Interview with Alberta Cross September 2009.
After a summer of playing all the major festivals, Brooklyn based Alberta Cross returned to the UK this week to launch their highly anticipated debut full length album, Broken Side Of Time. Contactmusic.com met up with some of the band members before their intimate album launch show. They chatted about their move to New York, the new album and how to handle Oasis fans!
Swedish born Petter Ericson Stakee (vocals, guitar) and Londoner Terry Wolfers (bass) met in a bar-come-studio tucked away in London's Shoreditch. Stakee's band at the time were looking for a bassist and Wolfers stepped in, the two then began writing together and Alberta Cross was born. 'After about six months, the stuff from the Thief And The Heartbreaker started coming up and it didn't really suit the band we were in very much' explained Wolfers 'so it started as a kind of side project but we decided to crack on with that and put all our attention into that!' Having toured in the UK and played a few festivals the pair felt they needed a change from London life. They headed to New York to play the massive industry event CMJ Music Marathon and that was the beginning of their love affair with the city. 'It was just me and Petter at the time and we wanted to bring musicians in a make it a proper band. We just had lots of offers from lots of people, you know, 'if you want to move, you can crash here' and 'I've got numbers for people' and 'you can rehearse at this place'.it just all seemed to slot into place' said Wolfers.
It was this move to New York that influenced the band's new material. 'Moving to a new place is always going to be really inspiring and New York is obviously an amazing place' explains Stakee. Wolfers agrees that their new home, together with the new band members (guitarist Sam Kearney, drummer Austin Beede and keyboardist Alec Higgins) have definitely influenced their sound; 'It's the scene and the music over there, just the vibe in general, the sound sort of evolves and we bring in more and more influences' he said.
Having heard the album Contactmusic.com was interested to hear how the band describe their sound. Influenced by both British and American music, their combination of heavy crashing guitar, soulful, bluesy rhythm and Stakee's distinctive vocals, is difficult to categorise. The band certainly feel they have never been able to 'fit' a mould 'It's nigh on impossible to describe' says Wolfers 'it's like saying describe how you look'. The New York Times had a good try recently describing it as 'a British take on Southern Rock', but Stakee doesn't agree. 'I dunno man, people say so many things you can almost end up being like, well, whatever! I don't even know what Southern Rock is; I don't think we ever listen to Southern Rock so, no, I wouldn't describe it as that' 'I mean we're all inspired by loads of different things, I wouldn't say we had a main influence but I listen to a lot of soul, I listen to loads of stuff; Sonic Youth, Nick Cave...and at the moment, the first Black Rebel record'. So really, it's not surprising that it's a difficult thing to describe; their sound is also quite fluid, with Stakee doing most of the writing but the whole band having input. 'Some of the songs on the record like ATX came out of late-night jams. I just come up with some chords and then we all come up with the beat and the groove, we kind of like to do a lot of that' he says. Finally he comes up with the definition 'Souly rock and roll', so we settle with that!
As with any up-and-coming band, Alberta Cross have had their fair share of comparisons - some more strange than others. 'We've had Coldplay on steroids, Richard Ashcroft on brown acid - it's always drugs!' laughs Wolfers. 'Yeah, we've had King's Of Leon on Valium too' adds Stakee. The Kings Of Leon comparison seems to be the most common one, much to the bemusement of Wolfers. 'I think considering that none of us own any of their records or have really paid too much attention to them as a band, it's quite funny the comparison to be thought up' Stakee agrees 'I can't hear it but I appreciate them as a band'. Contactmusic.com suggests it might be the striking look that people associate with them? 'Yeah, I'm playing guitar, they're doing that as well and then he's got tight trousers and I've got tight trousers, we've got long hair so I suppose we definitely go for the same vibe!'
Carrying on that southern vibe, the band decided to record their first full length album Broken Side Of Time in producer Mike McCarthy's studio in Texas. 'I think we needed to get out of New York to record this album, because there are just too many distractions, for this album it is really hard to focus in a place like that' explained Stakee. And the new album is a definite departure from their debut mini-album The Thief And The Heartbreaker. It's a little heavier and certainly darker, Stakee takes musical inspiration from listening to the likes of Nick Cave and gospel songs of Dépêche Mode as well as inspiration from the things around him. 'We moved to America when Bush was still president, so the whole country was going through a rough time and it was definitely kind of inspiring and a weird time'. He sees this as the next big step for the band 'The Thief And The Heartbreaker was like the first three demos we did, it's like a baby really, the early, early stages. Now it's like a year and a half later and we've grown as a band and the new guys are obviously really inspiring and moving to New York, I think this is a great introduction to our sound.'
As well as recording the album, the band have played to some huge crowds at festivals such as Glastonbury, SXSW and Bonnaroo, and they have supported a number of big name artists like Neil Young. But in possibly the most unlikely combination we've seen - if you don't count Jay-Z supporting Coldplay- Alberta Cross were asked by Oasis to support them on their UK tour, and it's not hard to imagine what their reception was like! Stakee, with his long blonde hair, bowler hat and skinny jeans must have been an unexpected sight for the crowd. 'That was definitely a challenge, because their fans' says Stakee, 'I'm not saying they're a football crowd but people were screaming 'who are you' a lot'.'who are ya, who are ya' he chants.and it looks completely out of place but we get the picture! 'Yeah you're standing up there and you finish a song and the first thing you hear is like 'f*ck you'.it was so funny!' laughs Wolfers. 'But if you show after a few songs that you're not messing around, everything we're playing is like putting them off and by the end of it we were getting a really good reception. And I think that's the thing, they just want you to prove that you're not just like some haircut band that want to be in magazines and sh*t.you know you're going to do it whether their f*cking shouting or not, it's a wicked experience man, to play with a band at the highest level you can'. Surely if Alberta Cross can win over an Oasis crowd, they can win over pretty much anyone?! And it seems that getting their music out there and playing live that is what they are all about.
So what can we expect from their live show? 'Cleansing' laughs Stakee, 'Hair' adds Wolfers and we can see why! But it's much more than that, 'We are definitely a live band and we want to show that. We grew up loving bands like The Verve and The Stone Roses and you sort of have an experience when you see them live, that's what we want for our fans' Stakee explains. And as we stood watching them perform their new material at the album launch that evening, that is exactly what we got. They creep up on you, unexpected and get under your skin; from the high-energy ATX to the beautifully haunting vocals of Rise From the Shadows, you will be hooked. If their new album and their captivating live show are anything to go by Alberta Cross are definitely the band to watch this year.
Alberta Cross will be touring the UK in November and their album Broken Side Of Time is available now on Ark Recordings