A Score For a Riot: An Interview with Algiers

I will refrain from the dramatic.

No matter which adjectives I could use to breakdown “Blood” and “Black Eunuch,” those words would still solely reflect my experience with Algiers — and today, I won’t project myself onto music that would prefer to do the speaking for itself. I will say, however, that Algiers makes music which you could argue should be comprehended individually, discussed at large, and experienced live.

And yet, despite what I just said, perhaps the best reason I have to not delve into the dramatic with Algiers is that I was able to discuss their music directly with them. Below is my correspondence with Franklin James Fisher, Ryan Mahan and Lee Tesche, the three members that comprise the globally located trio, Algiers.

Jump to the bottom to hear both “Blood” and “Black Eunuch”


SM: First and foremost, thank you guys for taking the time to answer some questions we have. We’re fans of the music you make and are interested in a myriad of questions related to that very thing.

ALL: Thank you for showing an interest in our music. We’re really grateful you have taken the time to speak to us.

SM: While there are currently only two songs available, you guys have a very distinct, inclusive and cohesive sound. In other words, you take from many genres but are laser-focused in using them to create a single sound. When this happens, it’s often due to the vision of a single mind — even in a band setting. How did you arrive at where you are musically?

FJF: There’s no single mind, but we aim, as much as possible, to be democratic and egalitarian in our approach. We do share a single vision of the aesthetic we want to convey, however abstract. If anything, our ‘sound’ results more or less incidentally from our most immediate resources.

RM: As individuals, we tend to try to do too much. In the past, most creative things we have been involved in separately seemed like a big cover up. It wasn’t a conscious thought but the underlying theme was ‘If I add a bunch of shit to it, no one will notice something’s missing.’ Everything was prog, in the sense of overreaching. Prog-writing, prog-design. It was a crime. Working together under the limitations of pop music has helped rehabilitate us.

LT: I think we all come from unique places musically, yet at the same time share an overlap of tastes and it’s just the byproduct of that. We approach things quite heavy-handed in our own individual ways, and it seems that the collective summation elevates what we do to something that we really aren’t capable of doing as individuals. We each have a role and they each seem to be integral.

SM: According to your site, Franklin James Fisher works from or NYC while Ryan Mahan and Lee Tesche are out of London. With that distance, how do you guys create?

LT: It’s an odd thing, actually. We have operated that way pretty much since inception, so we have learned to cope with that throughout the process and now have become quite proficient at it. And it amplifies the time that we are actually in a room together exponentially — moreso than most I believe.

RM: The concept of Algiers, even before we started playing music together, has its roots in an intense feeling of alienation. While we’re not Romanticists longing to return to a pre-modern idyll, we do share an overwhelming sense of detachment from history or community or things that are actually happening to ordinary people down the block and around the world. Distance is pretty much the default position of our lives.

SM: As a whole, Algiers appears to be very rooted in their southern origins. Specifically Atlanta, Georgia. However, it appears that none of you currently live there. What’s the reason you have separated and spread out to London, Paris and New York?

RM: Post-apocalypse is trending right now in films and literature. Southern Gothic literature was equally obsessed with images of decay. The main difference between then and now is that they saw it as a consequence of modern life – not as a cautionary tale of life without malls and law & order. The South has always been this repressed place. So for that, and other reasons, we left. Yet, the further you move away from it, the closer you are held in its sway. At home, people are just as torn. You see a lot of people, all across the South, raised in affluent suburbs trying to re-appropriate authentic Southern-ness. They might look like hippies or businessmen but they’re constantly performing this stereotypical identity. It’s something we’re all caught up in. At the same time, it’s so much more than that.

LT: I think we all had our different reasons. Atlanta has definitely influenced and shaped us, but not always in positive ways. For all of the reasons that the south can be romanticised at times, there are an equal number of horrible underlying things to give reason to get out of there.

SM: You have noted Selda Bagcan, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin and many others as influences. The above along with some of the others have storied religious and political opinions that blatantly influenced their work. How does the role of religion influence the music you write?

FJF: All these people have approached religion with a conflicted sense of wanting to have faith in something but not being able to reconcile that desire with an equally strong disillusionment that results from the seemingly infinite injustices of life that one is confronted with on a daily basis. Individually, our personal views on religion vary but we’re interested in examining that very dialogue between faith (not just in religious terms) and skepticism which is an undercurrent in a lot of our music.

RM: History is filled with examples where religion served as a liberating and collective inspiration for artists. Pasolini’s ‘The Gospel According to St. Matthew,’ made in the 60s, makes this unique link between the birth of Christianity amongst a depressed class and black struggles in the South. For Pasolini, who happened to be an atheist, it influenced his belief in Marxism in politics and critique in art. For us, it’s partially this and the fact that Christianity is so institutionalised in our laws, customs and behaviours that it provokes its own reactions.

SM: Often religion and politics are married together, so how would you say politics shapes your music?

FJF: Politics shapes our music just like it shapes anything we do. Once you realize that everything is politics, you can’t help but to engage with it on some level; if you’re going to say or do something, why not make it count?

RM: Economics shapes our entire being. Politics proper is pretty impossible nowadays. People, especially in the U.S., are obsessed with consensus, which in itself is an impossibility. Music is politics by other means.

SM: Do you see Algiers as having a distinct purpose beyond simply making good music you enjoy? Is there something specifically you’re trying to accomplish?

LT: We can’t focus on anything beyond simply maintaining our friendships and partnership and trying to continue to grow and foster that. One burns out really fast otherwise. But the goal with all art is to challenge and confront. I don’t ever want to just simply be pleasant and satisfactory. Because then you aren’t really doing your job.

SM: There isn’t much out there about you guys, but it’s not like you’re hiding. What do you want fans of your music to understand or more simply know about you? What about those who are not fans?

ALL: We’d rather people pay more attention to what we‘re doing rather than to who we are.

SM: When can we expect some new songs?

ALL: Soon. We’re in the process of mixing our next release. We have a lot of material that we’ve compiled and it’s just a matter of determining when is the right time to release what.

SM: Why music? Out of all the possible outlets to express your thoughts, opinions, beliefs, anger and love etc.—why did you choose music?

ALL: It’s the closest thing we have to a riot.


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