Known to his family and friends as Alec Mallia, Autosuggest has spent the early days of his musical career dominating Sydney stages with his post-punk, alt-pop influenced performance style. As promising as he is ambitious, Mallia finds himself at a catch 22 with his live shows; too many big ideas and too few resources to make them happen on stage.
We recently caught up to go deep on his position as an emerging musician thriving on collaboration, the state of his live setup, and the musical legends he finds inspiration in.
“But that’s the crux of it for me, it has to sound good. If I can’t recreate a really important sound in a song, I’m not going to leave it out or play something crappy in its place.”
HAPPY: You release your music pretty slowly and obviously with great care, tell me a bit about why this process is so important to you?
ALEC: To me there’s no point in putting out something that sounds okay but doesn’t connect with myself or someone on any kind of emotional level. Why waste the time of someone who’s got a single minute to take a chance on me? It takes a long time for me to be sure that a song is worth putting out.
HAPPY: The visuals coming after each release are unique and beautiful, can you tell me a bit about what you look for in the Autosuggest clips, and what went into making them?
ALEC: The context that surrounds a record adds a lot, and a great sleeve or a great video is what you need to lure someone into listening. For all the cover artworks and sleeve designs, I have either created the images myself or collaborated with Dean De Landre, an amazing photographer and painter who’s based in Melbourne at the moment.
He actually sat next to me in my high school art class and on the other side of me was Morgan Dodson, who created the video for New Tides funnily enough, which was literally me just saying “do a video to this”, and he came back with what the video ended up being. Honestly it was that simple, he’s talented as hell.
Of course In Lust was the big one, my first time working with director Tom Muir and producer Yvette Underwood. We initially sat down with an idea of a dead space that was made alive by different people singing the track and the kind of chop/change art style you would see in 80s dance clips. Nothing necessarily aesthetically from the 80s, just that idea of the song really driving the video’s structure.
Of course they delivered every little detail and it was fantastic, and we are working on more.
HAPPY: I’ve heard your live set is hardly a small task, tell me a bit about how you feel about performing live? With such a fine tuned production process it must be a bit of a chapter turn for you…
ALEC: If I could play every night of the week I would. Honestly I’d say yes to almost anything at this point. The live set is a combination of live instruments, synths and particular remixes of the tracks you hear on the records. Every set is different, for better or worse.
Bass guitar is featured in a lot of songs, and is played by Jack McFarlane who has been with me in every project over the last 4-5 years. You’d think he’d have the sense to run away now, but no. The liveliness of the set really comes from the bass, guitar and vocals, which are all easy to play and express a live edge that I think every group needs.
There’s usually an array of live synthesizers for the parts that can be reasonably played and sound good. But that’s the crux of it for me, it has to sound good. If I can’t recreate a really important sound in a song, I’m not going to leave it out or play something crappy in its place — that’s not why any of us enjoyed the song. So we play with either close versions or appropriate remixes of the stuff that is just too complicated or resource intensive to play live.
Again, it’s gotta sound good and get in people’s faces. That’s it.
HAPPY: You’re a multi-instrumentalist; tell me a bit about the Autosuggest journey?
ALEC: When I was ten or so my parents forced me to play an instrument, so I picked drums because I thought it’d be the easiest thing to play. I only stuck with it for a few years, I never enjoyed music or being a musician. But when I was at the tail end of high school, I had plugged The Smiths into some internet radio thing. Joy Division’s Transmission came on, and that was it.
My brother and my dad are great guitarists, so whenever they weren’t home I used to sneak into their rooms and play their stuff. It was awful, a friend at the time even copped a couple of horrendous vocal demos of me singing Doors songs. God help me.
I was in love with Peter Hook’s bass lines and to this day who can see that style of playing in Autosuggest, even with guitar lines. They’re all minimal, but they’re mingling with every element of the song — it’s all to serve that single broad expression.
In terms of the actual production, one of my old bandmates said to me that basically if I didn’t stop pushing them and do my own stuff, the whole thing would collapse. So he taught me how to do basic things and over time, between friends and scouring the internet, you learn how to make something that won’t split people’s ears and eventually that band did die, and now I’m here.
When it comes to producing I will be forever learning, because that’s where technical skills and expression are one and the same. Your production should be the punch with your message on its fingers. If you’ve got an aggressive song then make my speakers choke me with it.
But I think that’s a whole other article.
HAPPY: Autosuggest is a fine balance of indie electronica and soulful lyricism… what influences are you bringing together to come up with your sound?
ALEC: For the most part I like to consider it alternative pop, in a way that it’s songs that I really do want people to listen to but there’s no compromise, lyrically or sonically. In terms of contemporary artists that influence me, I actually studied live video performances of Baths to create my current setup. His track Earth Death was one of the first electronic songs I fell head over heels for.
Of course there’s also Massive Attack whose attitude, emphasis on visuals and mainstream penetrating songs are exactly what I work towards with Autosuggest.
I love having tension in my arrangements, so on a track like In Lust you have that roaring punk bass line but surrounding it are very precise electronic beats and that liquid guitar sound. It’s not about trying to make an ‘old’ sound, I want to learn from the past and the present, and try to make interesting records.
Today I’m in love with Shellac’s album 1000 Hurts, which is about as far away from my work as I can imagine. It’s anyone’s guess I suppose.