Co-written by Christopher Flakus, Freelance Writer & Author at Blackheart Magazine.
Keith and Michael Jeffery of Atlas Genius. Photo courtesy of artist.
Due to the success of their debut album, When It Was Now, Australia's Atlas Genius has toured the world with the likes of Imagine Dragons and the Silversun Pickups, not to mention appearances at a number of major festivals, including Sasquatch! and Lollapalooza. Their first album, hailed by Rolling Stone as a "spritely, melodic debut album," included the Billboard chart-topping singles, "Trojans" (also featured on Grey's Anatomy) and "If So." This band of brothers, led by Keith and Michael Jeffery, are now looking to shake things up once again with their second LP, Inanimate Objects.
This undeniably dynamic duo, previously joined by brother Steven Jeffery and friend Darren Sell, suffers no lack of ambition or drive without their counterparts. They are days away from releasing their highly anticipated album and couldn't be more thrilled. Inanimate Objects will be out this Friday, August 28th, via Warner Bros. Records.
These indie Aussies have already released a few choice singles, including the synth-reinforced lead single "Molecules," (already peaking at No. 18 on Billboard's Alternative Albums chart) as well as "Stockholm," "Friends with Enemies," and, most recently, "A Perfect End." Mixed by Manny Marroquin (Imagine Dragons, Ludacris) and Andrew Maury (Death Cab for Cutie, Strange Names), fans should expect a solid collection of catchy, diverse tracks fit for either the funkiest of parties or the rainiest of days. You'll be grateful for your brain's great taste as the melodies replay in your head for days.
And hey, fun fact! When the Jeffery brothers were younger, they rode kangaroos to school. Dreams really do come true! (If your dreams are anything like mine and involve riding kangaroos).
Read on as I chat with Keith about sibling rivalry, elusive dreams, and the thrills of producing music worthy of a beer commercial.
Keith: Hey Lauren! How are you doing?
Hey Keith, I'm good! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today!
So I've read that a few of your inspirations are the Beatles, Death Cab for Cutie, Beck, The Police, and Phoenix (who I love!). Who are you listening to now and who are you inspired by today?
I think with this album we kind of looked right back to the bands we listened to when we were really young -- the bands you just referenced. Or bands that came out before we were even around. Our past albums have been inspired by The Cure, Tears for Fears... sort of a British brigade of bands, really. Stone Roses, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine. So it was very eclectic, what we were listening to. And now, I'm really digging D'Angelo's last album. That really did a lot for me.
Having a wide variety of influences is always a recipe for the good stuff.
I have a friend (see: co-writer) with extensive knowledge of music and he introduced me to a few older Australian bands -- The Go-Betweens and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Are you a fan and, if so, do you consider them an influence on your music?
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, for sure! It's funny, there are always bands that I just assumed the whole world knew about.
Keith Jeffery, left. Michael Jeffery, right.
You know, it's sometimes easy to think, "The whole world must know about 'this thing' or 'that thing'!" But, obviously, that's not the case.
Actually, its funny. We did a show with Weezer in Columbus (which was great). And a couple of their songs had made their way to Australia when I was younger, but some of the tracks we hadn't heard and the audience here seemed to know them quite well. So they were never as big in Australia as they are in America.
That's interesting. I'm always curious to know how much airplay, if any, popular bands in the U.S. receive in other countries. So Atlas Genius formed in 2009 -- are you still living in Australia, or have you moved to the States?
We actually moved here in April of last year, so we started writing the album in Australia. Then we moved here, to Los Angeles, in April. We weren't really thinking about moving to Los Angeles full-time, but we wanted something "fresher." Maybe fresher isn't the right word... we felt a little isolated in the small Australian town we lived in, so we moved here [Los Angeles] to do the album.
Did you achieve your initial success in Australia or America?
To be honest, it really happened in the States. It was the first song we ever put out ["Trojans"], and it was embraced wholeheartedly by the radio and blogs in America. That was how it all started for us.
Awesome. I've read that the name of your band was inspired by a dream of Michael's... I am curious to know what that dream consisted off.
Yeah... that might have been a night when he had a bit too much to drink. [Laughs.] I can't speak for him, but I'm pretty sure that's the case.
Michael Jeffery of Atlas Genius
Ha-ha, I see. Maybe a hallucination here or there. Just your average night's sleep.
Does being in a band with family foster any sort of rivalry when it comes to creative differences? Do you think it makes things easier or harder, having that sibling relationship and working together?
We have a shorthand that allows us to communicate quickly, which is great. But then there's the downside of, say, making a comment and the other person predicting what's going to be said based on things you've said in the past. So, it has its good and bad moments. There are times when I feel like it makes it harder for us, as we are very quick to snap at each other sometimes. But as a whole, we get on fine. Nothing worth complaining about. We've been brothers for many years, so...
Almost your whole lives!
Yes, almost our whole lives! [Laughs.] Exactly.
A recent review stated that your music is the perfect fit for a beer commercial -- a quintessential soundtrack for "pretty young hipsters partying on rooftops." I had to chuckle at that one. Do you generally laugh when you hear things like that? Do you "get" that comparison when thinking about your music?
