Interview with TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb
- by Alexis V. and Michael Colavita
If you were wandering along a country road and heard music emanating from a building just a bit farther back, a juke joint were the blues and booze seem to flow in unison and an omnipresent cloud of smoke persists like a perpetual curtain. TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb transport listeners to that cabin in the back with their foot-stomping earnest intensity and Dan Bruskewicz distinguished rasped vocals. The group will celebrate the release of their new EP bluntly entitled Kong, with a show at Johnny Brenda’s Friday. The Deli caught up Bruskewicz to get his take on the process, the community and the future.
The Deli: What are the essentials of good lyrics for you?
Dan Bruskewicz: I enjoy lyrics with some poetry as much as the next guy, but I think it's important to recognize when the vocal melody is more important than the lyrics themselves and when a lyric doesn't matter at all or works best when played for laughs. A lot of the best lyrics or my favorite ones are not trying to be anything other than fun. That said, the lyricists I enjoy the most can do it all, they can write general pop songs that are elastic enough to reach a wide audience or they can write intimate and artistic or challenging pieces. All are equally difficult. Outkast have some of my favorite lyrics because they can play EVERY angle - “Spread” is one of the most ridiculous songs ever written but it is so damn good and every word is so funny, sexy, stupid and perfect. To be able to pull that off is really amazing, it's like the highest point on the mountain.
TD: A couple of the tracks on the new EP are older songs. What took you so long to release them, and why did you feel that they fit on this release?
DB: Sometimes you get to a point with a song where it works live, but you know that it needs something else. I have to step away, and write other songs, and work on them for a while, and then use a new outlook to really get to the bottom of songs like that. “Dynamite” and “Blood in the Bathtub” are examples of that. And that is why I wanted them on an EP, because they have had long lives and don't necessarily fit with those songs I wrote in between that helped give me the outlook to finish them. “Blood in the Bathtub” was the most popular song we ever played live when we first started playing gigs. People really liked it. We were a two-piece then. I didn't think the song had enough body as a two-piece song. It's so epic. I wanted to thicken it out on a recording. So we put it aside for a while. I think the addition of the hammond on that song was the last piece. I really wanted some organ on that song, and we only recently started using that in the songs so it had to wait until this EP to see any daylight.
TD: Out of singing, songwriter and playing your instruments, what do you feel that you’ve made the most improvement at since your debut EP, and why?
DB: Dancing. Because fuck the rest.
TD: You play music and book shows. You are also involved with the Philly theater community. What do you think those communities can learn from each other that you don’t think has been fully realized yet?
DB: First off, Philly has the tightest knit creative community I have ever encountered. We've been to nearly every other major American city, and some places come close - Chicago, New Orleans, Asheville, Austin, but I am constantly reminded how lucky we have it in Philadelphia. We are truly in a golden age that will one day change, and the biggest thing everyone in town needs to do is just enjoy it. This is what we have all been building together. There's not another town in the country whose artists are as supportive of each other as Philly, not another town whose venues work together, and whose restaurants and bars support each other and whose Mayor actually honors that hard work. This is some rare shit. Enjoy it.
TD: Were you a fan of the movie King Kong when you were growing up? If so, which one is your favorite version, and why?
DB: I was not a fan. I liked dinosaurs and movies about cheetahs. The original is obviously the best though, with Fay Wray.
TD: What are your favorite drugs to perform on and write music?
DB: Tequila and Green Tea.
TD: You obviously love your blues, country, folk and rock ‘n’ roll. If you could start a supergroup to play any other type of genre, what would it be, and who would be in the band?
DB: It would be me and the West Philly Orchestra doing the song "Zombie" by Fela Kuti.
TD: What are TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb’s plans for the rest of 2014?
DB: Last year, we did a lot of touring. We did the SXSW tour to Texas and a tour to California and back in July. This year, we are gonna be doing some smaller tours to show off the new EP, and revisit our favorite spots on the road - more of a lazer beam and less of a shotgun blast. We have some music videos coming for the new EP that we are very excited about. We also have some killer shows in Philly that we are looking forward to, like our EP release show at Johnny Brenda's on April 18th and our 5th annual Halloween Murdershow at Underground Arts, which we are already starting to plan. And we are gonna record our next full-length LP, which will be the third in our planned trilogy of full-length records. So not much.