ALGIERS are the band on the rise, and with their second album “The Underside of Power” they cemented their way to top. Music that they make is very hard to define, but three friends who grew up together in Atlanta, Georgia, aren’t even trying to fit into any genre. Before their first concert in Belgrade, which will happen on February 1st in Dom omladine, we had a chance to talk with guitarist Lee Tesche about few things.
Your new album “The Underside of Power” got very high ratings from most critics. Congrats on that. It blew me away too. What is it like from your point of view? Did you expect such a good reaction?
Lee: Thank you so much. Honestly, it’s really difficult to gauge how people will react to a particular work, and the creative process is always going to be filled with ups and downs, and moments of self-doubt. You really have to not think about how it will be received and just stay true to your vision and to work as hard as you can to see it through. There were many times throughout this process where we weren’t sure or were worried that we had missed the mark for what we were aiming for. And separately had to be pulled back in off of the ledge, so to speak. That’s what’s really beneficial of being in a band and having so many different voices. When some of us are low in confidence, others are there to pull us back up. It’s a lot more difficult when you feel like you are on your own. There are countless stories etched in the musical folklore of albums stalling out due to fatigue or self-doubt. It’s been really wonderful how well the record has been received in Europe and even when you might be excited about something you are writing, it’s still a bit of a shock when you put it out into the world and people connect with it on a really deep level.
The crew who worked on your new album is simply amazing. Adrian Utley (producer & guitarist for Portishead), Ben Greenberg (The Man), Randall Dunn (producer for Sunn O)))),… What was it like to work with all of them? Was it hard to record an album in two very distant countries – England and the USA?
Lee: It was great. The album recording was actually broken up into 3 phases. This was based on funds, scheduling, and just where we happened to be at that time. We began the process with Adrian in England, split between a large studio outside of Bristol and his home studio. This informed all of the songs on a basic level and he worked with us as we continued and finished the writing process on them. He even played on most of the songs. Eventually, we had to finish up a lot of the songs and loose ends in New York with Ben Greenberg, who really helped us understand the shape of the record as a whole. His mark is indelible. We mixed the record in Seattle with Randall Dunn. He is an incredible person and an incredible mixer/producer. He made the record sound cohesive and really gave it the character that it ended up with. We developed really deep bonds with all of these people and hope to continue to work with them in the future.
The music you make is very specific. Who, or what can be singled out as the biggest influence on your becoming the band you are today?
Lee: That’s a difficult question. I think that is different for each of us in regards to individual influences. Going to see an Atlanta punk/hardcore show when I was young made me want to be in a band. Ryan (Mahan, bass guitar)went to see similar shows around the same time and we ended up playing in a band together. Franklin (James Fisher, singer) used to come to all of our shows and was one of our biggest fans. That in many ways was the biggest influence.
Most of the critics and other people from the world of music are trying to squeeze you in some genres, but for me, it is very hard to choose which, impossible even. What is your opinion on the bend’s genre? Or you simply make the music you like, no matter what genre it belongs to?
Lee: Yes, we simply make music we like. When we write, each one of us might have a particular idea that we bring in with a particular direction in mind. The rest of us start to bring our own personalities and influences in, sometimes in direct conflict with the original idea, and that creates our sound. We aren’t too overly concerned with trying to fit in.
The band has a very simple name – Algiers, which at the same time asks a million questions. Does it have any special meaning? I have read a ton of articles about it, but I would be very grateful if I could find out more about it directly from you.
Lee: I think it is very much that. A simple name that asks a million questions. Every single one of them valid. For me, the name references many things, from the city and it’s anti-colonial struggle and the history, literature and art that surrounds that; to the very idea of a space with which we could have all of our thoughts and ideas collide within.
Problems of today are the main theme in your songs. Even we here are very aware of the awful inhumane things that are happening around the world. Which events are you most influenced by? I’m guessing that it is not very hard to find inspiration for lyrics in this rotten society?
Lee: Well, Franklin is an excellent writer and lyricist. He pulls from many places, personal and political, as the personal is also political. I interpret our songs as less topical, but sometimes addressing conflicts and themes that are universal or have been always present, therefore they never, unfortunately, feel in the past or out of touch.
I really like the fact that all of you are multi-instrumentalists, and all music you made, you made alone, which is not the case in today’s world of music, where you can buy lyrics, pay other guitarists to record a solo for you, and stuff like that. How much effort did you put into it, and is it worth it? I can only assume that it is a beautiful feeling when you look back on “The Underside of Power”, and you can say – “Man, we did this ourselves”.
Lee: Yes, I am very proud of it. I feel thankful that I am surrounded by wonderful people and musicians who all have particular qualities that can bring each other’s ideas to a special place that he may not have been able to do solely on his own. And we are always growing and looking forward, so hopefully, this is only the beginning. Although next time, perhaps we will make a record of only paid for guitar solos (laugh).
You are soon to be on a very tightly scheduled European tour, during which you will play a lot of concerts on our Balkans. Are people in America familiar with this area? I hope that we will convince you that we are not just those stereotypes that circle around about us.
Lee: Honestly, I am not sure what Americans think or know. They’ve really been letting me down of late. We as a group are very familiar and have spent plenty of time or have a number of personal connections to people in this area. Ryan has spent a lot of time working and travelling through this region, we shot a music video in Bulgaria for our first record, and some of our earliest fans and friends as a band are Serbian. It’s about time that we’ll get to play some shows here.
One of my favourite new tracks is “Hymn for an Average Man”, although the whole new album is truly amazing. Even though I don’t like spoilers, is there any chance of you planning to play it in Belgrade? Which are your favourite songs, and which of them do you like to perform in concerts?
Lee: You know, that has really become one of mine too. It took an interesting trajectory to be included on the album. Originally it was something that Franklin just started playing on a parlour piano in Adrian’s living room in between takes. He recorded a bit of it and then eventually took the tapes home and finished towards the end of the recording process. Randall mixed it in a few hours during a very emotional session. It still felt a bit alien and outside of us until we started rehearsing it and playing it on our last tour. Now it’s one of my favourites live. It’s really dynamic, going from a whisper to a loud explosive break. We’ll play it for you in Belgrade.
What kind of concerts do you like more: smaller ones in clubs, or those larger festivals in the open?
Lee: Generally the smaller club shows, you are able to connect with the audience in a real genuine way. It feels like everyone is in it together. Large festival shows can be more sterile and removed, but I enjoy those too because I get to see a lot of other bands that I may not otherwise.
You have never before performed in Serbia. I can tell you that Dom omladine (Youth Center) is a perfect place for your concert. I hope everything will suit you, and we will have a chance to see you again on some future tour.
Lee: That’s great! I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve heard good things. We’re excited to finally be getting here, so hopefully, this is the first of many visits. Belgrade has been at the top of my list for a very long time of places that I want to see and spend time in.