Written by Joanna Thomas, Photography by Justin Borucki
Music and science swirl and blend as intellectual rock band Psychology releases their debut self titled album on September 8 with Cart/Horse Records. Lead vocalist and instrumentalist John Atkinson aims to affect the heart and head simultaneously with poignant lyrics and fuzzy, distorted sound. This 11-track collection of love songs ethereally describes the obstacles of regular life and relationships.
During his studies in educational psychology, John realized the potential impact of music as neural therapy, especially for defending against such devastating illnesses as Alzheimer’s and dementia. “When I was getting my master’s degree in Educational Psychology, we were studying lifespan,” he explains. “I was reading about how picking up a new language or learning an instrument is really good for your brain…I decided to reeducate myself by playing guitar. Almost immediately, music started coming out of me.”
After seemingly coincidental connections with producer Tom Beaujour and engineer Tim Fljahn, the beginnings of Psychology began to surface. While John talentedly performs guitar, bass, and vocals, Dave Richman adds eclectic drums to the carefully pieced together album. “It took a long time,” John notes. “There was a lot going on personally and around me, but eventually I just went for it. I quit my job doing special ed counseling and curriculum design. Everything sort of went into the record. This is my main focus right now.”
The album begins instrumentally, sans vocals, as much of the album focuses on the interaction between the mind and just the music alone, though it doesn’t take long for the more typical rock sounds to shine through in “First Contact,” the second song on the album and first single released. In a Black Sabbath inspired track, John marries his hazy vocals with buzzing guitars and deep drum grooves. The guitar soars into a solo imitating a fundamental change of his fate as he sings about the first time meeting his wife.
No sooner does the last note end when the album abruptly changes direction to ethereal and atmospheric, and yet another track titled “Blue” simplifies to hand percussion, acoustic guitar, and understated vocals. As John patterns throughout the album, heavier drums and electric guitar mark emotional touchpoints. By the time the listener finishes the warbling, distorted guitar melody of “SSF” and its three-minute long, slowing building, single tone, their mind is fully engaged.
“Our Broken Heart,” the most recent single, travels through the inevitable pains lovers experience together. John describes the rock tune, “I think when people hear the song they’ll view it as an outlier compared to what’s going on with the first two singles musically and thematically. In the context of the album however, and as it stands on its own, it makes perfect sense. There’s a balanced structure present on the record and this song represents that.”
John does not shy away from the uncomfortable truths of life and relationship. “Death Charge,” a two-minute instrumental, leaks out strikingly dissonant and edgy, just as the title describes. “Feathers” floats through remembering specific hurtful words while “Waiting” captures both the joy and angst of waiting for each other.
The tenth guitar-driven track, “Rings,” celebrates his marriage with his wife. Stretching for almost nine minutes, the listener travels through their story as John promises “We will fool them / We will show them all.” John reveals, “I was going through the age where everyone’s getting married, and we were getting married as well. In my mind, I was excited for everybody else, but selfishly I didn’t care about their weddings, it was all about me and my wife! Musically, I definitely was thinking along the lines of ‘Three Days’ by Jane’s Addiction.”
The album wraps with “The Economy,” a single released last month. Juxtaposed against “First Contact” - which was about meeting his wife - this final, breezy rock track is about the journey afterward. Relationships seem exciting and simple but ultimately are deceptively complex as conveyed through the flurry of guitar work and husky vocals. John shares, “‘The Economy’ was, at first, an attempt at a candy pop song. I think I got that part down, but it also turned into something more. Something you can get lost in, like a love affair.” It ends with more instrumental than singing to pull the listener into an easy faded outro with simple strummed chords.
“My ambition is that I hope my music helps people to find their own ground,” he concludes. “I hope they take my songs, make them their own, interpret them as they wish, and somehow affirm themselves and say, ‘Yes’ to themselves. That’s the role music has played in my life.”