Out Of The Shadows With Atomic 7
by Allan Wigney
"Really short, really Canadian and it doesn't have an expiration date on it."
Brian Connelly is referring to "Shadowy Countdown", the 47-second CanCon classic by his former band Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet Shadowy Planet that became a staple on MuchMusic and campus radio stations.
But the master of the twangy guitar could as easily be describing the instrumental rockers of his current project, Atomic 7. The longest track on the band's album, … Gowns By Edith Head, clocks in at 2:35; song titles include "Mimi, Queen of Bathurst"; and the music packs the same instant-party punch that inspired The Kids in the Hall to rely on Shadowy Men to liven up their TV show.
Also like Shadowy Men (and Connelly's subsequent band, Phonocomb), Atomic 7 is a trio -- Mike Andreosso beats the skins while recent addition Mandi Byrd handles the bottom end.
"A three-piece is a perfect situation," Connelly says of his triad devotion. "Everybody's an equal; there's nobody that can sit back and coast while the other guys do some stuff. Everybody is playing full out for the entire time you're doing your set. That's the best way to figure out your instrument. And it's really fun to watch."
Still playing in a trio, Connelly also has lost none of his resolve to concentrate solely on instrumental music, despite a recent stint playing guitar in Neko Case's band. "It is a crusade," he confirms. "I feel like instrumental music is Jerry's Kids and I'm Jerry Lewis."
Seventeen years into a career as a latter-day Link Wray, Connelly is well qualified to defend the place of instrumental music in rock 'n' roll. He applauds the efforts of recent bands like Huevos Rancheros and Polaris (the latter of whom featured guitarist Paul Hogan of The Empiricals, who will be sharing the bill with Atomic 7 this Friday at the Black Sheep Inn). And he speaks fondly of the days when instrumental bands commanded respect.
"Everything was going along swimmingly 'til The Beatles showed up," Connelly notes. "Then everybody wanted to be a serious songwriter with four-part harmony -- get rid of the instrumentals. And it died practically overnight, 'cause a lot of the bands just immediately switched over to, 'Well, this instrumental thing is no longer popular. Let's do this "beat" thing.' God, they wiped out more bands than tubular baseball hats."
And no, Connelly asserts, instrumental music need not carry limitations for band or audience.
"You're limited only by your own imagination and your instrument," he explains. "If you stop learning stuff, you're gonna hit a wall pretty quickly. Or if you stick to the same trick over and over again, I can see that getting a little dull. Then you'd want to move on and do something else, if you had a functioning brain to go along with it."
A BIT SKEWED
With 19 tracks, … Gowns By Edith Head is proof Connelly's brain is still functioning. And titles like Seven Stranded Castanets or The Man With the Golden Card suggest that organ is still a bit skewed.
Friday we can expect gems from throughout Connelly's career, packed tightly into a set chock full of hip-shakers. And at the very least, one will never accuse Connelly's short Canadian tunes of getting tedious.
For that, he credits The Kids in the Hall.
"It taught us to write quickly," the guitarist says. "We had to write hundreds and hundreds of pieces of music. And sometimes you got the call on Wednesday night that you were going in Thursday morning and you'd better have a mambo ready.
"It was writing with a gun to your head, which was a pretty great lesson to learn -- except that it might have done something to my attention span, because when we were recording this record, I was shocked and amazed to find how many songs were clicking in right around the 1:57 mark.
"These are fully formed sentences to me -- but I'm workin' my ass off and what do I get? A minute 57!"