Australian alternative rock band Atlas Genius signaled their arrival following the meteoric rise of their hit single ‘Trojans” from When It Was Now, the band’s 2013 debut. We spoke with Keith Jeffrey (vocals/lead guitar) before Atlas Genius’ return to San Francisco on November 7 at The Fillmore.
What is the story behind Atlas Genius’ start as a cover band and transition to an alternative rock band?
Well, we were never a covers band. We did covers on the side; It’s a bit of a misconception. To earn money on the side, we played covers from time to time. We were building a studio, so it was a good way of earning cash at night to put money towards building a studio. I don’t know if you’ve ever built or bought anything studio-related, but its expensive gear. So we needed a way of doing that and that’s where the covers came in.
Your dad was a guitar player in his high school band. What’s the best piece of advice he’s shared with you about being a professional musician?
He never took music to a professional level, but he had some nice guitars around. It was a case of really being exposed to good music and also being able to use quality instruments rather than learning on a $50 pawn shop guitar. He was always a professional in other areas. He worked as an engineer.
So, I think really what we got from his approach is that with music it has always been a labor of love. I don’t think you should see music as a means to an end or a way of getting rich. If you want to, in this day and age, think of music as a way of getting rich, I think you probably need to reassess the likelihood of that happening.
I think it’s that professional attitude that you need to have. Music isn’t a hobby. You look at those rock bands, that stereotypical look of guys that spend more time on drugs or drunk out of their minds … I think that’s a misconception, sort of a romanticized view of how easy it is to get somewhere in the music industry. It takes years of effort and honing your craft. Not only the playing, but songwriting, recording and producing sides as well. I think just taking a professional approach to the whole business.
You cite the Beatles as an influence. What specifically about their style do you admire or attempt to replicate?
I doubt any band is going to have an impact on music like they did. It was a seven-year period with such a huge catalog of classic songs that came out of that period. You see bands these days and they would be lucky to release two or three albums in seven years. They were so prolific and covered so many styles, and so many of their songs are timeless. You listen to them now and if they were released now, you would be blown away. I could go on—they kind of did everything.
What do you like most about touring in the U.S. and what do you miss most about your home in Australia?
What I like about touring is that it’s such a stimulating life. There’s always new things you’re coming on contact with. You meet a huge amount of people. I love the whole travel aspect of it and the fact that we get to play our music to vastly different crowds.
As far as missing things at home, I miss people and I miss my dog, but I don’t find myself getting home sick really. We’ve only been home a couple of times in the last year and a half. I think this year I’ve only been home three weeks, so it’s been really brief.
Do you do any cooking while on tour and do you have a favorite post-show meal?
I haven’t cooked for a year in a half. We’ve been touring for basically 18 months. You rarely find yourself where there is a kitchen, and when you do, you’re so exhausted. I haven’t cooked in a long time. Before we used to tour, my thing was Indian food. I can cook Indian, but that’s the limit of culinary expertise.
Does writing songs while on tour make it easier or more difficult to be creative?
You know what, it has only been in the last six months I’ve started to write more on the road. The first year of touring was such an adjustment. When you’re touring in a van, you’re sharing the driving, getting only a few hours of sleep in a hotel, then you’re driving again.
In the last couple months we really started to get to work on the new album. It’s a different way of writing. Before we had lots of time on our hands. Back in Australia, we have our own studio there and it’s definitely more of a comfort zone. You can write anywhere. I taught myself I don’t necessarily need to have all the comforts of my home studio around when I’m writing. For a while I kind of did. You can do it anywhere really. As long a you have an instrument, you can get creative wherever you want.
How’s the work so far on the second album?
I probably have 10 to 15 different ideas. A couple of those are pretty close to being full songs. Over the next few months, we’re finishing this American and English tour and I’ll work on some more stuff. Our next album won’t be out until later next year, but we’re definitely starting to get to work on it.
Do you have any fond memories from your previous shows in San Francisco?
Yeah, it was great. We played there once with Imagine dragons and we’ve played in San Francisco about five times. This will be our sixth show when we get there and I believe it’s sold out. It’s nice when you have a legendary venue like that that’s sold out.
The last time we were there was for Outside lands. The day after the show, some local friends of mine took me to a park with two or three levels, a very picturesque area—Alamo Square! That’s probably the one. When we played Outside Lands, that’s always beautiful out there. It’s almost like playing in a gulley or valley, not sure what you call it, but it’s beautiful.