Atheist interview

Atheist has put out its new album, the follow-up to Piece of Time, entitled Unquestionable Presence. Both are on Death Records. After the death of bassist Roger Patterson, the band recruited Tony Choy from Florida’s Cynic for the recording sessions on the new album. I spoke with Steve Flynn, the drummer of this very original band.

D.U.: Do you have a part in the lyrics?

Steve: Yeah. Kelly writes them all. I contributed a lot on the last album, as far as his ideas for writing lyrics, and so does everybody. Rand is the one who came up with the concept for Piece of Time. Kelly writes them all, but the input is also about 75 percent his. The rest of the band contributes maybe about 25 percent of the ideas and concepts that go behind the songs.

How would you say the lyrics on this album differ from the message of the last album?

Well, [on] the first album, there tended to be a lot of songs dealing with religion, and this album, the topics [of] each song [are] totally different from the last. There’s no kind of continuous theme and there’s no real message. It’s still the same style and the same type of topics, but each song is much more varied than it was on the last album. And the topics deal with nature, with adolescent teenagers, with UFOs, with the thought process, with retribution. Y’know, they’re better. They’re more mature than the last album.

Would you say that the new album is easier take in from one sitting?

This album, you definitely can’t take it in, in one sitting. To give you an average comment, one letter we got, this kid wrote in and said, “I got your Piece of Time album about eight months ago. And I first heard it and I didn’t like it at all.” And then he played it a couple months later and listened to it about four times. And then he said he never stopped listening to it since. He listens to it every day. He loves it, he loves it. And that’s kind of a general thing. Mostly, yes, it kind of goes past, and you have to listen to it a couple times before you, y’know, catch on to everything.

Is that the same vibe with Unquestionable Presence?

Oh yeah, yeah. The songs are a bit more technical than they were on Piece of Time. But on the other side, they flow better. So, all in all, you can’t really just put it on once, listen to it, and turn it off, y’know what I mean? Like we said, it’ll definitely take more than one sitting. But I hope not too much. Sometimes that’ll tend to take away. If someone, they go out and buy it and they put it on, they don’t like it immediately, I think sometimes they’ll pick something else out of their selection to play.

So no more demo material on the new one?

No, no, thank God. It was always a joke, y’know? Like the song “On They Slay,” we were in the studio with that song, like, four times. It was a pleasure to go into the studio and not have done the material before. No, this is all brand new, from about a year ago to now.

How many brands of sticks and heads did you go through in the beginning before you decided, “This is the brand I want to play”?

Quite a bit, actually. I’ll tell ya, I used to buy all different kinds of heads. I didn’t know what I wanted, I wasn’t sure, until I got better as a drummer and I knew more what I wanted to sound like. I went into the music store one day and told him, “This is what I’m looking for,” and he gave me Remo Pinstripes, and since then that’s all I’ve ever used. But when we did Piece of Time, I used a white coated Ambassador head [on the snare], and I’ve used that ever since.

And the sticks, I’ve went through so many pairs. Y’know, too heavy, too light. You’ll have the same size, like a 5B, but with different brand names. They can be four or five different weights and sizes, from Promark or Ludwig or whatever. So through trial and error, I’ve been playing Zildjian sticks now for a couple years, 5B wood tip, because there’s no finish on them, there’s no varnish, and it’s a natural wood and they’re not slippery when they’re wet.

The time it takes to finish a song with all the revisions, has that process shortened over time?

No. Well, I’ll say [it takes] about a month. See, we’ll write the main body of the song, and the things that change over periods of months are mostly the drums. When we first write a song, I’ll play something really basic, y’know what I mean? Just so we can get through the song. And then, as time goes on, I’ll sit and go through each and every part and put in fills and new rhythms and breaks and stops. I go through periods of changing and rearranging until it gets perfect. So the actual guitar work is usually finished within, say, two, three weeks, depending on how long it takes us to get all the basic parts down. But the time definitely hasn’t shortened. If anything, we’ve scrutinized and made it longer on the second album.

Did you ever consider going to another studio than Morrisound?

Not for Unquestionable Presence. We had definitely had plans to go to Morrisound. And in between Piece of Time and Unquestionable Presence is when Morrisound, y’know, really got super popular and Scott Burns did every album you could think of. And Piece of Time, that was Scott’s first album that he ever did, like, full project on his own. Well, he did the first Obituary album, but that was 8-track. Ours was the first full 24-track production that he did, and then right after us he did the Sepultura. So we thought, “Well, since so many bands are going, maybe …” But then we thought, “Why change? It works there. We know we’ll get a good sound.” We made sure that you can hear the bass on certain parts, where there’s fills and so forth.

With all these politicians coming out, saying, “I’m gonna run outside the system, and I’m not gonna play the game,” how much of a chance do you think the Democrats have in ‘92?

Unfortunately, since the Gulf War, Bush has been so strong with the American people [up until now]. And I don’t think there’s any Democratic candidate that would have a chance. I’m a registered Democrat myself, although I swing. I believe with the issues that are out today, you cannot be hard line one way. You can’t intelligently address every issue and be a hard-line conservative or a hard-line liberal. Um, so I’m a conservative liberal and I’m a liberal conservative. It depends on the issue. And I would like to see that happen with more politicians, y’know what I mean? More people that are less hard line and more willing to sway, depending on the issue. Because there’s a lot of really important issues that need to be tended to, which extremities on both sides won’t attend to, because they are who they are and [they’re] against certain issues because of that. I don’t think that works anymore.

That’s all the questions I have. Do you have a final wrap-up comment?

Um, no, just give [the new album] a listen. Don’t just listen to it once and say, “Oh, it’s too technical,” or, “It went over my head,” or, “There’s nothing catchy.” Try to hear it for a what it is, and not just another death metal band coming outta Florida. I want people to check it out and hear what they think. And thanks for doing the interview. ■

Photo: Atheist (courtesy Death/Warner Bros)


Originally published in ‘zine issue #3, `1991


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