It’s not uncommon for a band to build their own recording studio. In some ways it’s a rite of passage for acts that have attained a level of success that allows them to release music at their own leisure.
For Atlas Genius, however, the band saw little reason to wait; before the South Australian act had even played their first show under that moniker they set about constructing their very own recording facility.
A dicey decision at the time maybe, but the gamble paid off when brothers Keith, Michael and Steven Jeffery and friend Darren Sell released their first single Trojans in 2011. With one song, Atlas Genius went from unknown entity to sought-after commodity, with many anticipating the band’s debut album.
With their band-built studio affording Atlas Genius the luxury of time, those who were waiting for the band’s first album were kept waiting until the quartet finally released their first LP, When It Was Now, in February of this year. With the album finally out and the band in ever-increasing demand, frontman Keith Jeffery called in from Germany to talk about why the studio came before the show, discuss their debut LP When It Was Now as well as…the intimidating size of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. But of course.
Music Feeds: It’s seems a risky move to build a studio before Atlas Genius had ever played a live show. What was the thinking behind that decision?
Keith Jeffery: It was a labour of love. It was one of those things where we didn’t do it for anything else other than a desire to have a facility to record our music. And, just like any musician, you don’t do it, really, for anything else but the love of music.
We didn’t think it was going to take us as long as it did. It ended up being a 2-year process to build a studio but we thought, naively, it might take us 2 or 3 months to build. And then once we got going we realised it was going to take a lot longer.
MF: Other than giving you more time to record while keeping costs down, how did the band-built studio help shape When It Was Now?
KJ: You do get more time; the way we create music it’s a reactionary process … I know when I write music – with samples and synthesisers, etc – there’s so many sounds that you come up with early in the songwriting process that have such a big influence on where a song goes, in that I don’t think I could write the songs we do just on an acoustic guitar.
You need to have a facility where you can create these big sounds and professional sounds … And the way we built the studio, it’s a big room that’s pretty conducive to us all fitting in there and feeling comfortable and throwing ideas around at each other.
So it affects the music in a whole bunch of ways.
MF: When building the studio, Atlas Genius paid the bills as a cover band playing songs by the likes of The Police, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The band’s sound is pretty far away from those acts – where does the band’s direct influences come from?
KJ: I always struggle with that one because like any band I could give you 50 bands that have got equal part influence in our sound. I mean, I love The Strokes and there are certain bands that I guess come through [more than others].
… I really love The Cure and I mentioned that in a couple of interviews; some people were hearing it in a few songs that we did on the album, and I hadn’t even thought about those songs being influenced by The Cure.
There’s a real diverse bunch of bands that influence us, I think.
MF: The impact of Trojans really bolstered the band’s profile in 2011. Did that put a lot of pressure on When It Was Now?
KJ: Not so much on the record, it put pressure on – because it was the first song we finished in the process, the first song that was done in our studio. So we were going along at our own pace and all of a sudden there was demand for our music. And we weren’t ready to put anything else out for a while. We didn’t want to just rush music out just because people were asking for it. But that put pressure on at that point.
Once we had the EP [Through The Glass] done and we signed with our record label I think some of that pressure was sort of alleviated. The main pressure for us is that we didn’t want to rush anything but we also wanted to capitalise on the attention that song started to get for us.
MF: Did the success of Trojans tempt Atlas Genius to try and recreate that formula throughout When It Was Now?
KJ: It was a deliberate thing not to try and write any other songs that were like that. A particular song always has its best chance of connecting with the listeners, or anyone who wants to to hear the music, if it’s its own thing and an honest expression of an emotion.
So I feel like each one of the songs was just trying to do its own thing. You know, we really didn’t try to cover old ground like anything that we did on Trojans. You could always try to do that but I don’t think it’s going to be a successful thing, to try and recreate a song.
MF: 4 different directors have created 4 different music videos, outside of the official clip, for Trojans. The first video released is a claymation clip by Tyler Nicolson. When you watch that video does it give a different feeling to the song?
KJ: Yeah, I mean there’s, in some strange way, this touching sentiment to the claymation. What did you think when you saw it?
MF: I thought it must have taken a long time to make!
KJ: Yeah, we weren’t involved very heavily at all in the process of those Vimeo clips. It looks like it would have taken a long time. I haven’t actually spoken to the guy that did it. I’d like to at some point.
MF: In current single If So a lyric that caught my attention was, “Don’t be talking maybe / your mum is flying high as a kite”. Where did that lyric come from?
KJ: I’m not going to reveal everything with that one. That’s something that I experienced with someone that I met once. Without giving too much away, it’s kind of just a train wreck that I came in contact with once. That’s as much as I’ll say about that situation (chuckles).
MF: A train wreck that was someone’s mum?
KJ: I want to be careful because the person who it refers to is kind of – I don’t want to go too much into it because I could get myself in some strife here … That’s as much as I can say (chuckles).
MF: What prompted the choice to release If So as a single?
KJ: It works in that there’s different criteria, obviously, for singles than there is for other tracks on an album. There’s a certain immediacy that you need and I think that one has that. I think it comes across to people quite quickly. Some songs on the album are probably more of a slow burner type but I think it fits as the second single. I’m happy with it as a single.
MF: One song that seems to be getting a lot of attention is the album’s opening track Electric. That deep cut seems to have the most experimentation on it.
KJ: I would love that to be a single as well. Whether that’s the sort of song radio would want to play, that’s another question. That was one of the last songs we finished on the album. There’s sort of that irony that once you’ve finished recording an album, or you get close to the end, you really do feel free to kind of experiment and go a bit crazy.
And that one was we were just messing around with some cool synth sounds that we really liked, and the song came from this synth that you hear at the beginning of the track.
MF: Atlas Genius was recently on Jay Leno where you met [NBA player] Chris Paul and The Rock. What was that experience like?
KJ: It’s always a surreal thing when you’re doing those kind of shows. I mean, just doing the Leno show itself was incredible but having those guys on there as well, you have to pinch yourself.
And they were really nice, they came up and they were really nice guys. It really is funny when I think back – [if you had] told me a year ago we’d be doing shows like that I wouldn’t have believed it but it’s been a pretty quick rise over the last year.
And they were great. The Rock is a big dude. I was surprised how big he was. But the basketballer, Chris, he wasn’t as big as I would have thought for an NBA guy. I didn’t feel too intimidated by him, just The Rock. He seemed like a nice guy – he’s a really switched on kind of dude.
Atlas Genius commence their US tour at the end of this month. Their long-awaited debut album, ‘When It Was Now’, is available in stores and online now.