A Chat with Atlas Genius

The now LA-based Atlas Genius, comprised of brothers Keith and Michael Jeffery, has received critical acclaim and chart success, including multiple Top 10 Alternative hits (Trojans, If So, Molecules) and numerous television performances, including Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and more. The band has toured with Imagine Dragons, Silversun Pickups, and Passion Pit, as well as making stops at many major festivals across the world.  The duo spent the summer splitting their time between the studio and the road, doing dates with Incubus and Jimmy Eat World, as well as getting ready for their Lollapalooza play and dates with Blink 182.  Beginning September 22 in San Diego, the band will embark on a North American tour presented by Alt Nation. The tour makes stops in New York, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles and more.  Catch them at the ONCE Ballroom in Somerville on Saturday October 14 and check out our interview with Keith below.


First of all, congratulations on your release of “63 Days.”  This is your first release since Inanimate Objects two years ago.  Did you take time off from writing or did you just jump right back into it?

Well we took a little bit of time off of writing when we started to tour that second album, and then while we were touring we started to write again… because it was like the idea of going into the studio with a bunch of songs written, which we hadn’t done before with the first two albums.  We would just do an album, tour, finish the tour, and start to write again, which kind of leaves you like, “Oh okay, now we’ve gotta, like, write an album,” and it’s a kind of pressure that you don’t necessarily want when you’re going into a studio, so it was much nicer this time around that we had a bunch of songs already written, and now we’re in the process of recording those songs, and making them sound just the way that we want them to.

The lyrics of “63 Days” seem both pretty personal to your experiences and yet applicable to the greater issues affecting our world today.  Is that where your idea for the 63 Days of Love project came from?

It came from the song obviously.  Initially the song was written as a personal note, but then once the song was done, it was like this feeling of separation that I was feeling is applicable to not just a romantic situation, but also to greater global issues that we have going on right now where we have groups of people that haven’t been the most—what’s the word—there’s a divide between all the groups, and also not just cultural divides, but also we have financial divides, situations where we have people struggling in parts of the world, even within America and also around the world…  We’re all human beings and we’re wanting similar things, and we thought this could be a way of making a small difference, of trying to heal that.  If we could just start to show each person some value with what we call the “soul stare,” what we’re starting with “63 Days of Love,” and the idea is just to show that we’re all in this together and start to show the love as opposed to—there’s a lot of focus on differences right now, and it’s not helping the situation where we have been really expressing hatred towards other groups purely because of differences.  We’re trying to do our small part in bringing people together.

For sure.  One of our writers actually just wrote an editorial about musicians using their platforms for social change.  Is that something you guys have been looking to do for a while or did it kind of just happen recently and very naturally?

Yeah, I think as a musician you spend a lot of time, as an artist, I guess in general, you spend probably a bigger percentage of your day because of what you do, it allows you the time to really contemplate, and for us a big thing is animal rights, and for a long time we’ve been advocating change there, but it seems like right now that human beings, you know, the species that we call human beings right now have a lot of issues that have really come to the floor in the last 12 months or so, and it’s unnecessary hating.  We’re all here trying to get on, and while we’re focusing on the negatives, we’re missing out on all these positive things everyone has to offer each other.

So where else do you guys find inspiration?

Film, television, of course.  I think we try to process the benefits from getting away, you know, like we spend a lot of time in the studio and touring, so you can air your brain and do something with it, whatever that may be.  I think quite often that’s what helps the art more than anything.

Do you guys generally write the music or lyrics first, or is it a combination of both?

They go hand in hand.  I think often I’ll start a song with a broad framework of what I want the lyrics to be, and that might be a title, or it might be a phrase or a verse or something, and then I’ll try and find some music that fits to that feeling… and sometimes [Mike]’ll change the music a bit and I’ll change the lyric or vice versa.  It’s sort of hand in hand.

You toured with Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness this spring, played a handful of dates with Incubus and Jimmy Eat World, and played Lollapalooza.  How does it feel to be back on the road playing your own shows?

It’s great because we can play longer. *laughs* I love festivals and the tour with Andrew was great, but as for headlining on this next tour… it’s just nice.  We get to play more songs from the first two albums, and we’re also going to play a couple of unreleased tracks that are gonna be on the new album, which we haven’t done for a couple of years.  We’ve always shied away from playing unreleased music, but now we’re just going for it, we’re going to play a couple of tracks so fans can expect a couple that they won’t know yet.

When you’re not playing shows, what do you do in your free time while you’re touring?

Well a lot of time is spent in the studio, but I like to surf and also run, so like getting out and I guess airing the brain.  Physical activity is something both Mike and I like to do.  Mike’s a long distance runner.  He loves doing that.  Actually, Mike’s a really great photographer, so he spends a lot of time making things look good.  At the end of this year’s touring, we’re going back to Australia for a month or so, so surfing is something I’ll be doing a lot of when I get back.

Speaking of Australia, does the reception to your shows differ at all between when you play there and when you play here in the United States?

Yeah, every crowd has a personality.  In America, each city has a different personality, and Australia’s different as well.  I think crowds are a bit more reserved, they’re a bit more like “Okay, prove yourself to us.” That’s maybe more like a New York crowd than say like the Midwest.  Certain parts of this country, it’s just like every time’s such a joy.  Sometimes, some crowds make you work a bit more… It was kind of amazing when we first started touring to notice that, and like, there’s no better or worse, it’s just different.

Can you tell us when we might get some more new music or even a full album?

We’re working on the new album at the moment, finishing that all up over the next couple of months between, before, and after this tour.  There will be new music pretty soon.  The full album, I’d say, is ready next year.

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