Several thousand music fans who watched Atlas Genius play at BottleRock on May 28 didn’t know that the band considered cancelling their fiery performance. Singer-guitarist Keith Jeffery had a hay fever attack shortly after arriving in Napa the previous day. The pollen blowing around in the air knocked him out of several activities and also nearly cancelled his and drummer Michael Jeffery’s interview with RIFF. “It’s not a very sexy thing, allergies,” Keith Jeffery said. Hopped-up on DayQuil and hiding behind a pair of dark-tinted sunglasses, he powered through the interview as well as the band’s set.
The Australian duo are nearly a full year into touring their sophomore album, 2015’s Inanimate Objects. While no one song on the album has yet had the effect on radio as “Trojans” did in 2011 and “If So” in 2013, there are several soaring, melodic anthems that haven’t yet had the single treatment. Keith and Michael talked to RIFF about potential hits, as well as the return of their third brother, original band member Steven Jeffery, on bass.
Your first album was really boosted by “Trojans.” Is there a song that fans perhaps haven’t heard yet that might have a similar sort of effect or connection?
Keith: Well, I feel like, there’s this song called “Balladino” which hasn’t really been out there yet, but that’s kind of one of those songs. Sometimes songs take longer to get out there. I feel like that one is going to be a bit of a sleeper song, but it’s hard for us to say. We are proud of the music and the way other people react to it. That’s kind of up to them.
Can you tell me a little bit about the musicians you’re playing with right now?
Michael: I feel like forming a solid band line-up is like dating, you know? You’ve got to go through a few. Some of them are going to be good, some are going to be almost there, some are going to be outright terrible.
Keith: Some you think are good and then turn out to be psychopaths.
Michael: Some you end up needing a borderline restraining order. Then you meet awesome people, and right now the lineup’s great. We have three other guys. Our brother Steve is back with us on stage.
Keith: Yeah, he’s awesome. We (also) have our brother from another mother, Alex, on bass, from New York. And we have a guitarist from California called Blake Strauss.
My very next question was going to be about Steve and whether you missed playing with him. Obviously you missed him and he missed playing with you guys.
Michael: We can scrap that question because it’s great; he’s back. One of the hardest things was that we toured for a long time without him (while) he was back in Australia. It’s been really nice having the brothers back together.
Would you prefer if he came back on a permanent basis so you can be a trio? Or is that not something you’ve talked about?
Keith: We’ll cross (that) when we start to think about the third album. I mean, it may even be a five-piece; who knows? The core has always been Mike and I for the longest time. We’ll see what happens down the road.
You have come off as fanboys of other musicians. Talk about your run-ins with McCartney and Zach de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine. Do you think there’s ever a point for other musicians where, if they reach it, they become jaded? Have you seen that in others, and is it something you have to work to avoid?
Michael: I think that it’s important, as musicians who are fortunate to travel and do our art as a profession, (that) you need to constantly remind yourself. You get tired, and you might be sick or whatever, and you’re on the road, and maybe if you don’t feel like doing some press or whatever … that this is a very privileged position to be in. We certainly worked hard to get here, but there are a lot of musicians who would love to be in a position that (we) and all the bands are in right now. You’re fortunate to be able to do this, to be able to do your art as a profession, to pay the bills. Whether you’re just getting by, or if you’re a multi-multimillionaire, to be able to do it full-time is great.
Is there anybody you’re hoping to meet today, or perhaps you already have?
Michael: Death Cab. We’re huge fans of Death Cab, (but) we’ve never actually been in a festival when they’ve been (there, too). Our album cycles always seem to be different. It’d be nice to see them today. I’m a big fan of those guys.
The producers and director of the film Boyhood chose “Trojans” to represent 2012. That shows serious relevance.
Michael: I think we were lucky that “Trojans” was such an out-of-control-song. It just kept going and going for years. That (writer-director Richard) Linklater chose that song, that was a real compliment. To know that it would best represent 2012 for a lot of people who were in school at that point, that was a beautiful thing for us. That movie is so beautiful and moving. I’m forever happy about that.