Perfect Porridge

Interview with Atomic Flea : Babadebaba

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Minneapolis pop rock band Atomic Flea would probably not win in a knock-down-drag-out fight. In fact, they don’t pick fights. Why are we even talking about fighting each other? These are nice guys with a new album, Babadebaba, full of uplifting tunes reminiscent of TMBG, Matt Pond PA, Weezer and early Beatles.

For example, the lyrics for “I Am the One” are genuine and quite good — “I am the one who holds your hand in the middle of the night, I am the one who understands when the world’s not right, I am the one who juggles like a sideshow man, And I am the one who’s never quite done with his master plans” — and are perfectly suited for a coffee shop date, maybe holding hands with that special someone (HANDS ONLY).

The band has been in the Twin Cities since 1996, and Babadebaba is their third full-length album. Not only the perfect word for “owning” all Google results, Babadebaba is fun to say and makes a catchy title track, as well. With all the niceties aside, don’t be too surprised when you get halfway through tracks like “Stay” when they bust out an unexpected grunge guitar solo that would make Better Than Ezra smile.

Stream a few tracks at their MySpace page 

This week we got the opportunity to chat with friends, bandmates, and best-friends-forever Eric Kreidler and Mike Senkovich about the band, the new album and the coming apocalypse….

Who is Atomic Flea?
We’re a Minneapolis-based Pop-Rock outfit specializing in Hummable pop-rock with a splash of spacious introspection. Current lineup is Eric Kreidler (vox, gtr, keys), Mike Senkovich (gtr, vox, pedal steel), John Hizon (bass, vox), Becky Hanson (drums, percussion), Drummer on the CD is Bill Rhomberg. Albums: Counter Revolution – 1998, The Means – 2003, Babadebaba – 2008.

Mike Senkovich: The name “Atomic Flea” is the culmination of many months of band-name haggling. We settled on Atomic Flea after “Furious George” was taken by a band in DC. Then Eric came up with a cool band logo design involving a crime-fighting insect, and we couldn’t think of a similarly charming logo for our other choice, “Simplex 7″.

How did you all get together?
The complete Band timeline can be found on AtomicFlea.com in the “Band” section.

A more concise Story of Atomic Flea…
Eric Kreidler: We all went to Notre Dame, except Becky. Bill (class of ’93), Eric(’93), and John(’92) played in an 80′s cover band called SYR. Then Eric and Bill played in a band called Access Denied. Mike(’91) and Eric lived in the same dorm but didn’t really hang out that much. Eric got a job in Minneapolis in 1993 (none of us, except Becky, are native Minnesotans). Mike also got a job in Minneapolis. Then two years later Mike and Eric randomly met in the skyway and decided to have some jam sessions. This led to songwriting and the core of the band was formed. Bill then got a job in Minneapolis and drums were added to the mix. John showed up for graduate school and the lineup was complete. But then John decided to go to Australia so Mike used his musical pit band connections and brought in Nick Griffin. The band began playing gigs and lined up Gark Studio, with ex-Beastie Boys guitar tech Dave Pinsky as engineer. The first record “Counter-Revolution” received several positive reviews. Nick ultimately had to leave the band, but John was back from Australia so he resumed his role as bass player. We began our second album, “The Means,” and recorded and produced the whole thing ourselves. Our sound tightened and we went through many bumps in the road as we learned the recording process by the seat of our pants. Momentum slowed a bit when Bill moved home to Iowa, leaving the band without a drummer. But this allowed Mike and Eric to experiment with more acoustic sounds, electronic samples, keyboards and pedal steel, and a 3rd batch of songs was ready to record. Bill road-tripped up for drum tracks recorded at Crazy Beast Studio with Ben Durrant (an old work colleague of Eric’s wife) and album #3 was underway. As the record neared completion, we knew we needed a drummer to be able to gig with the new music, so Mike again tapped his network and brought in Becky Hanson, former drummer of The Turns and former student of Dave King. With a few shows under our belts, we’re now getting ready for the big CD Release show.

