Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Keith Jeffery Talks Atlas Genius Comeback, Music Inspirations And BeachLife Festival

Atlas Genius is an alternative rock band formed out of South Australia in 2009. The band’s members are the Jeffery brothers, Keith on lead vocals and lead guitar, Michael on drums, Steven on keyboard, Dave Green on guitar, and touring member Mickey Wagner on bass. Throughout their career, Atlas Genius has toured and performed alongside artists Mat Kearney, Magic Giant, Weezer, Panic! At the Disco, and Imagine Dragons, just to name a few. 

The band had humble beginnings, earning a residency at a local pub, The Lion, which allowed them to save up money for the home studio they were building in their garage. In May of 2011, the band’s debut single, “Trojans” was released and became a world-wide sensation. The song was placed on a heavy rotation on Sirius XM’s Alt Nation station, and reached No. 4 on the Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart. 

After their single release, Atlas Genius was signed with Warner Brothers and put out their first EP, Through The Glass. In the fall of 2012, the band went on their first North American tour. In 2013 the group released their debut album, When It Was Now, which reached No. 34 on the Billboard’s Top 200 chart.

After 2 years of performing and making more music, Atlas Genius released their second studio album Inanimate Objects. After releasing their single “63 Days” and going on another North American tour in 2017, the band began working on their third studio album. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world hard, and caused disagreements with the bands label at the time, postponing their release of any new music.

The bands last show was in 2019, but now they are ready to begin performing again and are finally preparing to release their long awaited third studio album in August. Their first big performance back onstage will be at BeachLife Festival in California with other alternative and indie artists. 2024 is going to bring a lot more music from this talented group and a much bigger musical comeback after the pandemic.

We had an amazing conversation with lead vocalist and guitarist Keith Jeffery about the struggles in Australia during the pandemic, what’s inspiring them to write at the moment, and his thoughts on the possible TikTok ban. 

Keith Jeffery Talks Atlas Genius Comeback
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

You guys have been on a break but you’ve got some shows coming up soon. What have you been up to on the break?

Lots of music. I mean, we haven’t played since 2019. The last show was at the end of 2019, and we all know what happened in the world shortly after that. Parts of Australia were pretty extreme. We came back at the end of 2019 and started working on recording a record that we finished at the beginning of 2020. Then the world went into lockdown. 

Our plans were to release that record shortly after, but we were in a contractually weird situation with a label because we weren’t able to tour. It was sort of a disagreement between the two parties about how that should go. So, we didn’t put the record out. We are only just starting to put that record out now. 

The first two songs “Nobody Loves Like You” and “Romans” were done back then. There’s been a four-year hiatus which is a weird feeling for a musician because we had toured for nearly eight years straight. So, to not do it for four years is bonkers. 

I recently talked to Parkway Drive. They were in Byron Bay, and they told me that they couldn’t leave their town in Australia for years during the pandemic. 

That was a situation for us, too. We couldn’t leave for a couple of years. Then it got to a point where we were sort of a few years into having that record, and we’d fallen out with our previous label. It was a bit like musical purgatory where you’re just sort of trapped in this situation. 

You hear about those stories growing up, you know, the famous stories about Prince or any number of musicians who weren’t able to do what they wanted to do musically and put out music. All of a sudden we were in it and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, this is pretty easy to get yourself in this situation unwillingly.’ 

I’m in the studio right now. This is the studio that we built, and we did the first record in it and then the new record. I’ve been doing a lot of studio work here, so I had bands come in. I produce and write with them. That’s been nice. The silver lining is I’ve been able to connect with the local music scene in a way that I never had before.

Keith Jeffery Talks Atlas Genius Comeback
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Your song “Nobody Loves Like You” is one of my favorites. My other favorite is “When the Night is Over.” I originally thought the songs were about breakups, but now I’m not sure. What are the inspirations behind these? They seem like two polar opposite songs that I’m drawn to on this album.

Well actually, neither of those two songs are about breakups. “Nobody Loves Like You” is a little sort of an ode to somebody. Talking about your own songs is weird because you get in a zone when you write the song and then when you go back and reflect on it, often the meaning changes.

