A guy walks into a bar, yadda, yadda, yadda, the next great band are born. So begins the origin story of TJ Kong And The Atomic Bomb, one of the most impressively inventive bands to come out of Philly in years.
“Drummer Dan [Cask] and I both worked at the same bar in Center City right after college,” explains Dan Bruskewicz, vocalist for the four-piece. “Dan was drumming in punk bands, and his house was a strange music venue in South Philly. I was writing folk music. One Easter Sunday, neither of us had any pressing appointments, and we decided to play some tunes of mine. It happened very organically, and the energy that Dan’s punk-style drums brought out of the dark folk and blues songs made something very cool.”
Very cool, indeed. In fact, that eclectic sound is slathered all over the band’s new LP, Dancing out the Door, out now on Good Behavior Records. That’s not too say the sound on this new record was always in place from day one. Bruskewicz admits it changed quite a bit over the years, through writing, rehearsing, and playing more live. “But the essence of it is still there,” he says. “It’s that ramshackle, fly by the seat of your pants feeling you get when listening to it. That was what drew us to the collaboration from the beginning. It’s very real and honest and feels like it could go anywhere at any time and might come off the rails without you noticing. That energy remains, but the growth of the songs and their styles and flavor have certainly evolved with the addition of our other band members and, on this record, with the addition of keys and horns.”
Dancing out the Door is the final part in a trilogy, of sorts, with the first two installments being 2010’s Idiots and 2012’s Manufacturing Joy. “It’s more like the end of a secret code that unlocks the next treasure of your life’s journey,” Bruskewicz says.
One of the first things listeners will notice after spending time with the new LP is the horns scattered throughout. The band went into the album knowing they wanted to add those parts, “but they showed up in a few places that we didn’t expect,” Bruskewicz notes, “like, the trumpet parts in ‘John Wilkes Booth’ and ‘Heat Heat Heat’ were a spur of the moment idea in the studio. We knew we wanted horn arrangements to dot certain parts of the record and on songs like ‘Soul Asylum’ and the title track, ‘Dancing out the Door.’ We thought of them as a kind of punctuation to the flow of the record.”
Because TJ Kong And The Atomic Bomb are just the latest from Philadelphia to highlight how strong and diverse the music scene is there, one must ask the obligatory: “What makes Philly so good for music?”
“It’s just the perfect blend of size and cost of living and maverick spirit and being so close to New York, yet completely free of all of the hang-ups,” Bruskewicz says. “Since I’ve lived in Philly, for about 17 years, Philly has always been a sort of lawless place where you can make your own destiny. Housing is inexpensive, rent is inexpensive, and the city is very manageable in size and very neighborhood-centric. You can meet almost everyone in the local music scene in under a year.”
As a result, everyone treats each other like family. They look out for and support each other. “It’s not the easiest place to live, despite the fact that there are opportunities here now, and we all have that in common,” he adds. “And there’s an ‘outsider art’ nature to everything we do since we aren’t New York, and I think artists use that mentality here and it really opens their creative possibilities.”
The band toured through November promoting the new record, but they are planning to play shows in spring and throughout the summer as well. “We’re pretty excited about our next record,” Bruskewicz says. “It’s kinda strange and beautiful and different from what we’ve been doing. We’re finishing up the songs and putting them together now. Taking this big bowl of stew we’ve been stirring and launching it into the next dimension. New stew!”