Project Atlantic Talks Music, TikTok, and More

Project Atlantic is “99% sarcasm, %1 indie rock” from New Jersey. The solo project of musician Josh Zimmer, what initially started as solely a musical project is now also a TikTok account of 34k followers known for Zimmer’s funny content. We talked to Zimmer on his story and what it all means.

For those who don’t know you yet, what is the story of Project Atlantic? Let’s talk it first through solely the musical aspect and your musical background in general.

Josh Zimmer: I have been involved with music since I was 13. So it’s a journey close to twenty years now. I grew up a bass player, first and foremost. I learned everything I know about music on bass. Throughout my college years, I was a performance major, and my instrument, of course, was the bass. I initially learned the bass parts of classic rock music. Straight rock and roll for all of my teenage years. In college, I was studying jazz. All of my musical foundations come from learning rock bass and jazz bass. Especially in college, I began dwelling upon different instruments. I don’t say I am proficient in these instruments. But I know my way around guitar, drums, or keys. I also know my way around singing, because I was forced to take singing classes during college. I’m all that. 

Slowly, over the course of my college career, I decided just to have something of my own. To put out music myself. That turned into Project Atlantic. I have been doing that for about ten years now. On and off at the beginning, became more serious when the pandemic started. It is just me, it’s a one-person band. I do all the production, all the recording, all the songwriting. I do everything with the exception of featured backup vocalists on a couple of tracks. In all of those, I took inspiration from an artist called The Album Leaf. There is also Bon Iver, which was initially just Justin Vernon. I took inspiration from those kinds of solo projects, single artists putting out music under their own names. 

A classic question to know you better: What are the three albums that changed your life?

Wow. The first one would have to be Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I wouldn’t say you could hear all of that in Project Atlantic per se, but it absolutely had a huge impact on me. I think it was the first album that I sat the entire way through. I had never heard that kind of music before, I was 13. I was living with my uncle, and we played it while watching The Wizard of Oz. I was just blown away by Pink Floyd’s musicianship, Roger Waters’ songwriting. In my overall journey as a musician, it absolutely showed me what music could be. Also, the themes of that album just blew me away.

Another one would have to be Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach. I think it is one of the most phenomenally produced albums, but also great on a collaborative level with what Damon Albarn did with artists he brought on for that album. There are so many things I love about it. It has so much variety, and there is no single song on it that I would skip. Almost every single one of those tracks is in a different genre. A big influence on me.

Finally, when I think more along the lines of what I am doing now with Project Atlantic and what influenced the music itself, I would have to say the very first album by Alvvays, which I am actually wearing a shirt of today. Especially with their songwriting and production. A combination of modern-day surf rock, shoegaze, and post-punk. All of those influences mixed together on an album that’s extremely accessible and pop-oriented. The style of the songs and the sincerity of the writing on the album is a huge influence on Project Atlantic.

Of course, a large portion of our discussion here will be your videos on TikTok. And you define Project Atlactic as 99% sarcasm, %1 indie rock. At what point did you realize you could make humor integral to your internet persona?

It all developed naturally. I mentioned before that things got more serious for me after the pandemic started. I had a lot of free time on my hands. One of the things that I wanted was to be more involved with was social media in general. Around the time of the pandemic, we also saw the rising popularity of TikTok. I was doing research on how to gain more followers. I was wondering how some artists had fewer followers and some put out content that just attracted people. I was trying to figure out, “What’s the appeal?” I was researching that more and more and also discovering TikTok at the same time. I tried a lot of stuff at first, too, with TikTok especially. I wasn’t doing anything humorous at first. Much of what I did was pretty straightforward, like asking people music questions like “What’s your favorite key to writing a song in?” or “What’s your favorite album?” Very simple, basic questions. People were actually interacting, and that got me a bit of a following. But at the same time, it wasn’t entirely true to my personality. And wasn’t entirely the type of content I would like to consume. My friends and I are always sending each other videos that are silly and stupid, just for laughs. I thought, “If this is something I would like to consume, then maybe it is also something I would like to make.” I also figured it would attract people closer to my personality. I am always coming up with things on my mind to entertain myself, something to keep me entertained and make me laugh during my day job. 

I think it’s very funny to do something very out there and out of place, but also to do it in a serious manner. Something that people would maybe question at first: “Wait, what is this? Why did you do that?” One example of that: One of the earliest successes I had was a video where I was putting a ukulele in a dishwasher, or at least pretending to do so. I just thought that was very funny. A lot of people thought it was funny too. Some didn’t get it, they were like, “Wait, is this serious?” or “This is too goofy.” About one-and-a-half or two years ago, that became the tone of the channel. It’s more in line with my personality and sense of humor. The music I make is the stuff I like, so why can’t the content be the same? So that’s the story. 

