Alberta Cross on ‘Alberta Cross’

Alberta Cross frontman Petter Ericson Stakee talks up the indie rock band’s new album, due out this week, and discusses why he feels “more inspired than ever.”

Marking the act’s third official third-length album, Alberta Cross’ self-titled LP is set for release Oct. 16.  The album is Alberta’s Cross first since bassist and co-founder Terry Wolfers left the band. Now singer/guitarist Stakee heads up the group as its only permanent member. He’s joined on the road and in the studio by a rotating group of musicians.

With Wolfers’ departure in 2013, Stakee took over more production duties – a responsibility he relishes. The band also switched up its team. Stakee tells Pollstar he’s happy to have more control and the opportunity to leave the music in its purest form, rather than considering “the whole industry’s input.”

He decided to go with a self-titled release to represent a return to the sound and vibe that Alberta Cross started with when it formed in 2005 in East London. The album was recorded at Dreamland Recording Studios, which is located in a 19th-centry church near Woodstock, N.Y. Stakee aimed to have the recording session “keep the grit there … and the urgency of doing it pretty live.”

Pollstar chatted with Stakee in September, in the middle of the band’s tour with Heartless Bastards. A representative for Alberta Cross says more tour plans are in the works. Up next is a handful of dates in November supporting Norah Jones.

Photo: Travis Huggett

A few days ago Alberta Cross performed in Brooklyn, which you’ve called home since 2008.

Yeah, it’s been about seven, eight years now.

Do you have a big following there?

It kind of feels like it – a little bit, yeah. The show we did the other day was incredible, really. … We’ve been away a bit in between records. We’ve changed up a bunch of stuff in between records and so if you go away too long you have to remind everyone again that you’re back. We’re trying to do that with this record. And want to record more, so the records are [released] closer together so you can keep that momentum going. The gig the other day [in Brooklyn] … it feels like there were a lot of Alberta Cross fans there so it was quite fun. Fun to build it up again.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Brooklyn?

I just love living in New York in general. … I like the neighborhood I’m living in. I feel like it’s important to have a neighborhood and where I live I can feel that. Brooklyn – the history is amazing and just there’s so much there. So many different cultures in one place. People from everywhere, kind of like how London was. I kind of feel like I always need that. … I feel like New York is probably the best city in the world, for all of the stuff that I need, at least.

So you said you were away for a bit – do you mean just as far as touring or did you move back to London for a while?

I mean, we changed up a bunch of stuff in between these records. Terry, the guy I started the band with, sort of left. We toured so much in the last few records that people got a little bit burned, including me. He didn’t really want to tour anymore. I wanted to tour, for sure, but I kind of needed a little break from it. We kind of changed up all the team around the record too. Just needed a little bit of time to regroup, you know. But I still worked and did a bunch of stuff because I’m way too restless not to do anything. So I was writing a bunch and then we decided to work on this new record that we’re going to release. Recording didn’t actually didn’t take that long but the buildup to see what kind of record I wanted to make took a little bit of time to figure out, but once I got it everything went pretty quick. So it’s not like we’ve been away [for a really long time]. I feel like a lot of bands have three years in between records but for me at this point … people are excited about records but [the music industry’s] so changed now so you should really just release records more often and be around more because people can’t focus on one thing as much as they used to. (laughs). I used to listen to records like forever, you know when my favorite records came out. But these days you [have to] release [more often] to keep everyone excited.   

Your new album is Alberta Cross’ first release since Terry left the lineup. How did his departure affect the band, as far as putting out the new album?

It’s always been me writing all the songs, pretty much, in this band. … I mean, there’s been maybe a few songs here and there I co-wrote with a band member or something but overall, since the start, I’ve always written pretty much everything. But Terry and I had a good connection. We used to sit in the studio together and he had a really good production head. He was a good guy to run things [past]. We just had a good musician partnership going. We’re still very close and stuff. When he left, I guess I took that whole [production] responsibility myself. The only thing that changed is really that. I’m kind of writing and producing at the moment. I feel like I’ve been ready to do that for a long time. It feels good now because I have a bit more in my hands. I can control a bit more. And it’s not as much input [from others]. I always liked Terry’s inputs but before on the last record, it was like the whole industry’s input too. I feel like the purer you can leave art the better, for everyone, really.

My favorite artists, if I feel like their music isn’t purely coming from them, you can really sense that. I feel it’s like watching a painter – if some painter was being directed by someone else outside, it wouldn’t be as beautiful as it would be if it was just coming from the painter himself.

Well, that’s great youre enjoying taking on production, rather than it being too much responsibility. It sounds like youre in a good place.

Now, musically and as an artist, I feel more inspired than ever. I write a lot and I feel like the people I work together [with] now let me do my thing. Like I said, it’s purer; everything comes straight from me.

I also feel like I have a band, musician-wise … [that is like] a family. … It’s rotating but a core group of guys that play in Alberta Cross with me now. It’s been really refreshing to play with these guys. So [I’m] definitely in a good place.

The lineup is listed on Alberta Cross’ Facebook page as yourself and friends. I had been wondering if it was a rotating roster. 