The situation was I was living in Los Angeles and my partner at the time was living in Sydney. There was this huge distance. The song was inspired by that. It’s not literal. There are moments in the song where you might be inspired and other times you kind of veer off, but that wasn’t really a breakup song. Well, it wasn’t at all. 

“When the Night is Over” was a song that I wrote with a couple of friends in Los Angeles. The idea of that one is that you have a whole scenario in your mind. You see somebody in a restaurant, a bar, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, that could be the one,’ but they’re obviously with somebody else, and having that whole thought experiment of how it could go if things were different.

The songs sound like you guys. They sound like what I remember. I miss seeing the band at festivals, and I can’t wait for you guys to play these songs live for the first time. 

I wanted to ask you about BeachLife Festival. It’s going to be your first big trip back. What are you looking forward to? Are you nervous or excited?

A little nervous in the sense that it will be four and a half years since we played a show. Having said that, we’ve still been playing music a lot. Studio work is a whole different thing now. You lose yourself in the room and no one’s watching. Obviously with the festival, it can be thousands of people watching which is very exhilarating. 

It’s one of the greatest feelings to have a crowd of that size react to what you’re doing and realize you’ve got this connection with these people. That doesn’t happen in life very often. It’s one of the most genuine connections I think you can have as an artist. It’s amazing. I’m really excited for it. 

I’ve missed it genuinely, because there was that period where, especially early on during the lockdowns, it felt like performing for people was in the past. Playing to people and traveling seemed like it was done. There was this point where we wondered if it was going to be like this forever. We had a situation in Australia where you could only travel within a five-kilometer radius. It felt like a sci-fi movie.

It was bonkers. If your friend was six K’s away, well, then that’s it. I live close to the beach here. It might be a five minute walk, but for some people, the beach might have been just beyond that so they legally couldn’t go to the beach. Just to be able to travel again was one of the best things for me when the band first started to have fans and we got to tour America. I just loved it because for a long time I didn’t really travel much when I was a kid and in my early 20s, so it was amazing that I got to travel for work. 

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Have you found any hidden gems in your travels that you would tell people to visit?

Yeah, there’s lots. I’m probably going to struggle to remember exactly where they were, but I’ve got memories of places. Being in America, some of our favorite memories, I think my brothers are the same, it was moments where you didn’t even expect it. You’d have a day off, the last show was in Dallas, and then you’d be driving to I don’t know where in two days. 

Tour life is different because you’re asleep when you’re traveling. You wake up and you might not even know where you were going. You’d wake up and it’d be some small town that sometimes I wouldn’t even remember the name of, but just being able to walk around. 

I’m not a huge computer gamer, but when I was growing up, I’d really get into something like Red Dead Redemption or something. The most enjoyable thing for me would be to go off the map and just search some hidden little thing, which wasn’t even part of the story. It felt like you were living that in real life. 

It’s not New York City, It’s not L.A. It’s not the big ticket cities. It’s these little places that you get to feel for a day. You get a sense of what it was like to live in those places. Sometimes it was great, sometimes it was not as amazing, but I genuinely love that. I can’t say a specific place, but I’ve got memories of them. It’s often the car park of the Holiday Inn where the bus was parked. 

Well, actually, there was this one town when we were between two places. We played in Seattle and we were heading down South to the next show. I forget where it was. We had a day off and everyone was like ‘How good is this place?’ half of the crew were American and they’d never been there. It was a little town with a train station. It was beautiful. 

Then around two in the afternoon, our tour manager realized that we actually had a show that day, six hours back. So, we scrambled. It was actually one of the greatest days off, one of the greatest little towns, but we had to leave because there was a bit of a managerial mix up.

Keith Jeffery Talks Atlas Genius Comeback
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What’s the perfect day in your town in Australia?

I love the heat. I really love hot weather, which a lot of people don’t but it’s not humid here. When we get hot weather, it’s dry. I’m not a huge fan of winter. I mean, it’s nice for a minute, but if I’m going to do winter, it should be in France or Germany or somewhere with snow. Either do winter properly or don’t do it at all. We don’t get snow here. Our winters are just like those long, kind of miserable winters. 

