PLAYING ATLANTA: Sami Michelsen Dishes on Her Electronic-Pop Trio Reptile Room

Reptile Room – made up of Sami and Sean Michelsen and Bill Zimmerman – is one of Atlanta’s signature bands. The electronic-pop trio is known for their thrilling, psychedelic visuals, intoxicating music, and powerful performances on the best stages throughout the city, so when I got the chance to sit down with Sami in the midst of a schedule that just won’t quit, I was beyond excited. Since forming in 2017, they’ve put out a self-titled EP and released three stand-alone singles in the past year that (we’re hoping) could signal a forthcoming full-length.

Read on for all the details on Reptile Room, and a few exciting hints at what’s to come.

AF: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Sami! Let’s dive in, starting from the beginning. How did you get your start in music? 

SM: Thanks for having us! Sean, Bill, and I first started playing music together while we were all pretty young. We actually started our very first band together in life while we were in middle school. All three of us explored quite a few different musical outlets and projects over the years, and then, in 2017, we decided to get back together and create something fresh from our experiences… that became Reptile Room.

AF: What made you decide to start Reptile Room, and what’s been the biggest creative difference since its creation? 

SM: We started Reptile Room as an experiment at first. Like I mentioned before, we had all been in various ensembles over the years, working on multiple projects with other people, so we wanted to see what we would create together after all of that. Everything came around full circle. The idea is to push the boundaries a bit and keep some more wild elements inside the box of pop music. Since the three of us have a past, our workflow is very fast and constructive which is probably the biggest difference. Things get created quickly because of our comfort levels with one another. We don’t sugarcoat our opinions and we don’t take things too personally when it comes to Reptile Room. We do all creative projects exclusively between the three of us.

AF: I’m sure you’re asked this all the time, but what’s it like to work with your sibling? Does it make the creative process easier, since you’ve got similar backgrounds, or do you find that your different interests balance each other out?

SM: Working with my brother is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. We’ve been through a lot together in life, but I think that you can hear that depth in the music. We have our differences, but we usually sort them very quickly in the creative process. Every individual brings their own special magic to the mix of the group, and it’s very cool to get to share that experience with anyone, but it’s especially magical to share it with someone you’ve known your entire life.

AF: What’s the creative process like? Which artists and bands inspire you the most? 

SM: [The] creative process almost always starts differently each time, but it always ends the same way. Usually one of us has an idea, whether it’s an instrumental loop, a cool sound, or just a hook we’ve written. When we all like an idea, we move forward as a team on production and songwriting until we all love it.We all have very different inspirations, which I think makes our ideas pretty unique. But as for me, I am obsessed with Imogen Heap, Jeff Buckley, and The Killers. Janis Joplin and David Bowie are always in my heart; I’m always asking myself, “What Would David Do?” Big fan of Lana Del Rey, Billie Eilish and Posty these days as well. Aside from musicians, many artists continually inspire me. David Lynch is a visionary favorite of mine, along with countless writers/directors/painters and artists of every kind. I’m constantly seeking inspiration from everything in life, and all of it is fuel for the band.

AF: You released some singles in 2018, and have more music coming this year; what’s been the most exciting part of creating these new songs? The most challenging? 

SM: You find that you really capture a moment in your life. Even when you hit a wall during the process and you get tired, it’s all about the work. It’s always about the art and that focus keeps the process exciting. The most challenging part of the work is managing the administrative side of things, because we do that ourselves too. We are in the process of getting some help with that.

AF: How have you evolved as artists and songwriters since forming Reptile Room? 

SM: Reptile Room has learned to just let go and create; to move quickly when we can. We try to not get caught up on details too small and paralyzing to the process. We try to bounce ideas off each other and let our intuitions guide us in the moment, and I think that trait specifically is turning all of us into better songwriters… staying present and trying not to over analyze anything and just feel it.

AF: You’ve been involved in the Atlanta music scene for years; how has it impacted you as artists? 

SM: There is a ton of great music in Atlanta, but it’s very exciting to be working on Reptile Room here. I feel like most artists with a similar style come from New York or LA, so we want to help put Atlanta on the map for electronic pop music! We are proud to be here and will always be influenced by the A. It’s a very diverse music scene that offers a lot of sounds and inspirations. My musical endeavors in ATL, both ups and downs, have shaped me into the artist I am today.

AF: What’s next for Reptile Room? 

SM: We have a lot in the works for this year. Exciting news, music, videos, and shows will be announced very soon. We have some teasers for “Talk” (our upcoming single) on our social media pages as well as show announcements and news.

AF: Last question: best place in Atlanta to hear live music? 

SM: Atlanta has great music everywhere! Terminal West, Tabernacle, The Loft, Aisle 5 and tons more.

Follow Reptile Room on Facebook and Instagram.