A IS FOR ATOM

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A Is For Atom is a melodic alternative band based in Brooklyn, New York, founded by Mike Cykoski in 2012. A Is For Atom has released two albums, most recently “Song For You” and a self-titled EP previously. After an exploratory journey involving sideman gigs, geographic relocations, and music school, Mike has resurfaced with two EPs of literate, conceptual, thoughtful and playful, orchestrated modern folk-rock. Enjoy our interview with Mike below!

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What life experiences and events inspired the writing and recording of your latest release “Song For You”? 

“The songs on the album were inspired by living in New York City (I’ve been here 13 years now) along with the end of my marriage. The album represents a bookend to a period of my life. I was going through a lot of anger: we broke up and shortly after I was assaulted/mugged in Brooklyn. I felt like I had hit bottom in a lot of ways. The songs have a lot of violent themes, (including) bombs and guns, but there are definitely themes about my ex in there. She had said that I never wrote a song for her, so I used that. We had often read a lot of Emily Dickinson, and my ex’s favorite poem was called “Presentiment”. I reference that poem in the song ‘The White Dress’. The Emily in that song is Emily Dickinson, so that song is very emotional.” 

How has the Brooklyn, New York area influenced you, both personally and musically? 

“I’ve always loved this city. I used to play here with Zuba before I lived here. We also recorded the final Zuba album in New Jersey and stayed in Harlem. When I moved here, I was trying to get into the music scene, similarly to when I moved to Boulder, but it was much harder for me here. I played in a few bands but was unhappy. I decided to go to music school after I tried out for Gavin DeGraw; I didn’t get the gig, but we hung out after at a bar and played pool. He was really together, and it inspired me to get a solo project going. It took a while, but I finally released the albums!” 

You’ve performed at Bowery Electric, Arlene’s Grocery, and The Bitter End within the past year. What are a few of your favorite venues in New York? 

“I love those venues. I also really like Rockwood Music Hall, where I spend a lot of time. Sometimes I head out to the Rock Shop in my neighborhood as well.” 

Who are your biggest musical influences? How are they interpreted or showcased in your original compositions? 

“My biggest influences are probably Harry Nilsson, The Beatles, Scott Walker, The Band, Bob Dylan, The Meters, and Neutral Milk Hotel.” 

How is “Song For You” different from “A Is For Atom”? 

“They were recorded at the same time, but I think that the songs on “Song For You” get into more intense emotional themes. The first EP dealt with coming to terms with life rather than the emotions of breakups, etc.”

What has it been like working on your albums with Julian Cassia? 

“Julian is an amazing producer: he has a Brit-Pop sensibility mixed with Middle East influences (he’s from Lebanon and grew up between London and Paris). Interestingly, when we recorded the album, the recording engineer was Persian American, and Julian’s girlfriend at the time was Israeli; I think that there is a subtle Middle Eastern vibe that was brought into the arrangements.”

What can you tell us about your time at NYU, where you pursued a master’s degree in music technology? 

“It was a wonderful experience. I worked with Deniz Hughes, Morton Subonick, Joel Chadabe, Robert Rowe, and Ira Newborn, to name a few. I did a lot of film music composition as well as music engineering. I took a songwriting class with Ira Newborn (where I met Julian) and decided that I really loved songwriting more than film scoring. I did write a few film scores and really enjoyed that, one of which was performed at the Lincoln Center for an NYU-sponsored score competition. That was one of the highlights of my education.”

What was your experience like working with 12 South Music on your website? 

“12 South is great. I’m really bad at websites, social media, etc. It’s one of my goals to get better at that, but in the meantime 12 South was able to guide me, since I don’t have much of an idea about what I want in a website. I think they do a wonderful job!” 

Can you tell us about some of the artists you auditioned with or played for during your time as a hired gun? What about your time in Zuba?

“I played with a few Colorado bands (Sponge Kingdom, Buzz Harvest, and Zuba). After Zuba split I moved to Louisiana and played with the Vince Converse Band. The Vince Converse Band was really fun but exhausting. It was the polar opposite of Zuba (who were very health conscious); Vince was not by a long shot. Zuba was a lot of fun, too; I was younger and unprepared for the pressures of touring extensively. I did a lot of regrettable, stupid things on the road (every now and then I remember something and wince). We played something like 200 shows per year, and the band eventually fractured. When I moved to New York City, I played with a band called the Shade, kind of an Alt-Country band. I tried out for a lot of bands here but nothing ever worked out. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, and I definitely didn’t want to tour. That’s when I got the Gavin DeGraw tryout and effectively ended my career as a sideman.” 

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