The Shorter Story of How We All Got Together:
We all went to Notre Dame in the early 90′s (except Becky) and played in various bands on and off campus. Then Eric got a job in Minneapolis in ’93, and Mike did also a year later (without knowing any of the others moved there as well). Then two years later Mike and Eric randomly met in the skyway and decided to have some jam sessions. This led to songwriting and the core of the band was formed. Bill then got a job in Minneapolis and drums were added to the mix. John showed up for graduate school at the U and became our bass player, and the lineup was complete. Personnel changed hands when John took courses in Australia and Nick Griffin replaced him on bass, but then Nick left and since John was back in town he once again became our bass player. Bill moved to Iowa in 2004 and Becky, former drummer of The Turns replaced him.

Mike: I was walking in the downtown Minneapolis skyway when Eric crossed 6th Street in the opposite direction. I sort of recognized him but tried to just walk by him, pretending he wasn’t there. Luckily, he called out my name and since I decided it would be rude to not respond, I said “hello” back. A week later we’re in his apartment jamming and collaborating. That was over 10 years ago.

Who are your influences?
Eric: The Beatles, Rush, Semisonic, Steeplejack, Love Cars, Death Cab for Cutie/The Postal Service, The Decemberists, Laura Veirs, Radiohead, Low, Aimee Mann, Beck, Matt Pond PA, Andrew Bird, They Might be Giants, REM, Mogwai, Dosh, Terry Gilliam, Ed Wood, Dr. Strangelove (the movie)
Mike: Jellyfish, Imperial Drag, Yes, Steely Dan, John Scofield, Wes Montgomery, Brave Combo, Pink Floyd, Steeplejack, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, The Humbugs, and The Big Lebowski.

Tell us about the new album, Babadebaba .
Eric: We’ve always thought of this CD as a transition for us, from our more straight-up pop-rock roots to music that reflects and joins in with what we’re listening to now — alternate instrumentation, samples, more spacious and ambient — but always with some hooky bit somewhere along the way. The album spans a few years of songwriting, and as musicians who have day jobs songwriting often happens in spurts and phases, so this CD reflects that. Lyrically it’s whatever rambles out of my brain, but I like to think of it as darkly optimistic. And heavy on the phonemes and nonsense words — “babadebaba” — I seem to be trending that way in my writing. It’s faster.

Mike: We had these songs in the hopper for a couple years prior to recording, and with Bill moving to greener pastures in Iowa we wanted to have what we thought was a last hurrah of recording of sorts. But with Bill no longer in town we didn’t feel the need to immediately find a new drummer and book a ton of gigs, and we found ourselves with lots of time to experiment with sounds and music. We did our basic tracking at Crazy Beast and then took the files to our home studios to play around with.

What was the recording process like?
Eric: We took sort of a hybrid approach of our first two CDs — one all-studio and one all-home recording. We did drums at Crazy Beast, then tracked guitars and some keys ourselves, then went back to Crazy Beast for vocals. We did preliminary editing in the home studio, then Ben took care of mixing, and Bruce Templeton at Magneto Mastering did the mastering. The contribution of both Ben and Bruce had such a huge positive impact on the sound.

Mike: I had done tracking with the Humbugs at the Terrarium earlier that year and got the itch to do recording in a studio with Eric, especially after the challenges that came with recording The Means ourselves in my basement. We researched studios and ended up going with Ben because we liked his studio and recording philosophy, and it helped that Eric’s wife knew him too.

What’s the deal with the title track, “Babadebaba?”
Eric: “Babadebaba” rocks because it’s a happy song about the Apocalypse. This could come in handy. And it’s just a cool sounding track. Builds nicely, and it was Ben’s idea to pull the drums out of the end of the bridge, which I think just makes the track. And I love the song because it’s launched so much other, well, it’s been the lynch-pin in developing the new Atomic Flea imagery.
Mike: We tried our best to make the Apocalypse something one could easily sing about in the shower.

