The Atriums’ Northside practice space is close, small, tight. It fits us, the equipment and that’s it. In this maze-like, huge old warehouse’s halls and rooms, other bands play, walk by and shoot the shit. The rowdy building is like a musical fraternity house. Walls speak. Shudder.
This night, The Atriums are fidgety. Hands clasp and unclasp. Feet twitch. Someone is always picking at a guitar. All five members are multi-instrumentalists.
This band towers. Literally. Newest member Steve Hasser is 6-foot-8. And the rest are all up there. We sit in a circle. The long-legged ones could touch toes. And they all agree that it feels weird. Instead of talking, clearly they’d rather play. For them, since April, improvising on stage and the audience’s reaction has been the ultimate payoff.
This is vocalist/guitarist Bill Halpin’s first band experience. Halpin has large, dark, soulful eyes and a voice to match. A fan of Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, Halpin grew up out west.
“I sat around and played guitar all day,” he says. “Strange kid from Kentucky moved to California. It was kind of awkward.”
Returning to Cincinnati in 2002, Halpin jumped on the solo train, but, he says, “I never wanted to bill myself as a solo musician. I always looked highly on the band dynamic.”
Halpin’s longtime buddy, drummer Will Neff, has been in bands since before he could drive. From the Dayton area, Neff says, “I grew up on Punk Rock basically. Johnny Ramone’s sound that he could produce out of his guitar was so fascinating to me. I found a Classical guitar in my grandmother’s barn that had four strings on it. I started on that and eventually got a Strat for Christmas.”
Formerly with Colorado band Die Pilot, Justin White (guitar, vocals) met Halpin and Neff two years ago. Tall and gangly as the rest, as a kid White spent time in Marion, Ind.
“There’s nothing that goes on there,” he says. “I was basically my own best friend, so I picked up a guitar.”
White’s high school mate, covered with tats, wearing a scruffy beard and gauged earrings, Thomas Curran has played bass for the past decade.
Formerly with The Trojan Rabbit, he’s been immersed in music since age 5.
“Justin writes a lot of the song structures that we’re doing right now,” Curran says, “and they blow my mind because I’m very Funk/R&B centered (and) like Pop patterns and Justin doesn’t write those, and it throws me for a loop every time. I can’t predict it, but I can feel it better.”
Keyboardist Hasser (of Rainy Day Parade) has wild hair that makes him appear even taller, unless he flattens it, pulling up his black hoodie. A Simon and Garfunkel fan from Springfield, Ohio, Hasser learned piano in the seventh grade, but he admits that guitar is his baby.
“We made it known that, if he has an idea, no doubt we’ll switch instruments,” Halpin says.
“We all have a diverse musical background that makes it interesting,” Neff adds. “Bill comes from a The Atriums, minus newest member Steve Hasser singer/songwriter-esque background. Tom comes from a Funk background. Steve, I’m just getting to know. He could be a complete wild card.”
The Atriums’ songs creep-leak slowly to a build, anchored by a circular repetition that moves them beyond straight-up Pop. But, Halpin explains, “We all recognize the merits of that sort of thing, so we’ve been walking the line between that and something a little more experimental.”
The single “Isolation” has a slow, steady build that’s overall brooding and intense (akin to Baltimore’s Lake Trout), but it still somehow curiously holds a heavy Americana influence. One guitar note goes a long way. Subtly, it wanders through repetitive patterns backed by reverberating, deep-ranging vocals.
“There are certain elements that I always try to incorporate,” Halpin says. “Like having multiple, distinct, separate melody lines occurring simultaneously. Lyrically, I try hard to walk the line between being ambiguous and over the top, while having a narrative structure.”
Rather than typical chord changes, single melodies evolve, creating “a single, artistic statement,” Halpin says.
“I’ve never really looked at myself as a frontman,” White says. “I probably never will. When I sit down to write songs, I try to make the song itself tell the story rather than the lyrics.”
“I think that if we can give someone the skeleton narrative and guide their feelings in sound and music,” Halpin adds, “then it’ll stand the test of time in a much better way.”
Soon, they’ll record an EP solely using home technology. But in this small space, they can’t stand sitting still.
The musical building pulses. All five tall men shift, grabbing instruments. The room fits us, the equipment and that’s enough.
Muffled sounds beat out from behind the walls. Separate band hearts and moods. Reaching new heights.