Rising Artists in SCV: Atavan

(from left) Grande, Gudino, Smith, Shaw
(from left) Grande, Gudino, Smith, Shaw

In the thicketed, rolling hills of Castaic, filled with its truck stops and picket-fence houses is Atavan, a hard-core punk, post-metal band who stands out against its standstill surroundings. Two of their members, Fernando Gudino, senior, and Jeremy Grande, sophomore, go to Castaic High School. I sat down with Gunido and Grande to get a better perspective on what it’s like to be a part of a high school band. But their maturity and commitment to the music and to their bandmates is beyond what many would suspect. 


May marks the band’s fifth month since its establishment. It started when Grande and Gudino sought to add more musicians to their garage jam sessions. They explained how things fizzled out whenever they played with other people but that changed when Grande reached out to musicians James Smith, a junior at Canyon High School, and Austin Shaw, a sophomore at Valencia High School, on Instagram in hopes of creating a four-man band. It not only worked out on an artistic level, but the four consider themselves close. 


“I love these guys, they’re my favorite,” said Grande. 


It was Shaw who threw out the name “Atavan” while they were brainstorming ideas, which comes from the Fallout Boy song titled “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”. The group draws inspiration from artists like Title Fight and Oakwood and incorporates genres like metal and slam into their style, which appears messy but has an underlying direction, they explain. Their roles differ from song to song, gig to gig, but Smith is mainly on the drums, Shaw plays bass guitar, and Grande and Gunido do vocals and guitar. 

So far, they’ve done four official gigs, their debut being a DIY show in the Liveoak wash called The Chowdown, which also included a small collection of similar-genre, local bands, like Rec Affect and Noragami. Three words they’d use to describe their stage presence: loud, physical, and cute. Their most recent shows included a small but energetic set of demos– and in the traditional Castaic fashion– performed between the back hills of Northlake, using the left-over foundation of a house that burnt down years ago as a stage, and a slot at the Trixi Music Festival (part II), which was in a community events center and included an energized crowd and an even more energized set. During the set, Shaw’s finger bled red on his bass guitar and Grande leaped into the crowd while performing, adding more to their entertainment and keeping the crowd riled up. Grande and Shaw expressed their satisfaction with how the set went when I talked with them after the show, both sweaty and still out of breath. “I feel like we did a really good job,” said Shaw. 


Gudino and Grande both discovered music by finding or receiving a guitar at random and teaching themselves to play; Gudino found one in his grandma’s garage and Grande’s mom brought one home from a flea market. HoweverGrande’s musical roots dig deeper as he began playing the piano at a young age. 


“I’m like a genetic mutation,” Grande laughed, reflecting on how his interest in music didn’t spark from anything or anyone in particular. 


Gudino’s playing style is inspired by artists he sees on social media. He typically sticks with a fast-paced, heavy sound, playing mostly minor chords while Grande is a bit more flashy when it comes to his playing and writing. “I like to do complex riffs. I’m very much a lead guy,” said Grande. He then continued by explaining how Gudino “forces” him to play rhythm, “We try to write songs with leads in them and he’s like ‘no, I’m putting my foot down!’” Gudino then explained that Grande’s leads can be too much, sometimes unnecessary, but he says this with a sense of humor– which made up much of the interview’s energy, revealing their ‘friends before bandmates’ attitude towards each other. The two also fill me in on Smith and Shaw’s style: Smith is technical, often sitting down and thinking before trying to play something, “I think he’s very creative when he plays,” commented Gudino. Shaw sways to a more indie style, having an ear for more catchy melodies. Together, their styles and talents combined make- up Atavan. 


Atavan, being as creative as they are, write their own music. Grande walks me through their writing process, which usually starts in his garage to try out different riffs and to inspire the direction they want the song to go in. They then move into a room inside to build upon a riff and figure out a vocal melody. It is at the end that they write and add lyrics.


 “I write a lot about what’s going on in my life, what bugs me,” explained Gudino. 


Their last setlist included a few original songs: “Jordan’s Best Friend,” “Unironically the Second One,” “I Got a Sunburn on My Back and It Hurts When I Wear a Shirt,” and “Luke I am Your Father.”. They haven’t begun the recording and producing process yet as they are still saving up for the proper equipment and looking for a producer.  


It’s while discussing their writing process that they mention an EP that is in the works. 


“We’re looking for a specific sound in our songs so we’re making songs and trying to put them into one big piece,” Gudino explained. “It’s a little random but we want a violent kind of sound that’s fast-paced with a lot of drums and screaming.” 


The band is currently looking to sign a record deal in order to release the EP when it’s finished, but so far, they haven’t had the best luck when it comes to getting a fair deal. Despite this, they aim to release the EP by June of this summer.


 “We’re still cooking in the lab,” Grande clarified. 

Advice to those thinking of starting a band in high school?: don’t. Or at least that’s what Grande initially called out when I asked the question. But he and Gudino eventually, after some awkward laughter, explained how it’s mostly about luck— about finding the right people who you not only get along well with, but also people you work well with. People that you not only can play together or collaborate with but can intertwine your musical direction with. People you can understand and connect with as artists. But it all starts with passion. 


“If you have a lot of passion then, yeah, go for it. You’ll eventually find it if you have a lot of passion,” said Grande. 


Gudino is the only senior in the band and will be a high school graduate by the end of this school year.


 “I want to keep doing it. I don’t wanna drag it out but I’m going to try to do it as long as I can,” explained Gudino, who hopes that music is in his future and plans to stick with the band post-graduation. 


Grande also has similar ideas, despite only being a sophomore. “I either make it or I don’t. I’m hoping that this works out. I put so much of my time and effort into music. My grades are good but I hope the band sticks around,” he said. 


While their passion for music drives the band, I believe it’s their ability to work a crowd and bring their music to life that makes up the essence of the four. They play their instruments heartily and take the moment between songs to talk to the crowd. Plus, their iconic hair and piercing vocals cement their memory in the audience’s minds.


Castaic is dotted with musical talent. If you look hard enough, you can find it along with the people behind that talent. Atavan is one of the many, and whether they achieve hall of fame status one day or remain a local get-together kind of band, their roots began deep within Castaic soil. 


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