What’s up with the crazy comic book you mailed me?
Eric: As the CD project was coming to a close, I went to Portland, Oregon on a vacation and soaked in all of the art and music scene there, and really enjoyed the idea of exploring how graphic design (my trade by day) and my musical pursuits could weave together. Certainly not a vastly original thought but a fun one for me. And I’m a total sci-fi geek, so I knew I wanted robots worked into the album art somehow. I found these crazy stock photos with this weird “Day the Earth Stood Still” robot photographed in odd places so I promptly appropriated him for the cover and worked it into a whole collage. It’s all loosely inspired by the whole Apocalypse thing, i.e. global warming, which means polar ice, which means — penguins, of course! And that sort of thing. I tried to make the album cover sort of feel like a movie poster, with random heads of imaginary characters and bits of action scenes, etc. And it was out of this that the big story fell.

Every band has stickers and t-shirts, but not every band has their own comic book. So we thought this would be a fun companion to the CD. I love it because it’s fairly random, but there is an actual story arc that plays through all 11 episodes (note: what you received was only episode 1), and sort of plays through the video for “Babadebaba.”

Mike: When we had a look at the album art we sort of joked around with ideas for what each song on the album could represent in this Apocalyptic context. Those original ideas weren’t really used but we had a lot of fun brainstorming, and I think it planted the seed that some kind of story could be built off the images and it would be worth seeing what the story was. The graphic novel, then the Babadebaba video came from that.

Besides the CD Release show, singing happily about the apocalypse and writing comic books, what else is new with the band?
Eric: What’s new is this is the most effort we’ve ever put behind a CD release. We’re so psyched to have the show at BLB as it’s just the perfect venue for the multimedia thing we’re developing, and I look forward to watching both the live show and a new set of songs evolve from here. Along with being a drummer, Becky is a classically trained marimba player, so that should be fun to work in.

Mike: New instrumentation is a big part of this project. Eric began his musical life by teaching himself piano (Billy Joel and Bon Jovi, of all things) but the only instrument he played in Atomic Flea was guitar until we recorded the parts in Babadebaba. Before that we were more of a 4-piece guitar-heavy rock band. Now his keyboard playing is more a part of the studio and live mix. We’ve also introduced some music software into our world– laptops with Reason and Live, as well as pedal steel. Overall there are many more electronic pedals and wires in our setup for us to trip on, and the live show is more “by the seat of our pants” than it’s ever been, which makes it exciting and fun for us.

Tell me about your upcoming CD release show.
Eric: The show is basically a remix of the album, with a few older tunes thrown in for good measure. We’ve put some real effort into matching the album arrangements as best as we can, working in guest instrumentalists, samples, and the pedal steel for certain tracks. Mike and I both have more gear to haul around that ever before, but I have a picture of Dosh’s setup to remind myself that it could always be worse.

Mike: Eric hates lugging gear, and it’s fun to hear him complain about it. So for this performance we tried to bring everything we own so that subsequent performances that don’t include video seem lighter and less workout-intensive by comparison.

Eric: Along with the music, the show will also feature an accompanying video program, some of it in the style of the graphic novel, some of it other random tangents. We hope to get some footage out of the performance to cut together a video for the song “Get By,” sort of a video of a video kind of thing.

Tour plans in the works?
Eric: We will play every venue within a 10-mile radius.
Mike: When we get bored, we will extend that radius to 15 miles.
Actually, we plan to set up shows in towns outside of the Twin Cities in the upper Midwest soon but for now we’re focused on the CD release.

Where can people get the album?
Our Web site
, iTunes, CDBaby, Cheapo, Treehouse and Electric Fetus.

Atomic Flea plays Ginkgo‘s on June 21, starting around 7pm, with Kerns and the Hemispheres.

  • leslie Rhomberg

    I LOVE the new CD. Bill and I miss you guys alot. I know Bill really misses jammin with you. This interview was great to read. Atomic Flea has great things going on in MN. Now we need them to bring all the greatness to Iowa!!! I have a fun group of people just waiting to dance the night away to Atomic Flea………