Chicago stoner/post-metal quintet The Atlas Moth have really made a name for themselves in only eight years as a band. Sharing the stage with many diverse acts has only added to their already impressive and uniquely eclectic sound and style. With three full-length albums and a number of EPs and splits already, the group doesn’t show any signs of slowing down their already steady momentum. Currently on tour with Between The Buried And Me, I sat down with lead singer/guitarist Stavros at The Ready Room in St. Louis, MO. We discussed the band’s history, writing approach, and the ever-changing culture and scene surrounding the music.
The Atlas Moth is a relatively new band, forming in 2007. What about your background in music and other bands you’ve played in (if any) led you to where you are now in The Atlas Moth?
All of us have played in bands, nothing that is of note to anybody. But I started this band [The Atlas Moth] with our original drummer – we’ve only had one member change, [and] it was him – out of a band that was playing that I kind of wanted to sound like The Atlas Moth, like in theory in my mind. So, the first EP of ours, all of those riffs and songs were born from riffs that the other band I was in didn’t want to do. So I took all that and made The Atlas Moth out of those discarded riffs, which obviously worked out really great [laughs], compared to the other band that did, like, nothing at all. So that kind of did set us on a path, but not really a direct influence from any other bands that we were in, I don’t think.
As fellow Midwesterners, hailing from Chicago –
Yes, we called it “the capitol of the Midwest” the other day [laughs]. It’s kind of right in the middle, you know.
What about that area and environment played a role in your direction and sound?
Well, you can’t say that the weather doesn’t fuck with you a little bit [laughs], that would just be a lie. So definitely that; being from a fucking cold-ass, harsh environment, that’s pretty fucking dangerous [laughs]. It can definitely fucking push you in a direction one way or the other. But also I will say that the scene – at least at the time, I don’t really see it right now – but in 2007-2008 when we were first gigging and stuff, it was super competitive. There weren’t a ton of bands happening, but all the bands that were happening were basically taking all of the opening slots on touring packages that were coming through town, and they weren’t really open to new people. We kind of came out of left field; we weren’t really friends with any of the dudes in, like, Indian prior to playing in The Atlas Moth, or Yakuza, or there was a band called Raise The Red Lantern that was around at the time. We weren’t really close with any of them. So, when we came out, it was like, “Who the fuck is this fucking band that’s drawing people and we don’t even know these guys?” So that definitely played a lot into the aspect of trying to push ourselves, just kind of being like, “Fuck you guys.” Now all those guys are [our] friends. I’d definitely say, our competitiveness has moved up to a national – or international, whatever you want to call it – scene, where we here bands that are like, “Aw, what the fuck? These guys? We’ve got to outdo THAT now.” So it definitely plays into it, for sure.
A band like yours has a very unique sound, there’s clearly more than just the traditional metal influences going on. What are some styles or genres that you incorporate, and how do you do so with your writing and instrumentation?
Well, we all like everything. And I stand by [how] some people say that shit and they don’t mean it. But literally, even for myself, with just me speaking, I can say that I don’t like modern country and most EDM. That’s about my limits. And I also, like, put up with a lot of it [laughs]. But I’ll tell you, we don’t really try anything. You know what I’m saying? It just kind of happens. Any influence that your catching is just kind of, purely… I don’t sit there like, “I’m going to write a fucking Slayer song today,” [because] it’s not going to sound like Slayer! [Laughs] It’s just not in me. We roll natural with it; what comes out comes out, and that’s how it is. Which is, I think, is how you should be. When you start putting, sort of like forced directions in [your music], you’re never winning. You’re going to fucking sell yourself short to what comes naturally. And if people resonate with it, the better. If they don’t, well then, that’s how it goes, you know [laughs]?
Someone listening to your music, or perhaps a similar band – like, at least for me, along the lines of Deafheaven.
They’re friends of ours; we’ve known them since they’ve started, too.
Cool! So, someone listening to The Atlas Moth might find the extremes of each end of the spectrum in your music a little dichotomous, or clashing with one another. Have you developed or evolved anything about yourselves as you’ve continued to write and release albums; particularly with your latest, The Old Believer? Or have you even evolved?
I don’t know if we’ve taken necessarily a lot of outside influence, really, as much as we’ve taken our own personal influence. We came out all about drawn-out fucking doom songs, and then we started realizing what resonates with us and people that are listening to us. We personally hated fucking playing seven, eight-minute songs. And we really shine at a certain type of fucking song. Not even like, anything really restricting. I mean, we’ve been like, “Hey, these long songs are fucking boring to play; let’s not write another fucking eight-minute song.” Shit like that, man. We’ve definitely taken into account what goes over well, what we like playing. I would say that our contemporaries haven’t really influenced us in what to do, as maybe what not to do. Maybe like, “Oh, if those guys are doing shit like that, then fuck it; we’re not.” Which is always the thing; I think we always try to fit out rather than fit in. That’s a Lebron James quote, so there you go [laughs].
When it comes to tone, atmosphere, or direction, do you have any theme or concept in mind at all that you want to have associated with the sound of the end result? Whether it’s when you write yourself or what you want the listener or audience to experience or get out of it?
