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: Earthless – Black Heaven

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The trio, renowned for their epic psych rock and metal instrumentals that can reach the 20 minute mark, are back with a new album that turns that reputation on its head by way of shorter songs and most noticeably, the addition of vocals.

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell steps up the mic on Black Heaven and it’s a move that shifts the dynamic of the band. His singing gives those songs shape and structure that previously was subsumed by Earthless’ improvisational approach. Once you acclimatise to the change it makes sense and feels like a refresh of the band’s sound. It’s them trying something different and for the most part it works well.

Opener Gifted By The Wind is a dead ringer for Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil with Mitchell’s voice sitting somewhere between the howl of Ozzy and Comet’s On Fire’s Ethan Miller. Electric Flame settles into an insistent Blue Cheer chug – metal boogie of the most contagious kind. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton nail their Krautrock meets 70s rock precision and groove, anchoring the songs with gravitas yet also pushing and pulling them in constantly inventive directions. The title track sends a not-too-subtle nod to Led Zeppelin albeit in overdrive with spiralling riffs barely hanging on as the song accelerates into the stratosphere. In contrast, Sudden End goes for an epic lumber and sway with long, held notes. This is Earthless going out on a limb and impressively incorporating new sounds without abandoning their cosmic interstellar roots. 

Chris Familton

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: East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Essendon 1986

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It’s great to read today that East Brunswick All Girls Choir are back with a new album called Teddywaddy, set for release on June 29th, 2018. Their last album Seven Drummers came out back in 2014 and was a real favourite at DS.

Check out the first single, ‘Essendon 1986’, a tumbling, dissonant, howling stagger and clang of a song.

“The song is about the drudgery lumped upon the working class in order to maintain. It’s about the little things people do in order to feel like they’re not churning the butter, often to feel like they’re not where they really are. I still don’t know who decided we were meant to work 5 days a week between 9-5, what monster came up with this concept?” – Marcus Hobbs

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.

 

NEW MUSIC: Harmony – Fatal Flaw

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Melbourne band Harmony have been hibernating for the past few years but now they’ve re-emerged and they’re sounding quite sublime on this first new single ‘Fatal Flaw’, their first since 2014’s sprawling and dramatic Carpetbombing LP.

They’ve also got their first headline show in over two years, launching ‘Fatal Flaw’ at Howler on Friday April 13, with Cable Ties, Bitumen and The Blinds.

INTERVIEW: Django Django (2018)

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TIC TAC TOE TAPPING

On the eve of the release of their third album, Marble Skies, and an hour before they take the stage in London to launch it, drummer/producer David Maclean chats with Chris Familton about where the inspiration comes from in the creation of their multifaceted sound.

Django Django are now three albums deep into a career that started with a bang when they released their debut self-titled album, garnered a Mercury Prize nomination and set off on a two year world tour. That segued straight into the follow-up album Born Under Saturn which nearly derailed the band entirely when they hit breaking point. Now they’ve regrouped, built a studio and rediscovered the essence of their music – that dizzying blend of electronic pop, surf guitar and postmodern psychedelia. “Now we’re back into it and excited again!” says Maclean.

With the stage beckoning, he admits that the band are always a bit edgier when taking out new songs for the first time and that they need to be worn in. “It’s always a bit nervy playing them the first few times so they’ll have to settle in a bit and they’ll keep changing and morphing and getting better and better until you kind of go on autopilot a bit and then you can kind sort of enjoy it and just relax and get in the groove a lot more.”

Marble Skies finds the band sounding more settled and focused than ever before and Maclean pinpoints a greater confidence in how they work together. “We’re definitely getting a bit more confident, but you don’t want to get carried away just because you can do something. We don’t want to get obsessed with the techniques. On the first record we didn’t now what we were doing and that was all we needed at the time. Our songwriting is getting better and we strive to keep working because we want our records to be played on the radio in 20 years time like Gerry Rafferty or Blondie or Cat Stevens,” Maclean enthuses.

In hindsight Maclean sees some mistakes with the recording of their previous album Born Under Saturn. “With the last album we went to Angelic which was the keyboardist from Jamiroquai, Toby Smith’s studio. It was a huge studio in the countryside and I guess we felt a little out of our depth as we hadn’t written any songs before we went there,” he laughs. “We ended up being in the communal living room all the time writing songs, even though we were paying thousands a day for the whole place. It’s not really in the spirit of where we came from or how I grew up with a four-track making music. We were more comfortable this time,” says Maclean, referring to their own new studio.

One of the key characteristics of their sound is the fusion of different genres and organic and digital instrumentation. “I think I’ve always been quite good at finding threads in different music. I remember listening to Public Enemy when I was younger and having that eureka moment realising they were sampling Jimi Hendrix licks and mixing in beats. Even looking at their production style and the similarities to what The Beatles were doing. These were all people just experimenting creatively. All music is a lot more connected than people think.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Django Django – Marble Skies

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In the past Django Django have managed to wrangle the seemingly disparate styles of electronic pop and rockabilly rhythms into songs that roll and pulse, both on the dance floor and as highly attractive synth pop. They continue that template here but it all sounds more refined and cohesive.

Their trademark vocal delivery and the way the melodies and harmonies are layered and blended is still the most distinct aspect of their sound. The area where they’ve gained the most traction and taken their songs forward is in the composition and instrumental arrangements. They run the gamut from the sugary jackhammer rhythm and Suicide meets early Depeche Mode of the title track  through to the Jan Hammer assisted piano, dreamy kosmiche vibe of the excellent Sundials. Both Tic-Tac-Toe and In Your Beat excel at marrying brain activity and feet movement with dizzying precision and economy, while the clipped guitar riff of Further reminds that they are still a band that play live instruments.

Marble Skies’ electronic pop psychedelia is a fine soundtrack for the summer months, immediately appealing music from thinking musicians who know how to find that balance between creativity and accessibility.

Chris Familton