LOAD UP ON GUNS! Music with a message, and no shortage of irony.
A is for Atom is a melodic driven alt band founded by Mike Cykoski in early 2012 based in Brooklyn, NY.
After an exploratory journey involving sideman gigs, relocations, and music school, New York transplant Mike Cykoski has shaken off his past and found his future, resurfacing in Brooklyn with a two-EP solo bow of literate, conceptual, thoughtful and playfully-orchestrated modern rock. Ironically Mike’s decision to leave the hired-gun musician hustle came when he netted an audition with pop-rocker Gavin DeGraw.“That was the trigger on the path to becoming a solo artist,” Mike reveals. “I was in his apartment and he played many songs on the piano; they were all so good and he impressed me. It was right before he flew to LA to do the showcase that got him a record deal.”
Inspired by songcraft and the art of composing, Mike enrolled in the prestigious NYU music technology master’s degree program, later also taking courses at the world renowned Julliard, and expanding his horizons by completing certificates for Harvest Works and Dubspot, further exploring his interest in electronic music.
It was there at NYU that Mike met his producer Julian Cassia in a film scoring class. Julian was a fan of Mike’s compositions and his appreciation for Mike’s writing style and his international aesthetic perspective provide the tunes with some tastefully ethnic flourishes and, at times, some sturdy Brit-pop hooks. The project began in earnest when Mike finished his master’s thesis and landed a steady job. He was feeling optimistic and introspective.
“I wanted to set some goals, and I really wanted to do an album,” he explains. “I got this job, I got the funding, I got this producer; I said it out loud and it happened.”
The result was two five-song EPs threaded with the concept of the loneliness and the futility of the existentialist’s quest. Packed within this overarching theme Mike alludes to a film noir-like sense of big-city alienation, Emily Dickinson, Joseph Campbell, the Meat Puppets and Kurt Cobain, and the artful logic of classical compositions like Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” with A Is For Atom pondering life’s meaning from an introspective point of view while Song For You boasts a more outward visage and its compositions are more upbeat and lively.
While the tracks of A Is For Atom find Cykoski’s protagonist in search of love and connection through tracks like “Creation,” inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth and “See You Again,” a track “about fearing love but still wanting to find it,” Song For You explores what happens after. Here, he’s found love and then lost it and these songs consistently echo with heartbreak, even if the sonic template resonates with a surprisingly happy shimmer. Drawing fuel and emotional inspiration from his divorce, Cykoski offers up the title track, sharing, “”Song for You” was the last thing that my ex said to me, that “you never wrote a song for me”…it just seems to be the theme. The break up theme.”
“The White Dress” lets Mike tap into his literary side, conjuring a lyric that finds Emily Dickinson’s lover faced with the pressure of writing back to the celebrated poet, incorporating a number of references to Dickinson, Robert Frost, and more across the way while “India” takes a more personal angle, drawing on stories from Cykoski’s father who served in the Air Force, working at a high profile missile silo and explores the pressures of working every day under the pressure of potential war and catastrophe.
“Bombs Away” adds the layer of war-as-metaphor-for-love to the mix. The parallel is between a WW2 bomber knowingly entering a death-is-the-only-way-out warzone but carrying on the mission nonetheless, and a gun-shy lover pursuing a romantic interest. The track has an ebullient gait with an infectious groove set against a winsomely lax vocal melody and Mike’s soulfully weary vocals and bittersweet harmonies recall the tender introspective side of Kurt Cobain, when the grunge pioneer was channeling both his inner Beatle and David Bowie. The Seattle Scene of the 1990s was a formative influence on Mike and he’s remained committed to that movement’s thoughtful and sincere content.
Mike’s knack for melding emotionally direct lyrics with refined, nuanced compositions stems from the dual influences of his parents—his mother was an Irish folk singer and his father a film-score buff. In music school, as an undergrad and a grad student, he was able to study and readily identify the qualities of film scoring that he was initially attracted to, like the classical structure of these evocative pieces of music.
“I listen to classical music, how operas are written like stories, and my lyric structures appropriate this compositional style where the chorus is an aria and the verse is a recitative,” he explains.
And as Cykoski expands upon those ideas, drawing from old foundations to build new, he adds his own inventiveness and honesty to the mix. The assuredness and clarity reflected in the artist’s work displays boldly vulnerable feelings that could only come from the introspective journey of leaving the safety of playing someone else’s music to discover the music within.