Recently we were able to catch a quick phone call with Shannon Vetter of Big Atomic to chat about their recent EP release and just what makes Big Atomic tick.
Let’s get started! Could you give us a quick introduction to who you are and your role in Big Atomic?
I’m Shannon, I play saxophone and write songs and sing…I’m like the go to guy.
The name Big Atomic, love that name, could you give us a little background on where that came from?
To be honest with you, the origins are kinda mysterious. Part of it might have to do with Paducah Kentucky, Atomic City, where I lived for a while and Big Atomic was originally based out of. But we’ve also always been interested in science and space, so there’s some of that mixed in. Big Atomic…it’s an oxymoron right? It’s a Modest Mouse-ism ya know.
You guys recently released an EP called Body Politic correct?
You guys touched on some pretty sensitive topics. What made you want to write an EP and include those kinds of narratives?
Well, last summer we were involved in some protest specifically trying to get some justice for Breonna Taylor, who was murdered in Louisville, Kentucky by the police while sleeping in her home with sort of a no knock warrant and kind of a bad warrant, all for a crime she didn’t have anything to do with. After the George Floyd protests went up, Louisville went up too. Specifically to try and get justice for Breonna Taylor, so we were around that. We had been writing about Trump for years, that dude was an asshole. We had one song that mentioned his tiny hands but we scratched that one. We’ve always written somewhat political tunes but we had started writing specifically about getting justice and sort of just our current lives as millennials watching all the wealth move away from us and seeing where our parents were as boomers at 25-35 with houses and mortgages, and where we are as renters with not much to our names.
I can definitely relate to that. [laughter]
Exactly. So we’ve been writing a lot about that, seeing the wealth move away from the middle and the lower class for the last forty years. Then when all these protests happened we just started trying to do our best to read, and learn, and educate ourselves. It really felt, for a time at least, we were a part of a real movement. The biggest movement since the 60’s really. Some would say bigger, more people, the protests that happened happened in 300 countries last summer. It’s huge, fucking huge.
So from this EP, which of those songs mean the most to you personally?
“Justice Denied” is supposed to be the single that’s the proper protest song. I actually wrote it after getting [tear]gassed and shit like that. But I like “Let It Slide”, I like the resolution…the calm. It’s a little…a little anticlimactic maybe? It kind of says “we’re just going to have to keep moving, it’s not a triumphic win but we just have to keep pushing on”. I feel that one possessed me. The other three tunes feel so angry, so angsty, so charged. Which is definitely how I felt all of last summer, but now kind of looking back on it and listening back now, I like “Let It Slide”. It feels a little more…we can breathe for now at least.
Now Big Atomic blends a lot of different sounds. We’ve got a little bit of rock, a little R&B, a little bit of funk. Where does all this inspiration come from to get those genres to blend so seamlessly?
I kind of started out doing Motown and Blues when I was real young. Big fan of classic rock, I went through a punk and a ska phase in the 90’s. Went through an indie rock phase in the 2000’s. Then we’re all jazz students, we were formally jazz students at University of Louisville and around town so we have some of that thrown in there.
This band was formed in 2013, which is now nearly a decade ago. Was there a moment in there that you realized this would be a part of your life forever?
I don’t know, I hope so. I think it’s a vehicle. We’ve kind of always known we would always do music, in any way we could. It just feels like a vehicle for expression in any way. There’s so much performance that goes into it, shows are like theater almost. It just feels very…it feels like even if we weren’t doing Big Atomic we’d still be doing Big Atomic.
Now in the next ten years, what do you see happening for Big Atomic?
We’re going to hit a bunch of festivals…we’re going to put out a full length. We’re going to lean a little heavier into horn driven funk and lean into that because that’s what really puts a crease in my khakis. We might not be as political, we might go back to singing about space and stuff like that…I don’t know!
If people could walk away with one single thing from your music, what do you want them to take away?
From this last EP I really just want people to remember that it happened. I’m just a white guy from Kentucky, I have no authority on these things. I’m trying to sing about my experience and that’s all I can really talk about with any authority is my experience. I just don’t want people to forget that it happened…that we’re fighting and that people have been fighting for decades and decades and hundreds of years now. People are still really fighting and we’re just trying to raise awareness, get some equity, get some equality, and get out from under the thumb of the police state.
For our readers who are just now hearing about Big Atomic, where can they find you?
Anything coming up you want to give a shoutout to?
Floyd Fest is coming up next in Floyd, Virginia on July 23rd and 24th!