Photograph by Joe Paulsen
SHADOW BAND: Picture Atlantic sound-checks before performing at the HP Pavilion as Coldplay's opening act.
For the Glory
A new album and opening for Coldplay help Picture Atlantic set sail
By Claire Young
UNLESS they're complete wallflowers, every band seeks notoriety—to gain a following of like-minded fans, produce quality music and receive compliments on the fruits of its labor. For Picture Atlantic, those feelings resulted in a stellar full-length debut album titled Kleos, named after the Greek word used frequently in mythological works such as the Illiad and the Odyssey.
"Pretty much, kleos is glory or fame, but it also kind of pertains to what people hear about you and the word that spreads around about you, and most heroes sought after it in battles," says Picture Atlantic's lead vocalist, Nikolaus Bartunek. "So the reason I chose kleos is I think every musician, nowadays especially, wants to be remembered, and everybody is trying so hard to stamp their face on the music industry and not be forgotten."
Released in late June and self-produced by the band, Kleosis 14 tracks of beautiful rock music, coasting seamlessly from songs such as "Circe" and "Dove in the Clefts of Rock," reminiscent of Muse, Coldplay and the Velvet Teen, to "That's Just Me" and "Slip Into the Sea," which evoke the sounds of Hot Hot Heat, the Bravery and All American Rejects.
Bartunek's vocals peak with soft falsetto, but also bear down to a yell or shriek at key moments of emotional intensity, while bassist Ryan Blair and drummer/backing vocalist Rico Rodriguez lend a deeper soul and groove to the project. Guitarists Aaron Hellam and Patrick Chu at times duel but mostly make soaring, unified musical peace, and keyboardist Brian Graves adds flourishes to some songs and a beating heart to others. The result is a record that is at once youthful and mature, familiar yet fresh.
"I would say our music is very passionate and ... I don't feel like it stands in one place really; I feel like it moves around a lot, which is cool," says Bartunek. "It's edgy and heavy in different ways, like in more melodic ways. ... It's not necessarily such a straightforward type of music all the time."
Beyond the birth of Kleos, the nearly 3-year-old South Bay sextet is also garnering fame following a recent slot opening for Coldplay at the HP Pavilion after winning a contest held by Live 105. "When I found out that we even got into the top 15, I was so surprised because we'd entered a bunch of the contests they'd had before and never even gotten placed," says Blair. "So that was a shock just to get into the top 15, and then actually being in the top 3."
A friend tipped them off about the contest, but Bartunek says that he was initially skeptical about entering. "[Our friend] said, 'You guys should really do this contest because it's a good idea, and I think you have a good chance to win,'" says Bartunek. "Me being myself, I said, 'Oh yeah, right, there's gonna be some totally popular San Francisco band that I've never heard of before that's going to come and blow us out of the water.'"
That S.F. band never emerged as a threat, and following seven days topping the ranks of contestants, Picture Atlantic was chosen by Coldplay (and/or its management) from the top 3 vote getters. "That was the part for me where I felt like it kind of depended on, like, did Coldplay actually think we were a good band?" says Bartunek. "That's where it gets kind of scary. Because you put that band on a pedestal, and you're like, 'They probably listen to music from, like, 2032.'"
Blair said the chance to open for Coldplay was exciting but humbling. "For me personally, it was the best experience of my life—knowing that we won and that we were there," he says. "We had our terrible van next to these big tour buses. ... We didn't know what to expect. ... But they gave us as much respect as anybody."
Where many would step off the stage with bloated egos, tripping over their newfound stardom, Bartunek is quick to point out that Picture Atlantic, though feeling blessed by the opportunity and outpouring of fan support, isn't staking its entire career on that single moment—a defining event that does little to define the band. "Our drummer, Rico, made a really good point, and I thought this was a perfect analogy," says Bartunek. "He said this is like the pizza party at the end of the week that you get at school after you've sold enough magazine subscriptions. It's not going to make our grade, and it's not gonna make us pass high school, but it's a really cool moment that we're all very proud of. ... So for me the Coldplay thing is really cool, but I wouldn't want people to think that we're a one-trick pony in that sense."
However, performing in front of a large crowd is something they quickly warmed to. "The one thing that I felt was really cool ... [was] we were really scared before we went up to play, like we were really nervous," Bartunek says. "We usually don't get nervous, because we play local shows. But the thought of playing for so many people is pretty terrifying. But then we got up there, and the first 30 seconds were like, uuuhhh, and then everything after that was a lot easier than I expected it to be."
Blair said he had the opposite experience. "I didn't get nervous at all until after we played, and then the lights went out and we could see everybody, and I was like, oh, we just played for, like, 14,000 people." Compare that to a locally produced show with a capacity maxing out at a few hundred bodies and that's a dramatic difference in the number of eyes watching your every move.
Despite the scope of the audience, and even the interest generated from the show and subsequent plays of their songs on Live 105, Picture Atlantic isn't treating its post-Coldplay days as a sudden popularity contest. "We got hundreds of adds [on MySpace], but at the same time you can't really tell who's going to care the next day. We're being realistic about it," says Blair. The group has also received various offers since the show, but has yet to make any major changes and remains unsigned.
In terms of the future, Bartunek doesn't want to see Picture Atlantic trapped into a box of what others think they are or want them to be. "I feel like we should keep doing what we like and not worry so much about how it's going to end up ... but at the same time not be afraid to try different things, and really in essence get weirder without getting too weird," he says. "Because things have to change or you might get stuck in one spot and stay forgotten."
Blair has a similar goal to Bartunek and the millions of other bands in the world. "I just want to be able to make the music we want to make while gaining more recognition and respect for what we're doing, and touring full time," says Blair. In other words, he's seeking a little kleos—and deservedly so.
PICTURE ATLANTIC, ever the bridesmaid and not yet a bride, opens for DAPHNE LOVES DERBY on Saturday (Aug. 23) at 7pm at San Jose Skate, 397 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose. Tickets are $12 and skating is free. To read more of the band's thoughts on opening for Coldplay, visit [ http://www.pictureatlantic.com/ ]www.pictureatlantic.com.
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