Unpackaged: Our Interview With Adam Goren

Atom & His Package marked the end of an era for me. There was a time when I would hang out at record stores, soaking in the music, flipping through the bins, waiting for something new to hit me. Nowadays, family, jobs, and commitments get in the way. Free time dries up. I no longer have time to hit the local record store to find something new.

Anyway, back in the day, I was in this combo record/skateboard board when the following song came through the speakers:

The next song, "Well Fed Fucking Sequencer," was equally as good, so I ran up to the desk and pointed at the stereo and asked, "Can I buy that?" The clerk sold it to me. I drove around that day, listening to the CD nonstop. Later that night, I found out that he had just released A Society Of People Named Elihu, so I ordered that as well. I was an instant fan.

There was a time when I discovered music this way. I had three main sources: MTV, the college radio station, and what I heard/found at record stores. But not anymore. MTV is dead, the record stores have been replaced by Walgreen's, and the college radio DJs all seem to be trying to out-hip each other by playing obscure and unlistenable crap. I think Atom & His Package was my last record store find.

I recently interviewed Adam Goren of Atom & His Package and TV Casualty. We talked about his punk cover band, Atom & His Package, teaching, kids' music, and how he rates albums. Sadly, I also discovered that were I to wander into a record store in the future, I'd be unlikely to find any new Atom & His Package music.

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

You're currently playing in a band called TV Casualty, which seems to be an all-star punk cover band.
That's a generous way of describing it. We are future Hall Of Famers, except for Dan who has been convicted of lying to the grand jury for steroids and stuff. We just did a Black Flag show.

Right. How did that turn out?
It was fun. It's nice to do something that's completely recreational. We have a good time learning songs. We have a good time hanging out and fun playing. It's definitely much easier to learn lots of great songs that you love rather than trying and write songs.

So how did this project come about?
I think Chris Wilson, who's the drummer, he's always thought about doing a cover band that did what we do every few months. The first one we did was the Misfits. Chris plays in a band with Ted Leo. He asked Ted if he would sing and it was great and really fun. Ted had H1N1, but besides that, it was all fun.

And then we kept changing the list of bands who we would do. We would have a different person or friend who we got up the courage to ask to sing with us so we would have a different singer each time. We did a Ramones show, a Minor Threat show. For the Ramones show, we were able to get Rodney from The Dead Milkmen to sing, which was very cool. We had our friend Mike sing for the Minor Threat show. We did the Misfits show on Halloween and we just did the Black Flag show.

So I definitely know how to play way more Black Flag, Misfits, Minor Threat, and Ramones songs than I would have thought necessary.

So do you guys put your own spin on the bands' songs or do you try to stay true to the originals?
It's really varied. Ted Leo can do a pretty dead-on Glenn Danzig, so for that and since it was Halloween, we sort of dressed up. It depends upon the person singing. Rodney from The Dead Milkmen sounds absolutely nothing like Joey Ramone so I would say it was our own take on it.

So who's next?
We were actually just thinking about that. It's sort of between The Clash and Bad Brains.

Let's talk Atom And His Package. Do you miss it?
No. The only thing I miss about it is the friends I've made that are scattered all over the place from traveling so much. It was always nice to know that I would see them. Now I have people I would consider myself very fond of that I haven't seen for years. That's the only aspect of it that I miss.

I think I stopped doing it at the right time. I toured a lot and I loved it and I had a great time. I feel lucky to travel as much and to meet as many wonderful people as I did. It got to a point where I felt that I had played the songs so many times it started to feel like I was going through the motions. I felt like I could play entire shows and be thinking independently of what I what I as doing.

I missed being home. There are people at home that I really love that I love spending time with. So I was ready to be home. When I used to do it, I had the itch to travel and go all over the place and now, I don't know. I guess I got old or something.

So you don't miss creating new music?
No. Not at all. I mean, I like to play around on the guitar every once in awhile and with the kids I make up songs that I'm just singing or annoying them with, but for some reason I don't feel moved to write songs or anything. I'm still a huge music junkie. As free time becomes more scarce with kids, I feel there's much better return to find bands that I love. Frankly, when I tried to write songs in the last couple of years, it felt like, "Eh. This is just like that other one but not as new or interesting." So I would say I do not miss it.

You've covered songs by Fugazi, The Mountain Goats, Madonna, Geto Boys, and a lot of other artists. Have any of them ever contacted you and told you what they thought of them?
I think I was pretty selective about who I would try and approach. I wrote a letter to Fugazi and sent them a copy of the CD and got a really nice handwritten note back. For the other ones, I kind of figured, "Madonna doesn't need to know. I don't know if I need to open a line of communication with the Geto Boys. We're probably not compatible humans." I think I sent one to the punk band Born Against. I think I got a reply from them. Most of those people probably don't need to know they're being ripped off.

Oh, I'm sorry! I'm totally lying about The Mountain Goats thing. Of course I contacted him because I was a huge fan. I wrote him and he was totally on board and cool. I got to sing the songs with him a couple of times which was pretty cool.

You're a teacher now. Are your students aware of your past life?
Yes, they are. But the street cred for that wears off pretty quickly. Some of the kids are really interested in music and I play sometimes with the kids at school. I'm always happy to talk music with kids.

Sometimes kids will be like, "Oh, I heard you cursing on that thing!" I never really know how to deal with that as a professional. Usually, I'm just kind of a smartypants and say, "I don't know what you're talking about. I don't even know what cursing is."

What is punk today?
What is punk today? I'm not a particularly articulate person when talking about that, so I don't even know if I could have described it well when I was completely involved in punk world stuff. But I guess to me, it always felt like it was something where you were good and respectful of people who deserved it and were outspoken enough to be disrespectful to people who deserved that. Is that still punk? I don't know. I hope so.

You've got kids. Have you ever thought of making a kids' album?
I sort of have, but I think I may have gotten less driven or more lazy in terms of doing that. I definitely make up a ton of songs. I playfully sing to the kids. But I don't have the drive to do all the work that would be required to record it well.

Ok. Well I won't keep you much longer. We've got three questions we ask every interviewee, they're our Culture Brats Three. Thriller or Purple Rain?
Oh, man. Can I abstain from that? I'm not a fan of either, actually. I know that's sacrilegious to people who have actual taste in music. I'm going to defer to Jen (his wife). She might abstain, but for the complete opposite reason as me.

Because she can't decide?
Yeah. She would go Thriller, even though she loves Purple Rain. But me? I would have to say Thriller because when I hear "Beat It," I picture the guy in the video. Are you familiar with the video?

You know the part where the guy dancing shakes his head up and down real fast?

Well, I like that part.

That's the reason that's the better album? OK.
Oh yeah! That is how I rate all albums, by how much of that dance is in the video.

Good to know. You're probably not going to like this question either: Tiffany or Debbie Gibson?
Tiffany or Debbie Gibson? Well, here are the things that may or may not have been dreamed by me. I don't even know if these are true. My brain is telling me that at some point Debbie Gibson did something with the Circle Jerks?

Did that happen or was that a dream?

That did happen.
For some reason, I'm think I saw a documentary about Tiffany and it was really depressing and sad?

I can't help you with that one.
Ok. I'm going to say I like the Circle Jerks more than depressing sad things. So I'm going to go with Debbie Gibson.

Good. I like your rationalizations. And finally: 16 Candles or Pretty In Pink?
16 Candles.

OK. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me tonight. I appreciate it.
Yeah! Thanks for wanting to talk with me!

If you want to keep up with Adam Goren, you can sign up for his mailing list from Atom & His Package's official site. You can also follow him on Twitter. To see TV Casualty's live performances, head over to YouTube.

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