I don’t think one stuff is better, I think the music and the TikTok go hand-in-hand now. In this day and age, modern artists almost have to do that. Especially if you are an independent artist. I would encourage everyone to put content as well. I am not a good person to predict what the future of music might be, but right now that is a huge thing. And if you find out what works well for you and what you like, that’s even better. Because there are no rules for online content creation. You can pretty much do whatever you like in whatever style, and see what works and what does not. All that could help people see who you are as an artist. I have a fanbase, and there are people who enjoy my music but not my content, while some people are vice versa. There are people who like both, and also people who don’t like both. But that’s also a cool thing, there are people who know me as a content creator and people who know me as a musician. I enjoy doing both. That is a huge win for me, there are two things that I love to get creative with, and people respond to either one or both.

So I understand that you are not concerned that your videos might shadow the music you are making, you are just happy that they are giving you more visibility.

Yeah, I’m just happy that it gives me more visibility. I describe myself as a very average person from a very average town. I don’t have a ton of money to put into this, but just having a phone and a few ideas have given me an audience. To me, that’s absolutely amazing. It blows my mind when I think about it. I spent a long time making music for Project Atlantic, and I wouldn’t say it’s that successful now. I have a nice little following. But the fact that my music was listened to once in a few days when I started and now there are 40 to 50 people listening to it every single day, let alone thousands of people viewing content is just awesome. I’m absolutely in shock of it sometimes.

Here is a recent tweet by the band HMLTD: “There’s way too much content. We need to stop making content. Now. Movies, songs, reels, shorts, TikToks, Tweets, memes, voice memos, guides, complaints, the whole lot. Stop it all, now, please. There’s way too much content. Everyone should just shut the fuck up. Now.” How do you feel about that statement?

(laughs) I don’t disagree that there is way too much. But I also think that’s the beauty of it. There’s lots of stuff out there and you have to get through all the junk to get through the good stuff. But at the same time, there are incredible musicians I discovered thanks to the internet and their content that I probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. When you look at it, everything has its pros and cons. Is there too much? I absolutely agree with it. But exactly because there is too much music, there is definitely great music to be discovered. There are lots of cool people entertained by a lot of cool things. You can laugh at a lot of content, and even for more serious stuff, they can help you go through things you are struggling with or find communities that can prove helpful. I don’t know if the good outweighs the bad, but there are definitely good aspects to the content out there.

What is the best bassist joke you know?

(laughs) The one I always go to is the bass player not getting the attention of the person they like. All of the bass jokes are the ones that come from a very relatable place for me. Any time I make a bass joke, it’s usually things that are said to me by others. I have been able to turn that around and laugh at it, even to myself. The biggest one for me that I used a couple of times is “Bass is better than guitar because it has three strings.” I had someone say that to me once, someone I worked with back in high school. I remember thinking “Oh man, people don’t think my instrument is cool.” (laughs) But I’ve reused that years later as a joke in my content. And I do think the bass is cool, no matter what comments from my videos might say about me. I’m a bassist and I love bassists, I’m just able to laugh at myself.

Why do you think that in a culture that’s always changing in humor value, that bassist stereotype stays persistent after all these years?

I think that the best comedy is the type that includes a bit of truth to it. I’ve played bass in bands for a long time, and the singers and the guitar players are actually the ones that get the attention, not the bass players. In my experience anyway. I think that since people are still laughing at that, there must be a bit of truth in it.

What are your one song and one video so far that you feel proud of the most?

The one song I’m really proud of is “Dead Leaves.”  In terms of the production of the song and all, I’m really happy with that. Every song has been a learning process. When I got to that one, I was very pleased with the progress I made and everything. The lyrical themes of that song, I was very happy with too. It’s a song about feeling anxious, a theme which I was hesitant to write about at first and then I was just very satisfied with it. Anxiety was pretty much something I struggled with for a long time too, and I am proud because something good came out of that.

A video that I was very proud of and thought was very clever is the one with my acoustic guitar impression. I say “This is my impression of an acoustic guitar.” I stand back and it cuts to an acoustic guitar in the same spot that I was in. It wears the same hat, jacket, and jeans I was wearing at the start of the video. People really responded well to that. Herman Li of Dragonforce even commented on that video. I was very proud of that. I always post stuff and think if people will find it funny or not, so it was rewarding.

When you check out your streaming platform’s search history, what are the last three songs that come up?

Let’s see. There’s “Simulation Swarm” by Big Thief. Great song.  Next up is “Follow” from the band Whitney. Then there is “Wave” from a band called The Blairs.

Is there an ultimate dream you have for Project Atlantic?

I would love to be able to support myself fully as Project Atlantic, which I’m not doing right now. I still have a day job. I’ve been doing well with Project Atlantic for the last couple of years, but I’m still not at the point of fully supporting myself. That is a big goal. Also writing music that I am happy with. I want to keep creating stuff that’s entertaining for people. Supporting myself is important though. Even if I can’t, doing things I do already will be fulfilling.

You can check out Project Atlantic’s Bandcamp profile here and TikTok profile here.