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Picture Atlantic’s Nikolaus Bartunek Discusses New Album, Tour

In Music
Picture Atlantic

Local’s Picture Atlantic’s latest music video “Twist,” released earlier this week is one of the band’s most aggressive, dissonant songs today.  While the rest of the band’s latest album Digital Tension isn’t nearly as abrasive, it shows some changes in songwriting, not to mention, it showcases the group with one less guitar. We spoke with lead singer Nikolaus Bartunek about the video, the new album and their upcoming tour.

Your newest album “Digital Tension” sounds different than you prior releases, in that the vocal hooks are a little more subtle and the tone of the music is darker. Can you tell me a little about what factors influenced this change of songwriting?

I really can’t speak to that, simply for the reason that I think a lot of the changes happened without intention for a specific sound or vibe. Sometimes thinking too hard on what our sound will be frightens me too much. Sometimes thinking too hard takes the magic out of things. Sort of like closing your eyes on a roller coaster and just letting it happen. Every time we get into the studio, things seem to always come out at the end in a much different manner than the music before it.

Your new single “Twist” is the most aggressive, dissonant song I’ve heard of yours, including the remaining songs from Digital Tension. I’m curious to learn more about what motivated this song and why you chose this song to be your single?

I guess I must have had some inclinations for an angrier, crazier sound when I was writing those songs. The sound fit the lyrics, and the lyrics fit the sound. The motivation almost didn’t exist. I really liked the music a lot, and I wrote it in under 15 minutes on my couch one day.

If anything could be said specifically about the song though, I am certain it developed out of my love for the band Ceremony. I wanted to write something that had the same dissonance and angry aesthetic. But again, it took me barely any real focus to write it—sort of a “zen” song in that regard. As for it being our single, I don’t think we’ve really focused on it so much as a single, but it just happened to be a really easy song to film a music video for. It’s so short; just pure coincidence really. And besides, when do you normally see four guys in suits playing a song like that?

The cover for Digital Tension has a lot going on, particularly some political commentary on the state of America’s consumerist culture. Would you say this is a more political album compared to what has tended to be more personal songwriting in the past?

That was purely the work of our friend and partner in crime Mikey Montoya. He is an artist/tattoo artist who is an insanely good friend of ours, and he helped us out immensely with the album. When we were sitting around doing the art, he made this goofy collage image of Obama dressed as a cop giving the middle finger. The image was so outrageous that I told him he had to use it. It would be a crime not to. The rest of the cover fell into place around that.

Digital Tension, is less political and more social in its commentary, as a lot of the cover portrays. My politics aren’t blue or red. It isn’t any color for that matter. But my thoughts on our social culture in this country is definitely well defined. For the months where we wrote and recorded the album, I had all these ideas and concepts clashing and melding into each other in my mind. A lot of how I felt personally translated well into my thoughts about our society and culture. Not the most original or striking concept for a music album at this point in the history of rock, but it was an honest one.

Picture Atlantic, for the longest time, was a five-piece band. How has becoming a four-piece band altered your sound and songwriting dynamic? The biggest different I notice is the obvious lack of lush guitar-interplay, which was always one of your signature traits.

Being a four piece is the best thing that has ever happened to us musically. Having two guitars was nice to create a tapestry of sound, but at many times it just got tired, and expected to me. It was also damn hard to reign in two guitars. Someone had to play second fiddle to the other guitarist in many cases, or risk the “wank” factor. Some practices were living hell—like being in Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon. Having the band downsize was really a huge hidden blessing. We had to learn that less is more; it took us years to see that. With four people, everyone does what they want and we rarely step on each other’s toes.

You are embarking on a West Coast tour with Dogcatcher. How successful have you been at building an audience outside of the bay area, and how have you done it? Also I’m curious to know why you are touring with Dogcatcher, who are a noticeably different band stylistically.

Building our name outside the Bay Area hasn’t been easy. Yet, I am still surprised at the places we find our fans popping up. It’s not that hard to do in this digital age, but it still astounds me sometimes that someone far away cares about what we do. The main thing we have followed in that approach to spreading our name is simply to stay out and about if we can, and as best we can.

Touring with Dogcatcher may seem like a really odd choice from the outside, and I don’t blame people for thinking that. It all comes down to two things: They are an amazing band in all regards. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t want to tour with them. The second reason is they are very good friends of ours and we love them a lot. Working with people you are close with is more valuable than gold.

Tour Dates w/ Dogcatcher:
02.07 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill w/ Cash Pony
02.08 Fresno, CA @ Kuppajoe w/ Sea of Sound and Indian School Rock
02.09 Davis, CA @ The Turtle House
02.15 Newark, CA @ Love at First Slice w/ Girl Named T
02.23 Hollywood, CA @ AMYPLYFi w/ Summer Leagues and Cat Who Will Eat Planets

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