In the spotlight – Atari Pilot

In the spotlight – Atari Pilot

Atari Pilot are an indie rock band hailing from Swindon (UK). Drawing inspiration from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Daft Punk, and Oasis, their sound is a unique fusion of classic rock and modern indie sensibilities.

Would you like to introduce yourselves and the band? How did the band come together?

“So there’s Andy on drums, Paj on bass, Frosty on guitar and me, Onze. I’m the singer/songwriter and I play acoustic guitar on some songs.”

“Me and Frosty were in a band when we were younger and after that ended I stopped music for a few years. Then I realised there was a music sized hole in my life, so I recorded the debut album ‘Navigation Of The World By Sound’ way back in 2011 as a solo project with the wonderful Sam Bates. The album was then mastered by another Swindon legend, Stu Rowe. I never thought I could play it live, but I managed to convince Frosty to join up with me again and he was playing in another band with Andy, so that’s how Andy joined. Paj initially joined as a keyboard player – he can play all kinds of instruments, but after Freddie, our original bass player, left, he switched to bass and that’s us now.”

“We were building some momentum in 2012, but then my life got really busy so the band had to be put on ice and then before I knew it was five years later and I was diagnosed with Cancer. It was whilst in hospital facing my fears and getting treated, I had a lot of time to reflect. One of the things I knew I had to do was get the band back together. I’ll never forget how it had been years but they all instantly said yes. It’s taken a few years, but now we’re really back, releasing new music and I think, sounding better than ever.”

What do you admire most about each other as people and as musicians?

“I think the biggest thing is we have a deep respect for each other as people and for what we create as a group of musicians. This means we all inspire each other to bring our best because we recognise It’s really hard to get a group of people together that can blend in a harmonious way to allow for the best version of the band to come forward and we’re always looking to serve the songs. If there’s any ego it never gets in the way!”

For those who may not be familiar with you, what would you say makes your band distinct or unique?

“I feel we blend classic and modern influences into our own indie rock sound. We combine the human experience style story telling of someone like Springsteen and mix it in with the disco driving type rhythms of ‘Random Access Memories’ era Daft Punk and finally combine that with the kind of inclusive singalong melodies that Oasis were so great at. Finally I guess my strong vocal style hopefully pulls it all together and is quite recognisable so you can always tell it’s Atari Pilot you’re listening to.”

What’s the origin of the band name?

“Whilst working on names I originally found something that said Atari meant Fog in Japanese, and so the idea became that that an Atari Pilot was someone who was able to make it through the fog of life in order to find themselves and their place in the world. The first album was called ‘Navigation of the world by sound’ and it was all about how music can be a map for us and help us make sense of things. Someone later told me on Twitter that Atari actually meant “hit the target” and I think that works too. An Atari Pilot I guess is someone who is taking a shot at life and really trying to make the most of it.”

What has been the most prominent inspiration behind your music so far?

“My parents were big music fans, so there was always music playing, and it was an important part of life. I also think being a 90s kid there were so many great bands in that era. I thought being in a band seemed like the best thing ever, I always had this romantic view of bands, how each band member was vital and how together they became more than the sum of their parts.”

I always love hearing about the song writing process. What can you tell me about yours?

“It really varies, for ‘Train of Life’ I had written the lyrics and then just sat down one day and came up with the riff, and then I was off. I had been working on my writing and producing for a good few months and I had written a lot of songs, but I was still searching for a jumping off point. With that song it was like the theme / the sound and everything just came together, and I had finally found the first song for the new collection of songs. I’ve been writing songs for over 20 years now, I’d say the essence of most of my best songs has come to me when I’m in a flow state and I’m just letting things happen.”

“With ‘I Took a Photo’ the key opening line just came out but it took a long time before we ended up with what is the released version, because I really dug deep into the arrangement and also the narrative of the song and what it was trying to convey. I would say these days with experience, I routinely shake things up so I can always be open to working in different ways in order to keep evolving whilst maintaining the core of what Atari Pilot is.”

“In summary I try to combine the creative and the editing side of my brain these days! I know what Atari Pilot is sonically and that helps set some boundaries so I don’t get lost!”

To what extent do you draw influence for lyrics from areas outside music? What social issues are you most passionate about?

