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Q and A With The Spotted Atrocious

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“Living in the dorms together for our first two years at West Chester University, we couldn't just sit still - we had to keep writing and creating,” says The Spotted AtrociousRyan Warfield, singer and guitarist for local five-piece pop rock band, The Spotted Atrocious. The West Chester, PA-based 5-piece has been rocking the socks off southeastern Pennsylvania since 2008 – and have been friends since many of them were barely teenagers. Their unique form of rock and roll music takes many influences from unlikely places all over the board – from punk rock to jam bands to folk rock. The guys caught up with Philly2Philly to answer a few questions about their origins, their influences, and their upcoming show at Fishtown’s The Fire  on October 23.

Philly2Philly: First thing’s first: Where’s your name come from?

Ryan: It's a bit of an homage to Dr. Seuss. It comes from his book If I Ran The Circus.

Mitchell: Ryan and I were down in Orlando visiting our good friend Jarrod, who drums for Junior Doctor - one of our favorite bands. We were all hanging out at Universal Studios for the day, and we decided to jump on the Dr. Seuss theme ride. One of the rooms the ride takes you through is based on Seuss' If I Ran The Circus. The Spotted Atrocious (a "beast most ferocious") popped out in front of us, and it was just understood. We had a name.

P2P: How’d you all get together?

Ryan: Mitch, Liam, and I have been in various bands together since the 7th or 8th grade. Back then, I wasn't doing hardly any singing for the band, maybe just backup vocals here and there. And I was writing guitar parts, not songs. When our last band, Far From Proud, fell apart, we all went our separate ways except for Mitchell and I. Living in the dorms together for our first two years at West Chester University, we couldn't just sit still - we had to keep writing and creating. After all the frustration we had had trying to find the right vocalist/frontman in the past, I decided I would just try to teach myself how to sing. It was more natural than I expected, and we started writing and recording these folk songs on our own in our dorm room. We started jamming with Chris, our drummer, but didn't really get anywhere with it at first. When Mitchell left for a semester abroad in New Zealand, I was just starting to really understand how to match lyrics and melodies with chord progressions. I got the itch to start playing live again, taking the songs we were writing and bringing them into a full-band setting. Unfortunately, Mitchell was on the other side of the planet. I asked Liam to come out to West Chester and lay down some bass lines, since that bastard can pretty much play any instrument he picks up. Everything just sort of clicked, and we were starting to play these small shows around town. I knew Mark, our keyboardist, through a mutual friend. He actually has a degree in classical guitar, but he was really getting into keyboard and synth at the time. Once Mark came into the picture, it added an entirely new element to the music. Mitch returned from the southern hemisphere and was totally caught off guard by the heavier riff-rock direction we were heading in - completely different from the quieter, folksy stuff we had been doing before he left. I actually think he was a little pissed. But he jumped back in on bass, Liam switched over to lead guitar... and we were now a five-piece rock n' roll band.

P2P: You guys won a Battle of the Bands not too long ago. Describe what that was like and what it’s done for your careers as musicians.

Ryan: I think that's in reference to the first round of The Blarney Stone's 'Battle at the Blarney,' which was co-sponsored by Mainline Today Magazine and the Blarney Stone. The final round for the grand prize was actually just this past Saturday, and we were lucky enough to come away with the win.

Chris: This was the first time I'd ever been part of the winning band in a Battle of the Bands competition. It was truly a great experience to get so much positive feedback from the judges and the crowd. It really made me feel good about what we were doing musically, and to know that people actually like our music is an indescribable feeling.

Mark: It was really great to have all of our friends out to support us, not because they are being good friends, but because they feel a sincere connection to the music. We have a very eclectic sound, and to have the audience's (and the judges') attention throughout our set is huge. I listen to a wide range of music, and like that we can tap into an audience who feels the same and can hang on for the whole ride. It's also pretty badass to be rocking out so hard-screaming distortion and wildness- and see our MOM'S bobbing their heads. EPIC!

