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Mark Carbone, CJ Bargamian, Daniel Winn, Nathan T. Green and George Wallace

Days of Future Passed

by Bret Love | Jezebel magazine | June 1, 2011

If you’d asked me 15 years ago what the hottest musical trend in Atlanta would be circa 2011, I’d have guessed block-rockin’ techno, forward-thinking hip-hop or some other futuristic musical form that hadn’t been invented yet. Never would I have guessed that the ATL’s current live music scene would be riddled with bands whose primary influences were in their prime before my parents were even born. But from Kingsized and Bernadette Seacrest to Blair Crimmins & the Hookers, Atlanta seems to have fallen in love with the swing, ragtime, big band and gypsy jazz sounds of the early 20th century.

One of the most promising bands on this scene, A Fight To The
Death, references musicians ranging from Ennio Morricone and
Django Reinhardt to Dick Dale and Buena Vista Social Club to create
a unique, cosmopolitan sound. Asked to explain Atlanta’s anachronistic
musical predilections, AFTTD frontman CJ Bargamian suggests
that “people who love interesting music are getting tired of
seeing nothing but hip-hop and garage-rock coming out of this
town. That stuff has its place, but Atlanta has a lot more to offer.”

Bargamian and longtime collaborator Mark Carbone
(who’ve played together off and on in various bands since
1992) planted the seeds for their current group back in 2005.
Bargamian was exploring Eastern European and Middle Eastern
folk traditions, while drummer Carbone was increasingly
interested in Latin jazz, when they were asked by a mutual
friend to play a concert paying tribute to the Pogues. Bargamian
borrowed their name from a poem—“From birth, life is
but a fight to the death”—and thus a band was born.

“Maybe it’s my obsession with Westerns and the writing of
Cormac McCarthy, but, for some reason, the quote instantly gave
me images of the Old West, rural life and the constant struggle to
not be killed by disease, famine, war or your neighbor,” Bargamian
reasons. “The show was a blast, and AFTTD received some of
the night’s greatest praise. We didn’t know how to take it, since we
weren’t really a band yet!”

With the addition of multi-instrumentalists Nathan T. Green,
Daniel Winn and George Wallace, AFTTD has evolved a lot over
the past five years, with 2010’s Gesture Of A Gentleman establishing
them as one of Atlanta’s most worldly recording acts. Rather
than recreating the music of their disparate muses, the quintet blends
them together seamlessly to create a stylistic mélange described in
their press materials as “Avant-Western-Americana-Gypsy music.”

“I hate that description of the band, to be honest,” Bargamian
admits. “I was the one who came up with it, but I don’t think
it necessarily paints us totally right. Our sound is terribly hard to
describe precisely because we have such diverse influences. Our
strength is that we throw everything together, turn on the musical
food processor and see what kind of goulash comes out in the end.”

For AFTTD’s new EP, Keep Warm, the band is beginning to
incorporate more rock into their exotic sound, recalling the sonic
experimentation of classic bands such as The Beatles and The
Beach Boys and modern acts like Calexico and Radiohead.

“I don’t think we’re intentionally pushing away rock elements
like we were before,” Carbone says. “We’re digging the idea of not
painting ourselves into any corners. There was a bit more experimenting
with this one. Not in a ‘bashing on pots and pans’ kind of
way, but with no self-imposed restrictions. I think people will be
surprised to hear where we’ve been creatively.”

AFTTD’s melting pot sound continues to become more expansive
over time, with everything from movie scores and Al Green to
dub and reggae among their latest listening pleasures. In the future,
the group plans to experiment with different methods of songwriting,
including collaborating via the Internet when Bargamian travels
later this year.

“Moving forward, we’re really interested in exploring different
ways to utilize the technology we have,” Bargamian says.
“We’d like to try writing songs in the studio by cutting up clips of
ideas we’ve played around with in rehearsal, arranging them in
ways we may not have considered. Mark and I will be passing Pro
Tools files back and forth online so we can keep our songwriting
fresh, even when we can’t physically rehearse.”

“I guess, these days, it’s about having less rules,” Carbone
adds. “Maybe the only rule is that it has to be good!”