Before I start, I’d like to point out that I’m speaking strictly from my experience. Obviously, when you’re making statistical comments, the biggest mistake you could make is extrapolate from your own experience. My experience is statistically worthless, so…
Please be aware of that.
In my experience, it seems that punk and metal are quite popular with atheists. Not just for listening, but for playing, as well. I like to look around for music that fits in with my tastes, and recently I’ve been looking for music with a free-thinking and/or socially-critical bent; music with a skeptical message, in other words.
So we’ll start with my tastes.
My introduction to what I guess is called “Adult Contemporary” was Nirvana. I loved, and still love, Nirvana, but they are an anomaly in my style. The reason is because although Nirvana was classified as Seattle Grunge, they were more often than not Punk, and in my experience, most fans of Nirvana are Punk fans first. I really don’t like Punk. I do, however, love Seattle Grunge. But even that is an anomaly for me.
The same friend who got me into Nirvana also got me into what I still hold as the greatest band of all time, Led Zeppelin. They are the ones who really dictated my journey into music, but not forwards. See, I actually don’t like most of the music Led Zeppelin inspired. I’m very much convinced that, outside of causing the revolution that gave us bands like Guns n’ Roses and Nirvana, and new styles like Seattle Grunge, and giving us one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the 80’s absolutely sucked.
So I went backwards. I started by getting into other 70’s groups, like Emerson, Lake, & Palmer and Pink Floyd. Then I started checking out the 60’s, and the Psychedelic Blues and pre-Prog was exceptional to me. The Who, the Doors, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, post-Rubber Soul Beatles, and so on to even more obscure Psychedelic, Blues, and pre-Prog groups, many of which lasted into the 70’s. This was what I loved. It was the experimental use of the guitar, with effects and unorthodox means of playing… that‘s what turned me on about it. As a guitar player myself, this is what I strive for; that experimental, effects-laden, unorthodox style of playing.
Rules? Fuck that! Who needs ’em? And technique is only important as far as learning how to play, learning scales, and playing at least partially clean; although I’m not a fan of clean playing unless it’s melodic, deliberate, and emotional. This is why Jimmy Page and David Gilmour are my two all-time favorite guitarists.
Of course, my journey could only take me back further still, as I started lusting for the roots of Led Zeppelin. A number of years ago, I embarked on a journey with one goal; create a set I would call “The Complete Roots of Led Zeppelin“. I finished the studio volume in 2009 (the live volume is still “under construction”). I was warned off it by one friend at first, who told me that I would “see Led Zeppelin for the thieving cover band they really are”. Instead, what happened was two-fold:
a) My love for Led Zeppelin grew. Sure, they were stupid enough to steal a lot of music, and they paid for it later in their careers. However, they took the songs and turned them into brilliant masterpieces of music that the original artists could only dream of.
b) I discovered a whole wealth of new styles, bands, and artists, ranging from early Delta Blues like Charlie Patton and the mysterious Robert Johnson, and a seriously underrated style of music called Psychedelic Folk, spearheaded by the original writer of Dazed and Confused, Jake Holmes.
Suddenly I had this huge collection of music, but it had a problem. The only music I listened to past Led Zeppelin’s Coda was Stevie Ray Vaughan, Guns N’ Roses, and Nirvana. I needed to branch out, and quick.
So I went exploring. I first got in to an underground group called Days of the New. Really, it’s a project now, not a group. The original band only released one album, Yellow. Travis Meeks, the founder, continued on to release Green with another band, then Red with yet another band. His fourth album, Purple, is now considered his Chinese Democracy, with the exception that Chinese Democracy has actually been released. And if Purple is ever released, it will include a totally different band; the only mainstay throughout has been Travis Meeks.
I also got in to Audioslave at this time, but I stopped searching, getting in to stand-up comedy instead.
Finally, mainly thanks to my brother, I got back in to the search, this time with Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. My brother also tried to get me in to metal like Avenged Sevenfold, but to this day I cannot get past the demon growls.
We’re much closer to the present, now. About a year and a half ago, while looking up stuff about Pink Floyd, I stumbled onto a 90’s band that everyone said was basically directly inspired by Pink Floyd… Porcupine Tree. I wanted more like this; experimental, heavy without the growls, and progressive. But I was hard-pressed to find much… until I mentioned it on a Facebook group that had absolutely nothing to do with music, and end up being invited to a music group. There, these awesome people introduced me to some incredible music, including Riverside and Camel.
During this musical journey, I also came to love Irish Celtic Folk and Traditional music, as well as contemporary Folk.
Now, I have a good compendium of what I like. Blues is still the greatest genre of music for me. It’s what I always go for and what I always listen to. But Progressive Rock and Psychedelic Rock have become favorites of mine, as well. But now I’m on the lookout for more socially conscious music. Music that has something to say, with lyrics that actually mean something. As an atheist myself, I’d love to hear more songs that question culturally-held traditions and hierarchical establishments, especially music that questions sacred traditions, questions, and beliefs.
But I really don’t want Punk or Metal. The lack of any atheist Blues music is a bit weird to me, to be honest, seeing as the current most-hated minority in the US would have a lot of blues to sing about. Perhaps not-so surprisingly, religion and fundamentalism are rather popular subjects for Progressive Rock. ELP, Crosby Stills and Nash, Roger Waters, Porcupine Tree, and more liked writing about religious dogma and fanaticism, and never in a good light. The thing is, it’s not always on purpose. Greg Lake’s song “I Believe in Father Christmas”, for example, was an unintentionally controversial tune. Greg himself said he very much believed in Father Christmas, and was surprised to see it become a controversial song with Christians.
However, aside from the usuals (“Dear God” by XTC, “Imagine” by John Lennon, a lot of songs by Frank Zappa, etc), I have managed turned up some good stuff:
First, there’s Tim Minchin. He’s a comedian, but a musical comedian, and one of the greatest piano players of the 21st Century, in my humble opinion. Next is Shelley Segal, who’s style can best be described as folk rock, although she does experiment around and push folk rock to the limits, like in “I Don’t Believe in Fairies”. There’s also Symphony of Science, which has some pretty great music with the stated purpose of “deliver[ing] scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form.”
My question is this… what else you got? Blues, Progressive Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Folk… any other music in the atheism vain? Lay it on me. I’m ready.
Just a note…
This is not a list of my favorite bands and artists, and as such, it includes a very tiny sampling of all that I listen to… and when I say tiny, I mean tiny. So just because a band or artist isn’t listed here does not mean I don’t listen to/enjoy them.