“Lyrically the themes for Atari Pilot songs tend to focus on the human experience, the relationship we have with ourselves, other people and the wider world, rather than specific issues. That said would say mental health is one I’d maybe single out. I can see now that various stages of my life I have been depressed and for a long time I wasn’t able to be honest about. The battle with Cancer was a tough time, but I feel like it made me confront some really deep questions about who I was and who I wanted to be. I try to be much more open these days with myself and others with how I’m feeling and I think it has made a real difference.”

“I think looking back, the problems I let fester or didn’t address always got smaller as soon as I started talking about it, but you have to break the cycle of silence first. I feel real sadness for all those people who end up feeling like they have no choice but to end their life and of course not really knowing what they were feeling or going through is heartbreaking for those left behind too. I think society is changing in regards to this and I hope we keep moving things forward and continue to make it less taboo.”

Who are some of your songwriting heroes and do you think you can hear their influence in your music?

“I think if I was going to pick a core top five formative song writing influences, I’d pick out Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Noel Gallagher, Bruce Springsteen and U2. That’s a real male centric list, but beyond that many female artists have influenced me along the way too, everyone from Sheryl Crow to Beth Orton and onto artists like Kacey Musgraves, First Aid Kit and Kathleen Edwards. I think they’ve all inspired me and over time it’s become a big melting pot interwoven with my own perspective and way of looking at the world and that’s how you end up with Atari Pilot.”

Are you also thinking about how songs might sound on stage when you’re writing and recording them?

“Absolutely! The band is a big inspiration to me and playing live is when you can communicate most directly with listeners in the same space and have that energy transfer. So, I would say we’re only looking to release songs that we could play live. The production style for the song is also aiming to reflect the live sound. The drum sound especially is really important to try and lead that more live sound I’m trying to capture.”

What does it mean to you when you see your work resonating with fans?

“Along with playing live and the moment when you write a new song, it’s the best thing. Atari Pilot exists to try and inspire positive energy and that feel of transformation and possibilities, so when you talk to people where you’ve had that impact it humbles you and reminds you that It’s a gift to be able to do this and it’s something to make the absolute most of while you have the chance.”

Most memorable day as a band?

“Honestly, meeting again in the pub for the first time after I’d recovered from all my treatment for Cancer. Without that day, we wouldn’t be here today. It makes me emotional just thinking about it. These guys are my brothers for life at this point.”

“I think we’ve many more memorable days to come now, It feels like we’re at the beginning of something. Along with playing live and the moment when you write a new song, it’s the best thing. Atari Pilot exists to try and inspire positive energy and that feel of transformation and possibilities, so when you talk to people where you’ve had that impact it humbles you and reminds you that It’s a gift to be able to do this and it’s something to make the absolute most of while you have the chance.”

What does success as a band mean to you?

“Still being together in 5-10 years time, striving to keep developing our potential, playing great live shows and releasing songs we are proud of and that connect with people. Leaving a legacy behind and inspiring others.”

What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands these days?

“I think things are very different from say 20 years ago, so I wouldn’t say there are obstacles as such but the opportunities out there are maybe different so it requires a different mindset. It all depends on what your aims are of course. I think ultimately at the core it’s about following your own path. I think trying to be part of your local community / scene is important and it’s something we want to step up. Live music especially at grass roots level is really vital to ensuring new or developing artists and bands have places to play. Kudos to all the live music venue owners out there who support these artists and bands and keep these kind of gigs alive.”

Any plans for the rest of the year?

“We’re going to keep releasing new songs, connecting with people and trying to be a positive force in our local scene and online. When people need us, we’ll be there to know that they always capable of more than they might imagine. We want our music to be there for people like the music we love has been for us.”

What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?

“First of all I’ve loved the eclectic mixture on the top 20, it’s inspiring to hear the range of music and styles! It was a tough choice but I have to say my favourite is ‘Lipstick Muse’ by HOL. I love the production and voice, it just sounds effortless but with enough edge to it. I hear echoes of Ethel Cain, who I’m a big fan of too. I definitely will be checking out more of their stuff now I’ve discovered them, so thank you for introducing me to their music!”

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

As a bonus track, I’d like to pick ‘Home’ by the band Moon, who are also from the South West of England. I had the pleasure to play an acoustic set in support of them recently and they were such a lovely bunch and had a really cool vibe. I think they have a great indie sound in the tradition of bands like Blondie and The Pretenders, great bands with females fronting them. ‘Home’ is their latest single and is super catchy, so I hope people enjoy hearing it! I’m excited to see where they take things!”


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