Some bands tour the country extensively. Some bands play weekly in their hometown. And some bands are full of “older-ish” dudes who enjoy playing music despite the fact that they can only find time to play once in a blue moon. Armalite — a new Philadelphia punk rock quartet composed of scene veterans Mike McKee, Dan Yemin, Jeff Ziga, and Atom Goren — falls into the latter category. Despite their infrequent show schedule and erstwhile commitments, No Idea Records released the band’s stellar debut CD in late 2005. In his interview with Verbicide, singer and guitarist Atom (of Atom & His Package fame) gives a glimpse into the joys of playing in a laid-back band, even if you hate the name of it.
Could you tell me a bit about Armalite, and how you got started?
Sure. It’s a very — what’s the word — recreational thing. Dan [Paint it Black, Lifetime], Mike [Kill The Man Who Questions], and Jeff [True if Destroyed] all play in some other bands that are more active, and for me, having Ruby and another child on the way, I’m kind of…I don’t have a huge amount of time to do it, so we kind of just play whenever we can, and we have a really good time. If we go a couple weeks or a couple months without practicing, then that’s okay. We’re all kind of understandable about everyone else.
These are guys you’ve known for a while?
Yeah, I’ve known them through their other bands for a while.
Do you all write songs?
Yeah, generally we are incredibly slow-going about it, but we all do contribute stuff. It’s a pretty collaborative effort — usually.
Where’d the name of the band come from?
Mike and Dan picked it out because I guess there’s a Gang of Four song called “My Armalite Rifle.” And there’s a Stiff Little Fingers song where he says, “my armalite” — I think that Mike thought he was saying one thing, but I think he was saying, “someone set my arm alight,” — two different words! So, that was their idea of what a good name is for a band. I would disagree enthusiastically. I think it’s a terrible name, but I not-so-graciously lost the argument. So we are named Armalite.
I only asked because when you type it in on the Internet, it brings up information on the rifles used by the IRA. Which would make sense for Stiff Little Fingers, but not you guys.
Yeah, it definitely seems like a ridiculous thing to be associated with since we are four non-rifle toting fellows. We’re kind of a bunch of big dorks.
How was the record release show?
It was fun. We don’t play too frequently, so it was the first show we played in a while, and now that we’re expecting Babytown to be re-entered [at the time of the interview, Atom and his wife were expecting a new baby any day], it may be a little while before we play our next one, but it will be fun. It’s really nice because it’s completely stress-free. All of us do this because we love playing music together and we have a really good time doing it. And I know that they enjoy the other bands that they play in, and that I’ve enjoyed the other bands that I’ve been in, but there’s something nice about it being just for fun.
I was reading the liner notes for the Armalite CD, and there is a part where you say (jokingly) that punk rock songs and their liner notes are the way to change the world for the better. I was just curious if any liner notes have ever stuck in your head for any reason.
I probably can’t produce an example…I do, though, always get a kick out of buying records and reading liner notes and seeing what the people are all about, and what their take on stuff is.
Is it true that you’re a teacher?
Yes, I am. High school chemistry and physics.
Is the school year still going on?
Yeah, I guess the exams for the kids are at the beginning of June. So, definitely getting close, and I get a couple of weeks of maternity leave when the baby comes, so my school year is, amazingly enough, almost over.
Do they do the standardized tests in Philadelphia?
Well, I don’t teach at a public school, so we don’t have any of the “No Child Left Behind” stuff. For chemistry, we do have a national standardized exam that we give. It’s not forced, but we kind of want to see how we’re doing, and use it as a feedback tool.
Do your students know your music at all?
Yeah, some do. I guess most of them in general know that I have played music for a while. Some of them are genuinely interested, and some of them are only interested in talking about it when I want them to do something productive. First and foremost, I am a huge music fan, so I’m always up for talking about music and bands. Some kids kind of bring it up over and over, but there are other things that you can pick on teachers about.
I have to ask, did the package start a new band as well?
No! The package has become a recluse in my closet. No, that’s a lie! I gave the package to Mike because he was trying to use some synthesized stuff in his own songs. By the end of doing Atom & His Package, I had a bunch of different synthesizers and stuff, so I have a couple of different things. Free time does not seem to occur very regularly, so I don’t play around with that stuff all that much. I’m sure that later on, when things are less hectic, I will. But I’m totally okay with that. The only aspect I miss about that stuff is seeing friends who I knew I would only see a couple of times a year from touring that much. I really do miss a significant number of people. I don’t miss the actual touring, and I don’t miss hearing songs because I heard them so many times. I’m really happy with the way things are now.
There were some interesting, sometimes funny, and sometimes negative reactions to the song “Hats Off To Halford.” Did any other Atom & His Package song produce such a passionate reaction?
That song got a positive reaction as well. It was definitely a lightning rod for people who like to say, “you suck.” Most of it was ridiculous enough that it was really funny. You know, that kind of stuff never really affected me. There was the song about black metal, that some people became really angry about for some reason, which I never understood, because I like a lot of different kinds of metal. I figure that with the use of the Internet, it is so easy to send somebody hate mail. It only takes five seconds to do.
That is true. You didn’t get any hate mail from Shaquille O’Neal for the “Madlib” song?
No, I think that he rather liked it.
How does your wife deal with your Enya infatuation?
Somehow she has managed to deal with it. Actually, my love for Enya has definitely waned since her last record. It stunk. So, my wife somehow manages. I don’t know how, either. I don’t know.