One of the best things that I’ve always stuck with when it comes to music is to keep what I’m actually talking about kind of hidden. It’s really not the point in my eyes, it’s never been the point for the music I listen to. I’ve always thought that you get more out of something that you can connect to for yourself… Maybe you hear a song [and] you don’t know what it’s about, and you really connect to it. And you find out what it’s actually about, and it kind of steals away the fucking personal feeling. Like, I would hate that to happen. Because it’s happened to me, and it sucks. And we take a lot of shit out of our personal lives, obviously we had a really dark couple years prior to releasing The Old Believer, and I think that it comes out; I think that record’s miserable as fuck [laughs]. Yeah, it’s a miserable record, man. I mean, I’m sure there’s parts that don’t sound like it, but I know for a fact that it’s all coming from a really dark place [laughs].
At the end of the day, if anybody can get anything out of it, it’s kind of like that’s half the battle. That makes it kind of worthwhile to me. If someone can sit there and listen to it and be like, “…Wow.” I notice that a lot of people still talk about An Ache for the Distance, which I obviously love that record as well, I feel really strongly about The Old Believer because it’s such a hard part of my life that it helped me, in general. But I often hear people, when they talk about The Old Believer, that are like, “Yeah man, I’ve [been] listening to The Old Believer a lot lately… Things are tough.” [Laughs] You know, no one’s putting on that record to go party with [laughs]. Which is not a bad thing in my mind, it’s where we were fucking at.
We seem to be in a kind of age of awakening or paradigm shift in terms of styles of progressive metal right now, particularly with the boom of stoner, sludge, and post-metal subgenres in recent years. Have you noticed this yourself as you write music and perform? Has it affected you one way or another?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve definitely noticed that this stuff has gotten a lot more popular, and also almost like, less popular to a certain extent. I feel like there’s a lot of bands out there, and a lot of people out there that are listening to these bands that won’t care about metal in a year or two. Like, they’re “tourists” of the scene, you know? Like, right now it’s like, “It’s pop and Pitchfork [Media Inc.] likes it, so fuck yeah.” I come from, like, I saw Metallica in 1988 when I was five. So fuck you, I’m not going anywhere [laughs]. I definitely see some bands where it’s like, “Oh yeah well, this band is popular right now,” will they be in a couple years? I really don’t think so. I mean, just based on the fucking history of the genre, dude. Some things are not meant to last, either. There’s definitely a point where we hear something and we’re like, “No, fuck that. We’re not fucking doing that.” And that’s it, [where] I think we’re like, “Fuck that, we’re not doing that,” and not, “Fuck yeah! Let’s do that!” Fitting out, not fitting in, you know?
We at Metal Insider discussed this “new Renaissance of metal” in one of our recent “Headbangers Brawl” debates. Particularly how these new sounds and incorporations of styles not only branch off in the music itself, but also in fans and demographics. Have you noticed any change or shift in the types of metal or music fans in general that reflect on this when you perform, or go to concerts yourself?
Like I was saying, I feel like there’s a lot of people that are going to these shows that don’t give a fuck about metal. And it’s also like one of those things where I see… When I think about Chicago in my head, I think, “These bands aren’t popular.” Like, they’re not sustaining, it’s just right now. There’s definitely a shift. When we were starting, there was definitely more of an underground metal aspect in Chicago. Like I said, I don’t really think about Chicago as far as this, because it kind of goes more personally than touring. Like, you know, I don’t know fucking St. Louis. In fact, most of the places we’re playing on this tour are places we’ve either never played, or haven’t played in years. Going out with a band like Between The Buried And Me is definitely different for us. We come from the doom, stoner, sludge world; this stuff is like a dirty word to some of these people [laughs].
In Chicago, though, there’s definitely a huge difference in what was and what will be in a year. And that’s how it’s been since we started. Some people that we know that were always at every metal show, don’t go to shows [anymore]. So it’s always changing, man. People grow up, people fucking realize that maybe some of this shit wasn’t for them, etc. etc. But like I said man, we’re kind of weathering the storm at this point. We don’t really care; we’ve never fit into these genres. When we were doing more of the straight up, “We want to be a doom band!” no one fucking cared. I mean, they cared enough, I guess, but not to what we wanted. But nowadays, we’re doing stuff like Gojira or Between The Buried And Me, it’s like, “these” people seem to get us more than “those” people. So it is what it is; it’s not really here nor there, a genre or type of people. It really doesn’t fucking matter man, where you fit in is where you fit in, I guess.
I was just getting ready to ask how this tour with Between The Buried And Me been for you compared to previous tours. Is there a different feel, identity, or experience depending on what bands you share the stage with? Like when you opened for Gojira and The Devin Townsend Project, or the 2011 Metal Alliance Tour?
