Atlas Franklin Alexander’s music 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, to the jungles of Vietnam and the otherworldly desert of India’s Ladakh region, the Redhead native immersed himself in every culture for several months at a time.
The resulting songs, ambient electronic soundscapes that some would call “chamber pop” due to their DIY aesthetic, simmer with a sense of universal spirituality.
And after 15 years away from Steel City, living in different cities and traveling to different continents, Atlas Franklin Alexander – real name Pete Stals – is now back in his hometown.
“I was doing loads of trips before COVID happened, to different parts of Europe, filming [music] videos and also write music. I just took my laptop and sat where I could. I was living in different ashrams in India – it was mind blowing. Just being immersed in this environment is almost like a psychedelic trip in itself. It’s like another world in Ladakh, just across the border from Pakistan.”
Stals chose the pen name Atlas Franklin Alexander because he wanted a name that was “classic and ancient, something timeless”. And the name “Atlas” evokes the expansive geography and wanderlust that seeped into the recordings.
Stals did not travel with the intention of seeking musical inspiration but the ideas flowed once abroad.
“It happened organically,” he says. “Every place was a little gem that you could put into a song. You could take inspiration from every place. UK was a really good vibe too. I was in Spain for a while, living in this weird teepee, helping a guy to build an Earthship (a dwelling built from recycled materials).”
Some Novocastrian music lovers may remember Stals from his time in punk band The Common Code, which played the first-ever Groovin the Moo festival.
Stals will be remembered by many others as the frontman of The Protectors, a raucous post-punk band that was quickly embraced by Triple J when demos posted on their Myspace page were picked up for high rotation by the nationwide network of youth.
The quartet recorded a well-received EP with producer Scott Horscroft and toured Australia with Eagles of Death Metal.
I was doing loads of trips before COVID happened, to different parts of Europe, filming [music] videos and also write music. I just took my laptop and sat where I could. I was living in different ashrams in India – it was mind blowing. Just being immersed in this environment is almost like a psychedelic trip in itself.
Atlas Franklin Alexander
But when The Protectors disbanded around 2011, Stals wrote for himself.
For a while he had no fixed abode and traveled light, composing songs using MIDI and an SM57 microphone on his laptop.
The resulting EP, Enter echois a painful collection of synthesizers and echoing rhythms, evoking the serenity of early morning, the twilight before sunrise.
Stals’ voice comes through as an onset guide throughout, playing with vocal effects, taking the listener on a psychedelic journey.
“I saved [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 can be works of shimmering beauty and sonic intimacy, they morph into a darker beast on stage, the mood dies out with pulsating distortion.
While the EP was created by Stals alone, the songs are performed as a strong four piece. “It’s heavier live,” he confirms. “It’s almost a bit punk – rawer, more energy. Distortion is increased. It’s more interactive, punch in the face.”
COVID has dampened the live ambitions of Atlas Franklin Alexander. After a successful debut performance at the 2018 Bigsound Music Conference in Fortitude Valley, the live incarnation of Atlas Franklin Alexander didn’t get a chance to perform again until this March.
The group achieved an impressive headline during the second installment of the Family Hotel Bandaid Festivals.
The bandmates Stals has reunited with are old friends, including Will Coleman, a former member of The Protectors and a longtime collaborator. Stals and Coleman share a quirky electro-pop project called Plastic Face and Coleman co-wrote the track probe.
“[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 explains. “We are all very close friends. Everyone supports each other’s groups. So bringing these guys in for the live aspect really shows the vibe is there.”
Stals’ collaborations with Atlas Franklin Alexander extend to filmmakers, with music videos and shorts being part of the overall artistic statement.
The EP’s title track video, directed by Toa Doguet, features Stals wandering the Martian desert landscape of northern India, ingesting hallucinatory pills, dying and eventually being reborn.
The song was written after Stals’ own mind-altering experience on the organic psychoactive compound DMT. The songwriter sees his work as an incentive or accompaniment to the expansion of the mind.
“[The songs] have this psychedelic vibe,” Stals says. “With the recorded versions of the song, it’s definitely written for people who are in altered states of consciousness, that’s for sure.”
The lyrics on Enter echo operate in a similar hallucinatory state.
“With the lyrics, I try to be enigmatic,” says Stals. “I don’t like anything too obvious and I think it’s the same with music. I like that people can take away different meanings from their own point of view. I like that other people can have their own interpretation.
Stals resettled in Newcastle, helping others through disability support and youth work.
“I’ve been back to Newy for about six months, the first time I’ve lived here in 15 years,” he says. “Newcastle’s sweet song was just calling my name. I just felt like it was the right time to be back here.”