Adam Goren and Harold Martin Tillmann have been touring the country together for the past three months, driving from city to city in an SUV owned by Goren's mother. They've been playing supper clubs, steak houses, and campus co-ops, and sleeping on college dorm floors. To Goren, it's not so much a tour as a way of life, and there's no other musician he'd rather be spending his time with than Tillmann.
"He's sitting right next to me," says Goren via cell phone while driving through northeast Colorado on the way to a gig in Denver. "We've known each other for a couple of years, and we get along really well. On this tour, it's more about traveling as friends. The music is still very important to both of us, but it's just fun."
The pairing of Goren and Tillmann is a completely logical double bill. Both perform and record under pseudonyms: Goren as Atom and His Package and Tillmann as the R&B/disco freak Har Mar Superstar. Both come from the 'burbs: Goren from outside of Philadelphia and Tillmann from outside of Minneapolis. And both use lo-fi synthesizers: Goren, a QY700 Music Sequencer (the "package"); Tillmann, a sampler with prerecorded music. They've even put out a split single together -- an EP called "Shopping Spree." And, perhaps most significantly, whether or not they admit it, both are geeky white guys who have somehow found a way to appeal to the hipper-than-thou indie-rock contingent.
"If it means smart and wears glasses and doesn't give a fuck if they have fancy clothes and shit like that, then fine, I'm a nerd," says Goren. "I was listening to the Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat with the people I was friends with and still am friends with when I was in grade school. We were smart kids, but we were pissed off, too. We weren't smart, boring kids. We were pissed off about shit that existed in American middle schools and high schools. When you picture nerds, it's not like there's a bunch of us with pocket protectors who were in the math team -- well, some of us were in the math team. But it's not like that. We were smart kids who weren't assholes."
While still in junior high, Goren played in numerous punk bands. One of them -- a group named Fracture -- actually went on a national tour and released an album before calling it quits in 1995. After the band split up, a friend of Goren's played him a song he wrote on a sequencer, and Goren fell in love with the primitive instrument. After finishing college, he bought a sequencer and started writing songs of his own.
"It's really versatile, 'cause there're so many different sounds on it," Goren says. "You can make some pretty interesting sounds. People ask me if I think it's limiting, but the question doesn't make any sense, because you could ask the same thing about guitar, bass, and drums. It allows me to be really productive, because it's just me doing it."
The instrument's compact size makes it easy for Goren to tour extensively; he doesn't need a tour bus or even a van to haul his gear. While many artists who record for small independent labels lack the funds to go on long tours, Goren tours nine months of the year. He enjoys the strange circumstances in which he often finds himself.
"The most unusual one was the show I played in Germany on the back terrace of this guy's third-floor apartment," he recalls. "For some reason, there was a wood deck-like thing that was covered in sod in this courtyard of an apartment building. There were old people sticking their heads out of the window while I sat on this roof playing for six German kids. That was pretty goddamned weird."
Despite spending so much time on the road, Goren's still been able to record. In the five years that he's performed as Atom and His Package, he's released three studio albums, a collection of B-sides called Making Love, and several singles. The titles of Goren's songs alone suggest his off-kilter sense of humor -- he's written "Pumping Iron for Enya" as a tribute to the Irish new-age singer and "Hats Off to Halford" in honor of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford coming out of the closet. While Redefining Music features its share of quirky songs -- "Mission 1: Avoid Job Working With Assholes," for starters -- it's also a more serious endeavor. In "If You Own the Washington Redskins, You're a Cock," Goren criticizes the football team for sticking with a name that's derived from a racist stereotype. He also takes the Cleveland Indians to task and imagines what would happen if "the Minnesota Vikes became the New York Kikes with dollar bills on their helmets." And he's not just kidding around either.
"I think the name is completely offensive, and I cannot believe that it still exists to this day," he says of the Redskins. "That song is straightforward. It's completely fucked up. Even your own Cleveland Indians, while it's not as horrible, it's still ridiculous, with the caricature-like logo. I can't believe it still exists today. They should just change it."
Could it be that Goren, a punk-rock kid with attitude to spare, has a politically correct streak running through his blood?
"I can't use a blanket term like PC for my views," he says. "I do have strong opinions about what I think is right. I think it's fucked up that there's these teams with logos and the tomahawk. I don't know what the term PC means. It has such a horrible connotation. If it means changing something that's less offensive [for] people who don't deserve it, then I am. I truly do feel that way and am not just playing a song because I think it's funny."
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