Southern Psych-Rock band Atlantis Aquarius spent a chunk of 2019 touring for their new album Leo's Rising, and have spent the lockdown period finishing up and releasing two new singles and two new videos. What's next? Given how motivated they seem, it's not surprising that 2021 is likely to bring a new album from Nomad Eel Records.
Several band members recently appeared on Tower's Instagram Live show and played some acoustic versions of their songs, including new releases "Swimming In the Nile" and "Moonlight Night", and you can still watch that right here. You should also keep an eye out for their live performances and livestreams.
Lead vocalist and guitarist JC Aquarius also spoke with Tower's PULSE! below about spirituality in music, love for vinyl, and how they managed to record two singles and film two videos during Covid times.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m aware that you released a single, “Swimming in the Nile” and also a video for the song. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for the song and also how you managed to film a video during Covid times?
JC Aquarius: The inspiration is all things Egyptian and past lives. It was actually filmed at a creek that runs behind my house. We just literally took all our gear down to the creek and being outdoors gave us a little more liberty with the social distancing. We took some beers and had a fun time. We filmed down there, and the creek sort of looks like a river, which is what we were going for. It was a good time.
HMS: Did you have to do anything electronic to wire things up, or were the instruments just for visuals?
JCA: Well, maybe we shouldn’t release all these secrets, but whenever we release a live video, we’re not playing. Thankfully, we didn’t have to have too many electronics near the water!
HMS: There’s no shame in not electrocuting yourself. What brings you to all things Egyptian? I know the band has an interest in esoteric things, so is that where it comes from or it just more from pop culture?
JCA: I was raised in spiritual things. Growing up, I went to Bible College out of high school. After that, I was still searching, and I got into all things Masonic, and the Rosicrucians. You’re going to get Egyptian things if you get into all that. I mix a lot of astrology and Egyptology into my tunes.
HMS: There’s something kind of positive and reassuring about that song. It’s definitely not a downer song or a spooky song. It’s kind of inviting.
JCA: I’d like to think the majority of our music is feel good music. Seriously, I want to make people feel good. There’s a long instrumental that was a whole lot of fun to put together that you can just vibe to. The message is positive. We get into historical stuff about Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, and lovers past and present.
HMS: Would you say that the sounds you’re working with on that song are typical of the sounds your working with right now, or where you’re headed?
JCA: Most definitely. Our sound is Southern Psych, which I like to call it, or “Esoter-Rock”, which I’ve tried to coin. “Moonlight Night”, our next single, takes you back to that “Nibirian Sun” feel, which was the first single that popped on our first EP. But it’s Southern Psych too, so you’re going to get some ripping solos in there. Don’t be scared!
HMS: Was there a particular sense of development in sound between Leo’s Rising and these songs? I know you only just toured for Leo’s Rising at the end of 2019.
JCA: We’re always trying to go more far out and more Psych. I’ve been in projects in the past that were full of Southern Rock and Blues, and with this particular project, as you can see with the name Atlantis Aquarius, I was trying to get more far out and Psychedelic, so we’re always trying to push that boundary.
HMS: Has what you listen to changed over the past couple of years, or were you already familiar with these traditions?
JCA: Lyrically, this has always been my wheelhouse, but I would say my most recent influences, when writing this stuff, was probably a band called The Villagers, a band called Temples, and all the old school Rock ‘n Roll that I dig.
HMS: I notice that there are aspects of spirituality in some of your music, though I don’t think it’s very heavy. Do you have any thoughts about why that might be useful to people right now, in the times we’re living in?
JCA: Spiritual things are, I think, always valuable, particularly in this time when there’s so much division and propaganda coming at us. We have to take time, meditate, and step away from things. Without a doubt, spirituality in my opinion is valuable, and it’s woven into the music. Like I said, I want people to feel good when they hear my music.
