Although Axel Flovent hails from a tiny North Coast Icelandic town (Húsavík) with only about 2,000 people, he was able to make quite the dent in the global music scene, gathering >20 million Spotify hits on his debut album, Forest Fires (video below). Since then, he’s signed with Epic records, relocated to Amsterdam, and has toured around the world playing festivals like SXSW (going again this year!), Eurosonic, The Great Escape (a mini SXSW in Brighton that I went to both years I lived in London), and more. He also released a new EP (Quiet Eyes) this year and a new single called ‘City Dream‘ (my favorite, video below). It’s also cool to know that some of Axel’s Airwave’s shows showcased the super-talented drummer (Valgeir Skorri Vernharðsson) from some of my favorite Icelandic bands, Rythmatik andSigur Ros. The Iceland music scene is known for it’s tight-knit community, and we love it for that. I hope Axel can make his way over to California so he can “see the sun,” no matter what his City Dream. 😉
SO STOKED that I got to catch the DREAMY Day Wavefor their first ever headline show at The Rickshaw Stop last week as part of SF’s NoisePop festival. It was no secret that Day Wave was to be playing NoisePop this year, for the musical mind behind Day Wave – Jackson Philips– was actually featured on the cover of this year’s NoisePop magazine. In fact, it was my friend -the incredibly talented and very much in-demand music photographer, Paige Parsons– that took the awesome photo. Initially trained as a jazz drummer at the prestigious Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA) from the age of nine, Phillips eventually found himself trapped in a Whiplash (yes, the movie) kind of world where people were “very competitive” and “not very nice to each other.” During college especially, he realized that he was more interested in making songs than in perfecting his drumming technique, and this epiphany inspired him to learn piano and song production. By the end of junior year, he was already creating his own synth-based songs and releasing these through his first band, Carousel.
Fast forward a few years, and Philips decides to leave Carousel to pursue his own solo project, Day Wave. This pursuit involved him teaching himself guitar (for which he learned all by ear) and moving away from synths. By July 2015, he was ready to release his debut “lo-fi guitar-based indie rock EP” – Headcase – that was recorded entirely by himself at his home studio. I can definitely see him as a music hermit (similar to Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon) that spends ALL DAY in his bedroom crafting different arrangements without leaving the house for hours on end (I learned from Powers that this was indeed the case for him). All of that intense introverted-ness and die-hard devotion eventually paid off for Philips (and Powers too of course), for the five tracks on his Headcase EP prove to be a unique brand of dreamy, lo-fi surf rock that is CATCHY AS HELL. With influences of New Order, Joy Division, and The Beach Boys/ Brian Wilson, Day Wave’s wistful, melancholy lyrics are perfectly matched with happy hooks (guitar) and persistent percussion (you can tell he was a drummer). This EP is MY JAM right now, and a SOLID CHOICE for your summertime playlist!
Only 26 years old, Philips has a COLOSSAL career ahead of him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins “best breakout band” (or something along those lines) at this year’s The Great Escape Festival in Brighton, UK (just outside of London). I went to this festival both years that I lived in London, for it reminds me of Europe’s mini SXSW and is a SERIOUS stomping ground of international music talent (3 days = 400+ bands/artists from 30 different countries). I’m still shocked by all of the budding bands I was lucky enough to see there before they BLEW UP (including two recent Brit award winners, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Jack Garratt, James Bay and a Australian Recording Industry Association winner, Courtney Barnett). I’ve already given a heads up to my music pals in the UK to make sure they check out Day Wave– they are a MUST SEE!
Although Dave Wave hadn’t sold out their show at the Rickshaw (would have been pretty impressive for their first headliner), they were surely greeted by a roomful of dedicated fans hailing from Oakland and the surrounding Bay Area. The guy standing next to me was just one of many, and he kept raving on about how Day Wave’s Headcase EP was his favorite album right now.
Kicking off full force, Day Wave started the set with Nothing at All, one of my favorites from the EP and arguably the CATCHIEST of their collection. Nothing at All was the first song Philips wrote for Day Wave, and the first time he put himself out there with such open, honest lyrics:
“What am I good for? Somebody tell me Cause I don’t know anymore What am I good for? Somebody tell me Cause I don’t know anymore.” SO GOOD.
