Atom WillardTotal Treble Music
By Dustin Blumhagen on March 19, 2014 at Phone
Atom Willard is a punk drummer king.
Beginning his music career behind the kit in garage rockers Rocket from the Crypt, Willard has toured and recorded with a wide variety of artists, from Social Distortion to the Offspring and recorded on side projects with Tom DeLonge (Angels & Airwaves) and Matt Skiba (theHELL). For the past couple of years, he has settled in as the drummer in the new lineup of Against Me! – filling the spot that has seen numerous members over the band’s lengthy career.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Willard as they tour in support of their long awaited full length with their latest lineup, Transgender Dysphoria Blues to see exactly how well he’s fitting in.
You are a pretty recent addition to the band. How are things going so far?
Everything is going so well. Like you say, compared to how long the band has been together I’m very fresh. We made the record a little over a year ago. Everything has been going good. We are really happy with the response to the record. We all get along at a pretty deep level, so that’s a good thing too.
I was curious, the band seems pretty hard on drummers. There seems to be a revolving door.
I’m not sure how it’s been for the other guys, but I really haven’t had any issues. I’ve definitely done things in my past that have been more difficult to make everyone happy and more of a challenge to make the thing gel together, but it has been pretty easy for all of us. I think it’s a pretty good fit.
You mentioned the public reception to the new album has been good. Did you feel coming in as the “new guy” that there is an expectation for what Against Me! is? There is a sound shift, lineup changes… There has always been a backlash from certain people at various parts of Against Me’s career who are passionate about what they have done before and are upset with the direction that the band is going.
There will always be people who say “your last record was so much better” or “I only like your old stuff.” No matter what band I have ever been in, I hear that everywhere I go. I think that anyone who is a true fan of the band or of Laura Jane’s, they will evolve with them. Bands grow. Times change and sound changes with them. People change. There has been a lot of time and a lot of things that have happened with this band, but to me, the ideology has never changed. There is still this whole Against Me!, fuck the world kind of attitude, that has never changed. To me that is more important than the production of a record or who the sound guy is.
It always confuses me when I hear people complaining about a band changing, it seems so self-indulgent.
Well, then you should start your own band, you know? Then you can control your sound and your record and the record after that and so on. If you want to write the same 10 songs over and over and over again, then more power to you. At the end of the day, artists change and evolve. To me that is the sign of true creativity. If you continue down the same street afraid to make waves, man, I’d get so bored.
With Laura coming out as transgender and the lyrical content of the album focusing so strongly on that, do you ever get asked questions about that?
I’ve never had cause to ask Laura those kind of questions. She is very open about what she is going through, there is a lot of information out there for those who are interested in what is going on. It is pretty easy to find that stuff out. For me, I’ve just been trying to support her on this journey. Ultimately, anyone who has that much conviction about something, no matter what it is… I don’t care if you are trying to save the penguins in Alaska, if you are that dedicated and that wiling to put yourself out there in the world in such a controversial way I have a lot of respect and admiration about that. People ask me, do you agree with what she is doing? Absolutely. I totally agree with her choice to feel comfortable in her own skin. I admire anyone who has the courage to do that. I think that is where a lot of people fall short in life. They don’t have the courage to go after what they want or maybe they can’t even figure out what they want or how they get it. For me, it’s something that is just so cool to be around.
We are based up here in Canada. I know that you are coming through here soon on your North American tour. Calgary’s show sold out super fast. Has that been the case tour wide?
There have been certain places that sold quicker and the shows are a little rowdier. That is just the way that it is. People in Canada know what’s up!
You played with Melissa Auf der Mar and Danko Jones, both Canadian rockers. Have you spent a lot of time up here in Canada?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time. I made a record in Toronto with Danko Jones for about a month and that is about the most extensive time that I’ve been in one place. Other than that, I’ve toured through Canada my whole life. It’s usually pretty fucking cold.
It will probably be spring when you come through soon.
Although spring to us is probably colder than a bad winter for you…
It’s still winter to me, I’m from Los Angeles. I’m not used to this shit. I’m done f it’s below 15 fahrenheit.
You are touring with Laura Stevenson and Cheap Girls. How is the tour going so far?
It’s going great. It’s been really cool. It’s a great group of people and we get some cool music every night. It’s nice to have that. You try to pick bands that you’ll like that you’ve never toured with before. You are basically trying to get along while living together. It’s nice to have good shit around you.
How long have you been out on tour? I know you’ll be heading north soon.
We’ve been out for about 2 weeks now. I’m in Dallas, Texas right now. I can’t remember how long exactly. It feels like it’s been a month already…
I know that the album is just out, but it has been recorded for a while. Are you already working on new music?
We definitely are. The whole process of getting Transgender Dysphoria Blues out was so long and drawn out and we have a lot of ideas backed up behind it. We are flushing those out now a little, playing around at sound check and whenever we have the time and we are in the right vibe space to just sit around and jam together. The next record will be out a lot sooner in relative terms from White Crosses to this one.
After White Crosses was out for a while, the band released the Black Crosses edition, which had a bunch of demos, acoustic takes and new songs. Did you come out of the Transgender sessions with a pile of excess material?
Not nearly as much. There are definitely some acoustic songs that Laura has done, but ultimately there are only a few songs that we started recording as a full band that just didn’t make the record. There won’t be a Transgender Dysphoria Green coming out. Basically, some of the songs will get finished and get put out as B-sides for singles, but for the most part it will be on the new record.
Jumping off on a tangent, Rocket From the Crypt are playing up here soon. I couldn’t seem to find who is the current drummer. Are you going to be playing with them on their upcoming dates?
I don’t know. It’s not going to be me. I’m pretty busy doing this. This is what I got going on. I’m not sure who they are using now.
Rocket from the Crypt was your first step into the music scene at a bigger level. How do you feel that the transition has been over the years from your beginnings in that band to where you are today in Against Me!?
Every step of the way you learn something new. Hopefully you take what you’ve learned and apply it. Situations are changing and fluid, but I’ve definitely been trying to do stuff to keep myself happy as a drummer and a musician. That’s just the way it goes, stuff changes, you move on and try to find the best fit.
What do you do in your downtime between projects in sunny California?
I’ve kind of got a motorcycle problem. I end up doing a lot of riding. I go to the track a lot. I’m constantly working on motorcycles or riding. That’s mainly the biggest time thing for me when I’m not playing the drums.
I love the motorcycle culture too, but up here you get a solid 8 weeks where you can ride. I guess California’s weather is more conducive to that sort of thing.
California is definitely motorcycle friendly year round.
Well, thanks for taking a little time to talk while you’re on tour. I’ll see you when you come through up here.