Profile: Revival Choir (2019)

Sean Atkins understates things. 

His band, Revival Choir, quietly released its debut LP, Finn, in September. Nobody ever shot-gunned out press releases, blitzed social media or even threw a release party.

“Some people were like, ‘You gotta build it up. You gotta start a ground-swell,’” says the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter, whose day job involves accounting. “I got the final mix and I just uploaded it.

“I just want the album to exist on its own. I just threw the album online and here we are.”

Atkins exorcised the LP’s 11 songs – available as a Bandcamp name-your-own-price download — at Club Café open-mics and recorded with club regulars. His first show with a proper band, which has been rehearsing in a McKees Rocks warehouse, took place last week.

You wouldn’t know the material’s infancy from listening; Atkins’ songs are melancholic and fully formed folk-pop gems, distilled with smoky vocals and arrangements that are sparse but emotive. The work can hold its own among Pedro the Lion, Swell Season and Ryan Adams.

Andrea Schaertel, Revival Choir’s keyboardist, met Atkins at a Hambone’s open-mic last year.

“The simplicity of his music is my favorite part,” says Schaertel, of Dormont. “I always tend to gravitate toward more simple music. I think it’s the most beautiful. I think Sean’s music does a terrific job at eliciting a certain feeling … and his lyrics are just gorgeous.”

Many songs are vignettes on relationships, some of broken varieties.

“It reflects on how blurry the line is between an argument and emotional abuse, that kind of searching over whether I was a good guy or a bad guy in the aftermath of a blow-up,” Atkins says. “I think I feel guilty for the ways I didn’t treat people well in relationships or how I handled things immaturely. I think it’s complicated.”

Daniel Owens joined Revival Choir on bass after seeing a CraigsList ad citing Songs: Ohia and Elliott Smith as influences.

“The songs have an emotional resonance that I feel is really compelling,” says Owens, of Regent Square. “As soon as I heard the songs, I knew it was something I wanted to be involved with.”

“I dig how they are harrowing, in a sense, but not totally dark,” he adds. “There’s always a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.” – Justin Vellucci, Pittsburgh Current, Oct. 15, 2019


About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.