INTERVIEW: Augie March

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THE ABSURDITY OF CALIGULA

From his home in Hobart, Glenn Richards has a revealing conversation with Chris Familton about the life and times of Augie March, why he is proud of their new album and the challenge of combining intelligence and humour in songwriting.

Augie March are a band that have had their fair share of ups and downs, lost chances and a hiatus. The latest chapter in their now two decade career is a resurgent return to form. Previously it was a cautious re-emergence with the inconsistent Havens Dumb, a “regrouping” as songwriter Richards calls it. This time around they “got the groundwork done a bit better so it’s a stronger record in that sense, and in the songwriting too.” Richards emphasises that he’s “proud of this one, it has good energy which is often lacking when a band gets on in years. If anything there was an emphasis on not over-cluttering which we were prone to do in the past”

The album in question is Bootikins, the band’s sixth and it holds its own among their finest releases. after the touring cycle for Havens Dumb ended in disappointment. “It just kind of petered out which was a bit disappointing. I got stuck into other stuff – film scores and TV work, which I was quite happy doing. Then I found myself writing specifically to record to four-track and it brought back the fun and excitement for recording in that fashion and led to a couple of little purple patches that sounded like songs I could do with the band.”

As the songs were being written, Richards began to see a concept of sorts emerging, one where “an absurdly exaggerated version of myself was having rein in the lyric writing,” he explains. “I was becoming aware of something thematic, the awfulness of the the narrative in some of the songs, the ridiculousness as well. The apex of that was the song Bootikins – putting myself in the shoes of Albert Camus’ Caligula, not just an awful caricature but an intelligent, sensitive Caligula who is rapidly turning. It was a good excuse to write a ragged, retro rock song and try and convey the menace and absurdity of that character. It neatly tied up lots of the efforts I was making to get that across in some of the other songs. It was also a funny name to call an album!” laughs Richards.

Humour isn’t something that often gets mentioned when discussing Augie March but there’s a strong comedic streak in much of Richards’ writing that deserves greater acknowledgement. “I’ve always had the struggle to convince people that there’s a sense of humour there. I can hear it in my own voice, I just don’t convey it enough in the singing. Maybe because I have something of a choirboy voice. It’s getting rougher, maybe one day I’ll have my Nick Cave moment,” he says wryly.

The band were lucky to work with legendary Australian producer Tony Cohen, prior to his death in 2017. One of his strengths was to get the band in a room and let them play together and feed off each other. “While all of that was happening he was setting up his universe on the 24-channel desk and experimenting with certain kinds of effects on faders. He needed help on a big desk so we all got involved doing things. He essentially memorised stuff and was only satisfied when he got the mix where all the moves happened.”

Casting an eye back over a critically acclaimed career, Richards is circumspect and open about where the band missed opportunities and had others taken away from them. “We always wanted to make actual records and the chances that you get to do that are pretty slim. We were at the tail end of the dinosaur era in terms of big record contracts and it worked against us ultimately because we got stuck on a label that we didn’t really sign to,” he reveals. “To be honest, I don’t think the effort really matched the ambition along the way, we fell short in a number of ways and we had some bad luck too. I’m not sure how long we’ll be able to keep doing it. It’s about the other guys and their personal circumstances. We’ve got one more for now and it seems to be a pretty good one so we’ll see. I’d love to take this music to Europe for the first time. It’s ridiculous we never got over there. I could still do that but I’d probably have to look at taking some different guys over with me because of families and so on.”

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ALBUM REVIEW: Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound

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Eleanor Friedberger was the voice of the quirky and inventive Fiery Furnaces before going it alone. Now onto her fourth solo album, she’s more than established herself as a fine songwriter and clearly decided to stretch out into some new sonic territory on the more electronically textured Rebound.

Eschewing the knotty indie guitar sound, she’s delved into a more synthetic world of drum machines, keyboards and melancholic music that references the sadder side of 80s pop but is in no way a nostalgia exercise. There’s a patina to the music whereby the songs sound lush and contemporary with one foot in simple melodic pop and the other in the art-pop world of artists like Stereolab. 

