at his Houston, Texas cattle ranch. (Everyone knows that ALL Texans live on giant cattle ranches, and we certainly wouldn't want to disappoint them with minor details such as Frank Hart owning a modest house in a Houston suburb with his wife, Kim and dog, Claudie.) Bill was looking for a new band to sign to Metal Blade (that is his job after all) and everyone he had asked was telling him to call Atomic Opera. "Call Atomic Opera," they would say, "You should call them." Like so many people these days, Bill had heard of Atomic Opera, but had never actually heard their records (Bill still likes to call them "records" even though most people think of them as CDs or albums.)
Bill knew Atomic Opera as the third band to rise to international attention along with their friends King's X and Galactic Cowboys. (Bill even knew about The Awful Truth from this little circle.) He knew Atomic Opera's first album, "For Madmen Only" was produced by Sam Taylor for Collision Arts/Giant Records/Warner Brothers and released in 1994. He had heard that it was a critical success and a commercial success, too ... For about ten minutes. Bill knew the story of when Collision Arts went belly up just a few months after they opened shop, and Atomic Opera found themselves to be the "red headed step child/ugly duckling" that would have to wait a little longer for the ending to their their "Cinderella story." (Bill's mother used to tell him this story to frighten him as a child.)
What Bill didn't know was that without a label to back them, Atomic Opera released "Penguin Dust" and "Alpha & Oranges" through their fanclub and web site on their own. It was on the strength of these recordings (once Bill actually took the time to listen to them) that Bill Metoyer was calling Frank Hart that day in 1999 at his "ranch."
Metal Blade was offering to release "Penguin Dust" to the world wide market through their powerful music marketing machine, and if all went well ... They would fund new Atomic Opera albums in the future.
Future ... Smuture. The band decided they were ready to make a new album NOW! They convinced Metal Blade to advance them for two records up front, so they could finish building their own recording studio. They would then use this new "state of the art facility" to record an album of all new music featuring the band's current line-up: Frank Hart, Kemper Crabb, Ryan Birsinger, and John Simmons. The new album would be called "Gospel Cola," and it would be the finest music Atomic Opera has recorded to date.
CAUTION: Before continuing to read this article, The reader should take the time to listen to "Gospel Cola" at least three times. Failure to do so will result in an inability to comprehend the following information.
RECORDING GOSPEL COLA: In June of 1999 the band began sorting through the massive catalogue of songs that they had amassed. They chose fifteen songs and began recording basic tracks. Eight months later, January, 2000, the twelve songs that make up "Gospel Cola" were recorded, mixed, and mastered. The artwork was finished and everything was sent to Metal Blade. Metal Blade agreed ... It was Atomic Opera's finest material.
"The whole time we were working on this album, I believed we were making something special," says band leader Frank Hart, "Things were coming together in a magical way, and I just couldn't wait for us to finish with it, so people could hear it! Including me ... I couldn't wait to hear where it was going to end up!"
It is difficult to categorize this CD. It is heavy and the pounding grooves and grinding guitars would lead some people to believe they were listening to a hard rock or metal album, but ... The melodies are charming and the harmonies are beautiful, and when conjugated with the instrumentation of cello, acoustic guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, organ, recorders and hand percussion it might lead some people to think they were listening to an art rock or progressive rock record. Then, when someone who knows a little about music theory hears particulars like the two/three back beat, the 15/8 over 4/4 time signature, the calypso and ska rhythms, the use of major, minor, pentatonic and eastern tonal scales in the same song ... They are left pondering what exactly to call this category of music. Perhaps "Old World Art Rock," "Modern Progressive Folk Metal," "Hard Groove Massive Pop," or something else that evokes all of the powerful elements that make up this sound. In any case it is exceptionally accessible pop songs, set to heavy, interesting grooves and garnished with an eccentric audioscape of orthodox sound. It is Atomic Opera.
FRANK HART is the founding member of Atomic Opera. He is the lead vocalist and guitarist (also, primary song writer, and cellist). He was born in Springfield, Illinois and grew up in a township called Pawnee as the middle child of five boys with a full time Mom and a Coal Miner Dad. He always excelled in art and music as well as having an enthusiastic interest in theology and Christianity. He moved to Missouri in 1982 to attend a Bible college. There he would study theology as well as music. In 1984 he married the love of his life, Kim Behrent, who he had known since 1976 (when they were in the seventh grade.) While living in Springfield, Missouri he became close friends with Jerry Gaskill, Doug Pinnick, Alan Doss and David Ohlerking while attending the same small church, and who were also involved in playing the Springfield, Missouri music scene. After Frank and Kim finished school, they moved to Houston, Texas in search of fame, glory and the blessings of God. It was there that Frank started the band Atomic Opera to attempt creating something that combines all the things he loves; heavy, beautiful music and an artistic expression of propaganda-free spiritual concepts. Although the line up has changed over the years, the original vision remains undamaged.
KEMPER CRABB plays electric mandolin and also sings lead (also, song writer, and player of various acoustic instruments.) He is also one of the first people Frank and Kim met when they moved to Houston, while backstage at a King's X concert. Very soon after that Frank and Kim began attending ChristChurch Reformed Episcopal, where Kemper was one of the ministers. Kemper was born in San Antonio, TX and grew up with his younger sister as the son of a college English professor Mom and a high school football coach, and later College professor Dad. When he was six he read J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy and began his lifelong interest in science fiction, art, and theology. In the 70's Kemper formed the art rock band ArkAngel (which later became known as Radio Halo) and in the 80's he released his first solo album of Medieval music called "The Vigil." In the late 90's Kemper was a member of the Folk/Rock group Caedman's Call. In 1997 during the recording of "Penguin Dust," he somehow went from "special guest performer" to full time member of Atomic Opera. No one is really certain when the change took place, but we are all glad that it did. Kemper is also an Episcopal Priest, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Writer, Teacher, Historian (not Nestorian) and all-around nice guy.
