The last year has been a busy one for most bands in Denver and The Photo Atlas has definitely had its plate full. Their first full-length release on Morning After Records, No, Not Me, Never, debuted at #43 on the CMJ charts, which according to drummer Devon Shirley, beat out We Are Scientists, who moved up to #2 thereafter. They were also front and center on Purevolume.com, getting 20,000 plays within a two week period.
It’s no shock that the future looks bright for The Photo Atlas. Right out of the gate the band hit the Denver kids with an almighty tide of cut glass, post punk tones that consistently get the crowds dancing at a frenetic pace. Now they’re ready to spread the word, pouncing on a tour with Little Brazil out of Omaha, which include members of the Good Life and Desaparecidos.
Shirley believes that it was the rig
ht move to get the most bang for their buck versus trying to head out on the road on their own. “We all love touring,” he explains, “but financially you can’t just book a tour and play somewhere that has eight people and make 20 bucks. It’s a waste of time.”
He also believes their style of music will appeal to the fans of Little Brazil. “You have to tap into the right people. I mean, if we were playing Herman’s Hideaway, people would ask, ‘Who are these guys?’”
Anticipating the months to come while reflecting on their start, Shirley explains how long time friends of the band’s guitarist Bill Threlkeld talked him into moving from Denver to Morgan Hill, a small town near Santa Cruz, California. Those friends were bassist Mark Hawkins and singer/guitarist Alan Andrews, but according to Shirley, Threlkeld began to question the move once he got there. “Things were not going good because there’s a million bands out there,” he states, “Plus, the music scene is not as cohesive and collaborative as it is in Denver. Everyone just does their own thing.”
The sound of the threesome wasn’t being well received either. “People were like, ‘Oh, we like P.O.D.’ and stuff like that and they were doing more alternative, indie rock like At The Drive In.”
After a while Threlkeld had enough and planned his move back to Denver, inviting Andrews and Hawkins to join him. Meanwhile, Shirley was putting his own music plans in motion. Picking up a flyer Shirley had been distributing, Threlkeld knew they had meet, which they did…at Denny’s of all places. “I wasn’t 21…I think I was 19,” he says, laughing.
Andrews taunts fans with a little ankle action
The union didn’t start with the proverbial jam session, the two just bonded over loving the same kind of music. “I could have been the suckiest drummer ever, but he wanted us to make a band. At that time nobody loved the same kind of music I did. My ex-girlfriend got me into a lot of it. That was the only good thing that came out of that [relationship]; good music.”
After Andrews and Hawkins pulled up their roots and left California for Colorado, the foursome began playing daily. “It felt right. I’ve played with three or four other people and it was just horrible. Now, I love my band. I’m really glad that it happened. I could care less if anybody really likes it. I really like it.”
Having seen them at Forest Room 5 during those early days, it was evident that Atlas’ atomic energy could spin within a very, very small space. Devon winces, thinking back on that night. “That was the worst show I’ve ever played. My drums were malfunctioning and falling over. After a while, I didn’t care.”
Their home and favorite venue to play has always been Hi-Dive, and at the recent SXSW fundraiser held in preparation for the Mile High Fidelity parties in Austin, fans bid on dates with several local bands and got a chance to see the new video from Photo Atlas. “It looks really cool and it totally portrayed us live,” he says, hesitating, “I just don’t like watching myself. It’s weird.”
So far the group’s tours have consisted of only four or five gigs at a time, so this new tour with Little Brazil will be their longest stretch thus far, playing 21 dates from March 10 through April 1. The foursome meets up with the headliner at SXSW and takes off from there. “I think we’re going to be in San Francisco for my birthday,” Shirley boasts, “which is awesome.”
Since the foursome started, in Denver alone they’ve been able to snag gigs that as music fans, have been on the surreal side. “Minus the Bear? I thought I’d never get to play with them,” Shirley recalls, shaking his head. “Or, These Arms Are Snakes? I’d been listening to their album for months. We got to play with them again and again and now they know us. When I was in high school I loved Alkaline Trio, and we got to play a sold out show with them at the Fox.” Then there was a recent show with Reggie and the Full Effect at Hi-Dive. “I was listening to them when I was in 10th grade. Now we’re playing with them,” he boasts, smiling.
The Photo Atlas has three SXSW warm up parties with The Swayback here at home, including the Black Sheep in Colorado Spring on Friday, March 3, Saturday, March 4 at Hi-Dive, March 5 at the Fox in Boulder with Signal to Noise and The Vanity, and then a show at The Starlight in Ft. Collins on March 8 with Action, Action and Something For Rockets.
Dan Rutherford and Shirley at a furious game of “kick the can”
Then the boys leave town for gigs at SXSW in between their tour with Little Brazil, including an after hours party on March 15, the Mile High Fidelity Party March 16 at Habana Calle 6 and the MH Fidelity Party Part Deux at Lombardi’s Gallery with Denver’s VAUX and a number of other bands on March 18.
“This year I’m really excited for Southby,” Shirley says, reflecting back on their slot at last year’s Mile High Fidelity party in Austin. “Last year it was cool we played that one show, but it was sort of on the outskirts. This year the showcase is right across the street from Emos, so I’m really excited to see how it turns out.”
The band also has five new songs they wrote a week after they recorded No, Not Me…, three of which are expected to be released on an EP that will be sold at local retailers.
To check out some of some of the band’s tracks and full tour schedule:
Read our review of No, Not Me, Never: