Marcus Atom’s ‘SUMMER.TIME.CHI’ Is A Love Letter To Summer In Our City
Written by Vocalo Radio on September 5, 2023
Chicago artist Marcus Atom celebrates summer in the city with SUMMER.TIME.CHI EP. He returned to the Vocalo studios to discuss the release, and new music on the way.
Marcus Atom is the first to admit he’s old school in many ways, including his, at times, infrequent use of social media. Though he’s stepped into the literal and metaphorical spotlight on many occasions — including touring with internationally-renowned band Gorillaz and having a track featured on the Showtime series “The Chi” — Atom admits he doesn’t go out of his way to promote his work. But lately, he’s been trying to change that.
Though he noted he makes music for himself first and foremost, he also knows the necessity of actively working at building an audience as a way of honoring both his own work and the work of producers, writers and other collaborators.
“You’re doing yourself a disservice … and the people behind you [if you don’t promote your work],” he said. “If you keep the message in the bottle, then who’s gonna listen to it? Who’s gonna hear it?”
Atom released his latest EP SUMMER.TIME.CHI on June 29, his first compilation of songs since 2021’s Love vs. War. The three-song EP is a heartfelt expression of love to Chicago summer, which he describes as “the best place to be in the whole country.”
“I wanted to make a feel-good album,” he said. “I really wanted to just write about introspective things, but also … how it feels to be smelling charcoal at a barbecue grill, or what it feels to be out with your friends at The Clipper or wherever, just having a drink or listening to music. And capture that, try to, in three songs.”
Following the EP’s release, and the addition of track “TURN” to Vocalo’s on-air rotation for August, Marcus Atom returned to the Vocalo studios for the first time since 2019 to discuss SUMMER.TIME.CHI with afternoons host Nudia Hernandez. They also talked about the importance of giving back to yourself as well as others, and hinted at an upcoming album in the works with Chicago DJ and producer Timmy V.
Nudia Hernandez: Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only urban alternative and your NPR music station. Nudia in the afternoon here with you! 4:03 on your clock. We have a special guest in the building, Mr. Marcus Adam joins us. Hello!
Marcus Atom: Hello. How are you doing, Chicago?
NH: You got that bass in your voice, could I say that?
MA: You could say that.
NH: I was listening to a previous interview you did. You’ve been to Vocalo before. Last time you were here was 2019. And so, for research purposes, I was listening. And I was like, he sounds like he could have like his own slow jams night show.
MA: Hey, that’s a good idea!
Though Atom hasn’t been back to the station in a few years, his voice can be heard on Vocalo’s airwaves in on-air station IDs discussing the realness of Chicagoans. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio
NH: You know? Where you call in and you do a dedication to your girl or your man or whatever.
MA: You talk to your people, I’ll talk to my people, let’s go.
NH: “Help me win Linda back!” Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. You have a great radio voice, I was gonna say that.
MA: Thank you. I actually just started doing voiceover acting.
NH: Great. Great for that fun.
MA: It’s fun, low-key.
NH: And also, if our listeners are familiar, you’re in a lot of our sweepers. There’s a sweeper of you saying like, “Chicago people are just so real,” from the last interview you were here.
MA: Oh, from ’19. Yeah, yeah. I have heard that, yeah.
NH: Yeah, from 2019 So your voice is on all the time here on Vocalo. If you didn’t know that!
MA: That’s lit. Yes, I do. Sometimes people will text me videos and/or, “Hey, I just heard you on Vocalo!” Or I’ll hear myself, which is even crazier at that point.
RELATED: Chicago R&B Singer Marcus Atom Keeps It Real…
NH: That’s so awesome. I love that. You know, we brought you in, you haven’t been here in a couple years. And you’ve got a lot of stuff going on currently. You have a new EP, SUMMER.TIME.CHI. I mean, there’s a whole heatwave. Did your EP cause it?
MA: Today! Man, whoever’s out there driving right now, bless you right now. Lord, it’s hot.
NH: Let’s do some applause for the people. All the Uber, the Lyft, the rideshare.
MA: Bless you, bless you, bless you. 100 degrees, and it’s h-o-t-t-t, hottt.
NH: Yes, but, you know, it is supposed to get better. Tomorrow, you are going to be back here. Our Vocalo headquarters are on Navy Pier. And you’re doing a Skyline Session tomorrow, with The O’My’s, right?
MA: Yes, I am. I’m very excited. It’s gonna be from 5 to 9 p.m. It’s a free show at the, what is it? The Wave West Wall Stage or something like that?
NH: Yeah, Wave Wall Performance Platform.
MA: Forgive me, y’all. Forgive me. Wave Wall Stage. So yeah, I’m really excited about it.
NH: Yeah, you take in the skyline views and you listen to the music and it’s really cool.
MA: Navy Pier is beautiful, man. We have a really, I mean, just to be able to see the lakefront and the skyline and be able to listen to music. I mean, that’s a beautiful opportunity. As long as not it’s not 100 degrees out.
NH: Yes. And it’s free. Because if it’s free, it’s for me, that’s just the type of person I am.
MA: Let’s go!
NH: Again, that’s 5 to 9 p.m. What time are you going on?
MA: I’m kicking it off.
NH: Okay, so 5 p.m.
MA: 5 p.m.
NH: Okay, cool! So once you get out of work, run over to the Pier.
MA: Come see me, y’all. Come see me.
NH: And so let’s talk about the EP, SUMMER.TIME.CHI. I mean, I feel like that’s the almost unofficial Chicago saying, “Summertime Chi.” So you named your EP that, and what was some of your inspiration? Or what was the main focus of this album? What did you want people to feel?
MA: Yeah, 100%. I feel like Chicago summertime is the best place to be in the whole country. When people are like, “Hey, I want to go on vacation, or … we’re having a destination wedding during the summer.” I’m like, “Why are you leaving Chicago? That makes zero sense. Zero sense.” There’s cookouts, there’s the lake, there’s so many festivals and different markets and there’s so many different things to take in, in the summer. And so I just, all the feelings of summertime Chi, I wanted to make a feel-good album. Because my last album was in like, what, 2021? And it came out of the pandemic and a lot of feelings that I had written for like 10 years, and a lot of emotions.
And this album, I really wanted to just write about introspective things, but also how summertime Chi makes me feel. And how it feels to be smelling charcoal at a barbecue grill, or what it feels to be out with your friends at The Clipper or wherever, just having a drink or listening to music. And capture that, try to, in three songs. So that was the inspiration.
NH: I love that, and I mean, one of the ones we started playing and having in rotation first was “TURN.”
NH: Because when I think of summertime Chi I was like, “Oh, okay, is it gonna be like some boats songs?” But “TURN” is a very different type of summer song.
MA: 100% … Because I feel like summer is a time where a lot of people spend working on themselves, you know what I mean? Kind of getting ready for the next year, because school starts and all that stuff. And I feel like, for me personally, I’ve been going through some things and I felt like I wanted to inspire people.
For example, there’s a story of like, if you’re in the desert, and you’re giving out people a bunch of water, right? And at the end of the day, you got like a gallon of water and you’re filling out little bits and pieces to everybody, right? At the end of the day, when you do that, especially if it’s 100 degrees, you do that and you’re in the desert alone, you’re left with nothing. And you’ve given everything to somebody else, and you really don’t spend time giving back to yourself. And I wanted a song to kind of just, A., inspire me to give back to myself, but also inspire others to take that time to get back to themselves. So like, it’s my turn, is the reason I call it “TURN.” It’s my turn, to give myself time.
NH: And that’s fair, especially being an artist. I think naturally you’re a giver, I feel like that’s a quality of a good artist, is you naturally give a lot. Give a lot of energy, love, support. You’re giving, and then I always think about this. There’s this, I forgot what it’s called, but someone said that there’s almost a syndrome. Have you ever performed, and you come off of a stage, and it’s quiet, and you’re by yourself? And you’re just like, “Ummm…”
MA: It’s unbelievable. It’s a real thing. Yeah. When I was touring with Gorillaz, and I mean, I’ve been out there four times now, and you go from 100,000 people to…
NH: By yourself in a hotel room, right?
MA: Yeah. And it’s wild, man. No one prepares you for that, either. You just gotta figure it out.
NH: And people don’t really talk about it, either. You’re just like … it feels like depression, it feels sad.
MA: It’s tour depression, they call it, yeah.
NH: Oh, tour depression.
MA: Well, yeah. I mean, at least that’s how I’ve heard it called. I don’t know if that’s a legit name for it. But either way, I feel like, at the end of the day, we got to pick ourselves up. Nobody else is going to do it for us.
NH: That’s true. And “TURN” is one of the songs we heard and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, we love it.” It’s such a great song.
MA: Thank you so much.
NH: And so what other inspirations did you bring from your EP? And really, what made you decide to do an EP? Because you could always have kept those songs for an album, you know?
