Jesse Berkowitz fronts Austin TX based darkened country band, I Am The Albatross. This black americana three piece is gonna be storming The Wandering Goat on 10/25 and we thought we’d get the skinny on what makes I Am The Albatross such a force to be reckoned with.
Your debut EP tows the line between 70′s rock and roll and country. Is that also where your personal roots lie?
I can’t speak for the other guys, but for me, yeah. At least to a certain extent. Growing up, when I started writing music I was very influenced by bands like Kyuss, Clutch, and Corrosion of Conformity. Bands that took a heavy ’70′s, Black Sabbath inspired sound and really went to unique and unusual places with it. Those bands also had some punk and hardcore influences, and I was and still am a huge metal fan too. I was also very obsessed as a little kid with rock bands like the Who and Aerosmith.
On the other side of all that though, I had a lot of exposure to American folk music as a kid, mainly from my parents record collection. They lived in New York at the height of the whole folk revival thing in the ’60′s, and I grew up being exposed to Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Pete Seeger, Flatt & Scruggs…Stuff like that and all the older recordings that inspired those guys, like Robert Johnson and the Carter Family. We lived in Virginia when I was young and my parents took me to a lot of folk and bluegrass festivals there, so the sound of that music was very familiar to me from an early age. I guess my influence is more folk and old-time oriented than country.
Basically, I’ve always written a lot of heavy stuff and played in punk and metal bands, and at the same time written folky, acoustic, lyric-based things and performed solo. This band is sort of an attempt to bridge that gap.
Darkened country/americana music can be fickle. Bands like Murder By Death, or O’death have popped up and moved quickly on to more traditional sounding music, while, Wovenhand seems to have comfortably set up camp to stay. Does I Am The Albatross feel firmly rooted, or are you guys musically nomadic?
Well, I think we’ve already progressed the sound of the band quite a bit since the release of the EP. We’re always interested in moving forward and writing new stuff. That being said, I don’t think we’ll ever make anything ‘traditional’ sounding. We just finished recording a full length album, and it’s definitely more of a ‘rock’ record than the EP…there’s a lot more guitar stuff going and it’s much more complex, both lyrically and musically. I don’t think there’s much on there that could be referred to as ‘country.’ I think with this new album it’s going to pretty difficult to label us. I just think of us now as rock band, in the same sense that The Who are a rock band. I think when people see us live they understand that. Not that I’m comparing us to the Who!
But there are still some pretty distinct references to American folk music in our style, and I think that will always be represented in my way of singing and my approach to lyrics.
You’re about to pull a stretch of 20 dates. Is this your first tour of this magnitude?
Yeah. We’ve done a few two-week things here and there, but this is our longest run so far with this band.
Initially I stumbled across you guys by googling noise-rock band An Albatross. Has anyone contacted you for booking thinking you were them? Has there been any confusion?
I’m aware of them only through googling my own band! Still haven’t listened to them yet though. To my knowledge, no one has mistaken us for them.
People will often ask about your “desert album” record. We don’t care about that. However, what record would drive you to off yourself if you were doomed to listen to it for the rest of your days?
Um…whatever radio station they play over the speakers at supermarkets and Targets and Goodwills always gives me a suicidal urge. So whatever that stuff is, just gimme a mix of that and it’ll do the trick.
The haunting cover piece for your record is the work of Rex Slack, and not originally created for your record, but, I feel, rather fitting. Were you fans of Slack’s work previously? How did the decision to use his piece come about?
Ah, really glad you asked about that! For those who don’t know, Rex Slack is a Virginia-based American artist, and his work includes paintings, sculptures, miniature models and all kinds of other constructions. A lot of his stuff depicts scenes of small town, country life, which is his heritage.
Rex is one my favorite artists in the world and I’ve know him personally pretty much my whole life! As a kid I lived in Virginia, and Rex’s son’s are childhood friends of mine. Their mom is a great painter as well, Laurie Marshall. I spent tons of time in the Slack household growing up….they lived in a great, 100 year old house in Rappahannock county Virginia, and Rex’s art was always around. Rex is like family to me and I feel a very personal connection to his art.
When I started playing in bands, I always knew his paintings would be perfect as album covers . I Am the Albatross is really the first band that I’ve played with though whose music genuinely seems to fit the mood of Rex Slack’s art. It felt like a pretty natural choice for us to use this image on the cover. Hopefully we’ll get to use more of his stuff on future projects.
More than one of his pieces concern images of houses burning down. In the Virginia countryside, there are a lot of very old, wooden farm houses, and it’s not too uncommon for one to catch on fire. I remember seeing it happen once. It’s kind of a perfect symbol of irreparable loss, and the bonds of community and family.
Rex Slack is an incredible and often overlooked artist, everyone should check out his work.
For more on I Am The Albatross, tours and the upcoming yet to be titled full length record, click here.