Viral Video: Atomic Tom's Guerilla-Style iPhone Performance Rocks the B Train


This latest instant video sensation comes from a little-known Brooklyn band called Atomic Tom, whose take on subway busking involves an elaborate iPhone performance of their debut single, "Take Me Out." The clip garnered 20,000 hits and the attention of the tech world within hours of its release on Friday. The self-described "uber geeks" fully acknowledge that it was a meticulously organized publicity stunt, although their label, Universal/Republic had no idea of its existence until the morning when it went viral. And that's just the way the band wanted it.

"We decided to do this and not tell anyone--not our lawyer, our manger, the label," explains singer Luke White. "We wanted to be able to say we came up with this idea independent of anybody else and it's working."

The Williamsburg-based foursome, whose debut album "The Moment" was released on July 27, used four iPhone apps to recreate the individual instrument tracks -- Shred by Frontier Design, Drum Meister by Seungyi Lee. Pocket Guitar by Bonnet, Inc. and Microphone by Von Bruno. The performance, which the band ran through three times on Friday, October 8, was shot using three iPhones and edited together without any audio enhancements.

THR tracked down the band, which is currently in L.A. writing, to talk more about how they pulled off the B Train feat, and what inspired them to do it.

The Hollywood Reporter: Tell us how the idea came about.

Luke White: We were sitting around our table about a month ago talking about our record. We know that the world pays attention to a lot of these things that get out there via YouTube, Twitter and Facebook and we consider ourselves pretty adept technologically so we came up with this idea of performing the song on iPhones. Then we started thinking OK, where do we want to do this, and thought we'd try it on the subway and see what would happen. We've been rehearsing the song like crazy for a month.

THR: How long did it take to get it right and which train were you on?

White: It was the B train between Grand Street and Atlantic Ave. We did a test run the day before we shot it, and did it three times last Friday and the third time was amazing. That took about two hours. The whole thing is performed live and filmed on iPhones. We're all plugged into these little Berringer battery-powered amps under our seats. They were about a $100 a pop and it's funny, we thought we'd buy these, do this right now and then return them, but then after doing it and the response we received, we were, like, maybe we won't return these.

THR: So what was the response like? Did anyone throw you some loose change?

White: No change, but the people on the subway all got out of their seats and were crowding around us freaking out. The response was awesome. It was a lot of fun. In New York, people can be very stoic. It shot them out of that world and that was very cool to see. We were even contemplating going into different subways in different cites unannounced, even internationally like Paris or London. See if we can get ourselves in trouble.

THR: How much post-editing was involved?

White: Just editing the three iPhones together, it was all live audio. The director, Ben Espiritu, who's our guitar player's brother and the primary conjurer of this idea, was the main shot and he did a great job thinking of all the little details and essentially producing the whole thing. We edited that film on Monday and put it online last night and the day has just gone crazy. Apparently, it worked.

THR: Are these apps you use with any regularity?

White: No, we went after these apps when we started the video idea. We searched long and hard for the apps with the best sound and we were pretty impressed with these.

THR: Some comments on YouTube are saying that this version of "Take Me Out" sounds better than the one on the record. How does that sit with you?

White: I would say wait until they see us live. I'm really happy with the recorded version. I think there's a performance aspect to the studio that you don't get.

THR: There's a back-story that your instruments were stolen...

White: Our instruments were not, in fact, stolen. We've been doing these video blogs where we play these characters that thought that was a story that sets up the video well. But our instruments are safe and sound.

THR: So you don't make any apologies for this being pure marketing.

White: Not at all. I think ultimately we're very proud of the performance aspect of it and that we worked our asses off for a month. We're hoping, of course, that it reaches lots of people and they hear the song, enjoy it and tell their friends. That was the intent behind the video.

THR: Is that the OK Go model?

White: Those guys are geniuses; they have their finger on the pulse. We've learned in the past three years being in the music industry that the song is the first thing--you've gotta have the song--and the whole marketing aspect is a completely different world than it was 20 or 30 years ago. You've gotta be willing to take that risk of going into the subway and possibly embarrassing yourself or getting yelled at by a cop or whatever.

THR: This is one hell of an ad for Apple that didn't cost them a dime, have the gotten in touch?

White: I will cop to the fact that the entire band are Apple freaks. We always have been. There's not a PC in the group. When we first self-released the album on iTunes, a guy there became our champion but there's been some banter back and forth now, we'll see what happens.

THR: And you didn't tell you label ahead of time?

White: They found out about the video this morning. But everyone felt really good about what's happened. It's all very surreal. It was more because we wanted to completely surprise everyone. When people are surprised they tend to react more strongly, and as a result, tell more people than if it was preempted by something.

THR: You've poked fun of the music business in other video clips, how is that not biting the hand that feeds you?

White: We love making fun of ourselves and I think we feel very lucky and blessed to be where we are at Universal/Republic--[label head] Monte Lipman threatened to cut off my balls if we signed with anyone else! We are such a new band and haven't experience a lot of the dreaded horror stories of the music business; we're very aware of that and I think it makes us smarter in that respect.