An Interview With The Post-Apocalyptic Americana Band, TJ KONG AND THE ATOMIC BOMB!
Posted On 27 Nov 2017
On Friday, October 13th, the “Post Apocalyptic” Americana band, TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb, released a new record called “Dancing out the Door.” They’re one of the first Americana bands in a long while to add the dark, philosophical twisted-ness of acts like Tom Waits and Nick Cave alongside a fiery attitude that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
You can listen to “Dancing out the Door” here: https://tjkongandtheatomicbomb.bandcamp.com/album/dancing-out-the-door
The band has been gracing Philadelphia with their unbelievable live performances, and their message feels more relevant than ever. In the movie that birthed the band’s namesake, Dr. Strangelove, front-man Dan Bruskewicz explains, “The world is a dark comedy of idiotic men who threaten to blow up the entire planet in defense of their own semen.” And like the film’s Lt. TJ Kong – the band is waving their cowboy hats at fate. “These songs are a celebration of giving up control. A celebration of living in the eternal now. Of this very moment. The only moment. TJ Kong riding the bomb and hollering out in ridiculous joy”
The new album was actually recorded live to tape – and it sounds incredible. They worked with Bill Moriarty (who also produced Dr. Dog, Man Man, and Ron Gallo) and his contribution does not go unnoticed.
USA Today: “One of the most sought after bands in Philly.”
PopMatters: “It lands somewhere between The Basement Tapes and Anodyne, with a ragged, loﬁ aesthetic and lyrics drenched in heartbreak and whiskey.”
WXPN: “Eclectic and evocative, stirring together dusty cinematic arrangements with lyrical tales of depravity and hardluck humanity that sound like something out of a Cormac McCarthy novel.”
Learn more about TJ Kong & The Atomic Bomb in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find the band? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it?
The band is on the road! We’re in the middle of our east coast album release tour and that means podcasts galore and non-stop politics talk in the van. Occasionally we’ll listen to someone’s iPod, today it was mine and we were grooving to Adebisi Shank for a little bit.
What are some words you would use to describe 2017? How differently did you all approach this year? What have been some highlights of the year?
We’ve all kept very busy in the band as a way of working out our fear and loathing about what’s going on in 2017. Aside from all of the work that went into making and releasing this record, everyone has taken on incredible side projects in the band this year and no one is really talking about it but we are all working ourselves crazy in a creative storm of energy in response / to distract and empower ourselves against those attempting to abuse and disenfranchise our sisters and brothers in this country. It ain’t just us, either. There is a monsoon of creative energy happening to meet this darkness. And it’s keeping us all sane.
Looking back on how you all decided to form this band, what do you think first made you all think you could do this and make music together?
We were invited to play Pop Montreal and open for Japandroids. We had never toured before and hadn’t played out very much. We were brand new, only a two piece version of the band with a demo that they really liked. It was a very inspiring experience. We decided to bring on a bass player and that little run of tour dates were our first shows with more than 2 members of the band. We just hit the ground running and it has continued to evolve and move forward ever since, very organically.
How did you all first meet each other and come up with your band name? What other band names were you considering? How do you think your name sums up who you are and the kind of music that you make?
Dan and I formed the band as a two piece, as I mentioned. We met at a bar that we both worked in and hated. At the time, I was writing solo music and I was considering all these different names for a solo project. One idea was TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb. I wanted to use it for my solo work, kind of tongue in cheek, like all the larger than life names for solo artists then, The Tallest Man in the World, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, those sort of artists. Then when Dan and I first played together we both thought it would be a great name for the two piece version of the songs I was writing. The image of TJ Kong riding the atomic bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove was really close to how we felt about the music and what it sounded like, this exciting, visceral joy ride to doom.
How do you think you have all been influenced by being from your hometowns? Do you think that it has affected your music?
Philadelphia has definitely affected the music we write. Living in Philly can feel like the wild west, because it is lawless in many ways both good and bad. And right now there’s a gold rush. But there are certain parts of town that are still so barren it feels post-apocalyptic. And the art that’s made here feels very much like outsider art, since we are not a part of any trends that are happening in New York or LA. All of these things find their way into our sound.
How do you think this group have grown through the years and since you first started making music together?
We’ve grown taller. We’re all very tall now. I’m 6 foot 5 inches tall.
Let’s talk about your newest album, “Dancing Out The Door.” What did it feel like to release it earlier this month? Did anything surprise you guys about the process of putting it together? Were there any unexpected challenges? How long did it take?
It was a huge rush and relief to finally release these songs! We’ve been working on them for a while. And the recording process was so short- just two days of recording live to tape- that the process of mixing and then releasing the songs felt comparatively very long and so once they went out it’s been a big thrill ride. Playing them out at shows has been very rewarding. I’d say the biggest challenge was waiting so long to release them into the wild.
I read that you recorded the album live to tape. Why did you decide to do that? What was it like working with the producer, Bill Moriarty?
We loved working with Bill. He is a very skilled technician and was able to take our challenge- of recording the majority of the record live in two days- with a lot of grace and patience. We gave ourselves a strict limit to bring an energy to the studio. We wanted the band to sound more frantic and in the moment, like at our live shows.
Now that the summer is over, what was something fun or exciting that this band did or tried? Did you get a chance to play out live much?
We knew that this fall would be devoted to the release so over the summer the band sort of went our separate ways and worked on different projects. Drummer Dan was very busy in his work trying to solve the opioid crisis in Philadelphia. Josh Machiz, our bass player has become one of the best new stand-up comedy performers in town. Josh Olmstead, our guitar player continued his work with Ballet X and I was lucky enough to be a part of Pig Iron Theatre Company’s enormous production, A Period of Animate Existence.
Where do you think you are all happiest- in the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
We’ve always been happiest on stage, living in that chaotic moment together. But making this record really helped us enjoy recording all together for the first time. It was the first studio experience we all really enjoyed beginning to end. I think it certainly was a turning point in how we approach recording and studio time together.
How do you think being a musician and in this band gives you all the most joy in life today? With everything going on in the world today, how do you think your music is a reflection of these times?
Something good happens every time you leave the house to play music. I don’t know if what we’re doing is a reflection of these times, I hope it’s not. It’s not made to be a reflection, it’s made to be a catharsis and a protest, to be a monument to living and breathing in the imperfect human present moment together and get through this crazy shit storm.
Who are you all listening to these days? What artists have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Everyone in the band has a very unique set of inspirations which is exciting because we are all coming from slightly different places when we inform the songs. We share a love for punk bands, soul music, movie soundtracks, country music and psychedelic music. We’re most inspired by our Philly friends and colleagues who are doing amazing things right now like Levee Drivers, Low Cut Connie, Vita and the Woolf, Grubby Little Hands, Hemming and Martha Grahamcracker. We would love to work with Gogol Bordello, our drummer would have swoon stroke.
What advice would you give to a young band just getting started today?
Make awesome shit. Eat dark chocolate. Try to shut down any desire for fame or anything other than creating awesome shit. We only get to create so many awesome things before we pass along.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourselves or your music?
Call us anytime if you need to talk. Or if you need a place to sleep.