MUSIC

Atlas Franklin Alexander has taken his world of music and created his own sound

He's back: Atlas Franklin Alexander has been creating music in Newcastle for the past six months after being away for 15 years. Picture: Jacqueline Clarke Mitchell

He's back: Atlas Franklin Alexander has been creating music in Newcastle for the past six months after being away for 15 years. Picture: Jacqueline Clarke Mitchell

The music of Atlas Franklin Alexander has been touched by many corners of the Earth.

From the sun-drenched Valencian countryside to the forested communes of the Greek island of Samothraki, the jungles of Vietnam and otherworldly desert of India's Ladakh region, the Redhead-native immersed himself in each culture for many months at a time.

The resulting songs, ambient electronic soundscapes that some would classify as "bedroom pop" due to their DIY aesthetic, simmer with a sense of universal spirituality.

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And after 15 years away from the Steel City, living in different cities and travelling different continents, Atlas Franklin Alexander - real name Pete Stals - has now returned to his hometown.

"I was doing heaps of travelling before COVID hit, in different parts of Europe, filming [music] videos and also writing music. I'd just take my laptop and sit it down wherever I could. I was living in different ashrams in India - it was mind-blowing. Just being immersed in that environment, it's almost like a psychedelic trip in itself. It's like another world in Ladakh, right up on the border of Pakistan."

Stals chose the nom de plume Atlas Franklin Alexander because he wanted a name that felt "classic and old, something timeless". And the name "Atlas" evokes the expansive geography and wanderlust that seeped into the recordings.

Stals didn't travel with the intention of seeking musical inspiration but ideas flowed once abroad.

"It happened organically," he says. "Each place was a little trinket that you could put into a song. You could draw inspiration from each place. The UK was a really nice vibe too. I was in Spain for a while, living in this weird tipi, helping a guy build an Earthship (a dwelling built from recycled materials)."

Some Novocastrian music lovers might remember Stals from his time in punk band The Common Code, who played the very first Groovin the Moo festival.

Many others will recall Stals as the frontman of The Protectors, a raucous post-punk band that were quickly embraced by Triple J when demos posted to their Myspace page were plucked for high rotation by the national youth network.

The four-piece recorded a well-received EP with producer Scott Horscroft and toured Australia with the likes of Eagles of Death Metal.

I was doing heaps of travelling before COVID hit, in different parts of Europe, filming [music] videos and also writing music. I'd just take my laptop and sit it down wherever I could. I was living in different ashrams in India - it was mind-blowing. Just being immersed in that environment, it's almost like a psychedelic trip in itself.

Atlas Franklin Alexander

But when The Protectors disbanded around 2011, Stals wrote for himself.

For a time he had no fixed abode and would travel lightly, composing songs using MIDI and an SM57 microphone on his laptop.

The resulting EP, Enter Echo, is an aching collection of synthesisers and echoey beats, evoking the serenity of the early morning, the half-light before sunrise.

Stals' voice manifests as an apparitional guide throughout, playing with vocal effects, leading the listener on a psychedelic journey.

"I recorded [the EP] in hotel rooms, friends' garages, libraries, in the back of my car - I was in and out of my car for a while," he laughs.

While the six tracks on Enter Echo might be works of shimmering beauty and sonic intimacy, they transform into a darker beast on stage, the ambience extinguished with pulsing distortion.

While the EP was created by Stals on his own, the songs are performed as a loud four-piece. "It's heavier live," he confirms. "It's almost a little bit punk - more raw, more energy. The distortion gets turned up. It's more interactive, a punch in the face."

COVID put the brakes on Atlas Franklin Alexander's live ambitions. After a successful debut performance at 2018's Bigsound music conference in Fortitude Valley, the live incarnation of Atlas Franklin Alexander didn't get the chance to perform again until this March.

The band performed an impressive headline set at the second instalment of the Family Hotel's Bandaid festivals.

The bandmates Stals brought together are old friends, amongst them Will Coleman, a former member of The Protectors and a long-time collaborator. Stals and Coleman share an eccentric electro-pop project called Plastic Face and Coleman co-wrote the track Sonder.

"[Atlas] is a solo project but the guys I play with are all really good friends and we've all played together in bands since we were teenagers," Stals says. "We're all really close mates. Everyone supports each other's bands. So bringing those guys in for the live aspect really shows that the vibe is all there."

Stals' collaborations with Atlas Franklin Alexander extend to filmmakers, with music videos and short films part of the overarching artistic statement.

The video for the EP's title track, directed by Toa Doguet, features Stals wandering the Martian desert landscape of northern India, ingesting hallucinatory pills, finally dying and being reborn.

The song was written after Stals' own mind-altering experience on the organic psychoactive compound DMT. The songwriter sees his work as either an inducement or accompaniment to mind expansion.

"[The songs] have that psychedelic vibe," Stals says. "With the recorded versions of the song, it's definitely written for people who are in altered states of consciousness, for sure."

The lyrics on Enter Echo operate in a similar hallucinatory state.

"With lyrics I do try and be cryptic," Stals explains. "I don't like anything too obvious and I think that's the same with the music. I like people being able to take away different meanings from their own perspective. I like that other people can have their own interpretation."

Stals has settled back into Newcastle, helping others through disability support and youth work.

"I've been back in Newy for about six months, first time living back here in 15 years," he says. "Newcastle's sweet song was just calling to me. I just felt like it was a good time to be back here."

Enter Echo is out now. Atlas Franklin Alexander will launch the EP at Sydney's Oxford Art Factory on  June 9. @atlasfranklinalexander on Instagram

This story Atlas Franklin Alexander's psychedelic sound of music first appeared on Newcastle Herald.