Keith and Michael Jeffery are definitely brothers. They share the same smile and scraggly haircuts. They banter back and forth, making each other laugh. They definitely don’t agree on everything, and while they try not to squabble too often on the road, Michael, 25, might still be holding a slight grudge about the time his big brother pushed him off a slippery dip (what they call a slide Down Under) and fractured his arm. Keith, 27, still claims he just slipped. Luckily, they’ve made up over the past mishap in the ensuing years, because in just a few hours they will play an album release concert for their debut LP When It Was Now to a jam-packed room at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg. Yup, Atlas Genius have arrived.
In 2011, a single track called “Trojans” was released online. It was enough to catch the attention of record labels and soon the emails started trickling in (rumor has it the boys thought the first few were from friends playing a prank). Last June, not long after signing with Warner Brother Records, they released their four-song EP Through The Glass, and the response was staggering. Since then, they have appeared on every chart from Next Big Sound, to We Are Hunted, to MTV’s Music Meter. Their social and streaming data has been on a steady, rapid rise, culminating in a huge boost surrounding the album release in late February.
Back when he was still in high school, Keith started playing guitar in a band, but said the group never seemed to be able to get the sound just right. Half a year in, they kicked out their drummer and their dad suggested giving Michael a go, after all – he had about 5 or 6 lessons under his belt already. He did not own a drumkit however; so they threw together a makeshift version out of cookie tins, Tupperware, metal bread racks and a wooden plank. “The only real thing was the kick-drum pedal,” says Keith, “I reckon it was great.”
While Michael was learning on the fly, he must have been doing something right, because Keith, now a vegetarian, but then a proud employee at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken, scrimped and saved his money until he finally had enough to buy real drums for his brother. They spent a bunch of years just jamming and covering their favorite tracks from the greats – Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and John Bonham.
“Led Zeppelin was one of the bands we first tried to poorly imitate,” Keith reminisces with a chuckle.
“It’s all about finding what your voice is,” he says. “There are a bunch of different musicians that you love and are inspired by, but you don’t just want to copy them.” About three years ago they became what is Atlas Genius today – two brothers making music they love.
The choice to release “Trojans” from the outset was a no-brainer; they just never wanted to release music they weren’t proud of, and “it was the first one that was finished,” Michael declares with a shrug. Once it had been featured by Neon Gold, it didn’t take long for the buzz around the band to start building, and that is when Jonny Kaps of +1 Management came into the picture.
The song caught his attention right away. “When I first listened to ‘Trojans’ I was just blown away, and listened to it about 10 times in a row,” says Kaps. There was little to no information about the band online, other than a song on their website and a photo. He got in touch and their first conversations happened over Skype. During CMJ he heard their name floated around by a lot of folks in A&R, and took a quick look at their numbers. They had sold more than 7,000 copies of “Trojans” in less than two months.
“We just hit the ground running. People were really reacting to the song,” Kaps explains. “Not only was it getting spun a lot, but listeners were requesting it.” With no promotion around them, Atlas Genius started appearing on Alt Nation’s countdown alongside and above major acts like Mumford & Sons and The Black Keys. Their new manager buried all of his instincts to feverishly market them, and decided to let it happen organically. “I had enough confidence in the song that I felt like it was the right thing to do. We didn’t mess with a good thing,” he says.
Atlas Genius is a family affair. Dad is their sound guy. Mom works the merch table. While he hasn’t joined them on tour, younger brother Steven played bass on a few of the tracks. Most of their music is recorded in the home studio they built themselves, the place where they prefer to make music.
“It’s our comfort zone,” says Keith. Michael adds that this is where they can take their time to create. When they book time in a professional studio they feel the pressure. “You know they are sitting there watching the dollars tick over,” he says. Although they wouldn’t say no to a session at Abbey Road.
Keith goes on to explain that he writes most of his music well after midnight. “My drug of choice when writing is just getting exhausted.” Some songs come easy — ‘Back Seat’ came together in about 25 hours -– other songs on the album took more than six months. Once the melody and lyrics are in place, the focus is on delivery. “There is a million ways to get it wrong, and a few ways to get it right,” Keith says.
This is the second tour of the U.S. for Atlas Genius, and their growing popularity is tangible. They have gone from getting really excited for a single mention on Twitter to barely being able to reply to everything. The two brothers make it their mission to still engage personally with fans.
“I have always hated when you go to your favorite band [on Twitter] and it is so obvious that it is just the record company,” says Keith. In the past month alone, they have added more than 2,500 new followers, an average of 90 a day, and more than a 200% increase from the month before. During that time, they can also boast more than 250,000 plays on SoundCloud, bringing their total close to 900,000.
There isn’t a song they perform that evening that doesn’t have the crowd going bonkers. “When It Was Now” is seemingly off to a good start. The night ends when Keith leaps off Michael’s kick drum (a real one this time) and smiles the Jeffery smile. “You do everything you can, and maybe you’ll get lucky,” he says, “ and that’s probably our story.”
Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Hypebot and more.