We Could Do It Ourselves: An Interview With Atlas Genius

Posted by: Necci – Jun 04, 2013


There's a lot of unconventional success stories for bands over the past couple of years. Take fun. for example. Yeah, Glee covered "We Are Young," but it wasn't until a car commercial featured the song that it took off and cemented the band as headliners for years to come. There are tons of others too, but Atlas Genius just might have the best success story possible. Releasing their debut single "Trojans" online in 2011 (on the day after it was recorded), the song drew immediate attention in the group's native Australia, before going on to take over the world. Its inexorable momentum eventually landed it at #4 on Billboard's US Alternative Charts (it remains in the top 20 to this day). During the single's meteoric rise, the unsigned band ended up on the radar of quite a few music industry executives. Within a month of the release of "Trojans," record labels were courting the band like an elite athlete entering free agency for the first time in years.

The band followed that initial success with a debut full-length, When It Was Now, that came out earlier this year on Warner Bros Records. The album features many stand-outs such as "Trojans" and "Through The Glass." The album's second single, "If So," might just go down as one of the best songs of 2013. On Wednesday, June 12th, The Canal Club in Richmond, VA will play host to Atlas Genius as they continue their first North American headlining tour. This is a guaranteed can't-miss show from a band that is clearly on the rise. Years from now you'll point to this concert and say, "I saw them before they were headlining festivals." In the middle of a short break from their hectic schedule, vocalist and guitarist Keith Jeffery was kind enough to talk about the upcoming concert, their short but eventful career, and life on the road.

Photo by Squid

Now, you're a good way through your first headline tour. How's it compare to being an opener for a bigger act like Imagine Dragons?

It's a whole different thing than playing a support tour like we did with Imagine Dragons. A support tour is great, don't get me wrong, because you get to reach a whole new audience. This is much different. It's just a great experience. Like, we just did a show in Portland, Oregon and it was just an incredible vibe with an unbelievable crowd that all came out to see us. It's just so amazing.

You guys have quite a tour schedule going on. What is life on the road like?

Well, we have a usual routine, but I guess it's more of an impractical routine more than anything. There's nothing really special about it - it's just a touring life. We don't have like a meditation room or anything like that in our small van. We haven't gotten there yet. I guess that's a goal.

What about music while driving?

Well, whoever's driving the van picks the music. There's a lot of us in the van too, so it really depends. The other day we had the 80s channel, so that was interesting. We had some good tunes and then, you know it's the 80s, so some not-so-good tunes too. Really depends on the mood though. We've been known to put on jazz late at night if the moment's right.

Do you get a chance to do any songwriting on the road by yourself or with the band?

Not a lot. I find it really difficult. The way I like to write - or we like to write - I just have to dedicate a good amount of time to it. We have our own studio back home so part of our process is finding the right sound. I find that once you set a sound in place, it will really just inspire a lot of the song. I mean, there's a lot of great apps out there that you can get cheap for a tablet, and we've experimented a lot with it on the road, but it's just not for us as far as songwriting is concerned.

About that studio, how did the whole process of your own, personal studio unfold?

That was a strange situation. We just wanted to create a space, really, so we had a professional studio set up for the purpose of being conducive to creativity. There's just something about having a clean, open space all to yourself to write music in. It just feels good and very real. It did take us two years to do it though. It was a big effort and took a lot of time and more importantly money. This was all before we had even recorded a song, too, which I think really helped us in a different way.

So you get the studio built and then you emerged on the radar rather quickly and surprisingly, with the release of "Trojans" in a very unconventional way.

Right, well we finished the song one day - I think it was May 11th or it could have been May 9th back in 2011 - and the song was finished so we just thought later that day we should just put it out. Why not? You know, just see if it takes or anything happens. Next thing you know, it was found by Neon Gold, who talked about it on the Triple J Unearthed website. Over the span of a month from there, we literally had around thirty record companies come to us making offers. We had absolutely no idea that was coming. We didn't market the song at all. We didn't tell anyone about it. It was just on a couple of blogs and we put it up on iTunes and Spotify and that was it. That was all it took.

You had all those labels after you and you guys eventually settled with Warner Bros. Were you concerned at all about having to change your sound for the major label?

Well, we had the bargaining chip really. We had proven the concept that we could do it ourselves without outside interference. The fact that we sold 45,000 copies of one song in a month's time--that kind of trumped anything from any record company, really.

So how did your debut record, When It Was Now, follow from there?

It was quite an interesting experience. Most of it was done before we even signed. It was in our studio while we were still building it, so that was crazy. While we were on the road though, we still had a few songs to finish up, so we were literally recording in hotels just to get it done. There was a studio in LA we spent a little bit of time in at one point too. It was kind of wherever we could get some time and space to record, we would do that. The final couple of songs just took forever though cause we were trying to finish them while doing about 100 or so shows.

Any type of music influencing the band's sound or direction during that recording process?

Nothing absolutely specific. There was probably twenty or so bands, depending on the song. There's stuff in some of it, but, you know, I really wouldn't divulge too much of it, because there are people out there just digging for that nonsense. There were a bunch of bands we were listening to, like some bands from the 80s we're huge fans of, but it doesn't matter much. You have to put it together in a way that's your own, you know? It doesn't matter who you were listening to.

Any songs that didn't make the cut?

There were. There's a couple songs I'm really bummed about that just didn't make because we didn't finish them in time. Some of them are really close, too; just a few things need to get done on them. I'm pretty confident they're going to make the next record for us.

So what's the timetable for that next record?

Well, we're touring through the end of the year, and then I really want to have a couple of months early next year to start working on those new songs in the studio. Few months recording and then few months touring is the way we really want to go about it. The thing about that is you want to have a good perspective on what you're doing when you're recording. Getting away from the studio a little bit here and there could actually be a good thing for that.

What kind of music are you guys really into lately?

Well, we just did some shows with The Colorists. I think we had about four or five shows with them. They're an L.A. band that just has some fantastic material. I was really into seeing them perform. Also, I'm pretty into The Neighbourhood. They've got some really interesting stuff. I really, really like the guitar work.

So coming to Richmond for the first time at The Canal Club, what should we expect from the band?

I guess it is the first time. I don't know if we've been through Richmond. If we had, it would have been one of those things where we were opening for Imagine Dragons so that means arrive in the afternoon, do a quick sound check, open the show, and then hit the road for the next show. But we've heard some great things about the city and I think it should be a good show. We do a lot of stuff during our shows to keep it interesting, like we might play a cover like "My Girl," which people always [enjoy]. We'll also take a portion of a song we know can be elongated and we'll just do whatever we want in there and really have some fun. We're excited to see the turnout in Richmond too.


Atlas Genius will perform at The Canal Club on Wednesday, June 12, with special guests Pacific Air and Haerts. Doors open at 7 PM. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Advance tickets can be purchased by clicking HERE.

By Doug Nunnally