[Laughs.] It's funny -- lyrically I don't see our music like that because, for example, "Trojans" is actually quite a sad song. Yet musically, it has quite a happy, summery kind of vibe. For me, it was never something I thought about when writing the album. But, hey, if it works for people!
You mean beer commercials aren't the sole inspiration for your music? Color me shocked!
Ha-ha -- I guess it's because there's that juxtaposition in our music; that slightly sour... well, sour's a bit of a negative word. There's that melancholy, bittersweet vibe, you know? I definitely try to avoid anything too poppy. But yeah, that's what we try to do.
Performance at Boston's House of Blues. Credit: Allston Pudding.
That's what's so great about music -- it's always up for interpretation. Actually, I was talking to an artist today about one of his songs, describing it as "calming and mellow" and that it "feels like you're floating on a cloud." Later on, I read the inspiration for that song was a dream he'd had -- people running from a blazing fire, knowing they were about to die. I'm thinking, "Hm, I guess I got that one wrong!" But hey, that's the beauty of interpretation.
[Laughs.] I guess that's the shame sometimes, that the artist never really gets to appreciate how the fans view the music. You can never really be outside the music once you create it. The best you can hope for is that, through the passing of time, you start to forget what you had put into that work and appreciate it more as the viewer rather than the creator.
Even now, with "Trojans," in writing and creating that song, I don't get that rooftop analogy. Which actually sounds kind of nice and I'm a bit envious if that's what the rest of the world sees... I want to be on that rooftop!
I was trying to think of a metaphor for how an artist might view his or her music, and for me, it is akin to keeping a journal and looking at it five years later. Thinking, "Wow, I can't believe I wrote that," or, "I sound like a different person." This is what I envision a musician's relationship with his/her music might be like.
Absolutely, I totally get that. With a journal or song... "Was that even me?" You forget that those thoughts were ever in your head.
Exactly. So, is there any particular band you've recently been compared to?
We've been sort of focused on writing and recording this album for the last year/year-and-a-half, so as far as comparisons, I haven't really been focused on anything like that. It's funny, when our first album [When It Was Now] with "Trojans" came out, someone thought one of our songs reminded them of Coldplay. I like Coldplay, but I didn't really see that comparison.
You know, what will be interesting to me is what people hear or get out of our new album, [Inanimate Objects]. We've introduced a lot of new sounds on this album, so it will be interesting to see what is noticed by people.
Inanimate Objects LP by Atlas Genius
Definitely! Inanimate Objects comes out the 28th, correct? This Friday!
So you're known as kind of an "indie band," yet you are currently signed with Warner Brothers. Do you feel like working with such a major label stifles your creativity or prevents you from experimenting with your music as much?
I think that, luckily, our label has been respectful of the whole creative process. As far as the major labels go, they're probably one of the more "indie" ones compared to other major labels. I'm not going to name names, of course. They all do their thing and they do it well. But we're lucky that there's no intrusion with our label. There's no, "Hey, let's try and recreate 'If So' or 'Trojans,' or, 'Let's move in this direction.'" There was none of that. We had a very hands-off experience with this album and that's what you hope for. Then it's up to you to steer the ship and make what you want to make.
We were lucky. I don't feel like we've got that nightmare major label situation you hear about, where they want you recreate last summer's hit.
I mean, with our EP Trojans and our first album, it wasn't influenced by anyone. Trojans was done in a studio that we built in our parents' garage and we mixed it and put it out -- there was literally nobody else. So I think we had proved ourselves to the labels at that point. Whereas, if you take a young kid without that experience, they're probably going to try and push him/her down the regular path, working with writers and producers... then the real danger, or disaster, is that everything sounds the same. You just sound like a poor copy of One Direction or something, you know?
Right, exactly. It's great that you were able to start the band with your brothers -- you were able to do your own thing and experiment from the beginning. It fosters a more solid understanding of what you want to create, your musical style, and what kind of band you want to be before anyone else has any sort of influence on you.
Yeah, and you know, I think that sort of naïveté in our first album was part of its charm, perhaps. I definitely think that helped us.
Performance in Minneapolis with X Ambassadors and Walk the Moon
Switching gears a bit -- if you could kick back, relax, and have a beer with anyone in the world (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
I would love to sit down and talk with Paul McCartney. The conversation... I would have so many questions for that guy.
Good answer. That's pretty classic. There's definitely a lot of great stories there.
I got to have a chat with his manager last year. I kind of drilled him with questions and he was actually really nice about it -- I feel like I almost owe it to his manager.
That must have been an awesome and surreal experience. It's great that you had the opportunity to do that!
Well Keith, I don't want to keep you too long as you are one busy guy these days! Thank you so much for chatting with me today, and I wish you the best of luck with your tour and new album!
Likewise! Thank you very much. Come meet us at one of our shows and have a chat -- we're touring with Passion Pit!
I love Passion Pit! And for sure, wouldn't miss it. Thanks again, Keith!
Special thanks to Warner Bros. Records and Golightly Media (for being awesome, as always). For more information about the author, visit laurenkruczyk.com