They’re the Aussie boys done good Stateside. Now, Atlas Genius are honing in on home ahead of their nationwide tour, alongside grabbing the Stereophonics support. Natasha Lee gets the lowdown from vocalist Keith Jeffery on all that came before.
It's a victory that has eluded even some of our most loved performers (Farnesy, for one) – capturing that tempestuous beast that is the American music market. A white whale of sorts for many musos who push and pull the strings of a market that (debatably) holds such an influential court around the world.
Enter Keith and Michael Jeffery, two brothers from South Australia who did the hard slog – playing covers in dingy pubs and bars, while writing and producing their own music, eventually managing to crack the overseas market sans label or manager. Using the money earned from playing covers, the pair built a studio and, finally, began crafting and producing their own songs. In 2011 the lads decided to post one of their songs, Trojans, online. The song became a triple j Unearthed hit before US satellite radio network SiriusXM stumbled across it. Then all hell broke loose.
“Growing up you would always hear about Aussie bands struggling in America,” laments vocalist/guitarist Keith Jeffery. “There were bands that we loved that couldn't crack it over there. But, with people being able to now find music online, there has been a kind of levelling on the music front.”
Their success saw them perform on The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Show With David Letterman, before showcasing at the creative juggernaut that is South By Southwest. It's an uncommon trajectory, jumping from the bottom to the metaphorical musical top. The Bee Gees did it, so did INXS and Air Supply, and more recently Daniel Merriweather (who is also killing it in the UK), Airbourne and a handful of other acts. Now, says Jeffery, their next agenda is conquering their home market. “As far as breaking in America first,” begins Jeffery, “we've got no complaints.”
Thanks to some nifty online radio airplay, Trojans ended up selling over 45,000 copies on US iTunes, along with scoring the top spot on Alt-Nation's most requested chart. “I never imagined that Trojans would ever generate that much publicity,” Jeffery says. “There is so much good music out there right now and thanks to online tools, a lot of it is being heard.”
After months of communicating with labels via Skype, the band decided to make the trek over to the US and talk business with a slew of them, finally choosing to sign with Warner because, says Jeffery, “we felt a connection with them”. Come 2012 the brothers released their first EP though Warner, Through The Glass, before locking the doors to that home-built studio of theirs behind them to work religiously on their debut. “It's been a quick 18 months,” explains Jeffery, “but the thing that's helped us is that we had done a lot of work getting the songs ready beforehand.”
Label or no label, Jeffery says they weren't prepared to hand the producing reins over to anyone. “I'm personally very mindful of the way everything sounds. It's the same process for us now as it was when we started. Because we do it at our own studio and do everything ourselves, it allows us to experiment and write in the studio as we record. Some bands write a set of songs and see what works best in the studio, but we write as we're recording – and I don't think we could ever write it any other way.”
The method Jeffery refers to sees the pair focus on composing, constructing and refining a song before sitting down to write lyrics. “I feel like it's better to write the lyrics once the song has been played. If you just write a set of lyrics, you could limit the song. I mean, you can have an idea where a song is going, but that usually changes in the studio.”
Jeffery adds that his weapons of choice for composition include synths and snare drums – giving their music a haunting, atmospheric edge. “I like using certain tones. I'm interested in certain tones and synthesisers and snare drums. But it's hard, because you end up becoming so close to the songs that when you finish an album, it's hard to hear it for what it really is.”
Critics have been doing their own intent listening of debut album, When It Was Now, giving the band's ethereal dream-pop a resounding thumbs-up. And rightly so, the album is one, big glorious heartbeat that's been produced so seamlessly by the brothers, it could roll on like one long mixtape.
“I think there is some strength in the way we record and produce ourselves,” Jeffery remarks. “'Cause I think… I think there is a purity that comes out of that. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it can be great to work with other musos and producers, but when your vision doesn't match someone else's, then I think there can be politics. When you're writing a song it can either be aided by an outside producer or sometimes it can be changed – or they can give some input which can end up diluting your original creative vision.”
Given their slow and steady rise to overnight success, Jeffery offers a remarkably generous view of the recent onslaught of singing-specific talent shows that have vomited out a slew of snap-happy entertainers onto the Australian music charts. “I feel like they're different things,” Jeffery begins. “One is a talent contest and one is about expressing yourself as an artist. Yeah, you're singing and everything, but for people who go on these kinds of shows it's not as much about their voice as their stage presence.”