On this record I have four guys that played. I have Pete on piano and all the keys, Jessica did all the bass stuff on the record. The drummer with me right now is actually from my hometown in Sweden. I met him when he was like 9 and I was, I don’t know, 12. I’ve known him forever. So he’s like a little brother kind of and he’s an amazing drummer. He’s been playing with me now for two, three years. That’s the close unit.

Also on this tour I have a guy playing horns and keys and then I have … my friend from San Antonio playing bass with me. It’s rotating but it’s all my good friends. They help the songs, for sure.

Photo: Jason Moore
Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Md. 

What can you tell readers about the recording session for the new album?

The last record took a while to record and it was a little bit over-produced, I felt like. I like a lot of the songs but … we just produced it for a long time. And I feel like this record I wanted to keep the grit there and the live sense and the urgency of doing it pretty live. … I heard about this church up in Woodstock, [N.Y.] called Dreamland. This really old church that they turned into a music studio. I had an idea that I wanted to record a lot of it live in the actual church room. You have that room on the recording. You can really hear like this big old church room that we played in, the bigness of that take. And also a lot of us recording it live. … Again, it’s not so overproduced, just capturing the takes and capturing the songs. Not to overthink things too much. That’s how we kind of started and then we did some overdubs in New York but that was mainly for horns and all that kind of stuff. We had to put on some pedal steel and guitars, but the core of the record was recorded live and I think that’s something you can really hear and it makes it more special.

You mentioned that you’re feeling more inspired than ever. What are some of the things that inspired you going into this album? Any books, movies or art or anything in particular?

Everything, a bunch of stuff. … Living in a place like New York, there’s so much stuff around. There’s not just like one book or one film or anything, just everything and I guess everything you go through. Songs comes from everywhere. … I also like to have a lot of different inspiration going into one song. On this record, for example, “Ghost of Santa Fe” and “Walter Mountain” … their stories are similar but very different. I feel like they have a connection. I don’t know why, they just fit together. … For some reason they feel like they’d be in the same movie or something. Inspiration comes from everywhere. Obviously certain songs have stronger inspiration from something in particular but overall I think they just come out of the times I’m living and the things that are around me, something I’m going through or whatever it is. It can be so many different things. … I don’t really like to just read one book and write a song about the thing that I was feeling when I read that book.

You mentioned a few tracks. Any other songs from the new album that are personal favorites of yours?

“It’s You That’s Changing,” which is the last song on the record … I think is probably the best song I’ve ever written, lyric-wise. Some songs like that song. All the songs I’ve [previously] written like “Low Man” or “Devil’s All You’ve Ever Had,” quite deep, gospel tracks almost … just came out. I wrote them down so quickly. They were written in a day or in a few hours. And that’s almost the purest they come out. Some songs take longer and then you have to figure out … I think the last song, “It’s You That’s Changing,” is pretty strong. But [there are] a lot of different ones. … I guess I listened to the record way too much now so I can’t really listen to it anymore. (laughs). But the songs I used to like to listen to, when I’m home probably the mellow ones, but if I’m touring I like “Western State” or “Ghost of Santa Fe.” “Heavy Words,” or “Isolation” are fun to play live; they come across really well live. It’s all like depending on the mood. On this record I’m really happy with all the songs on this record. Thank God. On the last record … there were a few things I wasn’t completely stoked about so I’m glad I actually love all the songs on the record. (laughs).

Why did you decide to go with a self-titled release?

I feel like the sound and the vibe of this record feels kind of the same as the vibe me and Terry had when we started the band in London. … I didn’t have too many people in the team around me when I was starting to write this record. … So it’s just me, alone in Brooklyn writing all these songs and working through them, rehearsing, playing them with my good friends that are musicians. And we had all these secrets jams in the East Village and the West Village that really inspired [the songs] and the looseness of them reminded me a lot of the start of the band. So, it’s a lot of things. I’m a bit more advanced now than when I started up but the actual vibe of the creative part feels similar. It feels like it’s gone back to where I started. And therefore I feel like it’s a full kind of a circle, you know. Circle of life. … So it feels like it’s a good time to have a self-titled album. 

So, just looking over the band’s history, you’ve played Letterman, had songs featured in video games and commercials and toured all over. Do you have any future goals for the band that you’re hoping to accomplish in the near future?

I mean, yeah, loads. I feel like, like I said earlier, I’m in a better place now artistically…. and [more] inspired than I’ve ever been or I’ve been in a long, long time. I just want to keep writing good music. I want to hopefully tour this record a lot. … Release a lot of music and tour and hopefully get out to a lot of people. That’s kind of it, really. Keep on trucking by writing more. I’ve already got almost half the next record written so just want to keep on pumping out music. I don’t need to take three years between records anymore.

Photo: Travis Huggett

Upcoming dates for Alberta Cross:

Nov. 6 – Rochester, N.Y., Kodak Hall At Eastman Theatre
Nov. 7 – Ithaca, N.Y., State Theatre
Nov. 8 – Port Chester, N.Y., The Capitol Theatre

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