ATHEIST Who?! “If You Don’t Know, Now You Fucking Know!”

May 10, 2020, 3 months ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal atheist

ATHEIST Who?! “If You Don’t Know, Now You Fucking Know!”

A few weeks back, BraveWords caught up with Atheist leader Kelly Shaefer and his exciting new line-up featuring touring guitarists Daniel Martinez, Chris Martin, bassist Yoav Ruiz and drum whiz Anthony Medeglia (original founding drummer Steven Flynn is still part of the fold, but won’t be joining the band on the road). And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and where some people were looking for a god to save them, the rest of us were seeking a legitimate solution and a cure. So this conversation is split into two parts - one large interview update prior to all this insanity the world is dealing with, and a fresh quote from the Atheist camp, who like most bands, are trying to figure out how to keep the fires burning during challenging times.

“So you want to know what we are doing, but man considering what is going on, I don't know,” Shaefer wrote to me a few days ago. “We are definitely writing and we have a European tour for September (see below), but we are not sure if we will be allowed to complete it. We have all been writing and working stuff out through computer, but we look forward to being able to get in a room together and bash it out. So very excited about the lineup we have, that a lot of you saw on tour with Cattle Decapitation in December. It's going to be a beast of a record. Our last shows were on 70000 Tons Of Metal and they were so great! We can't wait to get back out and play live again.”

Although it doesn’t reflect the mood of the day, we felt it important to showcase this vital metal band, who haven’t released new studio material in ten years (since 2010’s Jupiter). Shaefer realizes that is a lot of water under the bridge, and bands come and go all the time. But as a trailblazer and an innovator - including the game-changers Piece Of Time (1990), Unquestionable Presence (1991) and Elements (1993) - he continues to forge ahead creatively. So during calmer and saner times, here was our conversation with our longtime friends Atheist.

BraveWords: Pretty surreal that you guys have this second wind. What lit the spark?

Shaefer: “You know, we were talking about doing a new album and we got delayed a bit, with contracts and stuff, and I called our management and said, listen, while we’re sitting around, let’s play. We don’t need to do a new album, we still have four albums that a lot of people aren’t that familiar with. There’s a also a whole new, younger group of constituents in metal who kind of missed us, because we went away for 17 years and then we went away for 10 years, so collectively that’s a lot of time.”

BraveWords: That’s a generation gap.

Shaefer: “But the fact that we’re still here after being there for such a short amount of time is a blessing. Once we did the South America run, Travis Ryan from Cattle Decapitation saw us playing and I think it just kind of reignited everything. He basically said if they’re touring again, they want to bring us out on the road - and that really set the stage for what’s going to happen in the next 18 months. Some stuff that I think is going to be really really great, and we are reemerging back into the scene.”

BraveWords: What did that first jam feel like? When you got it back together and you were preparing to get on the road. Did you ask yourself, can we still do this?

Shaefer: “It’s difficult music, so for me it was always just about finding the right guys. In South America we did not have the right guys. Because it’s not just about playing, it’s about treating people nicely and being a team member. I feel like the guys I have now, we’re all shooting at the same target. That’s important as a band, you can’t have everybody shooting in different directions. I wish that I could have taken these guys to South America. They’d have blown fucking heads off, you know. It’s an entirely different band to me.”

BraveWords: And when you’re on the road, you’re on stage for an hour, so how do you fill the other 23 if you’re with a bunch of assholes?

Shaefer: “It is not fun. I tell people all the time, if you want to see what your band’s made of, climb in a van for 25 shows, we’ll see how much fucking friends you are. But it was effortless for us to go, there was not one second of hostility amongst us, which is pretty fucking hard to do, no matter how much you like somebody.”

BraveWords: But that hostility could actually fuel some good music.

Shaefer: “It’s not necessary. I think that everybody has a respect. The great thing about the younger guys now is that they have respect for where we’ve been, and they also know that they can take us to a new place, and appeal to a younger audience. I think that helps a lot. If it was me and a bunch of 50 year olds, I don’t think it would have had the same impact. I think that people sometimes listen with their eyes, and when they look and they see vigour and fire in a band with music that’s 30 years old, it’s confusing, but effective. It takes away the idea that the music is old, because it doesn’t feel old, it feels like it’s right where it needs to be. Playing with bands like Cattle Decapitation and Primitive Man, and all these bands that are very current, that was a true test to see whether we could hold up and we fucking held up!”

BraveWords: You’e playing with bands that are here because of those early records and that’s how they learned to play.

Shaefer: “But there’s a lot of people that didn’t know that. There’s this 38-50 year old group of people that know the pecking order and the history, and then there’s this other group of people that have maybe heard of us. I’m like that with a lot of bands too. Municipal Waste is a great example - I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never listened to one of their songs, even though they’ve been around for a long time. By chance we got to play on a bill that was super well-attended and all the shows were really great, in cool venues, and it was a great way for us to reemerge into the scene. Now we just have to make a really killer record, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

BraveWords: And how is that being formulated? You must have been working on riffs and shit for 17 years.

