On October 16th, following the tour with the Heartless Bastards that began in September, Alberta Cross released their third LP, the self-titled Alberta Cross, on Dine Alone. mxdwn had the chance to catch founding (and currently lone) member, Petter Ericson Stakee, in between tour dates for a quick chat about the new album, late night summer jam sessions in Brooklyn and the heavenly experience of recording in a converted church.
mxdwn: Petter, I understand that music has been a driving force in your life since day one and that you spent your childhood traveling with your father’s music. How was that experience? When did you decide the life of a musician was for you, too?
Petter: I think that growing up with music around is a great thing. But, it could’ve gone either way. My older brother is also a musician and producer, so I kind of grew up with it all around. I feel like it’s been really good over all. We kind of run things by each other these days and inspire each other… It’s great!
I was just in Sweden actually on tour…I joined my dad on tour…he’s touring in a bus as well. I joined him for 3-5 nights on the road.
mxdwn: That’s amazing! When did you decide that the life of a musician was for you, too?
Petter: The weirdest thing is that I didn’t very early. My brother is nine years older than me and my sister is 6 years older, so I’m the youngest and even as a young kid, they always brought me to the studio and always had me around. I was really into it, so I started to sing and write stuff when I was super young, like 5-6 years old. I’d sing Michael Jackson tunes and stuff [laughs].
mxdwn: So it sorta just formed organically, huh?
Petter: Yeah, pretty much. It’s like I always knew that I wanted to do it, but I never really…well I guess it was always something I wanted to do, but you know, when you’re young you don’t really think about if you can live on doing it or not. But yeah, I always felt like it would be the type of thing I’d want to do.
mxdwn: That’s awesome for it to just happen! Besides your ability to travel growing up, you’ve been exposed to many cultures and lifestyles while living in your native country, Sweden, England and New York. How have all these lands contributed to your growth as a musician?
Petter: Definitely! Well, moving to London was pretty big because it’s a change of a lifestyle. Living in Sweden, then moving to London and living there for 8 years was huge for me. And just going moving from a place where you’re in a middle class family to living alone in a big city like London and going through all the struggles of being a teen and like spending all your money on records instead of paying rent. And just learning about life… that was huge and inspired me a lot. You don’t really have a safety net, you just kind of have that.
Living in a place like London, or I’ve been in New York now for 7-8 years, and having all the cultures and all the mix of people from all around has been a massive inspiration on all my music. And having people from everywhere all in one place is like the best thing ever. In Sweden, some of that, but not as much.
mxdwn: Yeah, those are all pretty big culture changes. I live in LA and have been to New York and London, and each one is so different. So, I can only imagine how amazing it would be to be able to live in each one of them and produce music that way!
Since the last record in 2012, the band lost bassist Terry Wolfers and has restored the group to one sole member, you. You’ve said this album takes the group back to its beginning in a sense. How does this “beginning” differ from the very, very first?
Petter: I feel like where I’m at now in general, musically and in life, especially where I was at when writing all the songs for this new record kind of reminds me of where I was at when writing the first mini album, The Thief & the Heartbreaker. I was kind of changing up the theme of this record and writing all of the songs almost without a theme trying to figure out where I was going next. I didn’t have any input from anyone really, more than my close friends. So, we were coming up with songs, but no one really heard anything until I was almost done. And also felt that because I went back when Terry left the band, I went back to write pretty much everything myself and that was a different sort of vibe in general of where I was about artistically. The sound of things felt secure again and I didn’t want to have it too over-produced and I wanted to record the record live pretty like how we did in with the early recordings of the band, but obviously a little bit more advanced because we’ve toured around the world like 5 times. We’re a little more ahead and I’m not as much naïve as I used to be, but for the art, it’s definitely full circle and that’s kind of why I wanted to self-title it.
mxdwn: Throughout the time in between the first and latest album, would you say you’ve learned any important lessons in music and/or life that have altered your perspective or approach to music?
Petter: Yeah, the inspiration for this record was that I knew I wanted to record it more live. I knew I wanted to make it a bit purer and a little gritty and live because the last record was a very produced. And like when I wrote it all myself, to capture the sort of live thing, I don’t really like to rehearse, so I tried to figure out how to get the band together but not sit in the rehearsal room and rehearse it too much. I like to keep it live and the way to do that was after I wrote the songs in Brooklyn, I had all these song jams in the Western East Village and I used to bring all my songs down there and invite all my friends. And like at one of my jams, I didn’t have to invite anyone because my friend had invited everyone already [laughs].
