INTERVIEW: Alec Mallia (AUTOSUGGEST)
When your distortion quite literally results in an amp catching fire during recording, chances are the result is definitely not going to be boring - just ask Sydney's Autosuggest (aka Alec Mallia) and his experimental warping dream of an album 'Tame Harm' out today.
Having spent his earlier musical years playing in other bands around town, Autosuggest is a project that relentlessly and erratically explores the deliciously darker territories of electronica, post-punk and industrial realms, and his latest creation is as instrumentally tactile as it is a mature divergence from his previous releases. And in honour of the release of 'Tame Harm' today, we grabbed Autosuggest to chat musical pathways, creative processes and the bittersweet challenge of being an artist living in Sydney. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Alec! Thanks for your time today, I know you've actually been a very busy man in the last few months, as Autosuggest you've unveiled some delightful distortion with some new tracks off your upcoming album 'Tame Harm' - which is due out today! But between some of the previously released tracks like 'Lose Me', 'Heron' and 'Graphic' you've given us a bit of an insight into what 'Tame Harm' might have in store for us. Is it exciting to finally be at this stage?
ALEC MALLIA: Yeah! I mean, the oldest song on the album is from September 2014. So it's been a long time coming. I'm very much sick of it (laughs). But yeah, I'm looking forward to playing a lot of the stuff that hasn't been heard yet live. That'll definitely be fun!
TIANA: Yeah, definitely! And on the note of the album....I've read you describe 'Tame Harm' as an antidote to your earlier work. And I find this quite an intriguing statement, can you elaborate on that sentiment a little bit for me?
ALEC: Well, the earlier work was essentially just a massive Joy Division rip off. As much as I could make it, at least (laughs). But I think you see with a lot of beginner producers and stuff like that, they tend to use a lot of reverb, and tend to make very spacious sounds, and murky sort of textures. And the album sort of ended up being almost the exact opposite of that! It's a lot of up front distortion, a lot of up front and very intimate levels of volume, especially with the vocals and stuff like that. So it's more using that top framework, I'd probably describe it as, to do much weirder stuff.
TIANA: Interesting you say that, listening to some of your stuff prior to our chat it was very notable that you had this epic distortion but without losing it to incoherent muddiness...
ALEC: Yeah, we spent a lot of time, even with just the vocals. The clean vocal is actually always there, but also two different distinct chains of a lot of different kinds of distortion that the engineer Jesse Williams ended up doing on the record. If you listen to it with headphones, it's almost like a surround experience, very weird and enveloping. But yeah, for some reason I just became really obsessed with distortion stuff and was listening to heaps of 'Songs for the Deaf' by Queens of the Stone Age, I just wanted to sort of push everything as hard as possible!
TIANA: I love that! And also - great band choice to draw reference from!
ALEC: Mmm, yes! We did blow up one amplifier!
TIANA: Ahh yes, I head about the amp. That's so rock and roll!
ALEC: Honestly, a lot of the demos were very synth-based and in my mind I was like: "oh, it's gonna be a really electronic record". And then within the last hours in the studio, which we booked out for a week to do the album...I had about four guitars slung around my body in different ways and I was thinking "how did this end up happening?". But I think it was honestly listening to Queens of the Stone Age and stuff like that and my mum indoctrinated me to INXS from a very young age, so I've always leaned towards doing sneaky guitar riffs in there as much as I can. And just cos I was in the space and had access to all these little toys, we just kept building it up until we were just distorting the hell out of pretty much everything and doing all these weird bends and stuff like that. And just getting kind of cheeky with it! And it just worked.
TIANA: Yeah, and caused a little cheeky fire to boot! Which is awesome.
ALEC: (laughs) Yeah! Exactly.
TIANA: With your most recent track 'Lose Me'...I've read you discuss it as an outlet somewhat for frustration and kind of leaving those vexations behind. But with regards to your songwriting, is there a rigid process now that you are kind of in this brave new world with your sound. Do you spin up these concepts before you've got all the distortion and everything else in place? How do you approach these songs?
ALEC: No, I mean the album - I just knew I liked distortion, so if it was a riff or if it was a beat, if I enjoyed it I would just go: "alright, what happens if I run this through an amplifier or whatever". And see what happens when I destroy it. And then that would usually lead me to the next thing. The second album that I'm working on now, it's a little bit less that but still me chasing after the cheekier side of this first album. So it's still pretty much going fishing for a riff and then if it comes back, you just turn it into a cheeky play on something. The words are always last, and they're always sort of about autobiographical things that aren't probably, necessarily, particularly interesting (laughs).
LOSE ME (AUTOSUGGEST)
TIANA: And you've kind of touched on this already, but I did listen with some headphones, and your stuff is so visceral, you've got really tactile instrumentation and you're bordering on that whole industrial thing. And you've already mentioned some of the artists that have kind of influenced that...but going back a ways, were you always into this kind of thing, were you always drawn to this really immersive sort of sound? What led you to this point musically?
ALEC: I started off listening to...one of my first memories just in general is my mum sitting me down in front of every single INXS music videos that she'd ever taped. So I sort of had that new wave and pop upbringing. And then probably the next time I felt that enthralled by music, it would've been David Bowie. So that sort of quite highly framed stuff, it always seemed to be to me to be very inaccessible. Cos they were quite godly things, when you think about pop artists. And then, I got very much into Massive Attack, but unintentionally because they were used in so many movie trailers and I was really drawn to cinematic sounds. And then after that, I think when I finished high school - I heard Joy Division. And I was like "oh. My God!". And then I saw videos of them and I was like "oh, they just look like they have no idea what they're doing! And they look like me!". And so I was like "I can probably do that then!". So I just started stealing guitars from around and started learning guitar in secret, much to my brother's dismay. (laughs) He was the guitarist in the family. Then somehow I've ended up doing this weird stuff here. The comparison I hear the most is Nine Inch Nails, but I've literally only heard two songs by them.