HMS: Have you ever gotten any pushback from that? It seems like anyone who is very overt about a belief system might eventually be treated as a target, no matter how nice, or calm they might be about it. If you look different, if you sound different, somebody’s going to have a problem with it.
JCA: We haven’t gotten a ton of pushback, but if we did in future, I’d be very open to discussing it. With a term like “spirituality”, I think people do immediately start to judge you, thinking, “Oh, you’re trying to be spiritual.” But I think we should learn that we are not perfect human beings, clearly. Striving for these ideas, you’re going to fail, but it’s about doing your best and trying. It’s about treating others the way you want to be treated.
HMS: That’s very cool. I think that if you were to hold back about expressing your way of thinking or way of life simply to keep from ruffling any feathers, what would be the point of doing anything?
HMS: I really like one of your earlier songs, “Waiting On The Next Life”. I can hear a lot of Soul and Southern Rock influences there. I think that one has been pretty well received, too. That one includes several little stories and “Swimming in the Nile” suggests a lot of story, too, briefly. Is that element common in your music?
JCA: Storytelling and music are two things are very intertwined. I think that’s something a good songwriter should be trying to do. “Swimming in the Nile” is left a little bit more open, and you can take it where you want, whereas “Waiting on the Next Life” is pretty specific. The song is clearly about reincarnation.
I do try to weave in a lot of astrology and esoteric stuff into the music. There’s a story there about a life lived in one way and a life lived in another way, and I believe that we are all waiting on the next one, that we evolve in reincarnation. That we go from glory to glory, from greater things to greater things. For me, it makes a lot of sense. It helps me sleep at night.
HMS: That’s very cool how positive that take is. I’m not an expert at all, but reincarnation does seem to offer a lot of hope and joy, but depending on how you look at it, the mistakes that you’ve made can also be a big concern. And focusing on that could definitely bring you down as well.
JCA: I hate to get super-spiritual, but one of my favorite movies is Gandhi, where Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi. In the movie, a Muslim man is upset because he killed a Hindu child, and he thinks he’s going to hell. But Gandhi tells him, “I know a way out of Hell. Go find a Hindu child and raise him like a Hindu child.” It goes to show that we can reverse our sins, and there is hope.
HMS: That story really highlights ways to improve one’s karma, so to speak, if you are aware enough. That’s interesting.
Are you into vinyl? Is that part of wanting to release on vinyl?
JCA: I’m all about it. I have a big collection. Every music project I’ve been a part of, I’ve tried to put it on wax. That’s what’s been so great about Nomad Eel Records, who are huge vinyl fans. I got a call from Damon while we were on our Coast to Coast tour, in Nashville playing, and he asked if we wanted to be on the label. It seemed almost too good to be true. Vinyl is expensive, it’s not easy to do. I cannot say enough about how much Nomad Eel have helped us out putting everything on wax. They’ve been so good to us.
HMS: I’ve heard a lot of great things from other bands with Nomad Eel.
Were you always collecting vinyl, or were you aware of the gradual resurgence of vinyl?
JCA: Both. I always picked up records in thrift stores with my grandmother when I was like 8 years old in 1991 or 1992. The first I picked up were a Nat King Cole record and a Frank Sinatra record. Those were my first vinyls, since I knew their names.
After Bible College, I joined a Rock ‘n Roll band. I was the drummer for Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. We got signed to Atlantic Records in 2005 or 2006, and around that time I started noticing that you could still get records. I began to see that it was coming back. I really started diving deep then. I was really hoping that Atlantic would put out our record on vinyl, but they didn’t.
Later, I started a Blues duet called Rise and Shine, and we funded our own vinyl. It was a fun project. You can still find it online. We had a hit called “River Bottom”. But that’s why I say I’m so grateful since I know how hard vinyl is. When I started Atlantis Aquarius, which is a more far-out, Psychedelic project, to have the vinyl option from Nomad is just like Christmas.
HMS: Do you have feelings about the sound qualities of vinyl compared to other media?
