Algiers is a band that presents various contradictions.
For starters, Algiers writes, records and tours despite the fact that the members are often spread across the country. The band’s sound has variously been described as “gospel-punk,” “post punk meets Motown” and, plainly, “rock”—even though none of these terms accurately describe the type of music being created. Then there are the politically charged lyrics, which garner Algiers a lot of attention—and yet the band’s popularity endures.
The band will perform at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace—which, as a Western movie set-turned-music venue, is familiar with contradictions—on Wednesday, Sept. 29.
During a recent interview, drummer Matt Tong said the band—like many other groups—made the best of a bad situation during the COVID-19 shutdowns by focusing on making music.
“The music that Frank (singer/songwriter Franklin James Fisher) brought to the band, along with some demos from Ryan (Mahan, bassist/synthesizers), were really strong, and it really felt like we benefited from being able to actively engage with new ideas and not have to think about the demands of touring,” Tong said.
Tong explained how the band continued working together despite being spread across the country.
“Frank and Ryan are mainly based in New York, but they’ve kind of been shuttling back and forth between Atlanta and other parts of the South, between different family members,” Tong said. “Lee (Tesche, guitarist) has been in Florida for most of the pandemic as well. I’m in New York, so there hasn’t been a stretch where we’ve all been together at all, really, so that’s kind of informed the recording process. What I’ve heard so far is really strong, and I’m very excited about it.
“This has been a very unfortunate time in world history, but I think for us, the break came at a pretty good time. I think we were burning out a little bit prior to the pandemic.”
The separation forced the band members into recording separately, a process which Tong said required trust.
“For Frank and Ryan, there is a bit more of a need to exercise a certain amount of control over the direction of where the song is going,” said Tong. “By and large, in this band, I’m augmenting rhythm tracks versus directing the way a rhythm is going to inform a song. We might get to a point where that process changes quite a lot, and we may try to make a more live-sounding record. Personally, I don’t have any qualms about just doing a bunch of stuff on my own. I’m not thinking, ‘What is going to make it to the final cut?’ I’m just trying to do my best. If something inspires a new idea, or takes us in a different direction and still doesn’t get used, that’s great.”
Tong added that not only does the music-creation process require trust; it also requires that oversized egos get set aside.
“I hate to say it, but at the end of the day, we’re all middle-aged men,” Tong said. “I think at some point, you have to let go of your ego, and some of that youthful drive and ambition has to mature and evolve into something else. For me, personally, I consider myself fortunate to still be somewhat involved with the culture industry at this age—an age where most people either kind of just give up, are burnt out, or just feel like their ideas are old-fashioned. I think one way to maintain involvement is actually being able to see the bigger picture, and to actually celebrate the collaborative process. It has been hard to kind of distance myself from what’s going on with the record right now, and it doesn’t always feel good, but I know deep down that’s the way it’s got to be. You have to trust, and you have to celebrate your collaborators’ achievements, even if they don’t include you.”
In addition to working on new music, the members of Algiers are preparing for their tour, which is slated to begin on Sept. 10. Of course, the Delta variant-driven COVID-19 spikes have thrown everything up in the air.
“Not to be too much of a downer, but it’s still a little bit hard to think about touring, given everything that we know about the Delta variant right now,” Tong said. “We’re going to give it a go, and it’s going to be very strange, because we haven’t been together in almost two years. … We definitely have a lot of work to do to get back into touring shape.”
Tong took pride in the cautiousness the band is showing heading into these live shows.
“We’re actually having a meeting soon specifically about COVID protocols,” said Tong. “I’d like to think that, at the very minimum, we’ll be stipulating that people have to be vaccinated, and be wearing masks at shows, other than to eat and drink. We’re obviously all vaccinated ourselves at this point.
“It’s been a very fluid situation. It keeps changing, and we’re just going to have to do our best to be on guard and be reactive. I would imagine that’s the same for any band that’s about to embark on an event, or (tour the) entire country for a month. There are also financial implications as well when it comes to the prospect of having to cancel shows, or someone getting sick on tour. I don’t think anyone’s particularly excited about the idea of having to spend money on quarantine, in a hotel or motel, but this is stuff that we need to figure out, and figure out our various comfort levels with. Otherwise, we’ve just got to carry on … and we have to figure out how to rehearse and work our new songs and new pieces of musical equipment into the set.”
The band was actually on tour in support of There Is No Year, released in January 2020, when the COVID-19 shutdowns began. That fact may help out the band members as they get set to head back on the road.
“We had already completed a month-long European tour, and we’d gotten about four dates into the U.S., so I think the songs that we decided we were going to perform from There Is No Year were pretty well-realized,” Tong said. “I think we had pretty much figured out, by that point, which songs were going to work live, and which ones probably would never have worked live, or would have needed much more work in order to get to a point where we felt comfortable bringing them to an audience. I’m counting on the fact that muscle memory will kick in at some point, and we’ll be able to swap back into those songs. We have been playing them for a little bit, at least, and I think we’ve gotten fairly good at playing those songs for people.”
Algiers will perform at 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 29, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $20, and proof of vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours is required. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.
(This story first appeared in the Coachella Valley Independent and was written by Matt King. Coachella Valley Independent is part of the Cal Matters Network.)