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Interview: We Are Augustines
Published on March 13th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker was really rather taken with Rise Ye Sunken Ships, the epic debut outing by Pela offshoot We Are Augustines, so we had a hearty natter with the Brooklyners’ bassist Eric Sanderson the day after their successful launch party performance at The Lexington in Islington. Click here to read our eight-quail review of the album, and if you haven’t already heard this lot then get an earload of this…
How did the album launch show go?
It was absolutely phenomenal, one of my favourite shows in London. We played at the Wheelbarrow a long time ago and it was a big, sweaty mess. This one was a little bit bigger, and it was still a big, sweaty mess! The kind of show that we love.
Apparently you had close to forty songs written for the album…
Yeah, we started the process of writing and demoing when we were touring with Pela, and I guess the process went on for about a year. Not every song was fully developed; some of them were outright songs, some of them could be turned into songs. I think we recorded about thirty songs, but if a song didn’t come out well, and we couldn’t figure out how to make it right, then we’d take it off the list.
Ironically, we have a song called “Rise Ye Sunken Ships” that we’ve been playing live; we tried recording that song four or five different times but we weren’t ever able to get a version we were happy with, so the song itself didn’t actually make the record. Go figure. We still want to get that one out, though.
What will become of all the scrapped material? Will you save it for the next album?
The reason it wasn’t released was because we weren’t as proud of it as we wanted to be. We have a rule when it comes to releasing material: if it’s something that we’re not proud to play to our friends when we’re hanging out, then it’s not good enough to release. We have a ton of B-side material that’s been recorded, some of which has even been mixed and could be released, so we’ve talked about doing a B-sides record or whatnot.
We’re not really sure what to do with it because some of it is really good and some of it is not so good. We’ve recently been releasing a few 7-inches, and we always put a B-side on the 7-inch that isn’t available anywhere else; we’ve been thinking that maybe we’ll release some more songs via that process. We’re definitely excited about a lot of the material so we want to get it out there. All in good time, I guess.
How was your recent Letterman appearance? Did you get to meet the man himself?
Not really. We saw him briefly before, and I think that’s how it is for most people. Dave’s a big personality and he kind of does his own thing, but we got to hang out with the band, Paul Schaffer and the announcer of the show, which was nice. It’s a surreal experience; I don’t know if many people know this but they keep the studio very cold – I’ve got a feeling that’s so people don’t sweat, but I’m not entirely sure – and it’s very sterile.
The studio’s also much smaller than it looks on television, and the big shocker is that everything’s run through lapel mics, so when Dave’s speaking there’s no monitor and you can’t hear what he’s saying, even from ten feet away as we were. That was unexpected.
In Rocksucker’s opinion, Dave Newfeld is one of the best producers out there. Did you guys know what he was capable of before getting together with him?
Oh yeah. When we first met Dave, it was to mix the record. At that point, we’d been recording for a while; we’d recorded the record, then scrapped it, then started over again. We did a tremendous amount of home recording, and we were fully producing the record ourselves at that point. It was very much a piecemeal labour of love type thing because we didn’t have the money to do it the way a traditional band would.
When we got to the point where we were happy with the record and it was ready to be mixed, we went through our list of people that we admired and looked up to, and Dave was the first person on our list. We sent him an email asking if he was interested in mixing our record, and he replied saying, “Yeah, I’d love to; why don’t you send me a track, let me have a shot at it, and let me know what you think?” We sent him the song “Augustine” and several days later he sent it back. We were totally blown away by it, so we signed him up to mix the whole record.
“Book of James”
Then the band crumbled and fell apart while the record was still unfinished – a lot of that is documented on our website and everything – and then Billy wrote some more songs, but we didn’t have any money at this time so we couldn’t record the stuff ourselves. We called up Dave and he said, “I know you guys are in a tough position right now; I’ll cut you a rate, you can come up to my studio, I’ll produce it, and we can record it and mix it and do everything here.”
It was a really intense process. Dave’s really eccentric and extremely talented. He’s like an encyclopaedia, knows everything about everything – politics, religion, food, electronics, music, he can just go and go – and we did a tremendous amount of late-night sessions, sometimes until 8 o’clock in the morning. There was one day where we in a freezing church, the cathedral part of it, laying down a grand piano track for a B-side called “This Ain’t Me” at 8am while the sun was coming up. It felt way too early in the morning to be recording, but it was also kind of beautiful.
I kind of liken Dave to Lee “Scratch” Perry; he’s on his own ship, and if you’re not able to jump on his wave then it can be really hard because he’s got a process that he does, and that’s what makes him who he is.
Do you think you’ll work with him on your next album, or is it too early to say?
We’re not sure. We’re trying to figure it out now, but we’re still early along in the process. Right now we’re totally focused on touring and releasing this record. We’re really focused on getting the live show better with every show. We have a good amount of new material, but we’re not quite yet in that ‘put your head down and write the new record’ phase – we’re still very much growing as a live band right now – so we’ll see. Maybe when it’s time to work on the next record, we’ll find ourselves up in Toronto with Dave, or maybe we’ll need to be somewhere a little bit warmer! (Laughs) We’ll see how it goes.
If you did record it somewhere warmer, do you think it would come out sounding very different to Rise Ye Sunken Ships?
It’s funny, that’s something we talked about all the time. It’s been hard for many years – working day jobs we didn’t want to be at, being totally poor, all of the legal stuff with old managers, the band not working out, outstanding issues – there’s been so much crap that, now we’re getting older, we’re more focused on being joyful and happy people, trying to live a life that feels good. It’s a fear; would our record suck if we recorded it somewhere where the weather’s nice? I don’t think so, but it is funny to imagine us turning into The Beach Boys singing a song about Kokomo!
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Hands down Charles Bradley. He is our inspiration right now. If you don’t know him, just go to iTunes or whatever and buy his record. It’s fantastic. He was 52 years-old when he released his debut record and he’s part of the Daptone Records scene in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They do this…I don’t want to say ‘retro’ soul, because I find it totally modern, but they do this kind of authentic soul sound that’s just incredible. The music that’s coming out of the whole scene is so rich and inspiring, and Charles is the king of the scene.
We’ve been playing his tracks at every show before we go onstage. He went through a lot of hard times, and he’s always had music as a part of his life. He was in a James Brown covers band; I was watching this documentary on him where he was saying that he was playing James Brown for twenty years or whatever, and now it’s time for him to be Charles. He put his head down and wrote this phenomenal record, and you can hear his life experience in every word.
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Eric, thank you.