JCA: I’m a big of a music snob, but I don’t have the most pristine record player in my house. I have a couple small ones I enjoy, but I do enjoy it more than digital.
HMS: Were you involved in the Production of Leo’s Rising and for these new songs?
JCA: Oh, yes, I’m always involved. I list myself as Producer. But for Leo’s Rising, I used Jason Burt, who’s a heavy-hitter in Dallas, who has his own project called Medicine Man. He helped me Produce, mix, and master Leo’s Rising. For these new tunes, I used Matt Pence, at Echo Lab, who’s another heavy-weight out here in Texas.
[Filming for "Moonlight Night"]
HMS: When you release albums or EPs, do you prefer for people to listen to whole albums in order, or are you a more song-by-song person?
JCA: I’d prefer they go through my whole catalog from end to end. [Laughs] But I have no preference. I’m just glad they are listening. I expect hardcore vinyl enthusiasts to dig in and the average easy listener to just enjoy it.
HMS: I can see that when you release singles, they have a strong personality to them, so I kind of assumed that since that’s helpful in the digital world.
JCA: I think these are all tools of a songwriter and they all have their purposes in what musicians put out, just like a base hit, a homerun, or a bunt. I try to do my best all these things.
HMS: What’s your process for writing songs like in recent years? How do you make choices about what songs you develop?
JCA: In my writing, when I was younger, I would try to pump out a song a day. I don’t do that anymore. I think it’s more organic when songs come to me, and I try not to press it. I tend to go in seasons. If I’m playing a bunch of live shows, I’m not writing a bunch. If I’m not playing a lot of live shows, I’m at the house and I am holding the guitar and trying to let the universe bring me these tunes. It’s much less forced these days and songs come faster to me these days.
HMS: That sounds less stressful.
JCA: I have been writing for 20 years and I am getting better at it, I hope. But you go to Nashville, and you hear these A&R reps saying, “You’ve got to have 30 songs,” and you get in that mindset. It’s oversaturating and tiring. Maybe it works for some folks but that’s not what works for me.
HMS: I’m so predictable, because I’m about to bring up The Rolling Stones. Readers are going to roll their eyes at me for this…
JCA: Did you see me online talking about The Rolling Stones?
JCA: That’s one of my favorite bands.
HMS: Wonderful. Well, I was going to point out that a lot of their songwriting has been for specific albums while in the studio based on what came up and happened in the studio.
JCA: That’s what I’m talking about.
HMS: That certainly works for some people.
Let’s talk about your newest single, “Moonlight Night”. When did you start working on that song?
JCA: I started working on that one last year, last summer. That’s when I added it to my marker board. The guys and I demoed it out in January. We had this song in our pocket and we started playing it. Then we hit Matt Pence up and went into the studio early this summer.
HMS: Were you pretty clear that you were going to release these singles in this order and make videos for them?
JCA: We had that thought last year, then when all this stuff happened, we pumped the brakes. Then we decided two singles would be good. We had “Moonlight Night” and came up with “Swimming in the Nile” pretty quickly.
We wanted “Swimming in the Nile” to be the summer release, and then going into autumn, the more vibey “Moonlight Night”. It’s got more vibe and it’s a lot more moody and riff-driven.
HMS: What about the video for “Moonlight Night”? I saw on Facebook some photo locations that looked like a farm.
JCA: Yes, we filmed at Tate Farms, a really incredible spot. They have a drive-in theater out there and a chapel. We also filmed at The Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas. That video was filmed by Cal Quinn and Aly Fae.
HMS: What’s a “guitar sanctuary”?
JCA: The Guitar Sanctuary is owned by the mayor of McKinney. It’s a venue and a high-end guitar shop.
HMS: Oh, nice.
JCA: The mayor and his wife have a band and they are really good people. They made the Sanctuary feel like a second home for us.
HMS: What are your future plans for release?
JCA: “Moonlight Night” is our last single of 2020 but we have plans for a full-length album in 2021.