RYAN BIRSINGER plays bass, stick and sings background vocals (Also, he is the band's nonesuch studio engineer and wry, observational humorist). Ryan was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Houston, Texas when he was five years old. He is the middle child of two brothers and four sisters. His Mother was a full time Mom, and his Dad is an Electrical Engineer. Ryan has always loved surfing, history, and music. In 1989 he completed a studio engineering program at San Jacinto College under Les Williams and Ray Dillard. In 1991 he graduated from University of Houston with a degree in History. In 1990 he began working as an intern at Rivendell Recorders where he became friends with Kemper. Ryan joined Christchurch R.E. where he met Frank and Kim and began engineering for Atomic Opera (both live and in the studio). During this time he worked as an engineer with such bands as Galactic Cowboys, and Caedmon's Call. Ryan began playing Bass with Atomic Opera (the first band he ever played with) immediately after the release of "Penguin Dust," for which he had volunteered his time and talent to engineer. Ryan is also pretty tall. He's up there, really.
JOHNNY SIMMONS is the drummer and also sings background vocals, which the Japanese like to call "chorus" (Also, he is a songwriter and percussionist). John was born in Corpus Christi, Texas and grew up in Houston with his older sister, his Mom and Dad and later, his Mom and Stepfather. John has been a drummer since age eight. He has applied strict discipline to his study of the art of drumming and now shares his knowledge as a full-time drum instructor. He is an avid enthusiast of poly-rhythmic world music, comic books, Rush Limbaugh and church history/orthodox theology. He first played with Atomic Opera as a "drummer for hire" for the "Penguin Dust" CD release party (He is the only person Frank knows who can chart out entire concerts with songs like "Make a God," "Stop The Rain," "Justice," "JoyRide," and such, then play them perfectly and with great passion - THE FIRST TIME!). Eventually, he expressed interest in joining the band as a full time member and the band was delighted to accept him. He loves his cat, the incomparable Buddy.
THE FUTURE: Metal Blade will release Atomic Opera's "Gospel Cola" CD in April, 2000. It will be distributed through RED to music stores and by Diamante to Christian Bookstores. In support of the CD's release Atomic Opera will be playing shows, making music videos, talking to the press, making funny faces, and helping to conduct a marketing campaign to let people know that the record is available ... And, that they need to hear it. Have you heard it yet? Well, go listen to it if you haven't! GO!
One of the ways that Atomic Opera will be communicating with fans of their music is through their web site. (www.atomicopera.com) The site is filled with articles, music samples, video clips, interviews, photos, and a message board that allows direct access to the band members. The members of Atomic Opera are involved on a daily basis in answering questions about the band, the music, and the philosophy behind it all. The site also offers a variety of merchandise and hard to find CDs by Atomic Opera and outside projects that the members of Atomic Opera are involved in. There are also plenty of silly things.
Atomic Opera will continue to grow less cute, so marketing the band in the traditional way is out of the question. Especially after they fire their choreographer/ hair stylist (Frank is suing).
Of course, before long, the band will be back in the studio working on a new album and the cycle will begin all over again.
"It is the actual work of making and playing music that I enjoy," says Frank, "People are in bands for a lot of strange reasons, but I keep doing it because it's what I love to do. There is no promise of success if a person works really hard with persistence and endurance ... But, there is a guarantee of failure if they don't."
A STORY ABOUT GOSPEL COLA:
When Sven Haup was seven years old, he and his friend Dieter Pecktor would play together near the border that separated those who were free from those who were not. They would sneak past the guard, and go to their favorite spot, a lookout point. Just on the other side of a razor wire fence was a fueling station, and in plain view of the boys was a Gospel Cola machine.
They dreamt of a day when they could freely cross the border and press the big plastic buttons on the brightly colored machine. Then, together they would drink a toast to their new freedom with the ice cold refreshment promised by Gospel Cola.
When they were twelve, the day finally came. It was all over the news that the border that separated East from West, Freedom from Tyranny, was a memory. All walls were torn down.
Sven and Dieter ran to their spot ... They ran past the guard's post (which was now empty) and ran to their familiar spot. They saw the Gospel Cola machine ... It was still there. They ran across what used to be a twisted razor wire barricade up to the dazzling red, white, and blue machine. They pushed the big plastic button on the face of the machine.
They pushed some of the other buttons.
And, still nothing happened.
A man came out of the fueling station and asked the boys if they needed any help.
Sven and Dieter told the man their story, and how they had looked forward to this day. How they had seen people push the button and get a cold refreshing beverage, but that it didn't work for them.
"You have to pay first," he said, "Put your coins in the slot, and then push the button."
The boys looked at each other with disbelief, then looked at the ground. They had no money, and even if they did, the machine would probably not have accepted theirs. They began walking back home.
The man took a few coins from his pocket. "Hey, boys!' he said, "This ones on me!" He tossed the coins to Sven and Dieter.
One by one they dropped the coins into the slot and pushed the button. The machine made a few noises and popped the sodas into a tray at the bottom of its facade.
The two boys pulled the tabs and took their first taste. It was sweet, the carbonation burned their tounges, and the ice cold liquid froze their brains through the soft palates of their mouths.
They were in heaven.
The man took a few coins from his pocket.
One by one he dropped the coins into the slot and pushed the button. The machine made a few noises and popped a can of soda into a tray at the bottom of its facade. He put the rest of his change back into his pocket.
The man pulled the tab and took a deep swallow. It was sweet, the carbonation burned his tounge, and the ice cold liquid froze his brain through the soft palate of his mouth.
He was in heaven.