Ehsan Kalantarpour (AtomA) interviewed

So, what happened with Slumber? I know there were record label complications, but I didn’t know there were member issues.Ehsan Kalantarpour: After the first and only album Fallout Slumber got locked in a doom/death style. We felt that the album set way too strict formula on what we could do next. We wanted something much more open-world and unexplored, and slowly AtomA was created to finally become official at the beginning of 2011. In AtomA, we found a space to explore that was both intimidating and fascinating. Something untamed and untouched, and worth spending a life to explore.

So, three of Slumber’s members went on to form AtomA. What are guitarist Jari Lindholm and drummer Ted Larsson up to? Lindholm was actually in AtomA for a while, right? Ehsan Kalantarpour: Jari was in AtomA for a while but we went separate ways, at least for now. He will be releasing his debut album this year. Ted is pursuing his punk/rock band the Knockouts and touring I believe.

Why’d you take up a more prominent vocal position? I gather it’s Siavosh’s roar on “Skylight”, which is sort of missed across the rest of Skylight. Ehsan Kalantarpour: Already at writing Fallout we wanted to do much more with the vocals, but didn't know how to. We were somehow forced into growls because there were no abilities in other areas, and we were used to growl after spending a whole decade listening to black metal. Now we're learning to explore the vocal instrument the way we want to and really treat it as an instrument instead of becoming to us just mandatory vocals. Now we can vary and experiment from ethereal choir-y sound to clear and crisp, from that to growl and so on. We use growl where we see fit, as a tool of atmosphere, to bring out something more primitive and cold. If we don't want that atmosphere on a song then we naturally don't use growl. On this album (Skylight) there was not much place for growls.

Is it Atoma or AtomA? If the latter, why the stylized or upper-case A at the end? Ehsan Kalantarpour: To us, AtomA is a gate to something unknown. Hence the first and end letter are like gate pillars to what we're diving into. Both its meaning and shape becomes a gate to another parallel world. Acid trip into a void.

OK, getting down to AtomA. You were working on the songs for a long while. Was it more of finding a sound that was an evolution of Slumber or something else? I remember you were nitpicking detail after detail. Ehsan Kalantarpour: Yes. There was a lot of searching, and not letting ourselves become content with the music just for comfort and ease. Instead push on and on, to blow our own boundaries and stretch the imagination to find something new. This was (and is) a hard battle for us, and really took its toll on personal lives.

I think you’ve had a hard time categorizing AtomA’s music. Going so far as to ask fans what they’d call it. Does it really matter in the end or is it merely a way to slot AtomA for marketing purposes? I’ll call it “Dream Metal”. Ehsan Kalantarpour: Well, yeah, do you find it easy to find a suiting category for AtomA? During pre-release this question was constantly rising, "so... what genre is AtomA?" I had a hard time with that, since one of the main musical courses was to have no genre limitations, instead combining things freely, so to classify it would be against its own nature. I don't even believe in all the genres, categories and mad made formats telling the music what it can and can't do. I think the label went for apocalyptic post-rock at last. In magazines and reviews I always saw something new, "Shoegaze post-metal rock ambient cinematic" and so on, so I asked on our Facebook page what our listeners would categorize the music as. It seemed most were saying some kind of post-metal. I call it AtomA.

There’s a lot of uplifting music on Skylight. Yet, there’s a message of a fucked up planet inhabited by even more fucked up people. There’s this quote, “AtomA is a home for refugee souls of a planet in decay.” And then there’s the “Bermuda Triangle” promo video. That’s not exactly indicative of where the music is or where it’s going thematically. Ehsan Kalantarpour: If you listen carefully you'd hear that the more positive and dreamy vibes is something that slowly grows out of that darker and colder first half of the album. Most of them comes out as the end of the album is closing in. How you interpret that is up to you. Death as a harmonic phenomenon and salvation, or even hope of a brighter future growing from something dark and destroyed. One can interpret it in many ways. It's a personal journey to whatever end you meet.

A few people will point out similarities between Tiamat’s Deeper Kind of Slumber and AtomA, specifically on “Highway” and the vocals of “Resonance”. Were you giving Tiamat a nod? I know a few folks who sort of liken Skylight as the “lost album” between Wildhoney and Deeper Kind of Slumber. Ehsan Kalantarpour: Deeper Kind of Slumber had a huge impact on us when we were young. We'd just discovered weed and were tripping out to that album immensely. What huge colossal and heartfelt world they created in that album. So yeah, we've certainly put a nod or two in honor of that album, whether deliberately or not is hard to say.

