In late-August, New Jersey-based hard-rocking trio The Atomic Bitchwax (vocalist/bassist Chris Kosnick, drummer Bob Pantella, and guitarist Garrett Sweeny) released their eighth full-length album, the blistering and insanely fun Scorpio on Tee Pee Records. Here, lifelong rock ‘n’ roller Pantella talks all-things Atomic Bitchwax.
I’ve been listening to the record and just want to hear what you have to say, insights into it. Just first, it’s weird releasing an album in these strange times.
A non-release release. Yeah, it is.
It’s coming out in a few days. So, you probably would’ve had a record release or something.
We’re not doing anything. We’re putting out another video. It’ll be the third one. A song called “Easy Action.”
Yeah, I was thinking in normal times you’d probably be doing a record release show.
Yeah, we were supposed to. And a tour. A couple tours. But we’re not doing that. We’re doing videos, that’s about all we can do. We’re not doing any live streaming or anything like that. We’re gonna wait this whole thing out to play again. So, all we can really do is release videos and do interviews, stuff like that. It makes it kind of difficult. I get the feeling when it comes time to tour again—which is god only knows when next year, maybe summer—everybody’s gonna want a new record. But this is the new record. I look at it as a waste of a release. I don’t know.
Well, if we need to put out another new album by the time we can tour again, it’s kinda like this is a non-record almost. It seems like that. It depends on how long we have to wait really. We put a lot of time and energy into this and money. We’ve never played any of these songs live, so we’re looking forward to doing that.
I was trying to look on the bright side that everyone else putting out records now is in the same boat…
Everybody’s in the same boat. But a lot of bands are doing cover records. If we would’ve known we would’ve saved this for a proper time to release it but who could’ve known. We’re really digging it. I just really wish we could tour on it. We’ll do what we can.
When did you start working on it?
It was I’d say August of last year. And we recorded in November, I mixed it in December, and mastered it. So great timing [laughs]. Because we wanted it to be a 2020 release and not a 2019 release. We’ll see. Even three months ago we were talking about touring in September. We thought there was a chance but it’s clear it’s not going to be. I’m hoping and praying for next summer. We shall see.
Right. Who could’ve thought, like you said, starting on it last year… Sorry to start it on a down note, but these are the times.
But we’re really happy about the record. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It really came out great. Really psyched. We’ll probably end up doing a video for every song on the record [laughs]. Why not?
More about how the album came about. So, do you guys still write the same way? You [joined the band] in 2007?
I came in in 2007. The last three records, including this one, we’ve found a formula that really works great for us. We get a lot done a lot quicker. A lot less scatterbrained. We basically get together and start playing riffs. “I got a riff, it goes like this.” And then sometimes Chris will come in with a chorus and a verse already, with mock lyrics but a vocal melody, and we’ll build a song around that. Those are more of the songy-songs and more of the aggressive stuff is just us three in a room hashing riffs out and recording it and just doing that, like 50 different things and filtering out what we don’t like and what we might use and changing tunings and things like that until we’ve got a good solid 10 songs. And then hone it down from there, whittle it away little by little until we’re happy with it. It’s very time consuming. It takes months and months but that’s pretty much our formula. And it’s been working for our last three records, and we’re really happy. We like doing short records, 35 minutes, nothing longer than that. We’re really digging it. Songs that are not long. Kind of punk rock.
And if a song happens to be too long, we just speed it up. [Laughs]
But even sometimes I get into the tracking of a record. Some people get really nerdy about the track listing, the sequencing. I didn’t know how you guys are.
It’s very important, the flow of the whole record, especially if it’s on a CD. It’s a different approach on a CD because there’s no breaks on it, but on a vinyl it’s like a fresh start with side B or side two, whatever. So, you gotta think of it like that. And then you gotta think about a CD, but not a lot of people buy CDs anymore. But then on like Spotify it flows like a CD, there’s no break. So, we think about it like that. We have our liking to which way we want it to be sequenced and we’re pretty close, the first vote we’re pretty close. It’s just a matter of one or two songs until we’re all happy with it. Yeah, we’re nerdy about it. It’s important.
It is. I always think it has to stand the test of time.
Absolutely. Honestly, after listening to the record two or three times I’ll probably never listen to it again [laughs]. I’ve heard it so many times. I don’t look back. On to the next thing. Always.