P2P: It’s been written (so it’s got to be true) that you guys take influences from both Phish and NOFX. Really? Tell us how you make these two clashing styles fit together during the creative process.

Ryan: Hah, I'm not really sure who said that bit about Phish. I know personally that NoFX was a huge influence for Liam and I growing up - that's the kind of music we loved listening to, the kind of band we wanted to sound like. I don't want to call it a phase, because that would be cheapening the real value of what we got from listening to NoFX and all the other crazy-fast punk bands we were obsessed with. And it wasn't just the concept of rock music being something that anyone could do - NoFX's talent as musicians and songwriters is entirely underrated. I'm starting to fiend for some Punk In Drublic right now...

Liam: I think that maybe the Phish aspect came from Mark and my own perspective. When I went away to college at Mount Saint Mary's University, I was completely on my own and didn't know anyone. I met a lot of interesting people who showed me a lot of different and interesting music. I definitely am a fan of Phish, I can say that my love for Phish isn't anywhere near my love for NoFX, though.

Mitchell: Growing up, I loved to listen to bands like NoFX and Operation Ivy. Punk and pop-punk is what I was rocking out to when I got my first bass. Since then, my musical taste has evolved but I think it is important to acknowledge where you're coming from.

Mark: When I first started really getting into guitar, my teacher showed me Phish and I was blown away. The guitar playing caught my attention first, but the whole sound...was so impressive. It sounded like a classical symphony through rock instruments. I realized it was possible to rock, and play "pretty" music at the same time-and that’s what I try and do when I write/play. I get pleasure out of finding beauty in all things, it just happens to be more apparent in music.

Chris: I too listened to a lot of NoFX and other punk bands growing up. But from about 6th to 8th grade, Metallica's first four CD's were in constant rotation in my CD player. My musical tastes at that point in my life were punk/hardcore/metal. Later on, I discovered the band Thrice and the way I listened to music changed completely. Their earlier mix of punk and hardcore infused songs were eye-opening to me. The way that their music has progressed, and the fact that none of their CD's sound similar to the previous ones, is something I strive for as a musician. I can honestly say that Thrice is my all time favorite band. Sorry Mark, never was a Phish fan.

P2P: How are your songs put together?

Ryan: It's really starting to be a full-band process, more so than before, when most of the songs we had were some variation of what Mitchell and I were writing in our room. I have this book of lyrics/ideas that I pretty much take with me everywhere I go, so if something strikes me or brings out some sort of strong emotion, I can get it down on paper before I lose it. When one of the guys comes into practice or a writing session with a new riff or chord progression - or even a complete song - I try to get a feel for what kind of direction they see it going in. Then I look thru the book and cross my fingers that I have something written down that can take me back to a place where I was feeling something similar. The rest kind of falls into place around that, I think.

Chris: This is the first band I've been in where everyone contributes to writing. As a drummer in bands before, I never even considered sharing guitar parts that I've written. In this band, it's amazing how new songs and ideas are encouraged from every member. For me, this system of writing really works out. It keeps our songs fresh and unique from each other. I'm ecstatic when guitar parts I write are well received by the rest of the guys. As Ryan mentioned, he has a plethora of lyrics. But if one of us writes a new song and has a theme in mind for it, Ryan has no problem with coming up with some great words specifically for that.

Mark: We love the variety. Playing the same style of music would bore me. So we just have a mentality of "let's do it" if someone has an idea, or a riff, or a song. We want all of it!

Mitchell: At any point in time any one or a combination of us is capable of writing music for this band. We prefer to embrace the diversity of style to really get the wide range of music we love to play. With that said, we also prefer to not restrict the songs to any one type of structure. This is why some songs follow the typical verse/chorus platform while others simply offer an introduction followed by resolution.

P2P: Along those lines, I’ve noticed that you guys go from quick pop-rock songs to an acoustic ballad while playing shows. How’re you able to pull this off live?

