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May 4, 1995 * Vol. 5, No. 9

Atom Bomb Pocket Knife

by Mike Gibson

Ah, for the days of yore, when punk wasn't such a sprawling muddle, when the whole aesthetic was defined by a few hallowed trademarks: safety pin piercings, social outrage, a stripped down three-chord barrage. It was a time when mohawked zealots took center stage in dives across the country, making wanton, gleeful noise on old guitars and dousing crowds of disenfranchised suburban youth with verbal vitriol and assorted bodily fluids.

But it just isn't that simple anymore. Things started to change when mutant forms, like new wave and post-punk, dropped pebbles in the punk rock puddle, distorting the image and sending out ripples still seen and felt a decade or so hence. Nowadays, between the sundry genre spin-offs (hardcore, grunge, power pop) and the factious, fractious nature of the beast (Old School vs. New School, MaximumRocknRoll vs. Heart Attack), it's hard to say what's punk and what ain't.

Which brings us to Atom Bomb Pocket Knife, a sharp-edged noise-pop trio making the rounds at local clubs and spitting out homebrew tapes like there's no tomorrow. In terms of expressed musical values, the band's loopy licks and clanking chords are more reminiscent of the quirky tinkersmith's pop purveyed by Sebadoh and Guided by Voices. But when you factor in those intermittent swaths of scalding post-hardcore white noise, and the band's egalitarianism and D.I.Y. ideals ... just what the hell do you label this stuff, anyway?

"I'd say we're definitely not punk," bassist Jason Morris is quick to say. "Maybe idea-wise, but not musically. I don't know of any pigeon-hole you could conveniently stick us in."

"I'd like to hope we're doing something different," says guitarist/ vocalist Justin Sinkovich. "We're not trying to fit any scene. We were booked at a punk show a couple of weeks ago, and I really didn't feel like we totally fit in." Quibbles aside, it's not surprising that ABPK sometimes teases the palate with tantalizing hints of pungent punk. Morris and Sinkovich also constitute two-thirds of Thumbnail, Knoxville's New School heroes and resident punk circuiteers. But whereas Thumbnail ditties railed against societal ills, Sinkovich says Atom Bomb Pocket Knife's music hits a little closer to home.

"In Thumbnail, we expressed anger about broad-based social and political issues," Sinkovich explains. "Most of the songs I wrote for this band were born out of depression and boredom. Scott [Westmoreland, ABPK drummer] and I were both going through some personal problems, and this music was our release. This is how we made it back to some kind of equilibrium."

Right now, Thumbnail is on indefinite hiatus, and Sinkovich and Morris are curiously cryptic about the band's fate. ("When our drummer, David, comes back home this summer, we'll ... well, we don't really know what will happen.") But there's no such equivocation when they talk about Atom Bomb Pocket Knife; Sinkovich emphasizes that this is a permanent entity, not a side-project. And now that Morris has come aboard (ABPK's early shows were two-piece affairs), chief songwriter Sinkovich is anxious to revamp and revisit the band's mission statement.

"We're just trying to write new songs with the three-piece lineup," says Sinkovich. "The music is definitely moving in a different direction. Jason has a louder, more aggressive edge. And now that I don't have to write the bass line into the guitar, it allows me to be more creative."

"The way we've always written together is that one person makes up a song and the other creates his part," Morris says. "I haven't got to the point where I'm bringing a lot of stuff in yet, songwise. Right now, I'm concentrating on coming up with kooky bass parts to enhance the songs Justin brings in."

ABPK already has two cassettes' worth of material in circulation--last summer's Didn't Make the Cut, which sold 100 copies, and their latest self-titled offering. But to really get a feel for the band, you'd best see them live. That's when all those vehemently punkish passages really scorch the senses, empowered by Sinkovich's blast-furnace yowl and schizophrenic guitar.

"I started putting in the loud parts for shock value," says the mild-mannered Sinkovich. "But I've tried to blend them thoughtfully, mixing the quieter parts with the hatred."

But with both Sinkovich and Westmoreland on the verge of receiving college degrees, Atom Bomb Pocket Knife would seem to be at a crossroads--a point where punk ideals clash with real-world responsibilities, when reckless abandon usually falls by the wayside. According to Sinkovich, however, ABPK plans to stay the course:

"I've talked to a lot of people about jobs, and I've got one waiting if I want it. But that's not really where my head is at. Right now, I just want to play. I want to get with an indie and just be able to survive and tour." At least that much about punk hasn't changed.

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