So we’d try all our songs with people and that was the first time they’d heard the songs so we’d have to tell people the chords. We’d play late at night after a few beers or a glass of wine, so it was very loose and all the players were incredible! They’d just play, but it was almost like they could sense where the songs were going and that whole thing was very inspiring. There was like a French horn player and people playing the mandolin and a bunch of different instruments; all that stuff was very new to me because we’ve always been one guitar player, two guitar players, bass, keys…you know, like a normal rock set up. And then now we had all these other players on the songs and I think that was a huge influence on this record.
mxdwn: And those were all your friends that played the mandolin, violin and French horns?
Petter: Well, I mean some of them definitely weren’t my friends, but have become my really good friends now. But I’ve met a bunch of people, and a lot of the people who are touring with me now I’ve met not that long ago during our jams. I mean, we live in New York City, we’re lucky! In any place like that, there’s gonna be a bunch of outrageously talented and soulful musicians and that’s one of the good things about living in a place like New York. You get to meet all those people.
mxdwn: New York is definitely a mecca for live music and musicians.
The recording took place in New York at Dreamland, a former church turned recording studio. What was that experience like?
Petter: It was pretty amazing! It’s an old church in Woodstock, NY that they turned into a recording studio and I’d heard about it from people and my friend Claudius, who I co-produced the record with, had recorded there before and when I mentioned that I wanted to make the backbone of the record live, he was like let’s get it down, record and work through it, but don’t give it up too long. I think we went out there for like 5 days, recording 3-4 songs a day and really bashed them down. It was great to set up a live band in a big church room and I really wanted to capture that room. I felt like it was incredibly inspiring and we were all staying there too. My room was in the church [laughs] we were all pretty much there, which was a spiritual affair. And then we did some of the stuff in New York, but like the drums, the bass, the guitar, the piano and the organ and some of the songs, like the last song, we recorded completely live. So that was a very beautiful experience.
mxdwn: When you first started this process. Did you imagine that it would take this direction? It’s so overflowing with inspiration and creativity. It seems so natural for an album, but it also went in an amazing direction to relaunch the band.
Petter: I knew I wanted it to be this kind of record. Every time I write songs, I get a sense for everything that’s going on all the time and have the production hat on as well. I feel like the jams that we had and the looseness of the songs and the jams definitely inspired the record even more. Playing with people, like Pete, who plays piano on this record, and Keith and Fred, my drummer, really inspired it too because they added their stuff to it. I had a pretty clear vision really of how I wanted it to sound and how I wanted the songs to sound and I recorded a bunch of ideas for the songs at home, as well, before I brought it to people. I kinda had an idea and I’m glad we were able to capture all the stuff I wanted. I feel like we were kind of determined to do it.
mxdwn: And it’s a really great record- I really enjoyed it! I got the opportunity to listen to the record and some of my favorites are “Isolation,” “Shadow of Mine” and “Beneath My Love.” But, with this album completed and you on tour right now, what’s next for the band? Do you have any big plans for the future?
Petter: Yeah! The record is out this month and then we’re gonna tour a bunch on this record like here, in Europe and hopefully around the world! And just keep getting out there! It’s kind of what you do, really. It’s like I’m releasing this record, but I’m always thinking about the next record because I want to release them as together because these days you can’t really wait years in between records. I’m already ending the tour cycle, I’m on a bus and I’m trying – before I get too far down the touring cycle – I’m trying to write and so I have somewhat of an idea of what the next album is going to do. I just keep on creating and touring and getting the music out to a lot of people. And that’s what we seem to do now, we’re up playing for a lot of people at midnight on this tour, so it’s been fun!
mxdwn: It’s a nonstop journey!
Petter: Yeah, I know! It’s a never-ending cycle life, isn’t it [laughs]?
mxdwn: It’s great that you’re continuing with it because your music really is great and that you’re not putting too much time in between because I know your fans would love to hear music out of you.
Petter: Yeah, that’s the feeling and that’s the good thing now because it’s back to me and I can control a little more of it and hopefully release more music, more often. So I’ll keep on writing and hopefully it’ll all be okay [laughs].