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AUTOSUGGEST Alternative control

The internet truly lends itself to chain reactions; one of which being a short video app downloaded amidst iso boredom leading to the discovery of a creative music discussion account, and from there, the account-holder’s eclectic Sydney band. But don’t get it twisted, there’s far more to Autosuggest than just (lead singer) Alec Mallia’s knack for soothing music chat. With a catalogue of polished electro-rock under their belt and a significant amount to come, Autosuggest are going to be that band you liked before they were famous. ELOISE PARKS spoke to Alec Mallia about their latest single After Me, their upcoming track Total Devotion, out May 21, and a few more introspective points along the way.

On your Soundcloud you write that After Me is about “pulling your lifeless body back into the game.” Of course there’s an obvious “post-COVID” reference there, but is there something more to it?

The album that track is from is called Introhedonism, and most of the material was written in late 2019, early 2020. I pretty much write everything quite autobiographically, and although it’s not a concept album there is a vague narrative to the tracks.

This one was written about a toxic relationship that I had and the fallout from that. The story of it is basically when I realised that I was involved in a shitty thing and my answer to that was “Well, obviously, what I should do now is be extremely rock and roll.” You know, drink and drugs and fuck my way out of it.

The idea of the song is imitating the ex-partner, being like “well, after me, there’s no way that your love’s gonna hurt me.” So it’s meant to be a song about being defiant whilst also being very obviously in the wrong with what you’re doing.

Tell us about the response to that single. How does it compare to previous releases?

For starters, I think it took our best song from our first album about three months to get 1,000 plays on Spotify. And this one’s been out for five or six weeks, and it’s up to about 6,000. But we’ve had the least amount of press for it; and my only assumption is that this new uptake is the success of me deciding that I would try doing TikTok after lurking on it for five months. We also got a little bit better at marketing ourselves, in terms of direct marketing to listeners through social media and stuff like that.

Absolutely. I mean that’s how I found you, just popping off on my For You page. I didn’t even realise you had a band at first. I just thought it was a really interesting account with calming vibes, and that approach has turned out to be such a unique drawcard to your band…

Yeah. The way I got into TikTok was because I was dating someone I was really into and she had a few thousand followers on there. To me, at the time, that was huge. It was the first relationship I’d had after all this crazy, chaotic stuff I’d been writing about. It was quite simple and pure and nice, and I went into it with the widest open and loving eyes I could, for quite a chaotic social media platform.

At the time I was just so hopeless, because we had put out our single called Not Yours in September, and it flopped completely. Then it got to December and I felt like I just didn’t care anymore. So I started learning how to market, and then through that we got our first big spike of people coming to the band. That went pretty well and the plays were good, but we weren’t really getting an engaged fan base. No one was writing back to my emails and we were still having trouble booking shows. I started following experts on social media on TikTok, and I was like “What would happen if I spent one month doing everything that these people say?”

My housemates were laughing at me. I was literally doing spreadsheets and mind maps about how I would do my TikTok in my lounge room. What you have to find with social media is the beautiful Venn diagram of things that would make you hate yourself, things that you can do a lot of, and things that you’re genuinely passionate about or good at, and of course find the intersection between the latter two. So it eventually came to me that the centre of my Venn diagram was music, and art in general.

I didn’t think it would go well, but then people started just liking it for me. One of the biggest things for me is that I sent an email to an Australian music writer asking them to write about us. No response. When I hit them up again was when we started charting on the independent radio charts, and what they got back to me with was “Oh, that’s nice. What’s this I hear about your TikTok?”

We finally found people that like us and and maybe more than the actual music, they seem to just like the vibe of the group and myself. Because I pretty much mainly focus on the emotional side of art rather than criticism, I think I can get people thinking “Well, he likes it for the same reasons that I like it.” It’s the most precious thing in the world to have someone’s attention like that.

A lot of your musical influences such as Michael Hutchence and Ian Curtis are pretty regarded for their unique stage presences and performance styles. Who or what do you set out to embody as your stage persona, if anyone or anything?

In the early days of the band, there was definitely a sense that I 100% wanted to be absorbed into the body of Ian Curtis. I’d been raised on INXS and I finally came back to that after years and years, maybe towards the end of 2019. I just went hell for leather on that discography. I think it’s hard to be a man and look at Michael Hutchence and be like “I don’t want to look like him.”

During the first COVID lockdown in Sydney, I really had to sit with myself and be like “I can’t be those people. The only way I’m going to be successful is if I learn how to be the best version of myself.” For me now, there’s a lot less thought that goes into how I present myself. Ironically, as I think the band comes across as very particular. But as all this crazy TikTok success has shown me, if I just be myself, people like that way more than if I’m trying to be some sort of arty prick.

What are you most proud of, musically, at this point in your career?

It’s hard to lock one thing down because we’ve been doing it for almost five years now but I do love the first 12-inch we did. There’s a song on it called Murmur, and I remember working on it back when I lived with my parents and getting towards finishing the arrangement. My dad stopped by, and he’s a man of few words at the best of times. And I remember him being like “That’s beautiful.” He gives compliments when he really means it, so he’s always a good sounding board.

I’m also really proud of how we’ve been able to come out of a world-ending kind of scenario and be together for five years. And for us to have become so much closer and develop more trust for each other.

On the other side of the coin; we’re not hard done by, by any means. But we’ve been outsiders in pretty much every way; in terms of the genre, in terms of the city scene here. The thing that frustrates me is that I’m doing these successful singles, but I can’t get played on the radio more than twice. Luckily for me, that kind of rage can fuel me for a long time. As long as I’m getting energy out of it, I have no problem with it.

What’s the ultimate goal? When do you feel you will sit down and think “this is what success feels like?”

I would define it as having some sort of member of staff that can handle the kind of politicking required to be successful in music. The hardest thing about doing all this is that you have to be everything; you have to be the manager, the marketer, the designer, the musician, the producer. If I can get to a point where I can have someone who believes in me enough that they can do all that business side of things, and navigate that horrific world of booking agencies and radio and all that shit, I would consider that an immense win.

I know that I can meet any kind of demand on the artistic end. I’ve never had a writer’s block that lasted longer than a couple of months. So I know that I can produce, and now I know that I have a personality that people resonate with. So for me, I’m just waiting for that person to go “Okay, I’m going to spend half my week making the arrangements for you, and finding the connections for you to be able to keep doing your thing.”

There’s a new single coming out very soon, and following that, the album. Can you give us a bit of a hint of what’s to come?

Yeah, so the next single is called Total Devotion. It’s out on the 21st of May and is a duet with Carla Maar. She’s done the backing vocals on the previous songs from this album.

As for the album, Introhedonism. It’s finished, but we’ve been playing it by ear because the last single was so successful, and we hope that the next one will be double that. If it’s mega successful, we might just put out the rest of the album as singles. There’s only three songs left after this one, so it will be a more cohesive thing when we do put it out.

I still don’t actually know what we’re going to do with it, because life has been very unpredictable. There’s no point trying to make plans. I am really keen to get to the next record, because it’s super special and it’s quite different. It’ll be a good addition to the emotional palette that we’ve been working with so far.

Find Alec on Tiktok:

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