April 18, 2006

From Piazzolla to Pop: Chicago’s NYCO tops Mayer and Johnson


Stop what youre doing right now. Turn off the tube, put the book down, walk out of class, and find a computer.

Go here: http://www.myspace.com/nycomusic. Click on Pissed Off. Keep listening. Fall in love.

Why the dramatics? Just a heads-up. Chicagos NYCO will be the next big thing to hit the charts. Their debut, Two, is easily the most pleasing rock/pop album to come out of 2005. Take Ben Folds, Jack Johnson, and John Mayer, and hang em out to dry. NYCO is what pop should be.

Ted Atkatz was principle percussionist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he decided to take a year off and put his love of music in terms of creativity. The product? NYCO.

Two is creating an honest and soulful, uncomplicated yet far from insipid. Atkatz and company worked with Grammy-award winner and producer Jim Tullio for the bands debut.

Pissed Off takes on the mantle of a ballad, but Atkatzs cynical sincerity shatters the classification, declaring: she wants to be special to someone/shes been so pissed off since yesterday.

Atkatz had a few words for TBL:

JB: What were your responsibilities with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?

TA: With the Chicago symphony, being a percussionist means playing a whole bunch of different instruments that starts with battery percussion, which would be bass drum and snare and cymbals. After that, accessories: tambourine, triangle, sleigh bells, and maracas. Then mallet percussion: vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel I could go on and on. Basically anything you can hit or strike.

JB: That covers a lot of territory.

TA: Yeah, it does.

JB: What was the spark that made you want to go on sabbatical and form NYCO?

TA: I had been doing a lot of songwriting for the past 4 or 5 years, and get together with a bunch of musicians and occasionally perform out. We wrote some music, recorded some music, but I felt that I needed to give the music a fair shake. I wanted to do it justice and spend as much time as I possibly could
I wanted to record the album and I knew I needed a significant amount of time off from work in order to do that and support the album with touring and promotion. I wanted to take a year off to do all that.

JB: How did you get NYCO together?

TA: Dave [Saenger, lead guitarist] was auditioning for a lot of different bands and we got our signals crossed at the rehearsal space. He waited outside and didnt meet us. He came across a couple of other bands outside the rehearsal space and auditioned for those bands. Luckily for us, he didnt like those bands.

Dave auditioned for us later. Most people would just say screw you. It worked out because he was patient with us.

I found Devin [Staples] when we were playing in another band I was playing keys and singing background vocals, he was playing drums.

Kells is a former bass student of Rob Kassinger also from the Chicago Symphony. [Rob] was in the first incarnation of the band, and recommended Kells to me for NYCO.

JB: How is the transition from orchestra to rock band?

TA: The biggest difference is in the orchestra youre playing in a large ensemble, youre one of a hundred people, and playing in NYCO, Im one of four people. So the basic difference is really orchestra music versus chamber music. You have a more active role as a chamber musician.

JB: When you write your music, what do you draw on?

TA: Two is about relationships between two people, some autobiographical, some loosely based. A lot of [Two] is about a longing for change in a relationship or a reflection on what didnt work.

Now the music has taken a different shape, some of it is a bit more party music, sometimes comical, sometimes sociopolitical in ways. With this band, I felt its inspired a more comical take on lifes situations.

JB: How did you get started in music?

TA: My father told my brother and I to pick an instrument when we were kids and I started listening to my parents Beatles albums. I was really into Ringo Starr, and I thought, thats what I want to do. I picked drums.

JB: And then you went on to college for music?

TA: I just used it to get scholarship money. I thought I wanted to be either a psychologist or a lawyer.

JB: What happened to that?

TA: I think I started realizing that it was possible to make a career in music and make a living doing it. I went back to college and got my masters studying with a professor who prepared his students for orchestral auditions and winning a job in an orchestra.

JB: Do you think formal musical training is important?

TA: A lot of my favorite artists had no formal training. Its a blessing and a curse. You gain technical facilities and theoretical knowledge and it is important to go to school, but then again, certain things cant really be taught. The emotional qualities of music cant be represented in a classroom. The best musicians are drawing upon emotional states and reflections of their lives in order to transfer it into something thats emotionally powerful.

JB: How do you make the distinction when youre trying to be creative when you have this background of technical musical knowledge? Do you consider it a resource or a hindrance?

TA: The thing that people relate to with new music is the overall feeling or shape and a lot of times the technical things that are important to musicians are completely irrelevant to the listener. In listening to some of the greatest bands the [Rolling] Stones, Velvet Underground the whole vibe is loose and sloppy, but thats what gives it charm. So, a lot of times you just have to throw caution to the wind and say, I dont really care if someone says he has bad technique, the important thing is getting the right mood and feeling. You almost have to undo some of the lessons that youve learned with your formal training so you can get to a more raw, powerful emotional state in music.

JB: How was it working with Jim Tullio?

TA: It was great. Hes a Pro Tools master. He was one of the first people to take up Pro Tools in the early 90s. Tape is still great, but most every album we listen to now is recorded digitally. [Tullio] worked so quickly and yet he has the great ears of a great musician. He was really responsive to what the band was feeling in terms of the direction of the music. He has many years of experience producing great artists and yet he treated us as if our opinions actually mattered, which was great (laughs).

JB: What does the future hold? Are you guys coming to the east coast?

TA: Were getting the dates together for another east coast tour in May. If you guys will come hear us, we should probably play there. Were having the most fun playing college towns and colleges.

We actually got out to the east coast last March and just had a great experience finding different audiences and the way they behave. The New York audience is in there with their arms folded, waiting to be impressed. It was great because they actually listened whereas Chicago and the Midwest crowds are just trying to get through their pint to the next drink, which can also be fun, but it was different sort of playing experience. We definitely want to have that experience again and try to reach some new fans along the way.

Were really into recording the next incarnation of the band. I think its changed a lot from what it was. [Two] is a collection of songs that Ive written over the past 4 years. The next album will be stuff that the band has written together, starting with my ideas, but morphing into what the band comes up with. Im really eager to get the four of us in the studio.

Were hoping to [record] in the late spring or early summer and tour and support the next album. Were excited about that.

Stay ahead of the crowd. Check out NYCO at http://www.myspace.com/nycomusic or http://www.nycomusic.com.

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