Liam: Most recently, we've been jamming to transition into the next song. Its really kind of a new thing for Ryan, Mitchell, and I. We've never done anything like that in our old bands. I really enjoy the improvisation element that we blend into our live shows now. I suppose that may be some of the Phish influence coming out too.

Chris: Transitioning into the next song is very new for me, too. Keeping the flow of the set going is something that we find important. We try to keep the music coming constantly, whether it be an improvised or practiced transition. We are far from perfecting this, but every time we do it live, for me at least, it builds confidence. A lot of it is trial and error.

P2P: Your lyrics are pretty broad, in terms of subject matter. What are some things you’ve gone to for lyric inspiration?

Ryan: Studying Political Science and History, it's easy to find inspiration in the countless stories of love, despair, hope, violence, terror, and reconciliation that define the so-called 'human condition.' I struggle with the question of whether we, as humans, are inherently good or inherently bad - and I stumble across things every day that could be used by the defense or the prosecution in that trial. Those things that make me feel the angriest, the happiest, the most appreciative, the most helpless - they make for some of the best subject matter. But when you get too bogged down in the past or with what's happening on the other side of the world, you tend to lose sight of what's going on around us right now, at this moment. I have to constantly remind myself of that, and I'm hoping it helps to sharpen my focus and to make our message that much more relevant. Consumerism, racism, big-money interests, the use of religion as a control tactic - these are pressing issues that need to be addressed. And I'm trying to tell stories that can illustrate the disparities and contradictions we're forced to accept and digest on a daily basis, all without sounding like I'm proselytizing, because I certainly don't have the answers. All that... and girls.

P2P: What’s it like being a young band, going about getting shows in both your home town and in Philly?

Mark: I think its exciting. I have faith in every performance, as well as in every member's ability to deliver on any given night. We all feel capable of, and encouraged to, express ourselves any way we feel fit in the moment. This may come in an on the spot vocal harmony, an improvised interlude between songs, or like our last show at the North Star in Philly - getting lost in manipulating the shit out of some wacky sound. When you look up and see that your band is smiling with approval every time, you really feel free. And that's what everyone wants, right?

Chris: Fun. And scary. I've played shows to completely unreceptive crowds and it sucks to not make an impact on those who are watching you do the one thing you absolutely love in life. But that's how it goes sometimes and the only thing you can do is use it to better yourself as a musician. Playing anywhere outside of where you're more known is tough.

Mitchell: Establishing yourself in a place like Philadelphia is much more difficult then gaining acclaim in your hometown. We have been working hard to grab attention and earn respect at the venues we play.

Liam: Playing around Philadelphia is excellent. It's a completely different scene than our hometown, Harrisburg PA. People are way more supportive and interested in what you have to offer before they just disregard you.

P2P: What means have you used to go about booking these shows?

Mitchell: It has become a collaborative effort. The band working alongside some close friends have managed to keep us gigging pretty consistently.

Chris: Being friends with other local bands has really benefited us as well. We've been asked to play shows that need an opening spot and we're always glad to take up the offer. It's the same if we ever need another band to play with us.

Ryan: Meaghan!

P2P: Why should our readers go see you guys at the The Fire on October 23?

Ryan: We have such a great time with each other on stage, and we love to share it with whomever comes out to see a show. The love we all have for one another translates, I think, and people can come away with a feeling of hope and a personal connection. You might be exhausted, but you'll have a smile on your face.

Mitch: You will love the genuine energy. You can feel it in the music and see it on the stage.

Mark: I leave the earth more than three times during every show. And I want to take you with me.

Chris: Through our actions on stage, we let you know how much we love to play music. That, and Mitchell head bangs so hard that he has to wear Croakies to keep his glasses on.

P2P: Every band’s got a show that ended in catastrophe, or at least did for a member. Let’s hear about it.

Chris: Well I wouldn't call it a catastrophe at all, but when we played The Note in West Chester a few weeks back, the snare strainer on my snare drum snapped halfway through our set. I had a tom for a snare, but I don't think many people noticed.

Ryan: I noticed. You're fired.