MA: True. Well, I feel like I’m old school, because I’m old school in a lot of ways. I’m bad at social media. I’m terrible at promoting myself, which is why I’m here actually, today.
NH: You’re here! That’s one step, right?
MA: Yeah! My boy from the O’My’s, Maceo, he was kind of getting me the other day. He was like, “Bro, how do you release good music, and then show no one?” I was like, “Bro, I don’t know.”
NH: I also feel like it’s a Chicago thing.
MA: Yeah! They’re just humble people, I don’t know.
NH: I feel like there’s a lot of great artists that are like, “I’m just doing it for the love. I’m not trying to put it on social media.”
MA: And that’s but that’s the problem, though, is like you’re doing yourself a disservice. And the producers and the writers and the people behind you, you’re doing them a disservice. And yourself, most importantly. If you’re not really supporting yourself and showing people your art, because how else are they gonna hear it?
NH: Yeah. Because I come from, like I told you, I come from the West Coast, or I’ve come from cities where local music is really bad. Like, you guys, bad. Like, probably your nephew or niece on GarageBand could do better than some of the music I’ve heard in other cities. And then came to Chicago, and I’m like, “Hold on, this isn’t with a major record label? It’s just two friends that put this song together? This sounds, it’s ready to go!”
MA: There’s a plethora of artists. A plethora.
NH: Yeah. Everyone is so good in Chicago. So you do kind of need to work harder to really build an audience or stand out, because everyone’s good.
MA: 100%. And at the end of the day it’s to get your music out and get the message out. You know what I mean? If you keep the message in the bottle, then who’s gonna listen to it? Who’s gonna hear it?
NH: Well, you have … in the past, made music. You made music for [season two of] the show “The Chi,” [your track “Love vs. War.”] We talked about that the last time you were here. So that was kind of cool, because, look, that’s not in your bedroom anymore. That’s on Showtime, that’s on some big network.
MA: That was really cool, yeah.
NH: How did that happen? Did you get a DM, or was it a friend of a friend?
MA: No, I’m with a management group? And they have some pretty steady clientele that they have. And so he was able to hook me up with that.
NH: Okay, and with that … I always wonder, for music with TV and movies, do you get a little breakdown and you make a song? Or they’re interested in something you’ve already released?
MA: Yeah, it was something I had already released. They chose the first scene, which was really cool. Sometimes you do… depending on if you’re writing a song as a producer or songwriter. For example, my roommate just did a score for a film on Apple. So you have the script ahead of time, and so you kind of base the music around what’s happening.
NH: Get the feel, yeah. So how many times did you watch that scene that your song was in?
MA: A lot.
NH: A lot!
MA: Yeah, man! It’s cool, bro! She was ironing her clothes. I was like, “Okay!”
NH: You’re like, “Okay, Marcus Atom, come in! Come through!”
MA: It’s cool! But it’s cool how that shows sets up stuff really naturally. And it’s actually something … it wasn’t too loud in the scene or whatever, it really felt natural.
NH: I love that. It just built the energy. And I do love that they are picking Chicago artists. Like, if you are gonna have a show, “The Chi,” you should be picking up the artists that do live in our industry to “The Chi.”
NH: So what is next for you? Like I said, you have this EP with a couple of tracks. Is it building to an album? Are you waiting for more inspiration to come for an album?
MA: I have a few songs. Actually, I’m working with Timmy V, who’s an amazing DJ. Chicago DJ. Y’all, shout out Timmy V. I’m working with him right now, I have a couple of songs coming out. I want to get them out hopefully by the end of the summer, in the next month, is my goal. But it takes four weeks. Once you write a song, people don’t know this, you write a song, and then it takes four weeks to actually become something on Spotify or iTunes with distribution and everything like that. So it’s a long process, but I’m gonna try to definitely get it out by the summer. So yeah.
NH: Okay cool. Well, if you’re just tuning in, in the building, in the studio, we do have Marcus Atom in here with us! Thank you so much for joining us. This is your second time stopping by… If people want to follow you, where could they go to keep up with your shows, your music, whenever you release?
MA: I will try to do my best to be better on social media. It is @MarcusAtom. Marcus, M-a-r-c-u-s, Atom with a T, like the beings we are. Marcus Atom, A-t-o-m.
Keep up with Marcus Atom on Instagram, and check out our full “In Rotation” playlist below.
Interview and audio production by Nudia Hernandez
Written introduction, transcription and photography by Morgan Ciocca
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