Alberta Cross, the Brooklyn-based Americana act spearheaded by singer-songwriter Petter Ericson Stakee, just released their self-titled third full-length. We talked with Stakee about the album’s new sound and instrumentation, how American acts influenced him while he growing up in London and how the departure of bassist Terry Wolfers effected the project’s songwriting process.
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How has going from a duo to a solo outfit changed your creative process?
Well, I always wrote most of the songs in Alberta Cross so in that way it hasn’t change that much, but after they were written I always use to bounce arrangement and production ideas off Terry. He was great with all that stuff, but nowadays I do most of that myself. On this record I brought a lot of the songs to prerecording rehearsals with Fredrik and Pete to work out rhythm and keyboard ideas, and after that I brought them to all the low-key song jams we had in the West and East Village at the time. All of the late night jam festivities really inspired this record a lot.
You play with some new sounds on this new album. How did some of those new sounds (horns, trumpets, violin etc.) make their way onto the record?
Well, all of that came from our New York jams. I started to meet and get introduced to all these genius musicians around the scene, who are now good friends of mine. I got really into the different colors. For example, we used flugelhorns and French horns on my new songs. Those guys are all over this record.
Is there a song you’re particularly proud of on the new album? If so, why?
“Water Mountain” or “It’s You That’s Changing” felt really special from the moment I wrote them. “It’s You That’s Changing” was recorded completely live with no overdubs up in the church we tracked this record in. It was a beautiful place to record this album. It is a music studio suitably named “Dreamland.”
As an English artist, how did Americana music initially make its way into your sound?
I actually grew up in Sweden and moved to London in my late teens, so I pulled my inspiration from everywhere. My old man and my nine-year-older brother are both musicians, so I pretty much got brainwashed into whatever they were into at the time. My dad was the one that got me into a lot of Americana, blues and early rock ‘n’ roll music. My brother was more into Nick Cave, the dark gospel years of Depeche Mode and Polly Jean Harvey, etc. The list goes on forever. The first records I listened to were The Verve and Nirvana, but then when I moved to London I started to listen to a lot of everything. I was like a sponge. It was a good time to educate yourself in music. London and New York are good places for it because you pretty much have whatever you fancy around you.
What is your typical songwriting process?
I have a bunch of different guitars at home in Brooklyn in different tunings. So I normally just pick different ones up each day and play around. But these days I’ve gotten into writing songs on the piano, too. I write a lot of songs and melodies all of the time. When I’m done with them I normally just record them on my phone, and the ones that stick the most in my head I bring forward. I already have so many new songs for the next record. I hope I still like them by the time they let me record the next record. Gosh.
How long have you been writing songs?
I started writing songs with my best buddy when I was around 8-10 years old. We were massively into Michael Jackson. So every tune we came up with had some sweet choreographed dance moves.
If you could co-write or collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?
Damn. That’s a tough one. There are too many really. Anyone from Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane to The Verve to Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs or Blake Mills.
What do you think is the most perfect song ever written and why?
I don’t know, it could be a song like “Five Years” by David Bowie or like “Bird On A Wire” by Leonard Cohen. For me Tom Waits has always been up there as one of the best. Songs Like “Tom Traubert’s Blues” are outrageously good to me. But the list goes on. You know, Bob Dylan isn’t too shabby either…
Who are your favorite songwriters?
I kind of answered this one already but these days I love people like: Kurt Vile, Feist, The War On Drugs, Blake Mills, Tobias Jesso Jr, T. Hardy Morris, Deer Tick, Heartless Bastards, Father John Misty, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey, Van The Man, Nina Simone, James Carr, Bowie, Dylan, Cohen, Waits, Young, Monk, and Coltrane.