Also, that you have instrumentals in there. Are they hard to place?
They gotta be spread out evenly, definitely. It’s gotta go with the flow. Usually we like to do two singing, an instrumental, two singing, and then an instrumental. You don’t want them back-to-back, it wouldn’t make any sense. At least not to us. We try to keep it exciting and a little bit unexpected. We try not to let anything get too boring. That’s why the songs are short. Try to keep everything lean and mean.
What about even opening with “I Hope You Die,” one of the older songs [off the 1999 self-titled debut album]. Revisiting…
We’ve been playing it for so many years and it’s changed. It’s actually gotten more aggressive, and we love playing that song. Chris was never really happy with the original recording. It’s just developed for all of these years and what the hell. That was really fun to record, and it was so easy because we’ve been playing it for so long. It was great. And it’s just a great song, and it’s fun. And it’s funny. It’s a break-up song [laughs].
Oh, that is where it came from?
Yeah, it’s a break-up song.
OK [laughs]. But then you start the record with “I Hope You Die” and you end it with “Instant Death.” So, I guess it’s full circle.
It’s a theme, I guess [laughs].
Oh, but just before when you were saying about on a CD. What formats are you releasing it on?
It’s gonna be the usual: CD, vinyl, and then digital. No eight-track or cassette.
No cassette. OK. That was becoming a thing again a few years ago.
For a minute.
Just about touring. What did you have planned? A whole US tour?
September we were gonna do a US tour. We were supposed to do one in June, but then it got changed to September and then there was a festival we were gonna do, Monolith on the Mesa in New Mexico. It got postponed and now it’s just a bust. We were gonna build a tour around that and there were a couple other festivals we were going to do and shows around that so it made sense to tour. The whole thing kinda just came apart. It didn’t really come apart, it just got really quiet. Nobody said we’re not going; it just became obvious you’re not going. Then we were supposed to go to Australia and Japan in October. Forget that. That’s out. Right now there’s nothing. We’re hoping for June of next year in Europe. That was supposed to be this year. We postponed it a year, so hopefully that comes together. We were supposed to go out with a band Sasquatch, a California band and Mothership from Texas. We were gonna do Europe, a bunch of festivals. We’ll see if that comes together again.
But about Australia and Japan, have you played there before?
Australia, New Zealand we’ve done. We never did Japan. But we’ve done Australia a few times. It’s brutal getting there. But beautiful. Maybe next year in the fall. Everything’s just really up in the air. I wanna know too. I’m just as anxious as everybody else.
I know you were saying before, we gotta write a new record, but are you guys always writing?
No. We’re not. It’s like, OK, we gotta start writing for a new record, we have to schedule it because it’s just impossible. There’s always so much going on. Our lives. We don’t have time to just play all the time when we’re home. People have families and there’s other stuff going on. When it’s time to do that, then we focus on it. We’ll never focus on it unless we create a schedule. It’s too difficult, there’s too much leeway. We need deadlines. Stuff like that helps. Without a deadline there’s always tomorrow.
We’re really good at that.
Also, about this record, it’s on Tee Pee Records. You’ve had a bunch of other records on that label. Was there any thought of…
They’ve been great to us. We love Tee Pee. We’ve been with them a long time. It’s always been great. Not one bad thing I could say. Always really good, which is something you don’t hear bands say very often [laughs].
[Talking about the pandemic situation again]
I’ve been in the studio a lot. I’ve been busy doing that. Thank god. So that’s great. That’s been keeping me busy and keeping my mind off everything else. The studio’s a great place to just lose yourself. Micro-focus on music.
Do you have your own home studio?
I have a commercial studio. It’s my home away from home. I’m here more than I am anywhere. I love it. Thank god for this place. It’s a place called Freakshop Studios in New Jersey. Things are going pretty good.
What about you personally, how you got into the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing in the first place?
It’s just always been there. It’s a family thing. My father was a musician and it just kinda got passed down to me from a very early, single-digits age, and just been doing it forever. I’ve been rocking and rolling since I was 10. [Laughs] It hasn’t stopped. It’s just gotten more involved as the years go by. I’m very lucky, very fortunate.
Yeah, were drums the first instrument you played?
Yeah. I always played drums. I started with pots and pans, cardboard boxes. Then toy drum sets. It just never stopped. I was surrounded by music my whole life.
