The raw power of blues infiltrates the soul and gets the toes tapping. Husky, harsh vocals crooned into a mic as guitar riffs penetrate the cochleas yield an unparalleled adrenaline. Such is the case when listening to TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb (TJ Kong), who will play a show locally at Bourgie Nights this Thursday, August 7th.
The blues, alternative country, punk troupe blend divergent sounds as prolifically as they revel in a good bit of humor. (Their website directs all hate mail to lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and blues harpist Dan Bruskewicz’s grandfather.) As well, they describe their music as being like, “Bob Seger, high on cocaine, in the bathtub watching Werner Herzog movies.” According to Bruskewicz, the best way to achieve such a sonic distinction is to: “Hose yourself down completely and sleep all night on the front porch in the winter time.”
Starting in 2008 as a two-piece outfit, comprising Bruskewicz and Dan Cask, Philadelphia-born TJ Kong formed on a fateful Easter Sunday. “We had nothing else to do that day,” Bruskewicz tells. “I was writing very simple blues and country songs, and Cask was drumming for a punk band that was making their way in the world. It just clicked right off the bat; it sounded very alive—the combo of those two worlds. It was something we had never considered.”
TJ Kong found early inspiration in other duos, such as Japandroids, Two Man Gentleman Band, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys. They started dabbling with a four-track tape recorder. Their early music boasts a simplistic sound, complete with liquor-drenched, raspy vocals. “The sound was warm and lively and guttural,” Bruskewicz describes. “It was bedroom, folk-punk music.” They released an EP, “The Hinterlands,” in February of that year.
A love for the theatrical renderings of Tom Waits, Man Man, Captain Beefheart, Dr. John, and Screamin’ Jay led them to expand their prowess. After a year together, they brought in Joshua Willis. The band released their first full-length album, “Idiots,” in 2010 on their Bandcamp. The title track ushers listeners in with percussion and harmonica, before Bruskewicz growls the song’s hook line: “Ain’t it a treat when you don’t understand.” The album revels in heavier guitar licks and a more rock ‘n’ roll vibe than its folky predecessor.
Willis left the band in 2010, and they’ve since added Josh Olmstead (lead guitar) and Joshua “J.A.M” Machiz (upright bass), along with various instrumentalists. “We’ve been eating on our laps like orangutans in the van ever since,” Bruskewicz quips.
TJ Kong released a second full-length album, “Manufacturing Joy,” on Bandcamp in 2012. The danceable rock comes complete with jammin’ blues. It recalls the compelling, raw sounds of music from yesteryear. Songs like “Rock ‘N’ Roll Bathroom Cocaine Blues” contain lyrics about nights spent in pubs, like:
“Now you’re dancing in your bullshit with the kick drum on the twos/And they’re smoking out a side door and whispering in tune/While the warehouse popes of Meserole all are sleeping in their pews.”
“Post Apocalypse Blues” features a more upbeat vibe and contains broader ideas on the God-forsaken rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, with lyrics such as:
“We got science on the TV; they say Jesus Christ is dead for good/We got new age theologians they say Jesus Christ ain’t coming/But he could/I’ve been trying hard to reach you, honey/ I just don’t know where the hell else to look.”
“I try not to use my mind,” songwriter Bruskewicz explains. “I write with my hips and make words sound like another drum. I play with words like you would play with a trumpet. The best phrases come right off the top of my head, like a child speaking. I have to discipline myself to make up things and not think too hard. I start in that place and then tinker and map out from there, hopefully as little as possible.”
TJ Kong’s been touring for the past four years. The eccentric, ready-for-anything band took a gig performing at the finish line for a mud run super race endurance company. “It was strange,” Bruskewicz says, “but it got us a foot in the door for booking our own tours and taking our show to new places.”
Among their favorite spots are New York, California, New Orleans, and Chicago; however the South truly holds their heart and keeps their stomachs filled with boiled peanuts and BBQ.
“We have had the weirdest times down there,” Bruskewicz clarifies. “We like diners, antique stores and good FM radio on the road; the South is all that. The people literally are raised to show you a good time in the South. It’s not like that everywhere.”
With TJ Kong’s shows, they perform with the same high-octane energy which goes into their recordings. “The live show is the most inspiring part about being in this band,” Bruskewicz says. “We like to make people freak out.”
Their show creates connectivity among the band and concert-goers, according to Bruskewicz. As well, Bruskewicz’s religious upbringing adds to their style. “I grew up in a very religious house, and I like to bring that revivalist, other-worldly place to rock ‘n’ roll shows,” he comments.
The band, who played a show at Satellite Bar and Lounge just in March, returns in support of their latest EP “KONG.” They recorded it on American Diamond Recordings, and intend to release it on CD on September 9th. The album already streams on their Bandcamp.
“We wanted to add another element, so we brought on Rosie Langabeer to play organ and Wurlitzer,” Bruskewicz says. “We wanted less boot-stompy and more haunted. We wanted some really classic rock ‘n’ roll sounds recorded all together in a big room. We wanted more soul and more groove.”
As well, they have a full-length live album in the works. For now, folks can check out their full discography online (http://tjkongandtheatomicbomb.bandcamp.com/) and catch them live on Thursday night.
TJ Kong and the Atomic Bombs
Thursday, August 7th, 8 p.m.
Bourgie Nights, 127 Princess St.