From its birth in the ’70s on down through today, punk rock has managed to hang onto much the same uniform. The music’s most die-hard adherents wear colored, spiked hair and menacing expressions, festooning their bodies with piercings and tattoos.
Now consider Adam “Atom” Goren, a slightly chubby guy with a squeaky voice who nevertheless — with the help of “His Package” — is single-handedly steering a new course in the genre.
The Package in question is something like a band in a box. More exactly, it’s a series of electronic gizmos called sequencers that allow him to fill a room with a wall of sound that can rival a 10-piece band.
But let’s back up: If things had gone a little differently in his last year of college, this arguable innovator might have become a high-school teacher instead. He wouldn’t have lacked qualifications: Goren holds an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and a master’s in education, and he’s certified to teach both chemistry and biology at the high-school level. During college, he was the guitarist for Fracture, a noted Philadelphia-based punk band. When the band split up about six years ago, it left Goren with creative drive and loads of free time — but no band to make the music happen.
So he bought a sequencer and wrote a few goofy songs that were little more than jokes for his friends. Then — still as a joke — he started to play them for people live. And somehow, Atom & His Package became an entity in its own right.
The name, Goren revealed recently via an e-mail interview from Europe, came from “a really, really stupid part of my brain that thought it’d be a good/funny name for a band that … was essentially me and my music sequencer.” Gradually, through nearly constant touring and recording (and the addition of more sequencers), he’s managed to become a rebel icon in an already rebellious field.
Why a rebel? Because fundamentally, unshakably, Goren is a nerd. He sings in a near-whiny, high-pitched voice and looks about as punked-out as Dubya — yet all the elements that make up the soul of punk are there in his music.
Quite a few people take issue with Atom’s approach: “I receive plenty of hate mail,” he reveals with no qualms. “There are plenty of people who don’t think what I do is punk. It doesn’t bother me; I write songs and do things in a way that I feel comfortable. If someone doesn’t think that’s punk, that’s fine with me.”
Many others love him, regardless of whether what he does passes the punk test or not. For his part, Goren’s happy to be billed as punk, but overall he isn’t too worried about the terminology.
“I don’t think about a name for it too much … I suppose that they’re just pop songs that, because they’re recorded using the sequencer and guitar, sound like synthesized punk or something like that.”
Generally, punk fans tend to like their music simple and raw, but Goren manages to slide in an occasional key change without raising too many eyebrows. And, in a genre that too often tends to nurse angst to the point of tedium, he’s not afraid to show his wit. For proof, check out “(Lord it’s Hard to be Happy When You’re Not) Using the Metric System.”
When he sings about his dream of a “Punk Rock Academy” (a song that’s approached anthem status in some regions, due to its inclusion on various compilation albums), people listen. In his song “Pumping (Fe) [iron] for Enya,” Atom relates his efforts to get buff so as to catch the attentions of the very-unpunk New Age singer Enya. In “What We Do on Christmas,” he adamantly blasts the stupidity of those who believe in a Jewish conspiracy — a subject close to home for Goren, who’s probably the most outspoken Jew in punk music.
“I really only consider myself a Jew culturally, and not a religious Jew, if that makes any sense,” he clarifies. “I don’t believe in the God stuff, but I do feel it’s important for me to identify as being a Jew.”
In his theme song of sorts, “Atom & His Package,” Goren manages, in a few lines, to sum up the whole concept behind his “band” while simultaneously displaying a classic punk brattiness: “I travel the world, with my band in a box/And I rock ten times harder than your average punk-rock band/I can’t fly, I can’t dance, and I don’t like your band, listen up, ’cause I am Atom/I am the sequencing man.”
So check him out — if nothing else, you might learn a little more about the metric system.