TIANA: Yeah, I get that vibe from it. But it's got your own little spin on it, that's for sure! But that's definitely a compliment, as far as I'm concerned.
ALEC: (laughs) Oh yeah, I appreciate it nonetheless! They've achieved enough to make me feel pretty good about getting compared to them (laughs). But I've definitely come from more of a UK influence side of things than Nine Inch Nails were.
TIANA: Well, like you said, your stuff is a little bit more offbeat seemingly. And as someone who is an "alternative" artist who is combining electronica with literally everything including post-punk and some super creamy vocals over the top of it. And an artist in this sonic sort of world, and living in Sydney as well...how do you feel about your place in the local and broader music industry? Do you feel like Sydney is a supportive place for an artist such as yourself?
ALEC: Ohhh, that's a great question. Sydney is a really particular place. There is an alternative/electronic scene, but I would say it has a dozen good bands. And if you're not on their side then you're doing dead gigs. For a long time Autosuggest was sort of considered quite elusive because we weren't playing that much. But we just weren't getting asked to. And only in the last week have I gotten a manager who's like "we need to be playing this, this and this". There's just not enough smaller spaces in Sydney to put on alternative gigs I think. If you're a band with guitars and drums and stuff like that and you've got quite a wall of sound without even needing a speaker system - you can get by. That's definitely an easy thing. But the moment you start introducing elements that are outside of that formula, you've got about four or five decent places. And unfortunately for me, I have my album coming out I have my album coming out during Vivid in Sydney, which means that basically any decent venue, or a half-decent venue at that, is entirely booked out by things that are being made for Vivid. So, it's a challenge. And I think that's why you can probably see the discrepency, we have these amazing music videos that have been worked on by so many people. And I feel very lucky, but at the same time there's a lot of pressure to do right by those people by trying to get people to see them. But we just don't always have that way to grasp on. I'm sure we'll figure it out, but it's definitely a more challenging space to operate in for sure.
TIANA SPETER: Yeah, I'm from Queensland and I moved to Sydney a couple of years back, and it's been such an interesting thing to behold, just how different Sydney is to so many other places in Australia with the whole music scene. It's fascinating and terrifying and confusing...but I guess it makes you a little more creative in your various ways of getting your stuff out there into the eyeballs and eardrums of people, I suppose!
ALEC: Yeah, definitely! I definitely value it, there's something to say for having to push through that level of resistance to get noticed. But it's definitely made a lot of people I know, including myself, work a lot harder than they probably would have if they'd just had thing handed to them. And I think overall, it's kind of positive? I still would like to see more spaces. But that'll happen in time and it's also got something to do with me picking a shit time to release an album (laughs). But at this point in time, it's been too long anyway, it needs to come out! So we'll be playing around somehow!
AUTOSUGGEST//pic: Rena Zheng
TIANA: Speaking of the album again, you mentioned earlier you had some songs written back in 2014...are you that type of person that just writes and writes and stockpiles, and then you have to cull it all down? Or did you kind of custom-write and decide "these are the songs and this is it" kind of thing?
ALEC: I just write to stay sane! It's a bit of a weird one where some of it is written with a very high intention of being included on an album. The track 'Heron' was a result of...I got up at four in the morning and I knew I needed one more track before I went into the studio. And so I just worked, and then that was the one that was made at seven o'clock! (laughs) So, it's different everytime for the most part. I'm always trying, but the actual direction of the album doesn't really appear until there's enough of a large cut of tracks where you can sort of say "ok, this is going in this direction, and this is where it makes sense". For the next one, in my brain I'm thinking I wanted it to be more dancey and more cheeky, but that's very broad. And we'll see wherever the hell that ends up! But I just want to work a lot quicker than I did with this one!
TIANA: It sounds like you can bash out a song pretty damn quickly, so I feel like that's working in your favour already! Now. In honour of your most recent single for Autosuggest which was 'Lose Me'...what's the one thing you've lost in the past that you still regret?
ALEC: Oh geez! (laughs) That's a strong question.
TIANA: I can give you mine, mine was when I lost the keys to the padlock on my suitcase on a work trip. Not a fun time. And it just messed my whole week up.
ALEC: Well, I mean, that just sounds like a straight up shit time. But I guess...to put it very broadly...letting people take advantage of my obvious kind nature (laughs). Let's go with that!
TIANA: Ohh. Well. Yours has a bit more depth than mine, so I think you've won this round.
ALEC: (laughs) I didn't mean to try and out drama you!
TIANA: No, it's actually a very nice one. I dig it! I might need to rethink my life choices now.
ALEC: Wonderful! (laughs)
TIANA: And finally, obviously the most exciting moment is literally today with the release of 'Tame Harm', and I know you've also mentioned some potential new material for Autosuggest's next release as well. But beyond that, what is next, are there some live shows or any other secrets you can reveal?
ALEC: We'll just be trying to play as much as we can, so we're trying to sort out pretty much Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Then beyond that? I would like to go to Europe and America maybe. I'm kind of afraid of America, but just to be playing as much as we can. There's always going to be new things cos I just can't help myself. But hopefully we actually get to get into people's faces!
TIANA: Well, congratulations on the release of 'Tame Harm' today, I'm so keen to hear more down the track, and I think you can trump Vivid. I believe in you!
ALEC: (laughs) Thank you! (laughs) I appreciate that.
TIANA: Thank you for your time!
ALEC: No worries! Thank you very much.
AUTOSUGGEST'S BRAND NEW ALBUM 'TAME HARM' IS OFFICIALLY OUT IN THE WORLD TODAY. FOR MORE INFO, HEAD HERE.
BY TIANA SPETER