Living in the Shadow

music_PictureAtlanticPicture Atlantic tosses ‘that band that opened for Coldplay’ title, forges own path
When asked about the time his band opened for Coldplay, Nikolaus Bartunek deflects the question with a languid, matter-of-fact, “We won this contest,” then adds, “We were one of three final contestants, and Coldplay chose us.”

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Bartunek isn’t too-cool-for-school, or feigning humility. The singer and songwriter for Picture Atlantic, a San Jose-based alt-rock outfit, is concerned that he and his band are living in the shadow of the gig.

“It was a show,” Bartunek says of the 2008 performance at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. “At the time that it happened, it was great. I’m really glad we got to play it.” Then again, he worries that when his band’s name is mentioned at a party, or in a bar or coffee shop, they will simply be that band that opened for Coldplay.

“I’d rather have the music speak for us,” he says. “A lot of really bad bands opened for Coldplay, we could have been one of those bad bands.”

It’s hard to believe that Bartunek is so wary of his band’s future, considering he puts everything he has into Picture Atlantic. Over seven years, Bartunek’s wavy croon has propelled the band through three EPs, one full-length, and more than four West Coast tours.

The urgency in his voice meshes well, both with shimmering folk strumming and the explosive, heaving whirlwind of electric guitars and electronics that Picture Atlantic adeptly navigates—maintaining accessibility even at their most tangled and spastic.

That accessibility may have helped persuade Coldplay in its decision to award the band. It also couldn’t hurt that, in his mellower tones, Bartunek is reminiscent of Chris Martin, and the piano-driven pop of “Parliament of Two,” off of the group’s 2011 Amalgamash EP, wouldn’t seem out of place coming from the British mega-band.

However, as Bartunek pushes harder, he takes on a psychotic wavering akin to Muse’s Matt Bellamy, until his voice begins to break up into something that sounds more like Jim Ward of Sparta. And as the band picks up steam, they can only be compared to more psychedelic groups such as The Radio Dept, Facing New York and Santa Cruz’s own Mountain Animal Hospital.

Picture Atlantic lost its original drummer when he went off to college; and a few other members have rotated in and out around core members, Bartunek (who plays guitar in addition to singing), bassist Ryan Blair and keyboardist Brian Graves. But despite its fluctuating lineup, the band’s persistence is another clue that none of the members think of themselves as “one of those bad bands.”

“We don’t really make any money off of this,” he says. Nonetheless, Bartunek, who first dropped out of college and then later quit his 9-to-5, devotes as much time as he can to Picture Atlantic—teaching guitar lessons and picking up other odd jobs on the side.

Currently, the band is working on its next full-length, which, according to Bartunek, will focus on the “very strange digital age” in which we live. He hopes to have it done and available for fans in the next eight months.

There have been times when he has thought about going back to school, “but I think at the end of the day I really do love playing music with this band,” he says. “I don’t think there is anything that I am aware of in my life that would make me stop playing music.”

Picture Atlantic plays at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8. For more information, call 429-6994.

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