11 August 2015

[Interview] Atlas Genius on the Stress and Process Behind Inanimate Objects

posted by: Grant Artists' Choices and Voices | Interviews
B&W shot of Atlas Genius

Whether or not Inanimate Objects, the sophomore album from Atlas Genius matches the surprise success of their debut (and it should, it’s excellent), frontman Keith Jeffery insists that they weren’t simply going to go back to the well that worked for them on When It Was Now.

“We definitely didn’t want to just revisit the ground that we covered on the first album,” Jeffery said. “Growing up you see bands that are desperately trying to recreate their big hit, but I’ve never really seen that work. For me that just seems futile.”

That’s a bold statement, since the aforementioned “well” earned them a gold single in “Trojans,” a record that debuted in Billboard’s Top 40, and a slew of high profile gigs, including a spot in 2013’s Lollaplooza lineup.

While “Molecules,” Inanimate Objects’ lead single, nearly matches “Trojans” for sheer infectiousness, it couldn’t be more different sonically. Jeffery rides wave after wave of massive, majestic synth on a track that is joyous and triumphant and clearly written to be played for 100,000 people at once.

That effect didn’t happen by accident. Jeffery, along with his bandmate and brother, Michael, set out to make an album that hit home with a live audience both in its loudest, most anthemic moments, and its softest, most vulnerable ones.

“When you play live you want those moments where it’s super intimate and just you and the audience with no music,” Jeffery explained. “And then you want those other moments where it explodes, so that’s what we tried to do with the album.”

“Friends With Enemies” fills the intimacy quota on Inanimate Objects practically by itself. It’s one of the darkest, most melancholy tracks the band has released, but it’s also one of their densest and most hypnotic. Jeffery’s voice fades to a near whisper as a blur of synths fade in and out, practically reaching infrasound levels.

While guitar is nothing more than a suggestion on “Friends With Enemies,” it soars elsewhere on the album. After becoming overnight synth pop darlings, the Jefferys watched as everyone from Lorde to Taylor Swift plunged into the “ethereal” sound that had been part of the band’s identity since “Trojans” entered the global consciousness. Luckily, Jeffery saw this not as an obstacle to their creativity, but an opportunity to get back to a musical love he’d been hoping to rekindle.

“For me, I just missed guitars. I grew up playing a lot of guitars and listening to a lot of guitar bands,” Jeffery said of the album. “I wanted to revisit that for myself.”

That desire is hard to miss on Inanimate Objects. “Stockholm” derives its frenetic energy from its ceaselessly chugging chords; “The City We Grow” is a quintessential piece of sun-soaked guitar pop, and the brothers go full acoustic on the soulful “Levitate.”

Overall, Atlas Genius’ sophomore album is a confident, mature record that showcases their development as a band without skimping on the massive, infectious songs that made them an instant hit with audiences. However, there was plenty of anxiety that went into the recording process for a band so concerned with perfection that they spent two years building a home studio in their native Australia. Inanimate Objects was their first time bringing in outside voices and producers.

“I was really worried about working with different people because I had this fear that there would be this intangible magic that we would ruin by involving other people,” Jeffery said. “Thankfully, that wasn’t the case…I actually think it’s a better album because we opened up a little bit.”

Ultimately, Jeffery said the change in process was invigorating for the band once they found their rhythm and had the time to write. Despite a relentless touring schedule post-When It Was Now, only “The City We Grow” got the stereotypical, guitar-in-the-back-of-the-tour-bus writing treatment.”The embryonic seeds of an idea can start when you’re touring, but I find finishing off a song pretty difficult with the way we do it on the road,” Jeffery explained. “A lot of the lyrics I come up with as a result of the production sounds, as opposed to just writing it on an acoustic guitar and strumming it out.”

Jeffery said he wants to develop that ability to craft whole songs on the road, but for now he’s just eager to have fans hear the album. While the singles have been met with plenty of praise, he’s excited for the public to take in Inanimate Objects the way he intended: in its entirety.

“As the writer of the songs, to me this album is strongest when listened to as a whole. To take one moment out of it for me is like taking one scene out a movie, and that’s the only scene people get to see for a couple of months. But for me it all makes sense when you see it as a whole,” he said.

Finally, there was the perennial problem of knowing when to let a record lie and not engage in endless tinkering. The album hits shelves on August 28th, but the recording process wrapped up in Los Angeles during the early spring.

“You can always overcook things. The good thing for us is we pretty much used up all the time we allocated for ourselves. There wasn’t time for us to get to messing with things,” Jeffery said. “We could’ve gone on for another year tweaking stuff. My personality is that I could tweak stuff forever.”

Even without the extra tweaking time, it’s pretty hard to find an issue with Inanimate Objects.


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