A big hurdle creative-types often face is figuring out where and how to channel their creativity — which medium is best suited for them to express themselves. Quasi-renaissance man Alex Atchley’s solution? Just do everything. The 32-year-old is a writer (and one-time Fort Worth Weekly contributor) and comic artist, and he has left his fingerprints on countless musical projects over the years. From a performatively abrasive one-man band called the Alex Atchley Experience to the 16-bit video game soundtrack-inspired Naxat and Denton’s jangly pop punkers Bad Times, the ghosts of Atchley’s musical ventures have been floating around the North Texas music scene for more than a decade. Some projects were short-lived. Others produced several albums. Each band or recording project might be wildly diverse in instrumentation and sound, but the essence of Atchley is obvious in each of them. He’s bold, challenging, and unafraid to grab listeners (metaphorically) and audience members (physically) and pull them directly into the moment. His live performances have earned him quite a reputation.
“I’d just be kind of an irritating asshole,” Atchley said. During shows he would “sing, and dance, and get in people’s faces. There’s always some theatrics.”
His most recent bands, Bad Times and the Fort Worth retro-punk outfit Blank-Men, have both called it quits. But as he’s done his entire life as a musician, Atchley has new projects in the works. Lately he’s been focusing on recording and performing as a solo artist. He’s just released a haunting collection of spare parts that hadn’t yet found their way into any of his other myriad musical ventures. Called Untitled Document, the dark and brooding EP is Atchley’s first completely solo effort in 10 years. Tracked, as Atchley put it, “in various bedrooms I’ve lived in over the last few years,” the five songs were mastered by Jeffrey Roberts (Marshall Art).
On the opening track, the electronic, pulsing “Kindred Spirit,” Atchley’s restrained monotone delivery channels Ian Curtis before the tune builds into a chaotic climax of thunder-crack snare blasts and distorted howling, resembling New York art-synth pioneers Suicide. “Heavy Heart” and “Forfeit” are somber minor-key acoustic songs with the kind of stripped-bare, raw intimacy that makes the listener uncomfortable –– in the vein of tragic songwriters like Conor Oberst and Jeremy Enigk. The most interesting track is the funereal piano dirge “It Only Obscures,” with its eerie sliding mellotron line. The selections certainly reflect the schizophrenic diversity Atchley has employed throughout his musical career. Although no physical release is currently planned, Untitled Document is available as a pay-what-you-want download through Atchley’s Bandcamp page.
In addition to the solo material, Atchley’s been developing a guitar-rock group in the mold of the Jesus Lizard and Scratch Acid called Born Snapped, with Atchley singing, drummer Cade Bundrick (Big Hand // Big Knife, Mimisiku), John Gillespie (Future Self, Dear Human) on guitar, and bassist Rhys Johnson (Bummer Vacation, Whep). Fitting Atchley’s embracing of eccentricity, the name was derived from a sketch on a British magazine spoof show, Brass Eye, in which a team of scientists develops a miniature gym to be implanted in expectant mothers for in-utero exercise.
“Gymnasium babies were often said to be ‘born snapped,’ ” Atchley said with a laugh, “whether it meant like, ‘ripped’ or that their bones were snapped, we’re not sure. It’s a weird combination of two words you don’t hear together, and it has an uncomfortable sound when it hits the ear, which we like.”
He’s also been in talks with a few other musicians about forming a pop-rock band to fulfill the role that Bad Times used to play in providing him a hookier outlet. In this project, Atchley plans to take a step back from being front and center.
“I would like to be kind of in the background,” he said, “focusing more on guitar and lead guitar stuff, and let someone else take over being the face of the band while I continue to be the ‘mastermind.’ ”
In the interim, as these new bands are still conceptualizing, you can catch Atchley playing solo shows around town. As all the music he’s released over the years suggests, you can rest assured these projects promise to be interesting, as do any other musical ghosts he might someday release into the wild.