If you’re going to have the ideal day, It’ll be the middle of summer. It’ll be roasting. You could be at Victor Harbor, or Port Elliot, where I am right now, they’re two neighboring towns. That’s where we grew up. Right along the coast here, the beaches are as good as almost any beach I saw in America but really quiet because the population is a lot smaller. You’ll be at the beach and it could be a perfect day and there’d be like five other people. If I was recommending you to come here, I would say to come here in summertime, which is your winter.

Get out of Cleveland or whichever tundra you’re in. Summertime here is amazing. We’ve got this one famous bakery. It’s famous in Australia. You guys don’t do bakery the way we do. It’s more savory here. We’re talking about things like English pasties, which I don’t think Americans even really know what they are. It’s akin to a meat pie, but it’s generally vegetables. I don’t eat meat, so it’s mainly vegetables. It’s an English thing. Often when I go to America I want something like that but it’s all just sweet, sweet, sweet. I would go to the bakery and it’s just a quieter life. You’re not gonna come here for a party. It’s just more laid back.

I’ve traveled all around Australia. I went to Ayers Rock and I went to the Outback. I was so relaxed in the Outback because I felt like I was a million miles away from everything. I just felt you could completely relax.

My version of that feeling you’re talking about was when I was in Canada. It was actually my birthday in 2013, and we were on tour with Imagine Dragons, and the tour was great. It was a big tour at that point. We had a day off somewhere in Canada, and I remember running through snow. It was the most polar opposite situation to what you’d have in Australia. I think it felt like I was on the moon. It was amazing.

Your brothers are in your band with you. Do you have any advice for traveling with family on the road?

I mean, it can be more challenging, I guess. The obvious thing is when you have a disagreement with a family member, you can often push it too far. We’ve definitely had moments where we’ve really p*ssed each other off. Generally, you can get over it. Whereas if you’re traveling with people, especially if it’s a band member who maybe is new, you get to the point where because you get really tired, it’s not like a holiday where you’re hopefully in good spirits. 

You might be nine weeks in and you’re running on not much sleep. So, someone can be a d*ck to someone else. Then if they’re not a family member, there’s often no going back. Family will often tolerate more, which is not good because you can often get into unhealthy toxic situations. My advice for traveling with family depends. Holidays are fine but some people maybe shouldn’t do it depending on your family dynamic. 

There were times when it was going wrong with a family member. It’s a much bigger weight sometimes because it’s your family and it’s work for us. It can get pretty heavy because this is my family and right now I don’t want to be anywhere near them, but it’s also my colleague. But generally speaking we’ve been pretty cool because we’ve always been tight. We’ve been a tight family so it enjoyable most of the time on the road.

Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

What do you do in your downtime while traveling? Do you all like to do the same things or do you go and do your own thing?

Well, it’s been a long time. When you’re on tour and you have a day off, or just a few hours before a show, you go and explore, get a coffee. Often, we do that together. For me, it was always going for a run. I would always run and try to do at least a six- kilometer run or maybe more if I was feeling energetic, or a long walk. 

What does 2024 have in store for you?

Well, a lot of music, funnily enough, that’s what we do. But you know, if you’d asked me last year, I would have said the same. It wouldn’t pan out because, like I said, we weren’t able to get the music out. There’s new music coming out, two more tracks coming out in May, and then the rest of the album dropping in August. So, by August, all of that record will be out which is really exciting for us. 

Even if no one likes it or two people listen to it, I’d like a few more, but it’s just getting it out and being able to work on new music because I love the record. As a musician, you’re always creating. It’s good for us musicians to always be creating. I like to move on and put out new music. So now we’re able to do that. I’m just excited to be able to get this music out. 

What’s inspiring you to write right now?

Well, it’s going to get a little bit deep, probably. It’s pretty nuts to have a hit song with your first song you ever put out, but it doesn’t really happen. It wasn’t like we had a whole body of music where a record label said, ‘Oh, this is the hit, and we’re going to push this as the hit.’ Nobody knew, including us, that it was anything special. I mean, we liked it. What came with that was immense pressure. It was years of really trying to figure out how to tackle this. Like, how do I make more music when you’re trying to live up to a hit song? It kind of ruins the whole process.

