The Songs Like To Be In Control: Interview with Atir
My wife and I love to indulge in new music during the holidays, buying the year’s trendiest pop album or a new soundtrack we want to get to know and then listening to it throughout our days off together. Consequently, each year ends up having its own signature soundtrack. Some years really stand out, like the holiday season of 2013, when Beyoncé dropped her eponymous, self-produced album.
This year, we fell in love with Archetype, singer/ songwriter Atir’s brand-new collection of songs, written between 2012 and 2016. “The songs on Archetype represent a quadrennium in a life. It has been a healing, therapeutic process watching them evolve over the last 4 years. They have been part of my personal soundtrack and I can only hope in listening to them, they somehow become part of yours,” Atir told me.
They’ve become a part of my winter soundtrack, and you can download them now on iTunes to make them a part of yours. In this interview, Atir and I discussed his writing process and the concept behind the album.
Kristy Lin Billuni: Your creative work is focused on music, but do you think of yourself as a writer too?
Atir: I do think of myself as a writer. I just use sheet music rather than journals to get it out.
KLB: This fascinates me because it’s such a different process, I think, to have the two layers of story and music. Do they compete, or does one lead the process?
A: Some of my writing is driven by the music; some of my music is driven by the writing. It all depends on who is in the driver's seat. The individual songs like to be the ones in control of that part. With music, sometimes it starts with a melody in my head or a simple idea for a story that I will evolve on piano or guitar. Some songs will get written from a melody I initially hum into my iPhone to come back to when they are ready to develop more. Music is always involved in the process. It is essential for the words to come out.
KLB: There are a lot of big ideas in the lyrics of these songs. What’s the inspiration?
A: The concept for this album is inspired by the work of Carl Jung and the 12 personality archetypes. I used the archetypes to lead the way: The Jester/"The Game," The Lover/"The One," The Innocent/"Jupiter Rising," The Visionary/"Uprise," The Caregiver/"I Will Follow You," The Explorer/"Down By The Water," The Ruler/"Babylon," The Creator/"Waltzing With Fireflies," The Orphan/"Urban Blues," The Sage/"St. Petersburg," The Rebel/"Joan of Arc," and The Hero/"Brave New World."
KLB: Were you going through something that drew you to the archetypes concept?
A: Approaching my 40s, when I started writing these songs, I found myself at a personal and professional crossroads and felt the need to reinvent how I saw myself and ultimately, how others saw me.
KLB:Can you talk about the process, how you approached the songs and each archetype?
A: I began writing from the point of view of a specific archetype. I have always been influenced by musical theater and the storytelling aspect of songwriting. I think of these songs as mini-musicals, each with their own characters and plot.
KLB: So each one is a story from your own life?
A: Some of the songs are about my own personal experiences ("Waltzing With Fireflies", "The One", "Jupiter Rising") while others were a voyeuristic glimpse into other lives.
KLB: For example?
A: "St. Petersburg", is about someone coming to terms with their homosexuality in a religious and gay coming out story about someone living in a homophobic environment; "Brave New World" is about “the dark hero” and both the opportunities and losses associated with the mixed experience of immigrating to a new place; "The Game" refers to the jester's fear of vulnerability and intimacy masked by coolness, indifference, and addiction.)
KLB: I love it when artists write from different points of view because it forces the reader or the listener to abandon assumptions about the artist. Where else did you draw these stories from?
A: I also turned to my history books to find inspiration for "Babylon," a ruler’s story of both greed and regret, and "Joan of Arc," the quintessential rebel. "Uprise” was inspired by the multiple social justice movements of the last 50+ years, channeling the power of the visionary archetype.
KLB: Do you have a favorite or a song that came more easily?
A: Some archetypes came easier to me while others were much more challenging to find. In the end, I discovered all of these aspects of the human psyche live inside me. Some just needed a gentle, creative push. I would say my favorite song is probably “Waltzing With Fireflies.” I wrote the song when I was feeling stuck in many areas of my life. The archetype is the creator, who pushes us to change and reimagine our lives. When I doubted myself on this journey, that song was my source of strength that got me to finish the album.
KLB: When do you write?
A: I used to be a morning writer, but lately I don't feel like have control of when a song or idea comes. They just come and I follow.
KLB: You talked about the balance between music and story earlier. Will you talk about how that worked for a specific song or two?
A: Sure. For example, "Uprise" and "Brave New World" were complete songs that I added lyrics to later after figuring out the feel of the music and the story that would fit into that experience. "Urban Blues" was much for of a collaboration between lyric and music. Each note needed a word to guide the next note.
KLB: Of course, one of my favorite songs is “The One,” which corresponds to the lover archetype. I think it’s so romantic, and the tone is so beautiful. To me, that’s the definition of sexy. Is your creative process sexy?
A: Yes! It's raw. It's vulnerable. It's like a dance. You don't know where you're going, but you surrender to wherever the journey takes you.
I love to talk to writers like Atir about the process of writing. Follow Atir on Facebook, check out his website, buy the album, and view music videos for "The Game" and "Uprise." To meet more writers in social media, follow me, The Sexy Grammarian, on Facebook or Twitter. Yearning to jump into the writer’s life yourself? My free ebook, Arouse Your Writer Self, will get you going. Want more? Private sessions with me are more affordable than you think, and the first one’s free.