Atlas Fret

Atlas Fret

BandPopRock

What happens when two high school history teachers run out of lesson plans? They pick up guitars and sing the history of the ancient and medieval worlds, of course. Jeff Mettee and Jim Gardner set out to write the history of the world via rock and other forms of pop music. The result is Atlas Fret.

Biography

Inspired by sources as disparate as Jimmy Driftwood (the high school teacher who wrote “The Battle of New Orleans”), the B-52’s (“Mesopotamia”), Schoolhouse Rock (the ‘70s era public television mainstay), and the more recent Songs Inspired by Literature compilations, Jeff Mettee and Jim Gardner set out to write the history of the world via rock and other forms of pop music. The result, after many recording-session epochs, is the band Atlas Fret and its debut album Repeat the Days.

Mettee (aka Jeff Scott) and Gardner (aka Jr. James) are history instructors at Asheville School, a co-educational boarding school in Asheville, NC. founded in 1900 C.E.

Both teachers are seasoned musicians with previous recordings under their belts. Mettee released his debut CD, Handmade Machine, in 2006. Gardner, co-owner of the indie label A-Tone Music, has released four discs with Jr. James & The Late Guitar. Both guitarists have played in numerous bands, and both are songwriters.

Writing songs about world history opened the creative floodgates. “We had been looking for a way to collaborate,” says Gardner, “and, once we agreed on this concept, the ideas came fast and furious. It was liberating to write on subjects completely out of the first-person experience that inspired so many of our previous songs. I think we both felt freed-up to try different things lyrically and musically.”

“It was a whole new writing experience,” Mettee chimes in. “Creating songs about significant historical events lends a weight to lyrics. The trick was trying to distill the major themes from complex historical narratives.”

The (academically) undisciplined approach to songwriting, so to speak, opened a portal to an array of historical topics and musical styles: a rave up about the symbolic power of red shoes in the Byzantine Empire; a New Orleans r&b-style tribute to Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut; an acoustic folk love song inspired by the Japanese Heian period.

Other originals include a Springsteen-styled rocker about Genghis Khan, a Brazilian-style samba about the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and a genre-hopping celebration of ancient Rome’s original bad girl—the scandalous Messalina, ill-fated wife of emperor Claudius.
With an eye to using songs for lesson plans, the writers decided to fill the CD with a whopping 18 tracks rather than edit down to an artistically pithy 10 or 12. A couple of covers rounded out the stack of originals: “Rock With The Caveman,” one of the first British rock ‘n’ roll records, originally performed by Tommy Steele (later remade by Big Audio Dynamite for the Flintstones soundtrack); and “The Great Historical Bum,” Woody Guthrie’s working-class history of the world.

Virtually every culture studied in world history courses is represented: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India, Byzantium, Mongolia. Mettee and Gardner promise to write about the Aztecs, Incas, Olmecs, and Maya for volume II.

Students and alumni also pitched in. Asheville School junior Paru Gopalan contributed vocals on “India Pronunciation Guide” and sophomore Wei-Yin Ko voiced the “China Pronunciation Guide,” both songs recorded in historical shades of techno and electronica. Asheville School alumnus Noah Francis, a senior at Howard University, became the fearsome arbiter of Hammurabi’s Code in a rewriting of Prince Buster’s “Judge Dread,” a Jamaican hit from the 1960s. Asheville School junior Sunny Kim’s drawing of Mettee and Gardner graces the inside album cover.

Mettee and Gardner elicited the help of stellar musicians to record the instrumental tracks. Jim Harmon (bass, guitar) and Alan Marcha (drums) contributed key parts to many songs. Multi-instrumentalist Tyler Ramsey added keyboards and guitar to three tracks, and Aaron Price of Collapseable Studios mastered the disc.

Even National Public Radio got involved. Unable to schedule a recording session in Asheville or in Jamaica to record the vocals for “Hammurabi’s Code,” and with production deadlines looming, the band arranged for Noah Francis to record at NPR’s Studio 4A in Washington, DC. In an intense hour session, the Jamaican native and Asheville School alumnus tracked the reggae-styled narration, and, voilà!, “Hammurabi’s Code” was in the mix.

There you have it—the history of the world in 54 minutes of spinning digital technology. Expect a quiz, or a concert, soon.

Jeff Mettee (AKA Jeff Scott)
A product of Cleveland, OH, childhood Mettee upheld the longstanding academic tradition of not paying attention in history class. Instead, he spent his youth dreaming of victories on the athletic field and flirting with a wide variety of musical influences. His first musical loves included the Clash, David Bowie, and the English Beat on one hand, and the likes of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Marvin Gaye on the other. Eventually, Mettee's musical passions were joined by his growing interest in academics. Teaching was inevitable, and he has pursued the vocation

Lyrics

Red Shoes

Written By: Mettee

Do you feel like a captive?
No longer in charge of the way you’re actin’
Do you hear footsteps down the hall?
Sleeping with one eye open
No succession laws to make it clear
You soon could disappear

They’re dangerous -- red shoes of high status

Not in charge of your timetable
Don’t take the advice that Cain gave Abel
Get out, get out while you can
Thinking a lot about Constantine
If he were here, would he scream?
You got it all wrong

They’re dangerous -- red shoes of high status

Remember the tale of Andronicus
He was a broken reed killed with lust
And 28 more fell
Do you feel like a captive?
No longer in charge of the way you’re acting
Do you hear footsteps down the hall?

They’re dangerous -- red shoes of high status
What’s wrong with us, those red shoes of high status?
So dangerous, red shoes of high status
What’s wrong with us, red shoes of high status?

Terracotta Soldier

Written By: Gardner

Qin Shi Huang Di
Needs an army right away
Eternity
Is knocking at the gate

Not drafted, you were molded
Rank and file
Born a full grown warrior
In the empire’s favorite style

Terracotta Soldier
In an army of dreams
You’ve been fired in the kiln
Not as tough as you might seem

It’s an old familiar story
In the service of a king
Your only hope for glory
Is the terror of his reign

Ribbons of vermilion
And Dragon Veins
Is it the kingdom you’re defending
Or the boy king’s gold and jade?

Terracotta Soldier
In an army of dreams
You’ve been fired in the kiln
Not as tough as you might seem

You’re just a hollow warrior
With feet of clay
You’ve been buried for the ages
And you’ll never have a name

(You’re just a) Terra-Cotta Soldier
In a terror kind of world
Staying underground
Fighting evil forces

I'm History

Written By: Mettee

This is me and some day I’ll be history
No longer living flesh, committed to the page
I walk down city streets covered in antiquity
Looking at the buildings, guessing at their age

If I could I’d steal a moment
Find a place to hide it away
And when I could I’d spread it all out
Jump in, repeat the days

Some homes are castles, others are just servant’s shacks
Some lead a privileged life carried on the backs
Of common people dying in obscurity
They set the stage for you and me

Please speak kindly around their faded memories
Heroes and villains filling up a page
Dusty volumes, the stories washing over me
In my time I’ll join them some day

Discography

Repeat the Days

Set List

I'm History
Red Shoes
Messalina
Taj Mahal
Lisbon 1755
Sulieman
Terracotta Soldier
The Great Historical Bum
Lean and Hungry
Clouds
Genghis Khan
Rock with the Caveman
Hat in a Cheap Suit