Rock bands teeming in psychedelic schtick are a dime a dozen. Rock bands with rich, familiar musical influences, catchy melodies and compelling, distinctive lyrics — all dripping with authentic psychedelia?
Not so common.
But Dallas’ Atlantis Aquarius weaves their sound with all those threads and more. The quintet’s new album, Leo’s Rising, released earlier this month, showcases a broad sound with driving, Southern rock roots and narratives peppered with spiritualism and mysticism. Yet it's all wholly accessible.
Exhibit A: “Waiting on the Next Life,” the first track on the new record.
“He’s an old soul / She’s a Virgo
And they live with their kids on the outside of town, Palo Pinto
They ain’t got shit, but they don’t quit / Just waitin’ on the next life
He’s a rich man / She’s Aquarian
And they live in an uptown dig, diamonds and cars, party with the stars, uptown tempo
They got it all, and they walkin’ tall / Just waiting on the next life.”
“Waiting on the Next Life” — featuring a bluesy, Southern rock rhythm and a lead guitar melody reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Black Crowes — seems a perfect juxtaposition with the band’s rousing cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me,” which they opened their album release show with at Three Links a couple of weeks back.
Atlantis Aquarius frontman Jordan Cain (aka JC Aquarius) says the track is his favorite on the new record.
Exhibit B: The catchy “Jesus Lives in Mexico,” with a catchy, driving, “Hard Day’s Night” sound and a hint of politics.
“I wrote 'Jesus Lives in Mexico' about a guy who was claiming to be Christ, and he was actually living in Mexico,” Cain says. “I wrote the song in 2014 (while) fasting and meditating in the desert. The song is more to do with spiritual ideas than political, although the third verse does point out the struggle of immigrants trying to support their families.”
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He credits Brandon Pinckard of Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights with helping write both songs, noting the two remain good friends following Cain’s departure from that group in 2016. He says he parted ways with JTNL because he wanted to explore his own songwriting themes, which he acknowledges are a little “far out” — much like himself.
“I do tend to write a lot about reincarnation and other esoteric ideas,” says Cain, who was raised in a Pentecostal church in Oklahoma and graduated from Bible college. “I consider myself a Christian, but my beliefs go pretty far out compared to traditional Christianity. So I say, ‘I’m a believer.’”
Cain quotes Buddha about as often as he references biblical passages when describing the origins of many of his lyrics.
“The truth is within; Christ said it, Buddha said it,” he notes. “All faiths teach love and compassion and forgiveness. … There’s really no division in the truth.”
After joining forces with singer Taylor Nicks — a renowned backup vocalist, having worked with Paul Cauthen, Band of Heathens, Leon Bridges and more — and releasing Atlantis Aquarius’ debut EP in 2017, the group has toured the country. Their initial growth spurt was kick-started by the inclusion of 2017’s “Niberian Sun” on several top Spotify playlists, Cain said.
Last year, Atlantis Aquarius saw a lineup shuffle, as Cain brought in twins Oliver and Maxwell Smith on drums and bass, respectively, and Hutton Ferrell on lead guitar. Max Smith also recently joined Fort Worth-based Quaker City Night Hawks.
Cain jokes about the new members’ young ages, but it’s clear that he holds them in very high regard.
“I’m considerably older than those guys. They’re barely in their 20s,” he says, laughing. “But they were raised on good rock ‘n’ roll, old stuff and new stuff — they probably know more about rock 'n' roll than I do.”
Ferrell, he adds, is “the best musician in our band; he probably practices more than any of us, and it shows.”
Cain says he feels a little like a coach, working with the new members. He has played their roles before, so he’s constantly “riding their ass, but in a loving way.”
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“There’s an old scripture that says ‘as iron sharpens iron,’" he says. "I feel like they’re helping me as much as I’m helping them, and they also keep me in check with the music and with my attitude.”
Atlantis Aquarius’ new album began taking shape last year, and its first single, “Deja Vudoo,” was officially released last October. The band was a featured performer on DittyTV last year and on Jam in the Van in Austin last month.
The band plans to tour the remainder of 2019, promoting the new record from coast to coast, Cain says.
“We were lucky to get to play out west in California and east to New York last year. We plan to do the same this year, and just work, work, work,” he quips. “Touring can be really tough if you don’t have a great group that’s really tight: You have to smell that person and live with that person around the clock for weeks sometimes. But — thank God — we really get along great.”