Recently I sat down with an amazing gentleman by the name of Jackson Wright, for an interview intended to be published in San Jose State’s monthly publication. Due to some difficulties, his article couldn’t be posted. It was a bummer, as it was an amazing article, and he put an immense amount of work into it. I’d like to share it with you all.
"It is a relatively small stage, in the rear storeroom of a small comic book art showroom in downtown San Jose. There is the feel of a warehouse and at the same time an antiques shop, various items hanging on the walls, including a BMX bike and an inflatable shark. Behind the stage, the entire wall is adorned in old LP covers one next to the other, giving the effect of a giant checkerboard, but instead of black and white squares, there are the faces of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Hall and Oates from their iconic album artwork. The lights once again dim as the movement on the stage begins to slow down, people in black having finished moving equipment on stage and band members of the Picture Atlantic now finding their places for their set.
They seem to be comfortable on this stage, ironically decorated in a cheesy dime-store Hawaiian motif, surrounded by electric-lit tiki statues, the stage skirted in a green-plastic grass that looks like it should be adorning the hips of some hula dancer rather than decorating a stage for a rock show. Those gathered begin to clap as the lead singer, Nik Bartunek steps forward to the microphone and in an easy conversational tone asks the audience whether the guitarist, Vincent Do should play with his sunglasses on of off, in what is most definitely a friendly jeer aimed at Do that he includes everyone in. A roar rips through the crowd signaling their affirmative, and Bartunek looks over at Do giving him a grinning look and a shrug that says that the crowd has spoken. Do smiles as he reluctantly takes the Ray-Ban Wayfarers from his shirt pocket and puts them on, running his fingers over the frets as Bartunek laughs and then gathers himself to play. From that moment he shifts, it is now time for the show to begin, his personality becoming serious and professional, showing the respect he has for the music, his band members and those who have come to see him perform.
Its that respect for the music that is at the forefront in Bartunek at all times, from during a concert, to relaxing to talk at a local coffee shop in Santa Clara, California, where he has lived for the last 11 years. He is a complete professional when it comes to music, his passion shining through so strongly even in just talking about it, one can see easily just how much he loves to play and to sing. He began to play piano and write music when he was 15 originally planning to become an actor, only seriously taking up the guitar about three years later, when he would perform at coffee shops around the Santa Clara/ San Jose Area striking out on his own when and creating his own music. “I didn’t know anyone at the time that seemed to be heading in the same direction musically as me at the time,” says Bartunek, “I was into stuff that nobody else, at least in my group of friends was listening to. Everyone was listening to pop-punk, anything off Drive Thru Records and I hated it, I hated it so much.”
He joined Picture Atlantic in 2006, the band a new project of good friend and bass player Ryan Blair who he knew from the area and wanted to start something new. They have come a long way from their first EP entitled Change is Welcome, since releasing a full length album, Kleos and two more EPs, as well as playing high profile shows at the Vans Warped Tour in 2007 and opening for Coldplay in 2008 through a contest sponsored by radio station Live 105.3 at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. They now tour in support of their latest EP, When Everything is Numbers.
When he’s going into a show he says he is always focused on whether he put in enough work into promoting the show, worrying about how they will perform, especially with 2 new band members. “Its not that I necessarily need the affirmation of my friends, but it would be nice to do them proud, because I know I love their bands, theyre great, and I would want them to be able to say the same for us,” Bartunek says with a laugh reclining in his chair. However, he offers no indication of this anxiousness when he performs, just seeming to pour everything into each song that he sings as witnessed at Picture Atlantic’s latest show at San Jose’s Art Boutiki on April 8th, 2011. He is a truly commanding frontman on stage, owning and demanding attention from everyone in the audience. His voice is at sometimes screeching, and at others unbelievably soulful as he croons the lyrics to his songs with a strong passion. In each song he seems to embody a different persona specific to that feeling, shifting from in one number giving a swaying dance that fits perfectly with the heart of his voice, to contorting his face into something resembling a zombie as he marches arms up to the beat, possessed by the music. He is however always precise in his musicianship, giving the air of complete professionalism and business as he pours himself into his craft.
Next for the Bartunek and the rest of Picture Atlantic is work on a new album which is still in the development phases, but promises to go into new territory. “For this album were going to try some things new that we’ve never done before, trying to track things live, making things sound a little more natural, not taking advantage of the shortcuts that digital recording offers. We just want it to sound like we sound when we play live.”
By Jackson Wright