"If you just view music as a set of specific sounds, it doesn’t quite make sense"
Algiers' sophomore album, "The Underside Of Power" met worldwide acclaim and was named as one of the best albums of 2017. While touring in Europe, we had an extremely interesting conversation with the band’s guitarist, Lee Tesche. In the following interview you’ll get to know more about the band’s multidimensional character through Lee’s enjoyable responses.
Hello, this is Athens calling! Where are you now?
Lee: Hi! We are currently in the van heading to play in Ljubljana.
What are your feelings on last month’s UK tour? What are you expecting from the upcoming European tour?
The touring at the end of the last year was really great. It felt like we were really connecting with audiences and growing our crowd. We couldn’t be happier with the experiences that we had.
So far this tour has been fantastic. We are finally getting to places that we’ve been long overdue for, including Greece.
Well, “The Underside Of Power” was voted as one of the best records of 2017, since it met critical acclaim worldwide. Congratulations for that! It was an album that I and a bunch of the Rocking.gr editors enjoyed a lot. Did you expect the response to be so frantic?
You know, it’s actually difficult to see or have a perspective from the inside of things. We made the record. That was kind of a long laborious process. Then we had to wait for a very long time for it come out, once it was finished.
I think things really became actualized when we started performing the songs on the road in front of audiences and from that point on you just are connecting with people on a nightly basis and you seem to only notice that bad press, ha! The record also seemed to be received differently at home versus in continental Europe. In the US it still seems like we aren’t quite accepted in the same way. There is still a lot of work to do.
How did you decide to blend genres that “traditionally” are considered incompatible?
I’m not sure if there was any conscience decision or approach on our parts. We all have different influences, and where those overlap, is our sound. I think it’s easy for us to see similarities and commonalities between things that might not make sense to others.
Something like The Temptations to The Stooges to Sun Ra to Suicide to Detroit Techno is a very direct lineage for us, philosophically and geographically speaking.
I suppose, if you just view music as a set of specific sounds bound by genre, it doesn’t quite make sense. But when you think about the environment and socio-economic conditions that may have produced these groups, you begin to understand their similarities and the similarities of their politics, and you realize they come from a very similar place.
What are the main influences of Algiers? Were you listening to a particular artist or did you watch any movies that inspired you while writing the songs?
Lee: We always are. I think some of our reference points here were The Vel Vets, Marvin Gaye circa “What’s Going On?, late-era Four Tops, The Shangri Las, Donny Hathaway at his bleakest, Curtis Mayfield, Outkast, Goodie MOB, Geto Boys, London – Grime (particularly Novelist, Section Boyz), Chicago – Footwork (DJ Rashad, RP Boo, J-Lin). You can also hear a continuation of some of our more classic reference points: horror soundtracks (Goblin), Nico Fidenco, Roberto Donati/Fiamma Maglione and The Goblins (sic). It also references PiL, horror film disco (Ms 45) and the Gun Club, Scott Walker, Einstürzende Neubauten, etc.
I know we were watching lots of things, John Carpenter films and the film Manhunter. I can’t recall what else.
The majority of the songs are aggressive, fiery and sensitive at the same time. Did you intend to create this contradiction or was it created unintentionally during the recording process?
I think that is us all partially pushing against each other. A rubber band comes to mind. We all pull in different parts and when it snaps back into place, that is where the songs end up. And if the record tells a fractured story, it needs to ebb and flow as well.
Your sound is a fusion of jazz, soul and the roots of today’s music combined with completely modern elements. Is “The Underside of Power” a sonic anthology of American music?
That’s an interesting thought. In many ways, yes. It’s important to understand the past, and understand that the past informs the present. Many of these forms of music share universally classic ideas and concepts.
You started as a trio, now you are a quartette. How Matt Tong’s presence did affect the expansion of your musical territory?
Well he’s taller for one. That probably allowed us to expand our territory to the top shelf in the kitchen. But yes, he was a great person to have around and be around. He’s helped with the writing and approach to the arrangement of songs, and he’s an awesome drummer. It was nice for him to let loose in a few places like he is able to live.
Is there a composition included in the last year’s record that you’d like to dig and hone further in your following works?
Tough to say. I think we would each give different answers, as we never seem to be working in the same direction. I think as the songs grow and become something else in the live environment, we may revisit some of them in future recordings.
As we already know, you worked with Adrian Utley on this record. How did it happen?
We simply reached out to him, and he was interested and available. He is a really great person and proved to be pivotal in the process. He shaped the sound early on and allowed us to use his vast synth collection.
You’ve mentioned Albert Camus’ “The Plague” as a main influence. A true masterpiece, even though it is deeply cynical and pessimistic. Have Algiers espoused this negative perspective of the world, too?
We understand that it’s important to remain optimistic and to try to offer glimmers of hope throughout our records and music, otherwise it can become overbearing.
I couldn’t resist but ask a pretty cliché question: What’s going on in the USA right now? The political system is falling apart and people are losing hope in it. Do you believe this occurred as a sequence of bad decisions made only by the politicians or did people also have an impact on that?
I think it’s all of the above and leaving the country and being on tour is honestly a breath of fresh air for me. Sometimes living there with the 24 hour news cycle can really have a negative effect on your mental health.
Some people claim that art and politics are two separate things that shouldn’t be combined. Weren’t you concerned whether the deeply social and political lyrics could bring negative reviews?
I first became politically conscious through music and art, so for me it’s impossible to separate the two. Music that I am involved in will always have some sort of social critique or commentary, just as it’s going to be difficult for me to engage with the current socio-political climate without some sort of soundtrack.
I guess you already know that things in Greece are pretty bad. Isn’t it about time to kick against austerity and demand a better future for the whole world?
Yes, I think it is. I know the situation in Greece is deeply complex and I don’t feel as equipped to talk about it as some of my other band mates. But I do believe that we should be demanding a better future, for sure.
Lately many acts of profanation and destruction of artwork have taken place in our country and usually they are committed by ultra-conservative groups. Should we consider art as the last refuge of freedom, curiosity and true happiness?
What kind of events inspires you to write lyrics?
I think for Franklin, his lyrics come from everywhere. Things in his personal life, personal experience, his environment, places he’s worked, interactions he’s had.
Could you please mention a couple of them?
This is better left for Franklin to answer unfortunately.
In less than a month you’re going to be in Greece. Are you excited about that?
Yes, very much. We’ve been trying to get there for quite some time. We had a lot of people reach out asking for us to play.
What should we expect to experience in an Algiers concert?
We hope to have a fun time with everyone, to commune and interact and learn something from each other.
Are there any plans for the future?
We hope to record new music soon. We would love to get something out before the end of this year.