Next up was Total Zombie, the track that I must admit to having the strongest connection with the first time I heard it. Like a “total zombie,” I fell numb to this dreamy ditty and was instantly lured into joining the catchy chorus: “So just close your eyes and I’ll close mine.. Let me close your heart, it just takes time… And we’ll be alright, we’ll be alright.” Apparently, this song was recorded all instrumental before the lyrics came. Whatever the process… it worked well!
Then came Drag, a sweet gloom-pop melody that was apparently a drag to finish (Philips’ “most tedious song to write”) but we are sure glad he didn’t give up on it: “I’m stuck in my head.. I don’t wanna let you in.”
Soon after was a song called I’ll Be Fine (I think?), another gloomy ditty that just WORKS and is undeniably addictive: “I’ll be fine on my own, as long as I’m waiting I’ll be fine alone, so leave me alone.”
Similar to that was Wasting all my time(I think?), one that again lures you in to a certain gloomy-but-gleeful state: “I’m wasting all my time… I push it all away.”
… as well as another track for which I don’t know the name:
Nearing the end, Day Waveplays Gone, an unreleased track that has already gained a lot of popularity on SoundCloud: “I feel this way alone and i feel this way… I feel this way alone and you’re gone, you’re gone..”
It’s no surprise that Philips saved Headcase for last, as he once noted in an interview that this track was his “favorite of the bunch” and his “favorite to play live.” He described it as “summing up the whole theme of EP” (hence the title track). Cheers to the ‘headcase’ in all of us: “Cause I don’t feel right anymore… so bury me alive… this time.” EPIC ENCORE.
I definitely left the Rickshaw on “cloud nine” that night, and thanks to the EP, have been keeping my headcase self “in the clouds” ever since. 🙂
Bands they’ve played with: Rogue Wave, Blonde Redhead
“It’s not how slow you go, it’s that you never stop.” “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in RISING every time we fall.” “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
–Confucius (500 BC)
These simple truths, voiced thousands of years ago by a great Chinese philosopher, remain the vein of Augustines existence and the “duende” that continue to invigorate their diehard fans (who fly from other countries to see them). “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without” (also Confucius), and when it comes to Augustines music, this pleasure percolates the crowd like the sweat seeping through every pore on our body. Sounds intense, and IT IS. Their live shows strip you bare, break you down, and build you back again, as if some sort of REBIRTH. Those that have never seen Augustines live can’t comprehend the sort of exhaustive catharsis and resurrection that accompanies their set. Each song will awake the soul and revitalize the heart, and by the end, you will feel like you are on the verge of a heart attack (at least I do). Not only is this because my carotids have been bulging from my neck from belting out the chorus so loud, but because my heart fills up like a balloon that is about to burst. This American Beauty quote describes it perfectly: “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.” Augustines have that same effect.
Billy McCarthy, the beating heart of Augustines, perpetuates an endless cascade of positivity EVERY SINGLE SHOW, leaving fans feeling loved, understood, and validated. “And all you want is something to believe in… just for a little bit. And we’re here tonight because of music. And music’s a funny thing because you can’t fucking own it. It doesn’t exist. It’s just matter. You can’t hold onto it. It’s a moment. This is your moment with music. And we’re sharing this moment with you right now through our music and we really appreciate it. We all need something to believe in and I want to tell you something tonight: at the end of this tour, I’ve been waiting my whole fucking life for this,” says Billy at the end of their gig in Birmingham (Feb 2014). Spoken like a true genius –one with the ability to creatively use your intellect—Billy knows exactly how to heal every wounded person in the audience. Armed with upbeat rhythms and uplifting lyrics (“soak your scars in the ocean”), he delivers an intoxicating dose of musical medicine with healing powers that are beyond belief. Music, ‘mere vibrations through the air,’ can somehow unite people all across the globe– people of different language, race, and background. Music is a way to explain things where there are no words, and the mood it elicits becomes common denominators for those ‘mere vibrations’– vibrations that chill our bones, strike chords in our soul, and resonate mantras in our minds. When it comes to Augustines, that mantra is to RISE. To “soak your scars in the ocean… to put away all our sobs…to let go all of your ghosts…to RISE up from some dirty ashes.”
