Like certain music blogs or labels, we all have those friends that we can turn to for a good band recommendation. More often than not, when those people tell you that a band is good – they are right. That is precisely how I became acquainted with Bay Area indie rockers, Picture Atlantic. Somewhere between winding down from a California tour this past August and pushing through the final stages of a brand new EP titled When Everything Is Numbers, band members Nik Bartunek and Ryan Blair were able to put together a gut squirming mixtape definitely evocative of their own raw, emotive sound. In it they reflect on the tricky part of growing up that I like to call “freshman year of life.” Rather than elaborate myself, I’ll let Nik and Ryan explain what they’ve called “22 Going On 40 – The Soundtrack For Growing Up.” And make sure to check out a couple of Picture Atlantic’s own tunes at the end of the article – a free download of “Muses” as well as a track off their new EP!
22 Going On 40 – The Soundtrack For Growing Up
For some reason both Grooveshark and SoundCloud had issues with the original version of “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis, which is what the band intended the final song of the mix to be. You can stream it below:
TA: First of all, how old are you guys?
TA: Most people consider “growing up” what you do until you reach 22 – why start at that age?
Nik: 22 has been a strange age for me. Somehow, it didn’t feel like the real world hit me until then, and when it did, it was in a sharp and distinct way. Aaron Weiss has these great lyrics, that go “We’re all children dressing, in our parents clothes”, and that’s really what I feel when I look at “Young Adults”. In many ways, my generation , even in our early 20’s, are just kids. Kids with bigger more real problems. I can’t say that 22 is the age for growing up in everyone’s life, but for me, it certainly made sense.
Ryan: I’ve started to feel like people at this age are finally taking time to reflect on the past four years or so (the college years for many of my friends,) we may be prematurely wallowing in the idea that our youth has passed us by. In reality, our lives are again just beginning, as depressing as some of these songs make it seem.
TA: Did you start with a particular song, or the theme – “22 going on 40 – The Soundtrack For Growing Up”?
Nik: I think it was really the theme. It reflected very much of what I was listening to at the time, and some favorites between Ryan and I. In some ways, I think it also was my stream of thought for the most part about the past several months.
TA: If you could describe this playlist in three words, what would you use?
Nik: Life, Reassuring, Terrifying
TA: It seems like your goal was to paint a picture of an outlook on life, rather than tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Is that a correct assessment?
Nik: It’s an outlook. These songs, for better or for worse, strike chords in how myself and Ryan feel about certain situations. I can’t think of a song that has every really covered “it all”. Sometimes having a song to champion specific moment is the best.
TA: For the most part the tone is full of disillusionment, resentment, and ennui – none of the songs are too loud or really emotional. Was this on purpose or did it just happen that way based on your song choice?
Nik: I certainly didn’t mean it to be that bleak. I guess you could call it a Freudian slip. At the same time though, the songs do represent how Ryan and I feel about our generation, and the youth culture we’re in at the moment. We’ve had long, long, long conversations about all kinds of topics, some of which are referenced or noted in these songs. It’s hard not to be a little disappointed sometimes, but we also have a morbid sense of hope that rides up to take the lead in the end.
Ryan: Disillusionment and resentment are probably two of the most resounding emotions for people at this age, so I would have to disagree and say the tone may even be overly emotional.
TA: Are all the artists – The National, Rogue Wave, Blur, The Jesus and Mary Chain – featured on this mix important to you guys, or did they just have songs that fit your theme? Do you think they are bands that will withstand the test of time?
Nik: Since the mix was democratic to an extent, it’s safe to say that these bands mean a great deal to Ryan and I. And yes, I think they really will stand the test of time. Half the bands you just mentioned are some of the biggest mainstream and Indie bands. Their track record speaks for itself.
TA: Is this how you perceive the world – like your younger, vivacious years are behind you?