Shaefer: “Well, yeah, always. My stuff personally comes from spontaneity, just sitting down and bashing it out, off the cuff. These guys all have riffs as well, and they’re all logged so once we get together in a room and start working on it, there will be no shortage of stuff. I believe it will come together pretty quickly, and I look forward to that. But for now, while we’re waiting I think we should be playing some shows, being seen. I wouldn’t even mind doing another tour before we make a record, just a couple of weeks with the right package, just fuck shit up and then come back and make the record. We never toured properly. You know, because you’ve followed this band for a while, we toured very minimally, and you can’t do that. You can’t have the same effectiveness, and the same success if you’re never touring. And this band especially - you can listen to the records and go, “okay, that’s interesting, it’s weird” but I think seeing it, and especially seeing it the way these guys are playing it - last night was a true test, there were a lot of bands watching us - At The Gates, Cattle Decapitation - we look out and we see these guys and that’s nice. It’s cool to have your colleagues appreciate. And then they spread the word for us in a way, by telling all their fans, “hey listen, if you don’t know, now you fucking know.’”

BraveWords: How do you get into that zone where you own it, no matter who is in the audience?

Shaefer: “For me it’s never an issue. The more people, the better - and if there was five people there, that would have fucking scared the shit out of me. Like I look at karaoke - I could not do karaoke if my life depended on it. I told my wife, there’s no fucking way I can get up in front of five or eight people and sing anything. Even one of our songs. It would be terrifying. The more people, the easier it is for me, personally. But looking out and seeing guys that we have respect for is a great thing. Especially as long as we’ve been around, for me I have a different sort of understanding or appreciation for it, than most would. I think it’s such a huge blessing. In any industry that you’re in, it is definitely a currency that I appreciate.

BraveWords: Have you signed with a label yet?

Shaefer: That’s what I can’t... soon... yes. I can’t go into grand detail about it, but it’s going to be a big announcement, and I’m really looking forward to making that fucking announcement. We need to come with the right label and the right record and I think it will put us in a place that we probably should have always been in. I believe that we earned it. We’ve earned out musical place in history but just never really taken advantage of it. So that’s what I look forward to. As you get older, you start thinking, “hey man, tomorrow’s not a promise, you just got to get out and get it done.”

BraveWords: It’s a good thing when you wake up.

Shaefer: “It is! I’m always grateful to wake up.”

BraveWords: But the business, to say it’s changed is the understatement of the century. Everything’s been thrown out the window - how have you adapted to new realities like social media?

Shaefer: “I’m learning. And having some younger guys in the band helps me a lot, schooling me on that, and my wife as well. Just understanding how to make an impact, it’s so different than when we first came up and everything was tape trading and fanzines, and that was the only way you could get your music out to people. Now there’s just a plethora of platforms that you can use to get your music out. So I always tell young bands when they ask what they should do, I tell them to just get heard. Share it with whoever you can share it with, and plaster that shit all over the place. If you’ve got what it takes then people will respond. Social media is how we came back, after we’d been gone for all those years. When I went to look and try to buy one of our records in 2004 or 2005, they were very expensive used, and that’s when I realized, wow the internet kept us alive for all those years while we were broken up. It turned our music on to a lot of new people. We just needed to get out there and play. You know, Steve Flynn never was big on touring - we were offered Deftones, Dillinger Escape Plan tour, seven weeks in America - and had to fucking say no. That is super stupid.”

BraveWords: So it was an internal issue, not external like label politics or lack of budget?

Shaefer: “No, it was just Steve. I love him, he’s my best friend in the world, but he doesn’t like to tour. He likes to make records, and not tour. So him and I talked about this new cycle and everything and I told him I’m going to get some guys. He played a role in it also, giving me his blessing because he knew I wanted to tour. It’s a confusing thing to try to explain to people, because they ask, ‘where’s Steve?’ Steve’s all good, he knows these guys and it’s still a family. Anthony (Medaglia) came out and totally crushed. Anybody who plays drums or who’s a fan of drums knows that those drums are very odd to play. These guys know each other and get along. Two of the guys play in a band called Graviton, so having a built-in rhythm section isn’t a bad thing either, because they’re used to playing together. Now they just have to apply that same thing over to Atheist and it’s fucking hugely effective.”

Shaefer: “And thanks for my cool-ass shirt that you gave me on the road. I wore that shit on stage somewhere. Did I send you a photo?”

BraveWords: Yeah!

Shaefer: “Because most fuckers they take it, they take a picture with you with it, and then they fucking put it away. I was like, ‘fuck that, I’m wearing it on stage!’ But thank you for everything you’ve done. Over the years you’ve really kept our band alive as well. I appreciate it.”

(Top photo courtesy of ArmyOfOneTV.com)


Featured Audio

PRIMAL FEAR – “I Am Alive” (Nuclear Blast)

PRIMAL FEAR – “I Am Alive” (Nuclear Blast)

Featured Video

HOMICIDE Premieres “Scourge Of God”

HOMICIDE Premieres “Scourge Of God”

Latest Reviews