The Alchemists – ATMIG Transforms Multi-genre Sounds into Priceless ‘Wishes’ Album

ATMIG’s Julia Hickling and Tobias Lipski. Photo by Amanda Matilla of Heart District

ATMIG sets the gold standard for rich multi-genre music in Detroit.

The duo of Tobias Lipski (guitar, vocals) and Julia Hickling (vocals) brilliantly alchemizes pieces of traditional folk, indie rock, shoegaze and rockabilly into a priceless sonic compound.

That compound includes valuable elements of inner reflections, deep motivations and life experiences throughout ATMIG’s vibrant full-length debut, “Wishes,” which dropped in 2019.

“The idea was to put the best songs that fit together, and the lyrics for the song ‘Wishes’ were not written yet, so it gave me an opportunity to narrate,” Lipski said. “‘Wishes’ is about time passing me by, and it has to do with being stuck at a desk nine to five and losing sight.”

With a dozen enlightening, introspective tracks, “Wishes” serves a crucial sonic reminder to take risks, abandon initial life plans and follow one’s intuition toward the right path. It’s also an internal wake-up call to rise from everyday apathy and reignite the true passions that bring a sense of purpose.

Wishes” begins with an “Intro” laced with deep-tone guitars that descend into the narrator’s highly critical internal dialogue. Lipski’s heartfelt vocals beautifully set the struggle’s scene while crashing cymbals and vibrant guitars erupt with echoing harmonies.

ATMIG, aka After the Money is Gone, eloquently bobs, weaves and steers throughout the 10 “middle” tracks until the reprise of “Intro,” which is fittingly named “Outro,” beautifully links the entire album experience together. In fact, the album is best absorbed and digested on vinyl.

“When you listen to the first side of the album, you have mini-closure, and then you flip it over, and you have another side of the experience,” Lipski said. “‘Wishes’ is really about what’s important to you, and we were going to have this opportunity to actually do that.”

‘Trip’ to ‘Elliott Smith’

“Wishes” album artwork. Photo by Amanda Matilla of Heart District

ATMIG fully relishes that opportunity on “Trip,” a charging emotional anthem for blazing one’s own trail as fast acoustic finger plucks, crashing cymbals, rolling drums and driving bass push listeners along. In tandem, Lipski emotionally sings, “Let’s make believe we do not care and do not cry/Let’s show our parents that we don’t recall their lies/And take a trip down someone else’s fucking life.”

Trip” also features a striking video about a young girl using her vivid imagination to escape her parent’s ongoing arguments about her artistic interests. Directed by Darrin Williams of Gravity Red Productions, it also includes a sparkling performance from ATMIG donning vintage clothing amidst a beige backdrop and replaces “fucking” with “awesome” in one of the lyrics for younger ears.

“That song really does resonate with younger kids, and we’ve done some interviews on high school radio, and it’s just that feeling, especially when you’re an artist, I think there’s something inwardly that propels you,” Hickling said.

Another striking track, “Dictaphone,” propels listeners inside the mind of a creator. Fluctuating, vibrant acoustic strums and elegant strings bring a sense of vulnerability when revealing one’s true sense of self – “I will pass you to my greatest work – or are you laughing?/And if I sing to you, is the beauty lost or are you aching?”

“I had written a little thing, the song was in 7/8, and now it’s no longer in 7/8, and I didn’t have a 4-track ready to go. Smartphones didn’t exist, so I had my little dictation machine that I would use, an actual Dictaphone, to record lectures because I would miss class a lot,” said Lipski, about the origins of “Dictaphone.”

“I recorded it on that, and a year or two later, a guy I was playing with, his brother worked at a company called RadicalMedia, and they had heard some of our stuff and wanted more for a Nike Battlegrounds MTV2 thing.”

ATMIG also includes a poignant tribute to the late indie folk singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who tragically passed away in 2003 at age 34. Named fittingly after their muse, “Elliott Smith” celebrates his emotional, creative intensity and features rotational acoustic strums intertwined with quiet piano.

Together, they morph into a powerful symphony of emotion with vibrant trumpet as Lipski sings, “When you sang that song I was afraid/If I listened on, I would break/But I finally heard your anger and your pain/Yes, I heard that beauty that you sang – and in her car I knew she felt the same.”

“The song itself is about my experience listening to ‘Waltz’ for the first time,” Lipski said. “The first time I went on a date with my wife, Elliott Smith was in the tape deck, and I hadn’t met many people who were fans. My strength was always singer-songwriter acoustic, but none of that was happening when I was growing up.”

ATMIG Then and Now

Many of ATMIG’s songs date back to the band’s initial formation in 2006. Several years later, Lipski wanted to cultivate a sound inspired by acoustic singer-songwriters with a penchant for ambient music.

That inspiration led to Lipski booking two shows without a band and holding a rehearsal with Hickling, whom he met through a mutual friend. In return, Hickling knew a bassist and drummer who could round out the band’s lineup.

Interestingly, Lipski chose the name ATMIG, or its original extended moniker, “After the Money is Gone,” as a nod to Talking Heads’ iconic 1980 track, “Once in a Lifetime,” which features a lyric with that memorable phrase. In 2017, the band released their first 7-inch single, “Trip b/w Pail,” which was the first record manufactured at Third Man Pressing in Detroit.

Two years later, ATMIG teamed up with Third Man Pressing again to manufacture 500 vinyl copies of “Wishes” after recording it at Soundscape Studios in Royal Oak.  The album nicely reflects the solidified creative vision of Lipski and Hickling with a rotating collective of talented Michigan musicians.

Today, ATMIG’s current extended lineup includes Phil LaDouceur (bass, cello, mandolin), Dan Clark (guitar), Jamie Gawecki (drums) and Emily Paye (violin). The band will perform March 13 with five other acts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Radiohead’s 1995 album, “The Benz,” at New Way Bar in Ferndale.

They also will share the stage April 7 at PJ’s Lager House in Detroit with Little Man, Ladyship Warship and Jeremy Porter. In the meantime, Lipski and Hickling will continue working on new material for ATMIG’s next project.

“For us, I think it’s more about the journey. Wherever we’re going, we’re having fun doing it. If I can make him laugh, then he can make me laugh,” said Hickling, who credits Arcade Fire as one of the band’s biggest inspirations.

“And if it wasn’t so fun and so great, we wouldn’t do it. We get each other’s humor, which is weird. I’ll say that, but then I’ll be the first person to promote whatever crazy idea he has.”

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