Amidst a sea of businessmen vying for after-work cocktails, the four members of Atomic Tom – frontman Luke White, Philip Galitzine on bass, Eric Angelo on guitar, and Tobias Smith on drums – drift into Midtown’s La Cava, their asymmetrical rocker haircuts and fitted denim provoking a hushed wave of, “Who are those guys?” from the suited regulars. The wine bar isn’t too far from the rehearsal space of the Brooklyn band, whose latest EP, In Parallel, dropped earlier this month.
In October of 2010, the then-struggling band posted a video on YouTube, which would within weeks result in an upward spiral of their popularity from spotty to spotlight. The video consisted of Atomic Tom’s four members riding the B train to Brooklyn while performing their single, “Take Me Out.” The hitch? They used only iPhones with music apps as instruments. By the end of the day, 220,00 people had viewed their video, and by the end of the week—two million.
In Parallel features six tracks consisting of three songs. Each tune has a fully produced version accompanied by an acoustic counterpart. Luke White, who started the band over six years ago, says that while defining their sound is challenging, “our music is not so challenging. We’re not trying to fake anybody out. We’ve become straight ahead rock with some pop melodies that people can sing and dance along to in a club.”
Today, Atomic Tom’s spectacle has nearly five million views on YouTube. They spent the last year reaping in the benefits of fast fame, touring the country, and figuring out how to stay relevant in an era where musicians are often swiftly left by the wayside.
How long had you been a band before you got some serious recognition? Luke White: I started the band six years ago. Phil was helping at that time with the bass. He was the first member of the band. Eric came on board in 2007. We didn’t start going forward aggressively until Tobias joined the band in 2009. Then we had four fully committed members of Atomic Tom. We went into the studio that summer to record our first record.
How do you break free of the image of being a gimmick band? Philip Galitzine: That was a concern in the beginning. We tried really hard to not capitalize on it in the cheap and obvious ways. We let the video speak for itself and kept playing great shows like we’d always done. Then we went on tour three months after the video came out. A lot of people came out to shows because they were curious about us from YouTube, but we never referred to it in our live shows. It’s a rock show. People would come out pleasantly surprised. And even when the video first came out people were like, “Wow what a great song.” It’s not just a cool concept.
When you tour, are you headliners or do you open for another group? Tobias Smith: We haven’t done a support tour but we are looking to do one in the Winter. The last tour we did was as headliners. We did most of America, the entire West Coast and East Coast, some places in the middle, and three dates in Canada.
What do four guys do on tour? T.S.: We are in a really nice Sprinter van made for touring. We played Tetris a lot on the flat screen.
So you’re really living up to the rock star life? TS: We drink champagne while playing Tetris. We don’t really party hard and drink hard, but we hang around people that do. PG: I drink alone. Eric Angelo: Some of us party more than others. Phil does drink alone a lot. I’ll drink a bit before I go onstage and I’ll drink after.
Is it a friends first atmosphere or are you band mates first? LW: Initially, we came on as friends and it was very important that we get along. We’ve certainly had our differences where the argument has become, “Well we don’t need to be friends!” But then we found out that that doesn’t actually work. PG: Sometimes you lose a little perspective and things that aren’t incredibly important tend to feel that way and conversations that should take five minutes take an hour because everyone wants to be satisfied. But I can’t think of any four people in such a close situation as we are that get along amazingly. When we say that we fight, its not unusual.
What does it say about the music business when you can be struggling a band for years and then one video catapults you into fame? LW: It says that the middleman isn’t as necessary anymore. Look how much we accomplished with one video that we did ourselves. Eric’s brother came out up with the concept, we put it together, shot it on iPhones, the budgets was $400, we put it up, and a few days later it had millions of views. In the next 15 years you may see the need for a middleman to distribute content will be no more.
When you’re in NYC do you go out as a crew? E.A.: We hang out a lot—probably too much.
Where do you go? L.W.: Mesa Coyocan in Williamsburg. They have the best commercial margarita ever. P.G.: Also, Rockwood Music Hall. A lot of us came up there. We like music and we’ve been involved in that scene for so long that we can go there and just be at home.