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Navel Gazing

The brash punks of Atropos turn their eyes inward

by John Sewell

Yes Virginia, punk rock actually meant something at one point. And despite the use of punk archetypes to sell the teen pop banality of musical geniuses like Blink 182 and Sum 41, the tradition of punk rock as protest music still exists in some quarters and is taken quite seriously by its true believers.

Until recently, American punks weren't really faced with any social unrest to speak of. The U.S. variety of punk was basically a rejection of middle class values perpetuated by white kids with money to burn. Stateside variants of punk focused on either fun-for-fun's-sake (pop punk), anger and self loathing (early hardcore), self-righteous jock zealotry (straight edge hardcore), melodramatic Holden Caulfield mimicry (emo) or vapid American appropriations of British punk styles (Oi!/crust/peacepunk).

The post 9-11 milieu finds American punks with real social unrest to deal with. And the current situation is downright scary instead of romantic. As economic downturns and incidents of terrorism become commonplace, punks are finding the Us vs. Them mentality of yore is downright naive.

Instead of preaching any bold politicized statements, Knoxville's Atropos uses their music as a launch pad for self examination. Avoiding the pitfall of making bold, idealized political statements, the band prefers to view their lyrics as works in progress. This self-revelatory process is coupled with a musical bent toward experimentation that gives the group a unique, ever changing sound.

"I would say we're definitely in the punk genre, maybe kind of leaning toward the emo side a little bit," says Tony Johnson, guitarist/ vocalist for Atropos and longtime local scenester. "I mean, I wouldn't necessarily say we're an emo band. But a lot of other people have said that so I guess it's safe to assume that we've got an emo/punk thing going on."

But don't expect the usual navel-contemplation and saccharine, Dawson's Creek grandiosity of your usual emo band from Atropos. Instead, the band presents a lean and mean mix of streetpunk and post-hardcore influences. The band's fusion of styles keeps them out of any exact niche, and that's a great thing. The end product is just good music.

"There's a definitely streetpunk element to the band," says Johnson. "A lot of it [being perceived as a streetpunk band] has to do with my previous band that I did years ago, American Trust. That band was more of a sociopolitical kind of band. American Trust was dealing with its time and, you know, teenagers coming of age—dealing with where we fit in socially and what we could do to try to change things.

"Today Atropos keeps up with that kind of tradition, but I've started to open up a bit. And now my songs deal with much more of the personal side of things. I've decided to finally open myself up a little bit, both spiritually and emotionally in the music. That more personalized kind of outlook has showed up in the lyrics and the vocals have slightly changed to go along with that new outlook.

"I'd say we're definitely more of a positive, pro peace kind of band," Johnson continues. "We feel very strongly about things and that's why we're a bit more aggressive in our sound—that's where the streetpunk element comes in. But what we're doing is definitely not the gutter punk kind of thing. I think we've transcended that.

"It's a definite compliment to be compared to more than one kind of band. I've heard those associations and it's always made me happy to think that we might appeal to more than one particular set of people."

Together for around a year and a half, the band has evolved from blunt, if honest, replications of their heroes (Rancid, Leatherface, Hot Water Music, American Steel) into a unique style of their own. Johnson is abetted by bassist Jason York (arguably Knoxpunk's ablest bassist, formerly of Johnny 5) and stylish young drummer Matt Boehn, whose musical abilities have grown by leaps and bounds since the inception of the band. Atropos is on the verge of releasing their debut long player, Industry vs. Inferiority on local hardcore label One Wing Records. The disc is being manufactured at present, and the group will announce an area record release show as soon as they have possession of their labor of love.

The band takes its name from one of the three Greek fates, the daughters of Zeus. Atropos is the cutter, who cuts the "web of life" before a person dies. Johnson was struck by the name Atropos while reading the works of Henry David Thoreau.

"I was reading Walden and [Thoreau] used the name Atropos in reference to how the railroads were separating families at the time with the hustle and bustle of the industrial age. I decided to use that same reference with the technological age. For me, the name Atropos is about trying to figure out where I fit in, especially now.

"We don't have that many particular messages that we're pushing on people because it's more of an introspective thing," says Johnson. "We haven't really taken a staunch stance on any one particular issue. I mean, right now we're still looking inside ourselves and seeing what we find. We're all still growing up."

November 15, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 46
© 2001 Metro Pulse