Sitting comfortably around a cosy table in iconic rock venue The Lexington, Brooklyn based trio We Are Augustines couldn’t be further removed from their troubled last few years.
Following a European tour supporting the Maccabees and the release of their UK debut single Book of James, We Are Augustines’ album Rise Ye Sunken Ships was released earlier this month to critical acclaim.
Not only this but the band has also been nominated as one of HMV’s ‘Ones to Watch’ for 2012, an accolade which front man Billy McCarthy - who on this occasion is not wearing a hat - relishes, explaining: “Just a year ago we couldn’t have even dreamt of being here, so it’s unbelievably rewarding for us.”
Born out of former group Pela, We Are Augustines comprises of original band members Billy McCarty, singer and guitarist, and Eric Sanderson on bass and keys. Joining them is drummer Rob Allen, who describes his speedy amalgamation with the rest of the band: “I’m good friends with the former drummer of Pela, Tomislav Zovich, and he didn’t want to play anymore and asked if I’d like to instead so he contacted the boys. We had a little chat over the phone and it was that simple really. Within two weeks we were playing in London to a thousand people, it was very quick!”
The album follows a tumultuous few years for McCarthy, whose volatile upbringing includes the harrowing events of his mother’s suicide, life in foster care and then the tragic suicide of his brother.
As a result the album’s haunting, dark vocals creep out over anguished pummelling guitars and drumbeats, embodying McCarthy’s visceral pain and almost making it tangible. He explains: “The record was crucial in our musical lives. In a way it was like a splinter that had to work itself out, and it didn’t come out easily but there was a lot of care - I don’t think I ever cared about anything so much.
I think we were trying to be honest and we felt like we had to seize the moment, fortunately that tracked out and we’re here. It’s an honest attempt at welcoming people into our bubble that we lived through for a couple of years, and thankfully that’s over now but it’s a snap shot of a chapter of our lives.”
On a lighter note Eric adds, “I think you can also expect a celebration. When we finished the record I listened to it in the car for the first time and I was really happy because I realised that (for me) we made a record that sounds great in the car with the windows down, driving down the road with the volume as high as you can get it…it’s a very free feeling that comes from that. Hopefully other people feel that way too.”
Now that the trauma of the past few years has been relived and embodied I wonder what McCarthy will focus his lyrics on in the future, and ask whether he sees prospective material as a bigger challenge now he’s, dare I say it, happier.
He replies in a discerning manner - “I see it as a little bit more of a complex challenge, but I think that really the truth is that I’ve been rooted in this record for the last couple of years and I’m excited to explore a bit.
I’m really inspired by so many lyricists and I think it’s a funny thing in western music that for some reason we always revisit these similar themes - especially in America - this lonesome feeling, the high way, lost love, loneliness, heartbreak, but I think that really lifting up your work to go a bit further than that you’ve really got to have a moment to think and reflect, and we don’t have that moment right now.
I’m sort of hoping that when the times right, all that inspiration will be there and I’ll be able to look past the struggle, because truthfully the struggle has changed quite a bit. It used to be a struggle just to able to eat and now it’s a struggle to get up and do this every night…but Steve Lamacq told me don’t start complaining about the road because you’ll sound like a twat, so…” he tails off laughing. Good advice.
Speaking of other American lyricists I bring up the ubiquitous Bruce Springsteen comparison to their music which has perhaps started to haunt the group. Billy replies, “Bruce Springsteen is inspiring but I wouldn’t say that offhand. I think a lot of my inspirations recently have been coming from soul music, and the music that I wish I could play is a lot of African wind, and world music. I also like Bulgarian and South American artists…a lot of things I listen to for relaxation purposes don’t really have anything to do with rock n roll.”
Rob concurs, “For relaxation purposes I like Motown, I listen to a lot of sixties music. We listen to a lot of music in the van; you know being on the road all the time and I’ll confess that for three hours yesterday I was listening to Journey on repeat…”
Billy wholeheartedly supports this, interjecting: “I like karaoke music, that stuff gets a big laugh”. Eric, meanwhile deadpans: “I don’t listen to music anymore. I don’t even listen to our music; I have a white noise generator which I wear during the show so I can’t hear anything.”
Asked how they would sum up their sound in three words the band has an eclectic mix of answers, Rob answering sensibly with “Passionate, driven and melodic”, Eric playfully, “Calamari chilli jam!” and Billy, ever earnest replying “Cared for greatly. Our music was like our baby or something, this little struggling piglet that almost didn’t make it!” But we’re glad that it did.
Asking American born Eric and Billy their favourite things about England, Eric replies “I really appreciate your manners; America could learn a lesson or two!”. Billy responds after a pause – “I appreciate your vocabulary, your wit, your cynicism, your humour and your character.” Oh Billy, you’re too kind, I reply, visibly blushing.
The band will be back in England from May 2. So go see the -but be at your most charming!