Dom Smith sits down with Algiers‘ Franklin James Fisher and Ryan Mahan in the midst of their mammoth European and United States tour dates to discuss their genre-defying new album ‘Shook’ and all the ways that its development pushed them as artists.
On the challenges of taking Shook out into the live arena: “This is the fun part,” says Franklin. “This is where the songs develop their soul. This is where we come into our own, and this is where we exist as a band.”
“We’ve put a lot of work to bring this show to the next level, and do this record the justice it deserves,” comments Ryan. “Just balancing preparation with the rigors of touring, and the challenges of living while being in a band [is hard].”
Collaboration, creativity, and genre
When it comes to discussing Shook’s many collaborations, the band talks very positively: “Some of the other recording processes, I don’t really have strong attachment or memories for,” reflects Ryan, “this one I have vivid memories of everything from just hearing the demos and getting excited. Then, just nailing the ‘I Can’t Stand It’ chorus! When I first heard [Billy] Woods on ‘Bite Back’ along with Backxwash it blew my mind. We didn’t give them any coaching.”
Franklin comments that this record was a “fun” process, which was good because recording hadn’t been fun for the band, for a while: “Our previous record, we weren’t really allowed to do what we wanted to do,” he says. “It was very regimented, and I understand why, for the most part.” Ryan adds: “There were some very difficult lessons to learn, and it definitely made us closer [as a band].”
When it comes to the ways that Shook has pushed each performer as an artist, Franklin talks about how important it is to him to push the boundaries of what people think is possible, from a sonic perspective: “We deal in textures, and in tones, in sonics and the manipulation of sonics. I don’t think we’ve ever had more of an opportunity to do that than on this record, and on this tour already.
“I like to put it like this, Shook is a soundtrack for a movie, or a play, but that is our live show, and the play changes every night, but it’s the same soundtrack.”
Each member of Algiers had more of a production role on this record as well, as Ryan reflects: “Part of the production is not just about ‘oh, how are we gonna get this drum sound, or clicking through every snare that we can find and then manipulate it’, it’s also about being patient, encouraging and trying to maintain a mood, and make sure that everybody is okay, and the pressure isn’t getting to them. Even finding those people skills, and the management skills in a studio setting was challenging, but very rewarding.”
On Shook’s mission statement as a band, and their aims, Franklin comments: “So many people get hung up on the genre, and genre doesn’t really f***ing matter.”
We don’t sit down and see how many genres we can combine to make something weird. There’s a lot of preoccupation with the genre. We are constantly trying to make something interesting, and something that challenges us. Whenever one of us brings something into the pot, whenever it comes out of the Algiers machinery, it comes out as something, we would never have anticipated. That’s what we want to do, because that’s what makes music fun for us. Our collaborators [on this record] have a similar approach to us.
“When we play together in that sort of jazz modality, where each individual has the space to operate and bring to the table what they do naturally, on an artistic level, it’s just the same for all of our collaborators. There were very few if any directives.”
Ryan comments on the humanity of the record: “Collaboration isn’t just about working together, it’s being together and expressing feelings of humanity. It’s a support record, even though you have individual voices, they are all supporting each other within that world that’s been created. I think people need to spend a bit more time with the record to realise that it is a very human, and personal album.”
The album also has some strong mental health themes and is much deeper and many people and critics have discovered (so far): “There’s a lot in there about mental health,” continues Ryan. “Even ‘Irreversible Damage’ with Zack De La Rocha, the lyrics from Frankie and Zach, are some of the most personal I’ve ever heard.”
For both Ryan and Franklin, there has been a lot of personal growth through the development of this album: “I’ve always pretended I was a patient person, but I’ve learned patience. I think we’ve matured and grown, and accepted what each other brings to the table, and we have bonded. Some people get to this stage, eight years into making records, and those bonds are breaking. We have learned how to build bonds better.”
Franklin meanwhile, opens up about how he feels about being a black artist in a white space, on a white-owned label, and how that has been reflected across ‘Shook’: “[I’m discussing] the sorts of things that ‘irk’ me about that experience, and the way by which I use those things in order to create a discourse with people through song and that’s something that I have done a lot more than I thought I would, which is cool, because that means if you can do that, then it means that somebody is listening, and if somebody is listening, then it’s almost better if they misunderstand what you are doing because it gives you more opportunity to engage with that [conversation].”
Advice and Legacy
Algiers is a “posse”, the band has found creative support systems in fellow musicians and collaborators who firmly believe in what they are doing. This, Ryan says, is key to any musician’s success in the modern era: “Find support systems, because you need them,” he says. “For me, it’s meaningful to incorporate art into your life. It doesn’t have to be your career, but if you can accept that art is a part of your life, then maybe something will happen with the natural organic growth of things. It’s a lifelong process. We were doing other jobs before Algiers started, you know? We were just getting started as adults, and everything happened because we incorporated music into our lives. No matter what you do, it is meaningful.”
Franklin continues: “Being an artist has nothing to do with what you do for a living. You either are an artist, or you are not. Until recently in Western Civilisation, artists were not rich and famous, or credible in their lifetime.
“I always just had a desire for a sense of belonging,” adds Ryan when reflecting on what Algiers means to him. “By doing music [with the band], it makes me feel like I belong to something bigger than myself. It also makes me feel connected to musical communities that are gone. There’s a whole different psychological and spiritual space where that can exist, and we can feel that belonging.”
Franklin doesn’t think too much in those terms, about what Algiers has done, or what it means to him at this moment: “I am persistently preoccupied with what can I do next. I don’t want to stick around in one musical modality for too long, and not wanting that to define the next thing [that we do]. [Algiers] is a living, breathing organism, and I try to find that, and capture that and let it speak through me. For me, that’s the point.”
Listen to Shook here:
Listen to the full, in-depth chat about the songwriting process on Shook, and so much more here: