Atlanta gospel rockers Algiers have had a hectic few months since the release of their second album The Underside Of Power, supporting Depeche Mode across Europe as well as their own headline shows in the U.S. With their sophomore release getting the nod across a slew of Best of 2017 lists, Algiers bring a successful year to a close with a European tour of their own. State caught up with the guys ahead of their recent show in Dublin.
Thematically and sonically, what did you set out to achieve with this record and can you tell us about what you were listening to, reading about and how that informed the writing?
“Partial as we are to them, we did not have a grand vision or a manifesto for this album. Our only ambition was to continue to articulate and expound upon the themes of the first record: haunting, melancholy, lost futures, oppression, solidarity, common cause, struggle, resistance and so much more. Perhaps that’s why it has been considered “dense” in some circles, but that’s bullshit, because human history is cluttered to bursting with noise and violence. This album, is, in some ways, a reflection of that world: fragmented, precarious and full of mourning.”
“We listened to Adrian Utley play his synths. We listened to a lot of Nocturnal Emissions and Caroline K. We listened to Throbbing Gristle. We listened to Pharmakon. We listened to Uniform. We listened to Novelist and Elf Kid. We listened to Wolf Eyes. We listened to The Velvets, The Shagri-Las, The Exciters, The Four Tops, Lee Moses…We could go on and on and on. We are constantly inspired by music, new and old, and it is our task to learn from those who continue to push themselves and challenge the musical status quo.”
Several engineers and studios were used, as opposed to one for your debut. Was that by accident or design and if you were making a third record tomorrow which approach would you take?
“This was purely conjuctural. Touring for the first time as a band after we released the first record inspired us to write quickly and dive headlong into a process we had not fully mapped. This had some pitfalls, but it also enabled us to grow through our relationships with so many wonderful people: Adrian, Ali, Randall, Ben and many more.”
Franklin, you have spoken of the irony of talking to black people who aren’t listening to Algiers. Can touring with other artists and playing festivals help you reach the people you wouldn’t necessarily play to on your own tours?
“Our entire purpose as a band is to exchange experiences with as many people as possible. Touring and festivals most definitley enable us to reach new communities and spaces. We have ever expanding plans to do this. In the winter, we have the opportunity to tour in the former Yugoslavia/Balkans, including Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece.”
Bob Geldof recently handed back his freedom of Dublin in protest against Aung San Suu Kyi and her alleged inaction over the Rohingya genocide. The Irish media and public reaction focused on him rather than the issue. When such twisted reactions abound, can artists still affect change?
“Art is a discourse, and discourses can have material effects. Look at Trump and the mainstream Amercian media. They have encouraged and enabled the resurgence of the fascist right, simply by legitimising their “freedom” to exist as one of a “plurality” of viewpoints. Sorry, the only response to fascism is to eradicate it.”
“We see art as having the ability to intervene in these discourses and shift the dialogue in the other direction. As a visceral form, music specifically, can also play a role in bringing disparate people together in a communal sense. This is one of the reasons why we pull from both gospel and punk rock, because they both open up spaces for communion and through this, action.”
“We put little stock in the actions of millionaires and billionaires. However well intentioned they may be, they benefit and derive their wealth through the very capitalist/colonialist system that exploits and murders people in the poorest and most marginalised parts of the world.”
You’re in the middle of a European tour right now. What have been the highlights so far and how are audiences reacting to Algiers this side of the pond?
“It has been an incredible tour. People in Europe have responded so well to this tour, so much more so than in the US. We were excited to play Ireland for the first time. Ryan studied history and has a lot of interest in the modern Irish history and politics.”
Playing live, your stage is an extremely industrious one regarding dual and multi-instrumentation. Does that give you the freedom to experiment/improvise and give your songs a different treatment night after night?
“Being able to trust and depend on each other is the most important aspect of our music. We have quite a “busy” stage, and yet we perform as if we were’nt covered in wires and machinery that could break down at any point. This is very liberating. Those attending can expect plenty of theatrics and at least one rendition of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’.”