By: Wesley Hodges
Alberta Cross is one of those rare bands that appears almost out of thin air and shocks us to our core. Catchy enough to play for mama, far out enough to play for your weird uncle, and powerful enough to reach the corners of the globe, these expatriates living in New York by way of London undoubtedly have the inspired wherewithal, raw talent, and broad-spanning appeal to turn heads here and abroad.
Lead singer and guitarist Petter Ericson Stakee and band co-founder, bassist Terry Wolfers, have been able to synthesize their spectrum of influences, from Stax soul to Neil Young to Sonic Youth, to create a distinct sound that commands its own space. Stormy and ominous walls of reverberating guitar build around Stakee's beaming vocals on Broken Side of Time (released September 29 on Ark/ATO), a modern day masterpiece running the listener through the gamut of emotions with the chills-inducing burner "Rise From the Shadows" and the razor sharp, balls-to-the-wall "ATX" meltdown. With this debut album out now on a supportive label and legions of fans getting on board at each tour stop, Alberta Cross is laying the foundation for a fruitful life in rock & roll.
JamBase had the opportunity to talk to Alberta Cross frontman Stakee about the challenges of making Broken Side of Time, festival-hopping and the future unknown.
JamBase: Start off by giving us a little background info about the lead up and the recording process of the album, i.e. getting all the pieces together to make the album you envisioned.
Petter Ericson Stakee: Well, it was kind of a crazy one. We [Stakee and Wolfers] started off working on songs in London for our last label. The whole thing fell apart, and we were sort of going a little bit mad. So, we moved to New York about a year-and-a-half ago and continued it here in the States and wrote loads of new songs with the new band as well. I sort of scrapped a lot of the London songs and wrote 20 songs or something. We drove down to Charlottesville to a farm in the middle of nowhere and did some pre-production there for a couple of weeks. Then, we drove up to New York for some more pre-production for the album with our producer [Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Dead Confederate, ...And You Will Know Us)]. We flew down to Austin a month later and started the recording process.
So, Austin is where the meat of the album came out?
Petter Ericson Stakee: Yeah, it was definitely an inspiration being there. I wrote a lot of the lyrics in Austin. I always find its good to be away, outside the city, sometimes when you are gonna write about it. We recorded, went on tour for about a month, drove back to finish the last bits, then took it to New York to Electric Lady for mixing.
| Wolfers & Stakee - Alberta Cross|
That was Jimi Hendrix's old studio, right?
Yeah, a good friend of mine, Ronnie, was a big reason why we went there. We didn't feel like we wanted to record the album in a big city; we felt like we really had to get out of the big place. Austin is pretty ideal. The idea is a slower pace, a better vibe; it's healthier for sure.
What is it about the South that you guys find particularly appealing? You are doing a South-heavy tour to kick things off in support of the new record and the gospel sound is always lurking beneath the surface of the band's sound.
I love gospel, but I don't think it came out of being around the South. We definitely love it down there; it's got a really relaxing, good vibe. There are obviously a lot of mad things going on down there, a lot are a lot of things I don't like, but a lot I do like - the music, the vibe. It's just an inspiring place to travel around. It's gonna be the first show we do in Nashville, so we're really psyched about that.
Here's a conceptual question: What is the Broken Side of Time?
It's kind of about two different things. We were going through quite a few crazy years. Being broke, going a bit mental, stuff going on in our own lives. It's also about the things going on around us at the time we put together the record. We moved here when Bush was still in office. Things were definitely kind of in shambles. Everyone was going a bit crazy and we could really feel it in New York. It really helped inspire the record; not in a political way or anything, more of the situation people were going through with everyone losing their jobs.
You guys picked a pretty powerful, historical time to come to the States. I've always said, and most people recognize, it is during the most tumultuous times when the best, most inspired, powerful music comes out.
Yeah, when the whole Margaret Thatcher thing was going on back in England there were like two million bands coming out. And here in America last year when everything was going wrong, a bunch come around. Good in one way and bad in another.
| Petter Ericson Stakee by Snyder|
This album is in stark contrast with the acoustic-based EP, The Thief & the Heartbreaker. Songs like "Rise From the Shadows" and "City Walls" have a dark, stormy, haunting aesthetic and a gnarly, thrashing sound. How have the loyal, early fans reacted so far to hearing the new songs played onstage with a grittier, nastier sound coming from Alberta Cross?
The EP was like the first three demos we did; it was kind of like our baby at the time. Broken Side of Time was more of the sound we always wanted to do. I feel like the songs I wrote for the album sum up pretty much what I've been inspired by my whole life and how I wanted it to sound. I think every great artist - if you look at Bowie or something like that - they all progress in sound and lyrically. I don't think we could ever do three albums that all sound the same. I would probably have a life or a normal job or something like that if we didn't always progress. The reviews have been pretty great so far but who knows what's gonna happen when we start touring, people might throwing shoes at us [laughs]. It's a bit more like rock & roll now, a bit heavier, with some frustration issues coming out. But, I do think we kept a lot of the soul.
Maybe an album, two or three down the road we'll be hearing all about Alberta Cross releasing their happy album.
Who knows, whatever we go through it'll come through in our records. You never know, it'll probably be like a dance record. No, definitely not a dance record.
With the national release, what are your expectations? Are there any nerves on the cusp of such a momentous day in your musical career?
I feel quite relieved because the whole process has taken awhile. I think with this album we never felt any pressure. I just feel like I wanna go out and tour this album, because we toured The Thief & the Heartbreaker for so long. It's gonna be amazing when people start to get to know the new songs; people are gonna start screaming them instead of "Low Man" or "Lucy Rider." We're releasing it all over the world in places like Australia and Japan. It's gonna be fantastic getting to play all these places. I can't wait. We've always wanted to tour this country like crazy. Doing this proper tour in America is going to be really great.
| Alberta Cross :: Glastonbury 2009 by Cavie|
You guys have already done Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza, South by Southwest, and Glastonbury. What sticks out to you in your experience making that first big run through the festival circuit, and which has been your favorite?
I think Bonnaroo would have to be my favorite [read the JamBase review of Bonnaroo here]. We played for like 6,000-7,000 people. Our show was just insane, and we played on the first day so everyone wasn't tired yet. It was really like the first time I knew something really special was going on. They've all been great for us, like Coachella is in the desert and Lollapalooza is just a classic I've always wanted to play. It's great to have the opportunity to play all these great festivals before we even released our first proper record. I feel like the American crowd is quite supportive. You go walk around and check out other bands and you get stopped quite a lot. Like at Bonnaroo, people just come up to you and tell you they really liked the show. In other places, people don't really do that. They might love it, but they won't come up and say it to your face.
What's the most challenging thing about going out on the road for extended periods of time? How do you guys keep things fresh night in and night out?
We are very much a live band. We always wanna be out on the road playing for people. We can take songs out a bit. All my favorite bands, like The Verve, create an experience where one song that's like three minutes [in the studio] will end up being like seven minutes. Just give people something different every night. I've seen a lot of bands that play the same things every night. I could never live my life like that. If it ever got like that I'd have to do a new thing.
Continue reading for more on Alberta Cross...