The single Make Me A Song is as catchy as anything she’s done in the past and demonstrates her playful wordplay and consistently infectious way with a chorus hook. The downbeat thrum of Nice To Be Nowhere recalls both Julee Cruise and Jack Ladder in its plaintive soft focus sway while Are We Good dances with a playful kosmiche pulse. Her use of electronic sounds add a warmth to these songs rather than colder machine-like qualities. It’s a re-housing of her songs in a new setting and she’s again matched it with sensitive and astute songwriting.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: White Denim Announce New LP ‘Performance’

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Those crazy TX psychedelicists White Denim are back with a new album Performance which will be released on Friday, August 24 via City Slang Records and Inertia Music. The band have shared the album’s first single, ‘Magazin’.

PRESS RELEASE

WG-WD_Front_300dpiPerformance was mainly recorded over eight weeks at the band’s new downtown Austin studio, Radio Milk. Once an old general store constructed in 1902, it is now respectfully restored and sandwiched in between bars and modern condominiums. Two new players were key in what Petralli describes as “a super-collaborative record:” keyboardist Michael Hunter, a “young, humble genius with endless potential” and Conrad Choucroun, a “ridiculously solid” drummer with a long stint with NRBQ on his resume. “If you take nothing else from this at least take some time to listen to NRBQ, rock & roll scholars who shared members with the Sun Ra Arkestra” advises Petralli. It makes sense that White Denim would develop a kinship with a player from their circle. In many ways, they are a continuation of that sort of group. One that will never stop pushing and taking every opportunity to shine a light on and exemplify what is truly good about Rock & Roll music.

Categorically speaking, White Denim is still impossible to narrowly pin down. There’s the glam-rock strut of ‘Magazin’ and ‘It Might Get Dark’, the duelling guitars on the low-slung blues prog of ‘Moves On’, and the sideways jazz of ‘Sky Beaming’. There are plenty of pleasingly unexpected musical moments on the title track and the easy-rolling closer ‘Good News’, along with some seriously distorted guitar. In the title track, Petralli sings, “Flashing light in a tunnel, You’re indicating a change.” In many ways, White Denim is the flashing light in a dark and crowded tunnel of showbiz glop. Quietly and fiercely finding themselves — and us — through their work.

ALBUM REVIEW: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders – Blue Poles

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The sense of Jack Ladder’s career to date is that he’s constantly been searching for his lost soul sound. The early bluesy rock n roll to the introspective troubadour, the gothic synth sounds of Hurtsville to the brighter colours of Playmates. Blue Poles is named after the Jackson Pollock painting and yes it does draw on all manner of styles but this time around he pulls them together into a cohesive set of nine songs. It’s also the first record he’s self-produced, another clue as to why this feels like the album that is most uniquely and naturally his own sound and vision.

‘Can’t Stay’ is the first introduction and transports the listener back to the junction where post punk met pop art, immediately reminiscent of peak-era Thompson Twins with their twinkling synths and fascinating rhythms wrapped up in pop music. ‘Dates’ takes that scene setter and turns it on its head with a repetitive glam stomp, like prime Roxy Music with Ladder shapeshifting between Eno and Ferry. It’s infectious stuff, enough to induce self-indulgent lounge room strutting. Another song, another colour added to the canvas. ‘Susan’ is all dark and shadowy hues, Cohen circa ‘Everybody Knows’, but Ladder gets pleasingly perverse with a tale of a car accident fatality and and husband calling his wife to join him in the afterlife.

Bowie is never far from Ladder’s orbit and ‘I.N.M.’ is unabashed funk of the Thin White Duke variety, complete with skewed scattershot guitar courtesy of one Mr Kirin J Callinan. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is of the same ilk, Ladder getting louche and mysterious, dropping great lines such as “Our love is like a door with no handles, you kick it down…”

‘Blue Mirror’ is an exceptional song. The mood it conjures, the nod to ‘Moon River’, the languid swirl and solemn pulse of the music that recalls David Sylvian, the crown prince of austere pop. Ladder finds the perfect backing for his soft bellow of a baritone. Sometimes it has sounded too knowing or a touch too sardonic in other settings. Here it meshes seamlessly. First single ‘White Flag’ is another melancholic highpoint of Blue Poles. Built on little more than a breakbeat and simple tremolo-laced guitar notes Ladder sings ‘I surrender, surrender to be free, in your chains is where I’m gonna be’, conjuring a mood of giving in rather giving up.

‘Feel Brand New’ feels like a respite from the blue mood of much that precedes it. It’s a good old fashioned rock n roll tune with guitars ringing high in the mix, throwing out unabashed and catchy hooks with the kind of optimism you get on a new morning that promises possibilities instead of weariness. Ladder leaves us with ‘Merciful Reply’. An Orbison-styled, solemn yet grand gesture. It harkens back to the lachrymose ballads of yesteryear, yet in Ladder’s hands it rings true and artfully heartfelt.