That’s good. Did you play in school?
Sure. All that. Band in school. I got out of class it was great [laughs]. I learned a lot in school band. I learned how to read music. Like in third grade. Kept me out of trouble [laughs].
What about getting into playing in bands just on your personal time? When did that start? High school?
Even earlier than that, 11, 12, I was in bands. I was always the youngest. My father had three music stores. There was always a plethora of musicians around. So, like I said, it’s always been like this forever for me. Cover bands, a lot of cover bands. You know, when you’re young, doing all covers. Then in my mid-teens started doing original stuff. Metal bands all that kind of stuff, thrash metal in the ’80s. I guess when I was 20, 21 I got in that band Raging Slab. That was my first touring band back in ’89. And then that was a whole other level, MTV and making videos, major label, all that stuff. I never really looked back.
No, that’s very cool. Then, how you mentioned this record and the band, you like to keep the songs short, kind of punk rock, that’s what I like about you guys, not easily classifiable. I always find the labels weird. I feel it’s very open…
Oh yeah. I agree with you totally. We’re a rock band. That’s our sound. I mean, we’re labeled as a stoner rock band. But we’re really not. We’re more progressive, hard rock. Fast hard rock ‘n’ roll, really. We’re not sludgy, we don’t do any of that. That’s cool, but that’s not what we do. We’re more like cocaine rock. I don’t know what you wanna call it.
[Laughs] No, I just feel like you incorporate all different types of sounds.
To me, it’s just rock music.
I guess you’re a person who appreciates a lot of different types [of music].
Oh yeah. I love old ‘60s R&B, early-‘70s funk. That’s what I listen to when I’m by myself. I’ll listen to The Spinners. I like that kind of shit. I’ll listen to trucker country. Truck-driving music. [Laughs]
How did you get into recording?
I got into recording out of necessity. I used to play in this band called Love Among Freaks. Actually, before that I had a four-track. I play other instruments, I play guitar, a little bit of keyboards—enough for writing. I would never perform, but it’s great for expressing ideas. Really started early-’90s doing it myself. Out of necessity too, because every group I was with at the time we’d go to a studio, 90 percent of the time we were so unhappy after spending so much money. You get home and you just wanna freaking kill yourself. It was terrible, so you learn to do things yourself. That’s really how it came about. Instead of paying someone a lot of money, buy your own stuff and learn how to use it. Get the sound you want.
So, this one, did you record it?
We try different things [on different albums]. Let’s have somebody else’s ears on it. Stuff like that. So, here [at my studio] we did the drums and guitars, and then Chris has a studio too at his place. He did the vocals and bass there. And then we compiled everything here, and then we brought everything to another studio to have our friend Steve DeAcutis mix it at Sound Spa Productions in Edison, [New Jersey]. We wanted somebody else’s ears on it because it puts a whole different perspective on it. It helped a lot to have that. We mixed it there and that was it. […] I don’t know what we’ll do next time, who the hell knows. We’ll try something different. It depends on money. It kinda dictates the whole thing. We’re always experimenting with different stuff. It’s one of the reasons I stop listening to the records when we’re done with it because I don’t wanna be disappointed. I’m done with it. Then when I hear something I didn’t hear before that I don’t like and it’s obviously too late. But then you learn from that. “Next time we won’t do that,” or “next time we should do this.”
Can I say, I really love the ending with “Instant Death.”
The drums are kind of insane.
Oh, they’re totally insane. It was ridiculous. That was one take. I could not do it again. I was just out of gas. It had to be. I wasn’t able to do it twice. I had to do that one take. I was wiped out. My legs were burning. And that’s what we are—we’re fun and ridiculous [laughs] […] When we’re playing live, of course everything is triple [speed]. Our whole thing was let’s try to keep it together. If it’s right on the edge of flying apart, perfect. Right on the edge where everything’s going to blow up. Just teeter-tottering. It’s like a tight-rope, balancing how fast we can go. When we’re on tour, it just gets better and better every night because we’re playing so much. We have fun when we play. We’re laughing at each other, like, “I can’t keep up.” Sometimes I’m going so fast and I get the look, like, “I’m skipping all these notes. I’m not gonna make it.”
But then do you hear it afterwards, like, “What were you doing?!”
Yeah. But it’s fun. We’re only entertaining ourselves, really [laughs].
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