Nik: How I perceive the world is an 80 song symphony with guest appearances by Arvo Part and Chopin’s corpse. To really get specific though, this mix is definitely more about the trials and tribulations. Growing up rocks at the same time. Some of the very same bands make me want to climb to the top of a mountain and fly a kite. The harsher realities can be a little too present for me at the same time though.
Ryan: I don’t think youth is ever truly behind you as long as you can keep some of who you once and always were.
TA: Does that outlook show in Picture Atlantic’s sound and songwriting? If not, how would you describe yourselves?
Nik: Yes, I think both those outlooks can show. There is a pretty wide range of thoughts and emotions in our songs. Some songs are happy, some are streams of specific thought, and then even others are angry or cynical. I usually hate to describe our sound though, because even if I think I have a solid idea of it, I’m honestly pretty stuck at a basic level for a good description. The way I view Picture Atlantic is very different than the next person.
TA: Rogue Wave’s “California” is a pretty specific, bitter song. You’re based in Northern California – do you have allegiances elsewhere, or do you just hate your homestate?
Nik: We’re just crabby bastards I guess. I was born in Colorado, and moved to Susanville (which is basically still Colorado) when I was only two weeks old. I’ve truly grown up in the south bay (Los Altos, Mountain View) and the Silicon Valley, but in the back of my head, there is this pretentious idea that I somehow still belong back at home with John Denver. California is great at the same time though. It’s a love/hate relationship. Really, I wouldn’t imagine myself anywhere else except Middle Earth, but we all know that place got bought out by New Line Cinema.
Ryan: I love California. I can safely say it is my favorite state. Rogue Wave are also from the Bay Area and from what I’ve gathered they don’t hate it here either. “California” has both sides of the coin, detailing the somewhat impersonal and fleeting relationships we all have here, while also giving the sense of hope and wonder our state holds, especially the line “…she could light you up like a holiday tree in the summer months.”
TA: Who’s the classical music fan that included the piece by Estonian composer, Arvo Part – what was the reasoning behind including his work in this mix?
Nik: That was me. I got turned on to him by a friend whose musical tastes I highly respect. He also has a perfectionist’s dream of a sound system at home. He built all the speakers himself. If you hear Arvo Part on these speakers, you are ultimately transported to another world. This specific track is just a heartbreaker for me. It’s all about the dynamics, and the tones, and the layering. The musical idea is simple, but ultimately its pure sorrow in my eyes. The first time I heard it, it made me want to cry. I usually don’t get “emotional” in that sense when I listen to music.
TA: The last song on the mix is the classic, “Champagne Supernova” by Oasis. Do you see that song as hopeful anticipation of future or afterlife? Or as a melancholy reflection on all the songs before it?
Ryan: Two years ago, a friend of ours suddenly passed away. From the moment I heard the news, to the candlelight vigil at our old high school, even as far as the memorial service itself, I just couldn’t believe something like that could ever happen. Our group of friends had never experienced anything like that. Of course we’ve all lost loved ones before, but it was the first time for me that a group of friends had lost someone who had truly become family. The group had been drifting apart for some months before she passed away, but losing her brought everyone back together again. It made me realize how short all of our time together can be.
My fondest memory of her will always be the Christmas party we had the year before she passed away. I was sitting next to her on the floor while we were all singing along to Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova”, lost in a moment of every emotion a teenager could ever have, embracing that feeling of just being alive. Every time I hear this song I think of her and because of the kind of person she was, it always makes me hopeful.
TA: I have to imagine there are plenty of things that Picture Atlantic has to look forward and get excited about in the coming months – what are they?
Nik: So much actually. If I can toot my own horn. We’re just putting out a new EP which we’re very proud of. It will be out end of November, early December. At the same time though, we’re also writing for a brand new full length which we’ll be recording early next year. Another tour is in the works, which is always fantastic. Whenever we can put out, and record lots of music, we are happy. Those are just two new things on our horizon, but they spell out much more activity and speed for our band in the end.