The young men of Australia's Atlas Genius are off to a fast start in the music world. After putting their infectious song "Trojans" online in 2011, it was picked up & featured on the influential Neon Gold blog, and the music industry came calling en masse. They just released their debut full-length titled "When It Was Now" and are just starting a tour supporting Imagine Dragons. We were lucky enough to have them stop by the Music Lounge just prior to embarking for tour, and we sat down with frontman Keith Jeffery to talk shop.
ABC MusicLounge: What happened with “Trojans” blowing up is basically what every band dreams of – posting a song online and then just having it take-off and get a ton of attention... I’m curious, what were you guys thinking of prior to that, like what was the game plan? What were you guys thinking your outlook as a band was?
Keith Jeffery: We are big fans of the whole organic, do it yourself, build it up slowly – that whole model. So the aim was, and we actually spoke about this - it was lets just put up music when we’re REALLY happy with it. We’re not fans of the whole marketing for the sake of marketing thing, like there’s a lot of bands we know from back home where it seems like their main priority is how much networking they can do… who they can get their songs in front of… and that always just felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do. If you have songs that are just mediocre, what’s the point of forcing them on a bunch of record exec’s or whatever? So we thought that’s a dead-end really, cause we’ve seen that happen a million times and no-one really gets anywhere. So we thought lets just focus on getting the music to the point that we’re really happy with it and be honest with ourselves you know – do we REALLY like this song? And if not, lets not put it out. So that was our plan – we’ll put out a song, Trojans will be the first one cause we like that song, and then maybe some people will hear it and we’ll put another one out, and hopefully we’ll build up an online following to some point where we might get to 500 fans or something.
Honestly that was the aim, it was such a small & modest goal to just try and reach some people, and if you know, eventually we can get that to a number where we can viably tour - great! That was literally the goal, so I mean it was just… the fact that it reacted that way was just like – are you kidding me? The FIRST one we put out?… it was great, but just totally surprising. We actually had people – a lot of managers & labels were emailing us, and a couple guys actually thought that we were a major label creation – like a major label made us to look like an indie band… because they liked the song so much that they were thinking ‘well, this can’t just be a real indie band…” and we were like really??? It’s just a song!
ABC MusicLounge: Was it literally like one day your email is completely empty, and then the next day overnight its filled with people contacting you guys?
Keith Jeffery: So we put the song up, and at the same time Michael set up the bands email account – and he just set it up so its like – no need to check it for a while... So like the fifth week after we put it up he noticed that Neon Gold had blogged it, and we didn’t know what that was but we knew that someone had blogged about the song and loved it, so we were like ‘We’ve made it! That’s good enough for us. We can retire now!” But that set off the whole thing and then within the next day there were a couple of labels that contacted us… including some majors from America. And we were just like… this is crazy. This has gotta be a joke because this is amazing. And then like every night, because of the time difference between the USA & Australia – we’d go to sleep and emails would just keep coming in. And it was so exciting that we wouldn’t actually turn our phones off so we’d keep hearing the “bong”, oh it’s an email from Parlophone, “bong” an email from Sony…
ABC MusicLounge: So at that point, you’re being contacted by all these people & labels and you had only put one song online – did you have a lot of songs already written? Was it still very early days of the band?
Keith Jeffery: We had a bunch of songs that – like I said, it was always this thing where until we got the song to the point that we were really happy with it, we didn’t want to put them out. So there were definitely song ideas and some that weren’t finished, but we were tinkering with, but it wasn’t like we had an album ready to go out. We were also very reluctant because we had all these people being like “Give us more music” and we were like, the whole process is we get it right and then we let people hear it. So we were kind of hesitant to just go “ok here’s our catalogue” because some of these we don’t like, you know?
ABC MusicLounge: So following that, you guys made a trip out to the US to do some showcases, correct?
Keith Jeffery: What happened was, there was kind of a painfully long time where, we spoke to like literally 30 labels over skype, and at that point we didn’t have any management, we were just self-managed, and so we were just trying to navigate through this new world that we had no real idea about, and trying to think what was the best idea… there were a few small labels that had offered us small indie deals, but we also had big labels talking to us and we’ve got some bigger indie labels, so we were not sure what the best thing to do was. We didn’t just want to sign with a major if we were going to lose all our creative control, and we didn’t want to sign with a small indie if it was going to limit us, so it was a bit confusing.
At the same time we had this song that was still reacting… and we wanted to capitalize on it & not make the wrong decision. So it took us 6 months, and at the same time we were just writing and writing and writing… after about 4-5 months, we started working with a manager who is based in New York – which was good because most of the interest was here (in the US) – so that was good to have someone else we could talk things over with. Then eventually, towards the end of 2011, we sort of whittled it down to a few labels that we were seriously considering, and then we came out here in Feb. 2012 to meet them all.
Atlas Genius in the ABC Music Lounge. We ALWAYS bribe our guests with cupcakes.
ABC MusicLounge: You guys are about to start a tour w/ Imagine Dragons. Do you guys have any pre-show rituals before you take the stage?
Keith Jeffery: We do… It involves a huddle where we get together & try to get pumped up. We’ll usually have a beer, but not too much. We generally dedicate each show to an actress of yesteryear. Like it might be Audrey Hepburn or something. Mostly it’s to keep the humor up. Every show is a new dedication, so anyone that wants to come up with a name, they can dedicate the show to whomever they want.
ABC MusicLounge: What do you guys like to do on a day off?
Keith Jeffery: I wish it was more exciting but generally touring is so grueling, so its usually sleep, rest… Darren likes to do a lot of sightseeing and I love sightseeing but I generally find that I don’t have ANY energy left on my day off so I kinda hang around the hotel watching movies, & get some food… I’ve promised myself I’m gonna try and see a bit more of the cities that we’re in this time, if I have some time off.
ABC MusicLounge: What kind of music are you listening to lately? Any current favorites?
Keith Jeffery: Well I’m just going back to The Cure… just being reminded again of how amazing they are, and were. Any new bands… I’m really in an old music phase… growing up I always loved Rage Against The Machine. I remember when they first got back together and they did a Big Day Out show in Australia and for me it was like the Beatles getting back together.
ABC MusicLounge: What’s next for you guys?
Keith Jeffery: The album release & the tour, which just started – I actually want to start writing like, now, cause I want to have a pile of stuff… I don’t want to like end this cycle and then be like “ok, start writing now…” cause I don’t think the pressure would be conducive to writing good stuff, so as well as sight-seeing on the road, I’d like to do a lot of writing throughout the tour. I have to admit I’m not great at it. I’m much better when we’re sitting at our studio, but I want to try. You get different perspectives, different stuff happening all the time. I think if we can do that, it would be good.