Algiers Interview: “the production of the album was across the whole band. Our last records were produced by seasoned pros”.

Returning with a sonically expansive fourth album, Atlanta’s Algiers have fused hands-on hardware with a cast of guest vocalists, as well as some bewitching instrumental flair…

Fusing the disciplines of hip-hop and indie rock, with lyrics that hit back at political and societal injustice, Atlanta’s Algiers have built a dedicated following since their formation back in 2012. Led by vocalist and guitarist Franklin James Fisher, the four-piece have released three records to date, with the fourth, SHOOK, set to drop this February.

Aside from the kit-mastery of former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong, the band have delved more into the hardware realm to create the rhythms and textures that underpin the record (including a Roland SP-404 and a Sequential Circuits Tempest) counterpointed by some deliciously unhinged guitar work. We caught up with Algiers’ guitar-man Lee Tesche to learn more about the making of this ambitious new album, which also stars some acclaimed guests…

AMI: SHOOK is a really tremendous listen. What was the starting point?

Lee Tesche: Franklin had been collecting demos throughout the early part of the pandemic. Things shut down at the very beginning of our tour for our previous record and we were all stranded back home in Atlanta. We were with our families and re-establishing the things that brought us together in the first place. Franklin had been in a writing frenzy and he and (bassist and co-founder) Ryan [Mahan] had been working on some new music, watching a lot of documentaries and delving back into the music we’d all grown up on.

Not too long after Franklin revealed that he’d had essentially a whole record in demo form. He shared this big batch of demos with us and we built upon it from there.

AlgiersAMI: I love some of the dissonant guitar work on the record, in Irreversible Damage and 73% it seems particularly abrasive. What was the idea with making the guitar sound like it does, and what were some of your approaches?

LT: Both Franklin and I are the guitar players in the band and it’s always a difficult space to navigate when you’re playing with someone else. We’ve known each other for so long. The shorthand origin story of the band runs as follows: I was in a band in high school and Ryan came to all of our shows. When that band ended Ryan and I started something new. Franklin became a fan of that band and became a bit of a superfan. He hadn’t come across people doing more DIY indie-punk stuff locally, so it was a big eye-opening moment for him.

He’s always looked up to me as a guitar player, which is funny because he’s the best guitar player that any of us know. He’s probably the best musician in general that any of us know. I think on previous records I’d take the lead and step up to fill in a lot of those sonic spaces with the guitar. This was the first time he actually took the torch and led from a guitar perspective.

A lot of the time he’s trying to do stuff that he thinks I’d do or vice versa. We end up writing for each other. A lot of those things we spent the last month or so really rehearsing the heck out of these songs for live performance. Some of those guitar parts took me a while to learn because they’re quite complicated.

AMI: There’s some amazing guests on this record, and it’s fantastic to hear Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha. How did you choose who to bring into this album and how does the variety of voices affect the context of the songs?

LT: It was kind of a combination of a number of different factors. The fact that we started writing this in Atlanta meant that there was a real ‘Atlanta’ basis for everything. We were trying to pull some people who had a connection to the south and some of those thematics into the record. At a certain point we just started talking to people that we’d previously discussed collaborating with. Zack’s collaboration was a long time coming. We’re obviously huge fans of his and he’d been a fan of ours for a long time. So it seemed appropriate to pull him into this album.

The song he’s on, Irreversible Damage is rooted in a lot of things. Franklin had been listening to a lot of North African and Turkish psych-guitar stuff. That’s kind of what influenced that. We were doing a lot of writing and recording ourselves then re-sampling it, putting it in the sampler and then triggering it back and trying to do more beats-focused writing.

AMI: I understand that Franklin and Ryan have been stitching beats together using some retro gear. What was the motivation to use classic gear to do that?

LT: We like hands-on things. We work in software a lot too, but as with most practices it’s good to change things up and use physical materials. Even in graphic design (which is my background) sometimes it’s great to get off the computer and work with physical media. It’s exactly the same with music. Franklin has always had a Roland SP-404, a little sampler. So we decided to use that, and try things ‘this’ way for a change.

AMI: There’s a lot of synth texture on the record too. I like how they veer between the more spiky and the more serene, like on Bite Back. What were some of the core synths used on the record?

LT: Bite Back is interesting, because Ryan just wrote that entirely and brought it in. I remember thinking it was an incredible piece. I was really impressed. His work with synths and electronics I was really blown away by. All of that was done with a Modal Argon-8, and a Sequential Circuits Tempest drum machine in lockdown. When we were in the studio we didn’t really replace anything, we just worked with the textures that he’d already made. Throughout the rest of the record we used all sorts of different things.

The production of the album was spread out across the whole band. Our last few records were produced by seasoned pros. After learning from them, we were really conscious that we wanted to make those decisions and produce ourselves. Our friend and former FOH engineer Matt Rekini was a great engineer to work with.


AMI: What tracks changed the most from their initial form?

LT: A lot of Franklin’s early demos I found very refreshing because he was consciously trying to leave space for the other band members to write within. But I thought that a lot of the space was quite beautiful, and didn’t want to fill everything in. It seemed to work really well.

So, we tried to keep a lot of those original ideas, and keep that sense of instinct-based writing intact. There were some incredible songs that just didn’t make the record. I Can’t Stand It took a while to get right. The music was always intact, but Franklin was searching for the right chorus on that for a really long time. Something Wrong, the more experimental track near the end of the album, changed a lot just because of the process. Franklin’s demo was really interesting. I’d been recently experimenting with tape effects and when I heard Franklin’s demo, I tried to reconstruct some of his similar ideas but with tape.

AMI: How long did the production process take overall?

LT: We started it last summer and had finished most of the basic trackings by mid-September. When you’re collaborating with other musicians, you have to wait for them to find time in their schedule to record their parts.

AMI: We read that prior to making this record, the band was in quite a troubled place, and at one point you were close to breaking up, is that right?

LT: Being a musician is a hustle, it’s the same in a lot of trades right now. You’re just trying to make ends meet but keep being creative. We’d been super busy and active, friendships naturally began to fray. The touring we were doing was getting quite argumentative, so (with lockdown) things shut-down at just the right time for us. It helped us to reset and reconnect. The fact that we’ve had these long enduring friendships has kept us together. We were asking a lot of questions that we were able to answer through this process.

Making SHOOK was a healing process in a lot of ways, as writers and musicians. There had been long periods of working that were tough and tiring but there was also a lot more joy coming out of it this time around. It was a lot of fun.

AMI: SHOOK seems like a meticulously crafted statement, will things have to change arrangement wise when you perform live, or will the live arrangements be in-step with the studio versions?

LT: We’re never trying to match studio versions 100%. Live is really where things come to life for us. In the studio you’re often working on individual parts and mixing things but you’re never really actualising the songs until you take them to the stage. By the end of your first tour all of a sudden it’s something different, a real thing that you’re living every night. We just spent the last six weeks rehearsing it heavily, but we’re trying to leave room for improv and expansion.

SHOOK is released on February 24th by Matador Records, Algiers will tour Europe in February. See Algiers website for more info:

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