Sex Park released a slice of synthy post-punk perfection with their Atrium LP back in February. Since the release of what might be the best coldwave album of 2018, the then-duo has evolved to a three piece, having added Colin Buckley on guitar.
Don’t miss their Portland show this Thursday with Choir Boy! I recently had the honor of interviewing the band at length about Atrium and future developments.
D: Daniel Blumenthal (vocals)
P: Paul Burkhart (drum machines, synths)
C: Colin Buckley (guitar)
Q: How long did it take you to complete Atrium?
P: Probably about 6 months all together? The songwriting and recording was fun and fast, then there was stuff that took a little more work, like mixing and art.
D: Yeah it felt like forever and I don’t remember, we started writing it in 2016.
What was the biggest hurdle(s) for Atrium?
P: I’d say mixing the album once we were done recording. We were working with our friend Gio, who was very patient with us, but it was hard to find the language to ask for exactly what we wanted, due to our lack of experience, hahaha! In the end we got there and I’m very pleased with it as a whole.
D: Yeah definitely mixing. We did our demo tape all on our own and it definitely shows and it’s super lo-fi. With Atrium I don’t think we really knew what we wanted it to sound like and the whole record on one computer then email stems to another computer back and forth thing is time consuming. But it was totally worth it!
What inspired the lyrics on the album?
D: I am pretty stream of consciousness when it comes to writing lyrics, but each song has its own little story. Dignity is about family, and more specifically how one can feel doomed to repeat the mistakes and successes of their parents or early caregivers. I come from a family of high functioning people with addiction and mental illness who I love to pieces but it definitely affected me emotionally enough to write a song about it. Rhyme or Reason is about all the recent mass shootings and the compulsory reactions, usually through social media, of the general public. The Bather is about the room of the same name where people are bathed in dementia care facilities across the country. The song is told from the point of view of someone suffering with Alzheimer’s as they decline rapidly and change from a human into a series of tasks to be performed by caregivers. Olympic Pause is some generic post-punk Holocaust reference, google it. Atrium is about someone I was engaged to (who is on the cover of the self-titled album actually) who had a congenital heart condition and how one might react to the death of someone they’re in love with. Monogamy is about Sada Abe and Dennis Wilson. Way Down is me having the flu and drinking cough syrup. When it comes down to it the whole record is about how powerless I feel over fate and love and how unbearable the fact that life only turns out one way is to me.
Can you explain Atrium’s album art?
P: I have no idea what inspired this, but a woman I was dating at the time sent me a photo of a similar ceramic cat pipe and I fell in love with it. When I saw the object, I immediately envisioned it as the album cover. I bought one of these cat pipes off eBay from a seller in Thailand and took the photo that’s on the album cover. I know we wanted it to stand out with a simple, striking design, and be a little bit enigmatic. My friend Josh Hearn contributed a lot to the layout and design, like the blue gradient in the logo that matches the blue on the pipe. It reminds me of great albums I’ve bought over the years with cover art that represents the music on the record, like My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”. I feel the imagery represents the music on “Atrium” well; it’s kind of mysterious and influenced by lots of different styles of music but we definitely have our own sound.
Maybe it’s an homage to Rene Magritte, as well.
Are you pleased with the album’s reception since its release back in February?
P: Definitely, although it could always be more widespread. We’ve shipped copies of it all around the world and the reception has been really positive. It’s difficult promoting a record if you don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place, but it’s amazing how far we’ve gotten with the Vacant Decade and Sex Park web presence, Bandcamp, and word of mouth. I think it’ll be a slow burner and get to even more people when we release our next ep or full length next year.
D: I’m actually really impressed, especially considering we had pretty much zero promotion and one short tour. There have even been a couple people from other countries that emailed saying the record saved their life or got them through a hard patch, etc. When your emotions have translated into a medium that people can relate to on a level where it makes them want to stay alive and maybe feel less alone that is the pinnacle of good reception to me.
What are each of your top 5 favorite albums?