I remember being almost comatose when we put “Trojans” out and a three song EP after which had “Symptoms.” I remember for two days I was like, ‘Don’t even tell me.’ I was convinced that people were going to hate it. I was just lying on the couch. It was almost comical how much it affected me. Now fast forward like ten, 11, 12 years. I don’t feel that kind of stress. That’s the great thing about having a failure. 

We had a second record which was a failure in the sense that it didn’t have a number one song like “Trojans.” Our label dropped us after that. You face your worst feeling of like, ‘Oh, what if we get dropped?’ Then you do. That sucks and it hurts. But now it’s like, ‘Well, we just have to make music.’ We still have a label partner now, which is great. It’s closer to the feeling of just creating like we would do when we made songs like “Trojans.” 

Keith Jeffery Talks Atlas Genius Comeback
Photo Credit: Amy Harris/The Travel Addict

Are you creating in the same place? 

It’s in the same place, which is funny. You do that classic thing that everybody seems to fall into of having some success and then completely change the recipe. I remember feeling really overwhelmed and became really convinced that I needed to reinvent the band on the second record. What the f*ck was I thinking?

There are all kinds of crazy things that have changed in five years. I mean, we have TikTok.

That’s right. Yesterday in the news or the day before, it was potentially going to be banned. I don’t know if it would be affected more than in the music industry. 

You guys probably wouldn’t be affected that much. You have a studio, you have a process, you have a record label. But TikTok is one of the main ways musicians are getting discovered now. 

It’s a very strange thing, isn’t it? There’s that whole generation of especially young kids who have been impacted disproportionately more than, say, you or I who have got a frame of reference prior to it. I performed a lot before and all of a sudden for people like that, it’s massive. I guess we won’t know how that’s going to affect people until 20 years down the track and we’re able to look back.

What I don’t like about things like TikTok are that it pushes an algorithm and it’s dangerous to even criticize the overlords. No one really knows what the algorithm favors. We’ve got a theory. I think it likes raw footage shot on an iPhone, not edited. But even then, you never really know. It doesn’t seem to be necessarily what people would gravitate towards. It seems to have its own sort of bias towards certain types of content. 

I remember we did some of what I would deem high quality drone videos during the pandemic because I couldn’t do anything else. I went around the state and did these videos of me performing live on cliff tops and parts of the state. When I put them on TikTok, there’s no love for it because it’s an edited video. 

I work with artists here. They’re younger artists in their 20s and they’re quite savvy with TikTok. The amount of energy that goes into that is quite concerning. Should they not just be able to create the art and then put it up?

There is a lot of pressure put on even established artists to get a viral hit. 

That was part of our issue with our previous labels that they were really big on. I can totally understand from the labels point of view. They’re like, ‘We need you to have a viral sensation.’ Well, it’s not that easy. Like if it was, we’d all just do that, wouldn’t we? That begs the question if that’s what marketing is now, in the hands of the artists.

It only works when it’s the genuine voice coming from the phone of the singer or the artist that’s writing it. Well, then what was the point of having a label to help you put your music out? Then I just don’t even need you anymore. They’re pushing you into the art of another lover. 

It would be interesting to see the scramble if it does get banned. They’ll probably just shake up the management and make it feel more American or something. But if it did get banned, you’ll watch the entire industry and marketing plans just get thrown out the window and go back to normal.

I look forward to seeing you guys again somewhere near me in the Midwest.

I like playing in Cleveland. That whole area, the Midwest. We played our first ever show in Columbus. I think Cleveland might have been like a third show or something. 

Columbus is a college town. I mean, they would love you guys.

It was a big show. It was the radio show there. CD101 Summerfest Radio Show. It was like 20,000 people. That was the first show.

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Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a writer and photographer who has been traveling for 20 years and flown over 2 million miles to visit over 80 countries on 6 continents. She is a freelance photographer for Invision by Associated Press, AP Images and Rex/Shutterstock. Her work can be seen in various publications and websites including: Rolling Stone, AP Images, National Geographic Books, Fodor’s Travel Guides, Forbes.com, Lonely Planet Travel Guides, JetStar magazine, and Delta Sky Magazine.

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