Half UK and half US-based band Algiers are playing their most recent run of shows, which are centered around screenings of Burn To Shine 6: Atlanta, a decade-in-the-making music documentary from Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and Christoph Green; the series features a curator in each city (in this case, Lee Tesche) who asks friends to perform one song in a house that’s about to be demolished. This particular installment includes performances by Deerhunter, the Black Lips, The Coathangers, Mastodon, and more, and it promises to be an added bonus to Algiers’ actual performances that will take place tonight at DC’s Black Cat and tomorrow night in NYC at Le Poisson Rouge!
I got caught up with Lee about his involvement with the Burn To Shine project, and I also spoke with him about the band’s dynamic, creative inspiration and more; read up on all of that below, and be sure to follow Algiers on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news.
First of all, I’m really interested to hear about how you became involved with Burn To Shine!
I’d seen the first two almost twelve years ago or something, because the first two were filmed in Washington DC in 2004; I grew up romanticizing the Washington DC music scene, and the Chicago one was shortly after that as well and I really enjoyed it, so I reached out to Brendan and Christoph (the two filmmakers). At the time, there was stuff going on in Atlanta, but I feel like the rock world wasn’t on the same stage as it is now; there wasn’t that much attention here, and a lot of bands would be skipping over Atlanta ten or fifteen years ago and playing in Athens and stuff instead. (Athens was kind of the indie hotbed through the 80s and 90s.) And around then, there was just a lot of interesting music and bands in the city that I thought kind of deserved some attention, and I thought it would be cool for them to come here and do one, so I just basically continued harassing them until they gave in. [Laughs] And it was just an interesting thing, because it took a long time to plan and put together, and by the time we did, I think half the bands I originally wanted to see in there had either broken up or weren’t around anymore, so a whole different batch of bands were involved. I guess that’s kind of the point as well, because it’s just like a time capsule that captures a city or music scene and the fluidity or state of flux, you know?
Right, right. And I know they take place in abandoned houses, so was that aspect of sourcing a location difficult?
Yeah, extremely. My thing was I just wanted them to come here and do one, and I wasn’t playing in any bands at the time; I was trying to get other people to curate and coordinate, but that never panned out, so at a certain point it seemed like it wasn’t going to happen, and I took the initiative to put a lot of that together on my own. A lot of the delay in doing it and it getting finished was just it revolving around finding the house and it getting taken down on schedule, because shortly after we filmed, it was right after the housing bubble kind of burst in Atlanta, which was a little bit slower than the rest of the country, and a lot of development came to a halt here in the community where it was filmed. It was really difficult finding the place; I remember spending a year or two doing that. That was the hardest part.
I bet! Now, clearly this upcoming batch of shows will be less logistically intense in terms of execution, but what typically goes into formulating the live setup for you guys?
I think for us that’s really where it all comes to life, and we’re all really excited, because we’ve had a bit of time off for the better part of four or five months. We really get a lot out of that, and I guess it’s just a way to communicate and connect with people. As far as planning, with this there was the aspect of arranging the screenings, which should be a lot of fun, but I don’t really know about overall prep; I guess we just do it, I don’t know. [Laughs]
Totally. And on the creative end of things, I read that for you guys it’s usually the music that comes first rather than necessarily any lyrical content; is there any way that you find that song development process to typically fall into place?
I think it can happen any number of different ways. Franklin is responsible for the large majority of the lyrics, and he might give you different answers than I probably would, but there have been situations where we’ve had these verses and passages and then have built music around them, and then there have been other times where we’ve had these whole songs and have done the writing after the fact. But I don’t think we’ve found a single formula that we’ve stuck with; it’s always just reflective of our environment and the things that are affecting us at that particular point in time.
You can definitely hear that flexibility coming through in the music, but have you noticed people trying to sort of pigeonhole you with certain words or descriptors for your sound?
Yes and no. I think any type of descriptor or genre tag are things that you do feel kind of boxed in with, but I understand, too, that that’s kind of how people have to identify. You can’t be everything to everyone, and I think that’s maybe one thing that people have had a hard time with is assigning a specificity to our sound or what we do. I think sometimes it’s important for people to pigeonhole, but I think we’re still trying to figure that out.
And how (if at all) do you feel the current election circus has influenced your creative work?
Franklin and Matt both live in New York, and I think they’ve been more directly affected than Ryan and I, because Ryan and I are in London, and the midterms right before the last election were when I moved. I remember I used to get so caught up in all that stuff, to the point that it was just doing my head in with a lot of the things that I would read. The last few years in London I’ve been separated just enough that it’s kind of like I’m a little bit more outside of it, which makes it easier to digest and interpret for me? I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to explain. I’m sure it’s very different for Ryan as well, who’s a lot more active politically than I am with his day to day work, and for Frank and Matt it’s very different as well. The next couple of months we’ll be writing and rehearsing together, and trying to write more of our next record, which we hope to record very soon; I think it’s going to be probably very much affected and influenced by a lot of that stuff that’s going on. It’s all a weird time, because we’re here for the next month or two and then we go over to Europe during the UK’s referendum about exiting the EU in June, so that’s the kind of stuff that affects me quite directly as well. There’s a lot going on right now.
Definitely. And is it weird to be all together after spending these periods of time apart in such different places?
It’s really nice. I think it’s helpful to have a break from each other [laughs], and it’s really interesting, because Ryan and Franklin and myself have known each other for a really long time, for the better part of fifteen plus years. We all met in university, and Ryan’s mother and my mother knew each other before we were born, so I’ve always known of him since I was a child. It’s interesting, because this Burn To Shine I’ve been working on for so long, and I remember before were even a band we were hanging out one night when Brendan Canty was playing drums with Bob Mould, and we ended up meeting up with him so that I could talk about them doing the Burn To Shine here. And me, Ryan and Franklin all hung out with him all evening back at my house playing the piano; it was really funny that years later we’re in a band that’s quite active, and this film’s coming out, we’re doing all these shows with it, and back when it started we weren’t. To get back to your question, this band is something that we really need; it’s balanced our lives, and it’s funny that it’s been long enough now where we kind of miss each other and are ready to get back out there, because we’ve had enough of a break. It’s going to be really fun. I’m really happy that we all have these really healthy relationships with each other. (At the moment, at least.) [Laughs]