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Chicago R&B Singer Marcus Atom Keeps it Real…

Written by on June 21, 2019

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Listening to Marcus Atom’s deep, sultry voice you may easily think that the emerging Chicago artist has been a professional singer for decades. But Marcus is relatively new on the scene…

Still, Soul and R&B runs deep in his veins. Having grown up in a musical family and later falling in love with secular Soul classics like “The O’Jays,” Marcus became a student of music with his own message and melodies to share.

For Marcus, music is a discussion, an honest expression of his everyday experiences, feelings that he otherwise might not share. These raw feelings and advanced melodies have already taken Marcus some incredible places, including on tour with The Gorillaz and into an episode of HBO’s “The Chi.” This weekend Marcus will share his smooth stylings at Chi Soul Fest on Navy Pier…

We photographed Marcus Atom on the rooftop at The Robey Hotel, in Wicker Park, before sitting him down with our very own Jill Hopkins….


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Marcus Atom welcome to Vocalo. I am so happy that you’re here.

I’m a fan of The Chi, you’re a fan of The Chi. So tell me… what it was like when The Chi comes calling and asks for some music? That’s premium cable exposure sir.

Showtime! It was really cool. They reached out to my management and got to me, I was really excited because a friend of mine is actually an actor on the show so I’ve been a big fan of the show for a long time. I’m a fan of the director as well, just proud of her efforts and the things that she’s done in her life. So being a part of that product was really cool.

What about the kind of music that you make made it such a good fit for the show?

Ah, that’s a good question Jill. Honestly I’m very young in the game in terms of writing, and I think that youth allows for some, I guess, transparency. I think that that’s a little bit of what comes across with Chicago people. I heard somebody say to me the other day that Chicago people are so real. More than LA people or more than New York people. You know, you just feel it. And I think that that comes across in my music. It’s just very honest.

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There are a lot of ways someone with your voice and your point of view could have gone… what brought you to soul music? What brought you to R&B? 

I grew up playing gospel music. My mom is a singer in the Gospel Choir at our church to this day and my father loves soul and R&B. I was kind of a daddy’s boy when I was younger. And, though I do love Gospel, R&B is just something that always stuck with me. Like I said before, the honesty of it. I remember listening to the O’Jays… you know the song “Money, money, money money!” I got that on a cassette when I was about seven and it just took me away for a week. I was just listening to the speaker, ear to the speaker, and I was pretty much hooked, That was basically it for me.

Did your mom ever try to steer you towards less secular sound?

Every Sunday! Every Sunday we cannot listen to secular music. It was a definite fight and still is to this day. But I add some stuff that, you know, makes her happy.

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 I was going to say I’m pretty sure, if I know anything about black moms, I know she’s proud of her baby.

Absolutely [laughter].

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Vocalo had a photo shoot with you not that long ago on the top of the Robey hotel, in Wicker Park. All great shots. You look great. There’s a couple of them where there’s some fans that have come up to say hi.

What do folks say when they come up to you?And how does it feel to know that your music is out there resonating with folks in real life?

Honestly, i feels so good. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and been afraid to. Now that I’ve done it it feels good to get that love back. Honestly, it’s just cool that they like my music. That’s all I care about… that it resonates with them and they like my music. So it’s super cool to see that happening.

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I want to talk about this honesty in your music that you mentioned. What stories are you telling us with your music and why is it important to you to express this side of yourself through music as opposed to say painting or dance?

Firstly a need to discuss, I need to be in a discussion. I feel like, in music, we’re all in a discussion, right? Everybody’s got their different voice, and I kinda just wanted to give my voice out there. The stories I’m telling are literally everyday things that I’m going through. Some of the stuff that I don’t tell people…

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Is this therapy for you?

It is therapy for me, I guess. Yeah, there you go, Jill. Definitely therapy. Music, I picked that as a mode because…  Well I was at a funeral the other day and a gentleman was talking about the connection with music between him and his friend who had just passed. And I really didn’t know the gentleman who had passed that well. But that man talking about music and the love for music between him and his friend, his whole conversation was just so real. I lost it. I just started crying. That’s what music does. And why I picked music.

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Let’s talk about the new music that you’ve got on the horizon. Obviously folks are picking up what you’re putting down already.

What can we expect? Are we going in a different direction or are we sticking to our guns here?

We’re sticking to the guns. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sticking to the guns. What I would say fans should expect is that it is a little bit more raw this time around. The first tracks I did in LA and they’re a little more polished we’ll say.

Who did you work with out there?

Two friends of mine, Mark Wallick and my friend Scott Stewart. They’re both amazing producers, but they’re polished. LA style. These new ones are all done in Chicago and what I really like about them is they just speak a little bit more real this time.

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 Let’s talk about Chi Soul Fest here at Navy pier. What does a Marcus Atom show look like?

Honestly this is going to be my first show that I’m promoting. Last summer I got blessed with some shows and filled in some places, but this is like the first show that I’m promoting. So this is going to be the Marcus Atom show!

Do I need comfortable shoes? Am I dancing?

Yes, please do. Yes, you’re dancing. It’s going to be a good time. You’ll be dancing. You’re gonna be singing along. I think that my songs are pretty easy to learn, so I think hopefully by the end of it you’ll be singing along.

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Photography by Tom Gavin

Shot at The Robey Hotel

Marcus on Instagram

Marcus on Twitter

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.  The full conversation can be heard below.