P: I’m gonna do the top 5 that influenced me for the Atrium record
- New Order “Power, Corruption, and Lies”
- Depeche Mode “Black Celebration”
- Cold Beat “Into the Air”
- Horrid Red “Nightly Wreaths”
- Lust for Youth “Solar Flare”
D: I’m gonna do the top 5 new records that I am really stoked on in no particular order.
- The Column “Oracle”
- First Hate “A Prayer for the Unemployed
- Vari Vice “What Reality Will They Use Over You?”
- The Blaze “Dancehall”
- Extermination Expression self-titled
C: This is my deserted island top 5.
- The Smiths “Meat is Murder”
- Zounds “The Curse of Zounds”
- The Cure “Pornography”
- The Mob “Let the Tribe Increase”
- Siouxsie & the Banshees “Juju”
What’s your favorite part about performing live?
P: I love playing clubs where you can feel the booming vibration of our drum tracks onstage and out on the dancefloor. My favorite gig of ours so far has been Modesto, California. People went totally nuts and I got that euphoria people talk about when you get to share the energy of the crowd.
D: I would have to say flashing back to the memories that inspired the song and then releasing the emotion and watching how people react to it. There are some shows where I forget to tap into my emotional side and it’s kinda whatever, but then there are shows where I’m almost about to cry because I get so caught up in feeling and I live for that. It’s therapeutic.
C: The best part of performing live is when you can step outside the role of performer. Once you tap into the crowd’s energy, you don’t feel like your performing on a stage anymore. You’re just some guy dancing at a rad party, only you happen to be playing a guitar. It’s all about the shared energy. If a band puts on a killer performance in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, was it still a good show?
How has the dynamic changed as a band since adding a third member?
P: It’s been great! Daniel has been freed up to perform and dance more at shows, which brings a lot of animation to the songs. In terms of recording and writing new stuff, Colin has been playing beautiful Johnny Marr-style riffs that complement and enhance the dance-oriented beats and synths. I joke that the next record is going to sound like “The Smiths at a Rave”.
D: Yeah it has definitely made it easier. When you play guitar and sing at the same time it can limit the melodies you can pull off. The demo tape was very minimal and I think it worked for that but as we are getting more and more complex we needed to branch out and I think that will allow for something much more intricate to take place. Also, when you have a third person involved in the writing process they bring all their experience and tastes and it allows everyone to critique from a more objective viewpoint than when it’s two people who just started playing music together who drank too much PG Tips and are hyped on literally anything that comes out of their sequencer and guitar.
Do you have new music in the works? How is that going?
P: The new songs we’ve been working are a logical progression from “Atrium”, with melodic and catchy hooks set to bouncy beats. So far, it’s more influenced by acid house and dance music than Atrium was. And then you’ve got the Smiths-y riffs from Colin….
I’m excited to see what it will sound like.
D: I think it’s going to be world class. Now that we have been playing for awhile and added Colin and toured we are more confident in being able to experiment a little. The post-punk genre seems saturated with a lot of music that I think draws too much from the past. This album, while full of 808 drums and a chorus pedal on the guitar, is going to sound a lot more modern and a lot less “dark.”
C: We’ve been working on new material between rehearsals for a few months now. I’m really happy with all the new songs and the process is moving much faster than I’m used to. I had a moment of panic recently while we were ironing out a new song. I had to change gears for a second to prove to myself that I still knew the guitar parts for the song we had written last week, and then the week before that.
What’s next in store for Sex Park? Any upcoming shows?
P: We’re playing in Vancouver, B.C. on October 6th with Wire Spine and then on October 11th with Choir Boy. Then on November 9th and 10th there’s the new Dave Cantrell-produced Into the Shadows Festival (we play the 10th, but both days are gonna be cool!)
This winter we’re going to start recording some new stuff for release next year.
D: Yeah a few shows, record during winter, and then hopefully tour the east coast sometime in spring. Then, when it is ready, the new album will drop.