When most kids dream of their first trip to a music store, maybe their mental image is along the lines of the ‘No Stairway To Heaven’ sign in Wayne’s World, with a few superstar musicians casually wandering the place thrown in for good measure. In Algiers’ case, their first visit to buy a guitar went even better than that; Stevie Wonder was there looking at keyboards.
As the band’s guitarist Lee Tesche tells us, there’s a diverse mixing pot of influences that feed into Algiers, from American hardcore, to the groundbreaking soundtrack to Ghostbusters II.
With the band’s second album ‘The Underside Of Power’ - produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead - out now, and as politically charged as their debut, we quizzed Lee on all of his biggest obsessions, musical and otherwise.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
I think it was Act of Faith, Crisis Under Control, and Quadiliacha at the Wreck Room. A quintessential early 90s Atlanta Hardcore show. I was 13 or 14. A friend and I were taken by a girl whose older brother was in Act of Faith. The West Side was very different 25 years ago. At that age it was about as far away from my suburban home as you could get. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but my life changed that night. I felt like it had meaning for the first time. Will Green, the singer of Quadiliacha, was the first person that I saw on a stage and he was around my age! He was screaming and singing and jumping into the crowd and getting carried around by a sea of people. I went home, quit playing sports, and bought a guitar.
Were there a good supply of venues in your hometown?
Not in Lilburn. In Atlanta there were to a certain degree, but you couldn’t play shows there, or even get into most shows. There were very few all ages venues. That’s why you put on your own shows in basements, garages, community centers, parks, etc. Anywhere you could plug in. The hardcore and the American punk underground network of the 80s and 90s taught me a lot about how to put on and put out music.
Can you remember the first song you ever developed an obsession over?
Probably ‘Louie Louie’ by The Kingsmen. There was a certain danger present in it that I recognized as a 6 year old. Others did too, as seen in the myriad of different versions by everyone from the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, and The Sonics to Black Flag, Nick Cave, and The Stooges.
What was the first song you purchased with your own money, and why did you choose it at the time?
The Beach Boys ‘Kokomo’ cassingle. I’ve been obsessed with The Beach Boys since a very early age and they had, at that time, a new song on the ‘Cocktail’ soundtrack. The B-side was Little Richard, which was a nice bonus. I remember my friend Darren DeFazio telling me that he had heard a new Beach Boys song on the radio and I didn’t believe him. In those days it was a bit harder to find music on demand, so I asked him to sing to me what he could remember on the school bus everyday. He would start “Bodies in the sand…” in the lowest voice he could muster. Then when he was done I would say, ‘Again, again.’
What’s the story behind you getting your first instrument?
When I was 14 my mother took me to the music store for the first time. I had just enough money to buy the cheapest guitar that they sold. While the clerk was helping us, Stevie Wonder walked in and went past us with a couple of his handlers to the keyboard room. My mother was extremely nervous. This being the first time that I had ever set foot in a music store, I thought this was a pretty normal occurrence. It made sense, this was a music store, naturally musicians hung out there. Boz Scaggs would ring me out. Jerry Cantrell would help us take stuff out to our car.
I decided to take the guitar, and we headed up to the register arriving at the exact same time as Stevie. The clerk introduced me as ‘Lee buying his first guitar’, Stevie Wonder paused, shook my hand and said, “Good luck with everything that you may do in your music career.”
It took a few years before that whole thing sunk in.
What’s your worst musical habit?
What was the first album you ever bought with your own money, and why?
The Ghostbusters II soundtrack with Bobby Brown, New Edition, and Run DMC. As a pre-teen, New Jack Swing was the most magnetic contemporary movement in music that I had encountered up until that point before punk rock. There was style and sex appeal and emotion that I didn’t get from the other stuff on the radio. It made me put down the Motown records that I had worn out and grown attached to, not quite understanding at the time that it was a direct lineage, and that those were a modern update with hard swung 808s.
What kind of inspirations outside of music have an impact on your songwriting?
As a band we pull from film, literature, political theory, Columbo, acronym jokes, chess, everything. Personally I am drawn to silence and the ambient sounds of my environment. I’m also a big fan of limitations of all kinds, from busted or limited gear to things with limited capabilities. Anything that forces you to make decisions and shapes your music before you even have a chance to touch it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a musician?
Lower your expectations.
If you could be any band from the past two decades who would it be, and why?
The last two decades don’t cover some of the more interesting periods of some of my favourite bands. I would be curious to be a part of the chaotic periods of say, The Stooges in 1970 / ’71 or Spacemen 3 circa ‘89. But honestly, I think we would all answer this question differently. I feel like sometimes, it’s almost important in a way, to not meet your heroes, as your perceptions and memories of them from the outside can be a bit more pleasant than the realities. I think it’s a healthy thing to have admiration for certain bands or figures that might push and shape how you approach your own art, and when confronted by a vile wretched person that isn’t the one in your head, it kills the dream.
But a quick short answer, maybe Bloc Party so that I could take in Matt Tong before his rapid decline.
Algiers’ new album ‘The Underside of Power’ is out now.