Petter Ericson Stakee is in the midst of a love affair with America.
The 29-year-old guitarist, vocalist and frontman for the rock quintet Alberta Cross was born in Sweden and raised in London, which is where he and British bassist Terry Wolfers founded the band. Since they decamped to Brooklyn, N.Y., three years ago, Stakee has become enamored of the music, the people, the food and the cities of the United States.
Moving to New York was an important catalyst and provided inspiration, said Stakee in a telephone interview last week while his band drove through rural Washington state from gig to gig.
"I always get restless, and we had kind of hit a wall in London," he said. "New York was really the right way to go. It's really inspiring, and there's always something to lead you in an interesting direction, music everywhere and everyone on the streets and everything open all night. Right after we moved there, I'd walk around the streets at night and was inspired to write 20 songs right off."
The band's first release, the EP The Thief and the Heartbreaker, was released in 2007 while the group was still based in London. Its distinctly British take on contemporary Southern rock à la Kings of Leon also hinted at blues and folk roots.
After Stakee and Wolfers moved across the Atlantic, Alberta Cross picked up three new American members—guitarist Sam Kearney, drummer Austin Beede and keyboardist Alec Higgins—and the band has toured nearly non-stop for a year and a half, much of that in the United States, he said.
"It has all been such a gas. Now, I could probably tell you 20 places where I would like to live in America. Lately, we have been thinking that it might be nice to live on the West Coast. I really like the feeling out there, too."
Alberta Cross will visit Tucson for the first time for a gig at Plush on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Also on the bill will be the bands Dead Confederate and Futurebirds, both from Athens, Ga.
On the band's full-length debut, Broken Side of Time—released earlier this year on Dave Matthews' ATO Records—the music of Alberta Cross' second incarnation is an arresting combination of arena-sized grandeur and intimate '70s-style Americana rock. Two of the tunes from the EP, "The Thief and the Heartbreaker" and "Old Man Chicago," are on the new recording.
To record Broken Side of Time with producer Mike McCarthy (Spoon, Heartless Bastards), the band went to Austin, Texas, another American city on which Stakee has developed a serious crush.
"It's one of the best places in the world, I think," he enthused about Austin. "It's an amazing music town, with so much history and so many musicians with deep knowledge. And the people down there are so fantastic. We met wonderful, quality people every day who would just invite us to their homes for barbecue. I could see myself living there, too."
On the new album, you can hear the inspiration Stakee gets from life in New York and from traveling the United States. He applies his heart-wrenching wail to laments such as "City Walls," "Ghost of City Life" and "Rise From the Shadows," and howls headlong into cathartic barn-burners like "ATX," "Broken Side of Time" and "Leave Us and Forgive Us."
While obviously nodding to North American groups such as Neil Young, The Band and My Morning Jacket, the band also tips its hand to reveal Stakee's youthful love of British alternative-rock acts such as Depeche Mode, Joy Division and, most notably, The Verve.
Stakee said that, after a longtime obsession with American music, he recently has been listening to a lot of British artists again, including Nick Cave and My Bloody Valentine. "And David Bowie's Low and Heroes. I really like his German period and have always been fascinated with Berlin. All of that might tell you a little of the direction of the next album."
He hopes that Alberta Cross can capture some of the alchemy and emotional resonance of his favorite bands.
"In a perfect world, we would create some of the same feeling you get when you go and see some of the bands you grew up with and (that) meant a lot to you when you were young. It's really good when it can be a cleansing and maybe even a religious experience. Or like a journey. The best bands have that vibe."
The resulting music has won considerable acclaim from the American press—not simply from music-oriented publications such as Rolling Stone and Spin, but also from The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and The New York Times, which wrote "Alberta Cross sets aside ... American bands' redemptive undercurrents of blues and gospel; instead, it plunges into the very English despair of bands like Pink Floyd."
An active touring schedule has found Alberta Cross performing in nightclubs from coast to coast, but also at many festivals around the U.S., such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Stakee said he equally enjoys playing intimate club gigs and in front of huge crowds—but one aspect of the festival circuit represents for him a slight hardship.
"We're not really used to the heat. At a lot of the festivals, we were on the big stage earlier, rather than on smaller stages late. And many of them were in summer, and at Coachella, it was something like 110 degrees in the middle of the desert. Being from the north of Sweden, I find that pretty hard to take, man."