Nick LaFalce provides a track-by-track breakdown of the new EP, which tackles senseless tragedy, the perils of technology and his decade-long battle with Lyme Disease
I knew I was going to force Nick LaFalce of Atlas Engine to be my best friend when he walked into the Radio Free Brooklyn booth as the very first guest on the first BdBK episode ever wearing a yellow t-shirt with a bear pilot on it that said “Flying is just plane fun!” (And after a few shots at Our Wicked Lady after the show, I’m sure I told him.)
Over the last year and a half, my promise… proposal… prophecy… whatever you want to call it…actually came true: Nick and I did become best friends, planning a killer SXSW 2020 showcase (RIP) and trading wrestling memes, band gossip and, most importantly, dating app screenshots back and forth on a daily basis.
But it wasn’t just stories, jokes and shark GIFs that characterized our conversation. There was also, like any dynamic between two slightly obsessive people who make stuff, a continuous stream of updates on our respective projects. This meant that along with standard BFF communication, I also had the privilege of being privy to the intensive process that was the recording of Atlas Engine’s debut LP. A few parts I witnessed via video, many I heard about via text, and one piece I witnessed IRL while sprawled on Nick’s bed, drinking hard seltzer and contributing moral support via frequent thumbs-up as he and his bandmate tracked vocals in his gloriously MacGyvered makeshift closet-turned-vocal-booth.
Over the course of the pandemic, Nick had adopted the mantra Do it right, and it’s one we’ve traded back and forth for the better part of a year as we worked. What I didn’t know until very recently, though, is that as he was pouring his heart, soul and time into his art (+ listening to me bitch about boys in his spare time), he was also dealing with the life-altering pain, frustration, and chronic fatigue that characterize Lyme Disease—
A revelation makes the ambitiousness of this Atlas Engine project even more impressive and Nick’s already emotionally stirring art even more moving.
As of last Friday, When The Compass Resets… Part 1—the first EP in a series of three—is out in the world. And in true Atlas Engine form, it features lush and layered instrumentals, with thought-provoking, empathy-inducing lyrics tackling issues both widely relatable and painfully personal.
“I spent 10 years going to dozens of doctors that told me there was nothing wrong with me,” Nick told me. “Fighting an invisible enemy every day can take a toll on how you perceive everything, and while all of these songs were written before Covid, but it’s been interesting to see how some of these specific themes and struggles have suddenly become more universal.”
Now, a week after the release of Part 1, I’m thrilled to present some inside insight on the EP via a track-by-track breakdown from my favorite human himself.
WHEN THE COMPASS RESETS…PART 1 —TRACK BY TRACK:
“As You Are“
“This was the first song written for the record and set the course for the rest. I instantly knew it was special from the first voice memo I made on my phone and it became a crowd favorite once we played it live. It was written in 2017 and it was recorded THREE times before we got it right.
‘As You Are’ both mourns and celebrates technology’s effect on society. Social networks provide access to niche communities that can help us better understand ourselves and find belonging. But we’ve obviously seen it can feed society’s ugly side as well. And in the post-Instagram world how much of what we see, how we act, and who we are online is actually real?”
“This is the first song I’ve written bass-first and is always a blast to play live. I also love this one because the bridge is driven by a bass/guitar line that I’ve had bouncing around, trying to fit into songs, since college! So I’m happy it finally has a home.
Zach Romano described its theme best – ”Modern Mind’ gets meta about the (f)utility of…looking from our anxious present to an even more anxious future: ‘In the future we will stay,’ sings LaFalce, ‘set to overanalyze.’ (Look at My Records)'”
“All I Want is Everything // Alternate State“
“I don’t know how to say when. I take on way too many creative projects, make too many social commitments, etc. And especially with a chronic illness that limits your energy, it’s really hard to accept having a disability and needing to say no sometimes. It’s also made maintaining relationships difficult, which is the angle this song explores. Meredith‘s voice blends really well with mine, so it was nice to be able to write this as a duet that represents both halves of a relationship.
I wanted the arrangement/production to match the theme of the song, so I chose to really lean into the ‘EVERYTHING’ part – electronic and acoustic elements interwoven throughout with lots of vocal melodies and stacked layers that build and swell until the ending just bursts.”
“With a new instance of gun violence almost every day – whether it’s mass shootings, police violence, or hate crimes – these lyrics were constantly being reworked until the night I recorded vocals. The line ‘How can it be / we lose count of tragedies?’ really sums it up. How devastating is it when you have to ask ‘Which Aurora shooting?’ or ‘Wait, another in Minneapolis?'”
“Thoughts and Prayers“
“I wanted to end the record with this idea for two reasons. First, the obvious epilogue on how our country responds to gun violence. The second is, I had asked one of my family members to help me research natural remedies and herbal supplements to help with my Lyme symptoms. I was having a really tough time at that point and was basically bed-ridden. After a week or so, I was excited to get a package in the mail from them – it was rosary beads. I slapped my head in livid frustration and then just burst out laughing. And with Part 2 due out in November, we had to make sure we ended it with a cliff-hanger :)”
When it comes to this EP, Nick definitely did do it right, and I can’t tell you how beautiful it is to see, and hear, the result.
Stay tuned and listen up—
There’s SO MUCH MORE Atlas Engine music to come.
Follow Atlas Engine at @atlasenginemusic, add the songs to your Spotify playlists and scoop up tunes (and tees) on bandcamp now!
Feature image provided by the artist.