Blue Poles draws on a sense of romanticism, one steeped in melancholy yet ultimately not fatalism. There is dark humour at play and some fine wordplay on display and it sounds exceptional. This is Ladder’s finest record to date, his maudlin opus par excellence.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Jamie Hutchings @ The Newsagency, Sydney

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Jamie Hutchings, Sophie Hutchings

The Newsagency, Sydney 

April 27th 2018

It was a family affair at the Sydney album launch for Jamie Hutchings new solo album Bedsit. Sophie Hutchings, an acclaimed musician in her own right, opened the evening with a mesmerising set of solo piano. She’s released three full length albums on the local Preservation label and on stage she translated her hypnotic, subtle style to The Newsagency’s baby grand piano. Notes fluttered and danced like lattice and filigree and there seemed to be a constant dynamic interaction between soft, melodic prettiness and omnipresent melancholic undertones. With an attentive seated audience the effect was transfixing.

Jamie Hutchings has always searched for new ways to present and extrapolate his songs. From the spirited rock of Bluebottle Kiss to the wilder and darker Infinity Broke, the constant recognisable core is always Hutchings’ songs. Bedsit and this tour gave fans the chance to absorb those songs in the raw, unfettered by electricity and volume. With acoustic guitar in hand and accompanied on nearly all songs by bassist Reuben Wills and Sophie adding beautiful piano on a handful, the mood Hutchings created was decidedly laid-back, with a warm conviviality in the air.

Opening with Bedsit tracks Second Winter and Judas Is A Girl, we were again reminded of Hutchings’ unique way around a melody – never taking the easy way, dancing and wrestling with the notes and transitioning from spoken word to falsetto and gnarled, strained vowels with ease. December Park was an early highlight of the new material, as was Here Comes The Frost, a song that could’ve easily inhabited any of the Bluebottle Kiss albums. Speaking of that band, we were treated to a brace of their songs, including Last Playboy In Town, Everything Begins And Ends At Exactly The Right Time and The Weight Of The Sea. 

Now possessing an enviable and near faultless body of work, Hutchings continues to explore creative and intellectual songwriting but never at the expense of spirit and verve. Those qualities were on full display on The Newsagency stage on this autumn night. 

Chris Familton

NEWS: The Goon Sax Announce New LP ‘We’re Not Talking’

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Brisbane trio The Goon Sax are back with the followup to their acclaimed debut album Up To Anything. We’re Not Talking is due out on September 14th on Chapter Music via Secretly Canadian/Inertia Music.

CH151 The Goon Sax 1500Here’s the first single, ‘She Knows’, a song that still possesses that urgent acoustic strum but now framed by a bigger, warmer sound and more effects. If the first album was the skeletal introduction to their songwriting then this suggests they now have a clearer and more confident perspective on how they want to present their songs.

‘She Knows’ has become a very fast song, which took us a lot of practise to be able to finally hit and strum our instruments fast enough, with a lot of strings breaking. I hope it makes people energetic and excited to listen to, it’s a song about losing hope, stubbornness and heartache. I’m not sure if it’s our saddest song, but maybe if you lock yourself in your room for a couple of days and only listen to it you might not feel so happy, it is also okay if you feel happy to this song! Even better!!!”- James Harrison

If you’re in Sydney, you can catch the band playing a special one-off show at Golden Age Cinema & Bar next Wednesday May 9th, before they head to the UK, Europe and the US (for their first ever US shows) in May/June.

NEW MUSIC: Roadhouses – Black Lights

 

 

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Sydney slowcore dream rock trio Roadhouses have released their second single from their forthcoming self-titled debut LP.

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Pre-order Roadhouses 

‘Black Lights’ is an atmospheric piece of late-night, wistful psychedelia with Cec Condon’s drumming recalling Portishead and Yvonne Moxham delivering a beautifully melancholic vocal. Sweet sadness never sounded so good.

 

DOUBTFUL SOUNDS – Spotify Mix Series

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We’ve got a new series of mixes happening over on Spotify. As is our want, these are all over the show. One minute you’re in downtown LA in the 80s, next you’re off to New Orleans in the 20s before a quick jaunt to Auckland in the 1990s. Dub, post-punk, glam metal, ambient, pop, country and jazz. Anything goes.

Catch up with the first three mixes below….