On Algiers' Debut Album, Southern Boys Find A Common Cause The band's music is a blend of punk and gospel traditions and a reaction to the suburban upbringing its three members share.
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On Algiers' Debut Album, Southern Boys Find A Common Cause

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On Algiers' Debut Album, Southern Boys Find A Common Cause

On Algiers' Debut Album, Southern Boys Find A Common Cause

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Three boys grow up in southern suburban towns that don't feel like home. They're artistic, political, rebellious, and they don't see that reflected in the culture around them, but they find each other and they find music. And before long they're a band called Algiers - a loud, gravelly blend of the punk and gospel traditions that shaped them growing up.


ALGIERS: (Singing) She said please keep your smile away, so we could still be friends.

WERTHEIMER: Algiers's self-titled album is out this week. Joining us from the BBC studios in London to talk about it are Franklin James Fisher and Lee Tesche. Thank you both for being with us.

FRANKLIN JAMES FISHER: Thanks for having us.

LEE TESCHE: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: We're missing the third person in your group, Ryan Mahan, who plays bass. Let's start with the name Algiers.

FISHER: This is Franklin. The capital city of Algeria was in mind when Ryan conceived of the name of the band. It was really about, you know, evoking these battles against colonization and hegemony and just coming together for a common cause.

WERTHEIMER: So revolution and rebellion.

FISHER: Revolution and rebellion, but also, you know, the chance for change and the chance for hope.

WERTHEIMER: All three of you grew up in Atlanta, Ga., and I read you felt very out of place in suburban Atlanta. Why?

FISHER: Well, I think it's important to differentiate between the suburbs of Atlanta and Atlanta - the city of Atlanta - because those are two very different things.

TESCHE: Atlanta, in a way, does feel like home to us, especially just in the sense of Atlanta's great musical history and the birth of civil rights and just a lot of these different social movements that kind of spawned out of this particular place.

WERTHEIMER: Talk about the suburbs. What about the suburbs then?

FISHER: I grew up blissfully ignorant about the ideas of being labeled other until I got into my teenage years and my identity, particularly being a black American, was thrust upon me.


ALGIERS: (Singing) You stripped the message. Yeah, you changed the frame. Washed it whiter, stole our name. Tried to slip away through the back door. Did you pull it off? No, you can't be sure.

FISHER: And you have this place, which was very, very conservative and very homogenous. And I think the three of us in our teenage years we found music and art was a way of kind of, like, cutting a slight hole through this artifice worldview that was presented to us.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I do want to ask you to tell us about developing your own particular sound, but let's listen first to a clip. This is a song called "Claudette."


ALGIERS: (Singing) There's no hope no city there was, some would dance (unintelligible). There's not even a (unintelligible) as I crack a smile while you fade the...

WERTHEIMER: Franklin, that's you singing lead, right?

FISHER: Yes, it is.

WERTHEIMER: Now, we hear layered vocals. We hear all kinds of sort of noises that sound like some kind of gospel church going a little bit nuts. And then there's this noisy, crunchy percussion and synthesizers. There's electric guitar. How did this combination occur to you?

FISHER: So ever since I was a kid I was playing in these bands as a lead guitarist. But it was always very Anglo-sized, you know what I mean? I was, like, playing in bands trying to emulate The Beatles or something like this. And when I was writing lyrics to these songs and trying to sing, I couldn't really find my voice. And I think Ryan perceived that I was trying to emulate a lot of my musical idols, but with whom I didn't really share any sort of aesthetic. And so he was like, hey, man, why don't you just kind of, like, reference what you know? And for me, you know, that was music that I grew up to in church or the music that my parents listen to, you know, driving my grandma's house, like Motown and things like this. And so we developed this vocal approach, and that's really me pretending that I'm in the Four Tops.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

FISHER: And, you know, the background vocals is - those are our imaginary friends. We refer to them as the men's ensemble.


ALGIERS: (Singing) The further that you can't, my darling, I'm filled with regret.

TESCHE: I guess the idea that it's kind of this amalgamation of these different radical types of music or something coming together is, I think, odd for a lot of us to even consider because to us it's a very natural thing a lot of this stuff. You know, it comes from a very natural place...

WERTHEIMER: To a roll a little punk into gospel.

TESCHE: Yes, absolutely, in the sense that - for example, like Nina Simone. We have a lot of adoration for her, particularly her kind of middle era live gospel stuff. She does protest music as well, and it has a lot of the same undercurrents of a lot of these other things and artists that we might pull from, you know, like Suicide or even late '60s, early '70s Temptations.

FISHER: Yeah. If you look at gospel and and then if you look at punk or post punk you have, you know, a driving beat. You have a lot of stomping and clapping sometimes. You have a communal sort of shouting. You have a call and response and both are very dispossessed populations. We're looking for something better and looking for answers to ameliorate the current situation.


ALGIERS: (Singing) Four hundred years of torture, 400 years of slave. Dangerous to what? You stronger. Just what are we trying to say (ph)?

WERTHEIMER: A lot of your songs are very political. You write about race and religion and economics. Do you think of these songs as protest songs?

FISHER: Not necessarily, but I think if you conceive of protests just as not being complacent then I guess you could.

TESCHE: I think you've said before, Franklin, that everything is politics...


TESCHE: ...Which always resonated with me. It's kind of inescapable. It's going to seep into the music in some way or another.

WERTHEIMER: Franklin James Fisher and Lee Tesche, two of the three members of the band Algiers. Their new album is called "Algiers." Gentlemen, thank you both very much for spending this time with us.

FISHER: Thank you. This has been really nice.

TESCHE: Yes, thank you very much.


ALGIERS: It was all just a game till he walks through the door, holding death in his hand and he lets it all fall. Yesterday, it happened again. Or was it the day before? I can't be sure. No, 'cause I can't keep up with this s*** anymore.

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