Well you know what? I’ll tell you what man, we’ve done so many tours; we toured with Crowbar, we’ve played with Neurosis, we’ve tour with EYEHATEGOD, we’ve done that. Those experiences are great, that’s where we come from and that’s where our hearts vibe when we started this band. And it still does! It’s not like we’re not into doom and sludge [when] you hear our records [laughs]. The one difference between these kind of tours – like this and the Gojira/Devin Townsend tour – there’s a lot of people that have no fucking idea what we’re doing; “I have never fucking heard a band like you. Doom’s what? What is that?” To me, I’m 32 man, I’ve been through all this shit [laughs]. The doom crowds have already made up their fucking minds about us, you know what I’m saying?
There’s a very small faction of the metal audience that’s a doom fan. You’re talking about these “tourists” I speak of that are unsustainable fans anyway, in my eyes at least. And these kids are far more into music; they’re not sitting their worried about spilling their PBR. These kids come to have a good time and they’re interested in hearing a new band. So it’s definitely fucking fun for us. Like I said, if I rattled off the list of the names of the doom/sludge world that we’ve toured with, we’re shy very few to complete the list, as far as the big guys go. So you adapt or you die, I guess, to a certain extent. We’re not satisfied yet, to only playing to a couple hundred people a night. So this scene is really accepting of us and we’re very embracing it.
That’s not saying I’m not going to do the Yob tour, obviously; that’s the shit that we love, too. Stuff like this is fantastic; it’s really fun, it’s really refreshing. It kind of gives you a little bit of [a feeling] like, “Oh yeah, this is awesome! Every night CAN be sick!” [Laughs] As opposed to hitting Omaha, Nebraska on a Wednesday. Obviously the Yob show in Omaha on a Wednesday isn’t going to do that good. Like I said, it’s fun; it’s a whole new world. The whole idea – I don’t care what anybody says – if you’re in a band and you don’t want your band to grow, you’re a fucking liar [laughs]. Everybody wants their band to be more popular. It makes being in a band a lot easier. So it’s cool man, it’s cool to play to new people, and play to people that are – their words, not mine – be blown away. So it’s cool, it’s fun.
Just last weekend, you and tour mates Between The Buried And Me played the Texas Independence Festival, and this coming weekend you’ll also both be playing New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. What was your experience last weekend, and what are you anticipating for this weekend? Have you played either before in the past?
We’ve not played either. Without getting ahead of myself, Texas Independence was fucking incredible. Austin has always been a big town for us, we’ve done South By Southwest; I think we’ve missed it – including this year – twice since we’ve been a band. Kind of insane. We’ve done as many as nine shows in five days… Yeah, we’re stupid, too [laughs]. We’re pretty dumb when it comes to playing.
Has anybody just keeled over on stage?
Not there [Texas Independence] but our old drummer did pass out before a set one time. Because it was on a six-date tour with no days off. That’s just how we are man, we’re here to do our thing. We’re not, kind of, pansey-ing out about shit. As we’ve gotten older, we’re taking a couple days off here and there [laughs]. We’re not all in our mid-twenties anymore. Pick your battles; like I said, the Wednesday in Omaha might just be better to fucking drive, man [laughs]. I would love to play to the two hundred possible kids that are in Omaha that want to hear our band, but so far I haven’t seen them there [laughs]. So it’s kind of smarter to just let some shit go. But yeah, Austin is always good for us. It was definitely the highlight of this tour for me, so far. I’ll tell you what, I don’t think it’s going to be topped, as far as anything goes [laughs].
Not even New England Metal and Hardcore?
Well, how about this? My only experience with that fest is I went in, I think it was 2004. And it was cool! I was, like, twenty-one or something like that, I don’t know. I was much more into seeing twelve, thirteen, fifteen, twenty-five bands in a day. Nowadays, [I’m] not so much into that. I’m looking forward to it, regardless. I’m looking forward to playing with some of the bands. It’s going to be, also, kind of pushing the boundaries of what kind of crowds you play to. We’ve done a ton of festivals and a ton of incredible ones [where] the lineups have been insane. But they’ve all been kind of centralized in our little world, with the exception of Pitchfork [Music Festiva] in Chicago, which is, we’re the ONLY metal band on it [laughs]. Which is cool, too! But this one’s kind of pushing us out to this hardcore world. In all honesty, I find them to be pretty excepting based on this [tour]. So I’m pretty excited to go out there; we’re playing with Cavalera [Conspiracy], which is awesome. Sepultura was a huge band for me growing up, so I’m stoked about that. I really like Code Orange Kids.
Oh yeah! Except it’s just Code Orange, now; they dropped the “Kids.”
Oh yeah, I’m sorry; they’re adults now [laughs]. Yeah, take that… “Shots fired!” [Laughs] Yeah, I’m stoked to see them, I really like their new record. I like the first one even better. We played with The Red Chord the other day too, at Atomic Music Festival the day after [Texas Independence]. Those guys are super rad, never met them before. So it should be rad, I’m looking forward to it.
Photos from the show will be uploaded soon. There are only THREE more dates in which you can see The Atlas Moth on tour with Between The Buried And Me, including today (17) at New England Metal and Hardcore Fest!
4/17 Worcester, MA @ New England Metal & Hardcore Festival
4/18 Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall
4/19 Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club