Of course, the majority of Skylight is its own Morpheus-like beast. The way the guitars and keyboards counter/inter-play is pretty brilliant for a band still in its nascent stages. Do you view the guitar/keyboard instruments as dueling or complementary components to AtomA’s compositional aims? Ehsan Kalantarpour: This is one of the main focuses. I dream of a sound that can at last merge guitar and synth into one cohesive unified sound storm. If they truly mesh together both spiritually and technically, they can create such an amazing void, such an incredibly rich and vast sound. I believe there is potential to find a sound that's so god damn epic and mesmerizing that I will devote a life into finding this cohesive force of guitar and synth. There is a way Chris! There must be a way!

You had five songs written as a demo. They appear, apart from “Hole in the Sky” acting as a wedge, in order on Skylight as on the demo. I gather there’s a theme here. Were the rest of the tracks written as chapters to the theme? Ehsan Kalantarpour: Yes, as I wrote earlier, the music shifts from something dark to something more bright and lush. Therefore the first couple of tracks are more intense and then it progresses into a more dreamy ambiance. Dynamic of the album being shaped like a bomb. An intense explosion at first, and then it calms down until it reaches total silence.

There are a lot of instrumental tracks on Skylight. People tend to get caught up in vocals/vocal-less songs, but I like the scene setting nature of the AtomA instrumentals, especially “Saturn and I” and “AtomA”. What was the motivation to include so many non-vocal tracks? Ehsan Kalantarpour: For me to enjoy music fully I need both instrumentals and vocal tracks. I find it essential to give the music and imagination a chance to breath away from the human voice, as well as with it. Giving the instruments the air they need to express themselves properly and to sweep the ears away to other soundscapes. I'm personally sick of hearing human voice in every god damn song. I mean, I hear enough human voice every day. Sometimes when I listen to music I just want to get free from all the words and rhetoric of human kind. Just relax for a bit...

I know you’re a big fan of the Akira soundtrack. What other anime soundtracks have influenced you? I hear smatterings of Yoko Kanno and Mamoru Oshii’s work in AtomA. Ehsan Kalantarpour: Ghost in the Shell, with its dark and heartbreaking atmosphere. Mesmerizing and inspiring movie and masterpiece soundtrack.

I know a lot of Slumber fans were mystified by the cover art. It’s a little power metal-ish. What pushed you in the direction of a full-blown painting? Maybe more ‘70s/’80s sci-fi movie posters? Ehsan Kalantarpour: I don't know but in the world I live in power metal has no copyright of epic painting covers. Everyone interprets things out of associations and past experiences, so if one has been subjected to a lot of power metal I can see why one would think in those lines. But to me it's a painting of two lost astronauts in an unknown environment, in front of a strange discovery, and together with the music itself the painting can be emotionally interpreted in millions of ways. The same way we work in our music, to have an acoustic approach towards electronic soundscapes, we wanted to approach the cover in the same way. So it was to be painted by hand (Jan Meininghaus) and we wanted it influenced by old sci-fi books forgotten somewhere in dusty library sections.

What else do you outside of AtomA? I remember there was a health food store you were looking at. Ehsan Kalantarpour: I'm writing the next album and trying to act normal in the everyday life. It's hard when you plunge deep into something creative that you hold more dear than anything else, to still have a grip on reality's basic things and its many demanding facets. So I'm trying to make the days go by while losing myself in the studio everyday. I tried to open a restaurant a year or so ago with my brother, in a weird attempt that maybe I could finance things in the band by myself instead of relying on a label, but I quickly realized the demanding spiritual world of music and cold boring business was NOT a good combo for me so I quickly dropped it and focused fully on music.

OK, what are Atoma’s next steps? Tour, write more music, or find a Russian-built launch site to blast off from? Ehsan Kalantarpour: We've already dived head first into this next oblivion album we call Nova, so it's all engines forward. We'll begin our first tour in Europe by February it seems, so let's see where the music takes us. Besides that we're building a nuclear shelter studio for people to come enjoy music while the world outside blasts itself to pieces. So when you hear the thundering sound of an incoming nuke of the future World War III, do not hesitate to set course for AtomA's studio in Stockholm. We are awaiting survivors.

** AtomA's Skylight is out now on Napalm Records. It's available HERE to astronauts, cosmonauts, taikonauts, and AtomAnauts. Off blast!

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