Breaking up is hard to do, but getting back together is even harder. After two years of hibernation, Orlando garage trio The Grizzly Atoms made the decision to reunite, start playing live again, and release a four-song EP of previously recorded material dubbed Witness. Those songs see the light of day this Friday at Spacebar, where the EP will be paired with cheatsheet covering the issues being voted on this November. See, the Grizzlies cite this election’s political climate as inspiration to reform. I spoke with Nik Sidella (vocals/guitar), Terran Fernandez (bass/backing vocals), and Nick Roe (drums) about all this and more over a bowl of Willie Nelson, a strain curated by the man himself. Enjoy.
TVW: You guys were praising me in [the practice room] and I really appreciate that, but I wanted to thank you guys because you The Grizzly Atoms was one of the first shows I saw when I moved to Orlando. It had to have been like four or five years ago, but I saw you at Uncle Lou’s and you had just released an album.
Nick Roe: I know what show you’re talking about. It was one of the first or second Lou’s shows we ever played, right after we released the album. The last time we played Lou’s was one of our last shows with [Room Full Of Strangers], but before that it had been like a year-and-a-half.
TVW: Do you remember who else played that show?
NR: (After we all fumbled about trying to remember) Ricin House!
TVW: Yeah, that sounds right.
NR: Ricin House, us, and… one of these other fuckin’ bands. I remember because it was one of the first shows I saw Ricin House. There was a light bulb above him, and he hit the light bulb with his guitar and was it was going back-and-forth. And it looked fucking awesome.
TVW: They had some amazing shows at Lou’s. I remember him taking his guitar off, breaking it, kicking the door open, and running out. That wasn’t that show.
Terran Fernandez: We played that show. We were there. I remember freaking out like “Oh my god, this guy is…” because it wasn’t just like a show thing. He was definitely upset and decided to break his gear. Didn’t Danelectro send him a new guitar because he told him that story?
Nik Sidella: Nice!
TVW: Okay, first question…
TVW: So, why did the band separate in the first place and why did you get back together?
N: We were in the process of ramping stuff up. We had talked about a bunch of stuff we hadn’t thought about before, the marketing side. The night before what became our last show, I got a call from my parents saying that my brother was in the hospital and that he might die. We played the show and then that was a continuous thing for the next three months. After that happened, I straight up told the guys, “Listen, I can’t do this anymore.” Trying to finish school, managing a job, and also trying to play music and get shows, it was a lot of stress.
NR: And there was some stuff with the band, limbo stuff. We had two or three different recordings that were like half-finished. We wanted to play shows, but it’s hard to book in Orlando if you’re not in the scene a lot. And with us being so busy, it was hard to meet people and be active. The strain of being in a band for years, [took its toll]. Taking some time away, as much of a bad thing as it sounds, it’s actually pretty therapeutic in a way.
N: I think after a few years apart, we got everything else figured out and now we’re in a place where we just want to play music and enjoy it again, to be a part of something again. Especially since we’ve seen the scene flourish in the past two years.
TVW: Playing together again, how have the older songs changed?
NR: We kind of like, fine-tuned everything. More vocal melodies, Nik’s soloing has gotten way better; the drums and bass vibe more.
N: We’re just a three-piece, so we have to maximize what we can do. And one thing you can really do with a three-piece is really play with the dynamics a lot. And that is what we tried to bring to the old songs, was focusing on the balance of loud and quiet.
TVW: Does it feel easier?
NR: Oh yeah, I think we can all say it feels better than before. Not having each other just makes us want each other more.
T: It’s definitely a different band, but I’m excited to see what’s happening now.
TVW: Different band, how?
T: Um, just the way we interact. There was a lot of disagreement back then about how to do things in the band. We’ve all come back with different gear and that makes a new sound. Nik has like seven-billion pedal boards. I’m like trying to keep up with him changing his tone so much. But it’s weird playing four-string again. I play six-string bass primary, because I play really technical metal [in my other band]. I can just settle and have fun. But as far as the future goes, I’m really excited to see where the music goes.
NR: I think we should take a four-year hiatus and think about it.
NR: yeah, we haven’t taken the time to write new stuff. We’re really playing our EP release show to release it and we’re going to go from there.
TVW: Is Witness new stuff?
N: This is stuff we recorded two years ago that we were playing live, but nothing we’ve released before. But with what Tarren said about new material, what I like about it is that we all have such various [tastes and styles] that I think we can bring that together and make some really, really cool stuff.
TVW: So take me through the moment where you actually decided to try this again?
NR: We would talk and jam once in a while. Nik’s really into Strangers stuff. He was doing the touring thing at the time. Terran is fucking touring. I’m kind of doing my own thing with two bands. Then I went out to drinks with Terran, and [Nik and I] would talk, but nothing really happened. Then they actually talked to each other and we decided to get together and have a meeting. It’s funny that the band broke up [behind Nik’s house] when Nik was going through all the stress and we decided to take a break. Two years later, we go back to the same spot and have the opposite of that conversation. We were also kind of nervous about the political situation, so that was another reason why. When shit is fucked up good music is made.
TVW: So what does the political climate have to do with The Grizzly Atoms?
N: There was this one song I had written the lyrics to called “Witness.” I go down the rabbit hole with like conspiracy theories a lot, and I also try to educate myself on what the established idea of what things are. And the song was about seeing the bullshit that goes on, seeing how money kind of dictates everything in this country, how the corporate elites have power over everything, seeing that and doing nothing about it. “I’m a witness, yeah, but do I really see? I’m a witness, yeah, but I never speak.” So my idea was to play a show but also raise political awareness.
TVW: And that’s where the show in October comes in.
NR: Being in a band, you have a platform. If you have a platform, use it!
TVW: Let’s talk more about the cheatsheet that you’ll be giving out at the show. Take me through the process of coming up with that.
N: When you vote, you see all this language about bills or names you don’t recognize and some people Christmas tree it.
NR: It’s confusing, sometimes you vote for someone who has the best name. Amendment One for instance, “Yes on One for the sun.” That’s completely falsified. It’s run by the utility companies trying to one-up the right to have free solar energy.
TVW: So with the cheatsheet, it’s focusing on stuff other than Trump and Hillary?
NR We’re trying to take an unbiased view with the candidates, the amendments, the people running for different offices, and giving pros and cons. Giving the information in a non-confusing way where they can see it and know what it is.
N: I think if people understand what they’re voting for, then that’s truly a democratic society. But I want to put out a disclaimer, this was made by people who lean towards the left side of things. We encourage you to do your own research because ultimately it’s not a democracy if you’re just pushing your own opinion on people. It’s only a democracy if you have your own point of view, and we think about it and talk about it and compromise.