Ever since his elimination from season nine of NBC’s The Voice, Tim Atlas refused to let a short stint on reality TV dictate the rest of his career. He already had the tools: Before the competition, the Oakland-born, Los Angeles-based Atlas was a working and talented multi-instrumentalist that didn’t just sing, he could produce, engineer, and write songs too. Still, he felt the precariousness of the show’s fast fame.
“It was all about competing and comparing myself to others,” Atlas says. “And I can feel that pressure in life too. I compared myself to others and their success. But when I’m in the studio, I need to divorce myself from that outside world. It’s just me and the sounds I want to produce.”
Since then, Atlas has successfully reinvented himself from a misty-eyed guitarist into a warm, nostalgia-tinged indie pop artist. By the end of 2018, Atlas’ shimmery pop release All Talk!, had won over fans and critics alike to the tune of 11 million Spotify streams, playlist placements, and nods from Beats 1’s Zane Lowe on and KCRW. Made with the help of producer Jesse Barrera, Atlas’ new sound, rooted in acoustic melodies, electronic elements, and ’80s synth pop, set up the 30-year-old artist to become his most authentic and honest.
Now with his second album, Together Lonely, Atlas continues to push the boundaries of his music. There are more R&B tones on this project, evident on the glistening retro ballad, “Tangerine” and the slow burn titular duet with Portland singer-songwriter cehryl. But ultimately, Atlas intended the record to be about championing personal anxieties and insecurities, which Noise Pop Festival attendees will share in when Atlas performs Saturday, February 29 at Brick & Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco.
Entirely self-produced, being able to reflect openly on record was a practice of trust. The struggles aren’t present in just the introspective lyrics, it is baked into the creative process. After the success of “All Talk!”, Atlas feared the dreaded sophomore slump and once again, he felt lost.
“There was this underlying pressure to follow up that release. So, it took me a really long time to make the album,” he says, explaining most of the songs on the record were made in the months leading up to his deadline. “I think it’s because I let go of the inhibitions and told myself I’m going to make what I want to make, I’m going to make what feels good and hopefully people are along for the ride.”
For a record about introversion and overcoming struggle, Together Lonely can feel like a summer romance on wax at any turn. Released in November, the album cruises from midtempo rhythms and woozy synthesizers (“Sidestep”) to the slick and sultry serenades on tracks, “Crime of Passion” and “Small Talk,” both made to feel simultaneously intimate and confessional.
Perhaps what solidifies the project as a wholistic experience as opposed to a collection of songs is the closer, “Never Know”. It is a track of pure, minimalist bliss; Filtered chords and bass hold anchor against sporadic guitar riffs and trilling effects that together act as Atlas’ love letter to a fleeting moment. His soft falsetto rings of a doomed relationship, with no telling if it’ll through tomorrow or meant to last forever. It’s a sobering end that calls back to Atlas’ grassroots musicality. He’s an instrumentalist first, a vocalist second.
Now that it’s proven Atlas can jump out of his comfort zone and stick the landing, he wants to do more outside of it. Dip his toes into meditation music, electronica, blues, R&B, songwriting, Asian markets — you name it. Atlas’ longevity as an artist surpasses a single season.
“For me, it’s always been, ‘I want to make music that I would be interested in 10 years ago and would want to listen to 10 years from now,” Atlas says. “But yeah, I just want to do everything I can for as long as I can.
Tim Atlas, Satchy, Madi Sipes & The Painted Blue, King Isis
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
February 29, 2020