Q&A: Atlas Genius face sophomore upheaval

Alas Genius

Alas Genius.

Brothers Michael and Keith Jeffery, the core of Australian alt-rock duo Atlas Genius are scared of songwriting formulas.

“As soon as we find a formula we try to discard it and try to come up with a new way of doing things, for better or worse,” vocalist-guitarist Keith said last week in a phone conversation.

Atlas Genius is best known for earworms “Trojans” and “If So” off 2013 debut When It Was Now. Last summer, the Jeffery brothers released their sophomore album, Inanimate Objects. The creation process for the album was complicated by lineup changes, a break-up, a move from Adelaide to Los Angeles, and sophomore slump jitters. But the band prefers to feel a little uncomfortable.

“I just really don’t like being safe when I’m writing,” Keith Jeffery said. “I think [drummer] Mike’s the same. If something feels a little too formulaic or easy I don’t really trust it. We get together and search for sounds or something that’s intriguing and feels special. It can be a lyric, it can be a melody, it could be a drum rhythm. That’s about as far as we go with formulas.”

RIFF: How is touring in support of your second record different from your first? 

Keith Jeffery: It was a totally different lineup. It was a different dynamic depending on who you tour with but it’s been great, especially this year. The band is playing better than it ever has before. We finished a (month-long) U.S. tour in April. It was a lot of fun (and) had some great crowds. Now we’re doing festivals and then we’re heading back out again for another tour in July and August. It’s been a busy four months or so.

Speaking of different lineups; keyboardist Darren Sell is no longer with you guys. What was the reason behind that? 

He’s married, he wanted to move back to England, so he’s currently over there. We’d worked together for a bunch of time. That’s just the way it is with musicians. Keeping a bunch of people heading in the same direction for more than a few years tends to be a challenge.

Is there anything in terms of preparation that’s different for you this time? 

Well, touring when you have two albums under your belt is a lot more preferable because obviously you have more songs to choose from. You can structure a set. You have more options when you’re structuring a set, you know? The first time around we had an album and so we were limited to those songs. There’s only so many ways you can move the chairs around. This time we could choose the songs that felt great touring on the first album. The same with this album, with another bunch of songs that we could choose from. This gives us more flexibility and I feel like that’s part of the reason why the live set feels great. We were able to structure it in a different way that makes sense. 

The new song “Where I Belong” has been described as an apology made to your ex-girlfriend. What did you do that led to its creation? 

A lot of love songs or breakup [songs] are about how someone did you wrong or how much you miss somebody. There’s not a lot where it’s somebody admitting that they were at-fault for why something didn’t work. And I’m not going to go into specifics about what I did because it’s between her and I. So often, when something doesn’t work, people blame the other person and quite often you’re at least 50 percent or more to blame. That’s really what it was. I don’t even know if she knows that it’s an apology. Maybe sometime she’ll listen to it. 

You initially had some doubts or fears— whatever you want to call it — with the release of Inanimate Objects. What was going through your heads at the time and how has that changed since then August? 

During the writing of the second album there was a lot of upheaval. We moved to Los Angeles and we were out of that comfort zone as far as being in a different country. And then going through a breakup early on in the writing process. It was a stressful time. I remember being kind of anxious when we put our first EP out in 2013 or 2012. You put your babies out into the world and that is the point where you can’t change anything. You have to put a full stop behind that bit of art and put it out there. And then it becomes its own entity and you can’t do anything about it after that. As much as I shouldn’t care how it’s received there’s that element of, everybody wants to be liked, in a way. It’s just human nature. I think I’ll always have that. It’s the anticipation that is the most stressful. 

Do you have any favorite Bay Area memories or experiences? 

You know, most of my favorite memories of touring the States are those unexpected random situations that you find yourself in because of what we do. It might be just playing pool (at) some random dive bar in Chicago at two in the morning. Even right now as I’m talking to you, I’m currently in Alabama on the shore about to go on a boat. I didn’t even know that Alabama had a beach until recently. It’s one of those things that what we do takes us to great and unexpected places. I just love San Francisco. It’s such a stunning town, or city. We started a tour there last year which was a lot of fun. My favorite memory of playing in San Francisco (was) Outside Lands in 2013.

Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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