The Photo Atlas: Crazy for the Tour
Insanity is often described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The Photo Atlas can relate. The band has been around for a while, and it refuses to standardize its sound just for the hopes of a bigger pay day. Success for the band is being able to continually exceed expectations and still entertain its long-time fans.
The proliferation of new musical genres makes it difficult these days to classify artists. Atlas is too fast to be indie, too soft for hardcore and not douchey enough to be mod. While the band’s rhythm section is busy harboring and unloading angst in a patterned ferocity, its minimalist layering force-feeds a dance vibe that translates well from album to live performance. It’s hard not to tap something uncontrollably while listening to the Atlas—something it’s proud of and will continue to perfect.
“Give me a little distortion and a microphone, and I’m ready to go,” says front man Alan Andrews.
Though the Atlas recently brought on drummer Joshua Taylor, the band’s lineup has remained consistent for the last decade. Mark Hawkins (bass), Bill Threlkeld III (guitar) and Andrews (vocals/guitar) have stayed together throughout the writing of three EPs, one studio album and thousands of miles of touring. Its second full-length studio album, “Stuck In A Honeytrap” (available Feb. 12; release show at the Hi-Dive Feb. 8), was recorded and mixed by Nick Sullivan and Jeff Kenan of Silo Sounds (Flobots, The Swayback) and mastered by Airshow in Boulder.
Albums aren’t what The Photo Atlas does best. Instead of putting out as many songs as it’s possible to record or searching out the perfect radio-friendly single, the band is more concerned with how many miles it can put on its van in any given year. The exact number escapes it, but it’s a lot.
“(Someone) asked me a while back how many shows we’ve actually done. I had to go home and sit down to think about it, and really I’m not sure. But my count was right around 1,100,” says Andrews. “We’ve had several month long tours. The biggest being with The Bravery a few years ago. I’m not sure exactly how we did it, money-wise I mean.”
“We had girlfriends,” Hawkins interjects.
“Oh, yeah. Yeah, we had girlfriends,” Andrews laughs. “Somehow that always made bills a little easier. We’ve also had good opening spots with some amazing bands too. That helps out a lot.”
With no girlfriend subsidies to rely on, the band was fortunate to have another entity step-up and lend financial support this time around. The good city of Denver devised a way to expand its cultural significance and gave deserving artists a way to collect miles that didn’t have any ties or stipulations. The Photo Atlas was one of a few bands that received a city grant, which is specifically geared toward touring musicians. The Independent Music on Tour program, or IMTour, is designed to get road-ready bands out to the rest of the country.
“They were able to get us a good-paying show in Scottsdale in March,” Andrews said. “When you get one of those, sometimes it can fund the whole tour, so we’ve set our West Coast appearances around that.”
Aside from Arizona, the Atlas will also appear at the South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, a yearly gathering of music-, movie- and electronic-loving masses that hosts some 2 million tourists during a 10-day period. As one of the world’s largest music festivals, it’s not a stretch to call it the Mecca of music.
SXSW isn’t the only festival the band has had the opportunity to be a part of. It’s seen stage time at notable events such as the Vans Warped Tour, CMJ Music Marathon, the Mile High Music Festival (now defunct), the ESPN X-Games X-Fest and the DEW Tour featured on NBC.
While the gloomy and unpredictable nature of the music industry is a harsh reality for many bands, providing disapproving parents with I-told-you-so fodder, The Photo Atlas sees it differently. Perhaps it’s the fact the band’s been around so long, seen so many amazing bands go belly up around it and is a part of a lost musical generation, that its optimism remains unwavering. This outlook, along with the intensity of its members and supportive fans, has given The Photo Atlas a unique place in music history. It’s not selling albums by the billions or being hassled by the TMZ lizards, but that’s not what it’s after. To the band and to its followers, it’s a success story that’s already crafted—and still being written.