I am always conscious of the notion that “everyone’s got a story to tell,” but the story of Augustines (Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, Rob Allen) is something short of a MIRACLE— how they rose up from their ashes (e.g. death, neglect, deceit) and “overcame massive adversity & personal tragedy to become the most critically acclaimed indie band in the world.” Just last week, Big Vulture Productions announced a kickstarter campaign to fund a DOCUMENTARY FILM (called “RISE”) on this miracle of a story behind Augustines: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1638587871/rise-the-story-of-augustines (donate!)
If you do ANYTHING SENSIBLE this August (the month of Augustines!), it would be to donate to this incredibly rewarding cause and to help their story get told. Just as the great Maya Angelou once proclaimed, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” and I whole-heartedly agree. She also said, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” I cannot think of a band that exemplifies this MORE so than Augustines, and SHARING THEIR STORY WITH THE WORLD has the potential to EMPOWER THE MASSES and to help people RISE UP from devastating tragedy. Tod Howe, the direct of “RISE,” states: “It is our intention that RISE transcends both music and band to stand on it’s own as a truly compelling film…To me, what makes this film so unique are the band members. The fact that they have been through so much in their history makes the success they now have inspirational on another level altogether.” If we truly believe that life is an echo, it makes sense that the generosity Augustines has sent out to fans for years is finally coming back to them. Let’s fortify this echo by donating to this film.
While my fervid film fever for this band might have you thinking that I am part of the creative collective behind “RISE,” don’t be fooled. Nope. I am just DIE-HARD fan (lil’ lady, BIG HEART) that feels utterly compelled to give MY EVERYTHING to making sure the music and story of Augustines is heard around the world. Although I am a MAD SCIENTIST by day (Biomedical Engineering: BS, PhD), I am a MUSIC JUNKIE by night that’s been gripped by the power of music and has felt its ability to heal. With a day job that encourages me to think analytically (aka “overanalyze”) and to use equations/formulas to study uncertainty and solve scientific problems, it’s nice to let my mind escape at night. Live music is indeed my escapism, and it has let my mind fly away to wonderful places when physical escape was not possible. Unlike science, there are no “formulas” for creating the “perfect song,” and I LOVE THAT. There are endless possibilities to crafting combination of keys, chords, rhythms, but none of which are “right” or “wrong.” Music is formless power whose only measure of its existence is the heightened sensation it provokes. Some songs resonate more with us during moments in our lives, and our favorite song one month might not be so the next. As with karma, I truly do believe that different music comes in and out of our lives at certain times FOR A REASON; the reason for Augustines coming back into my life (new album/tour) when it did was obvious: to RISE.
When I encounter life-changing music like Augustines, I am overwhelmed by such strong impulse to share it. Sharing music with others has always given me this insatiable high, this sense of euphoria that’s almost indescribable to those who aren’t music junkies like myself. Music is my drug, and I am definitely an addict– it’s my fuel when energy levels are low, and it’s my meditation when thoughts need reorganization; It’s my rhythmical road map to peace of mind and self discovery, my passport to the heart and soul; It’s my appetite for life. After moving to London and quickly averaging 2-3 shows a week, I started to joke that I might need an “intervention” from all of this live music. But then I realized that this would be like taking away my oxygen…my very life force. While I really do enjoy my day job as a scientist, this job does come with certain pressures and responsibilities that can sometimes overwhelm me to the point of paralysis; And that’s when music steps in. “Keep your head up kid, I know you can swim, But ya gotta move your legs.” YES. Thank you for reminding me, Billy. Not only does music keep me swimming in the face of adversity, but it also gives life a certain rhythm that keeps me dancing. In honor of the legendary actor, comic, BRIGHT SOUL that we lost yesterday—Robin Williams—I recall his memorable line from a scene in Dead Poet’s Society: “We read and write poetry because we are part of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion…Medicine, law, business, engineering…these are all noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life…But poetry (MUSIC), beauty, romance, love …These are what we STAY ALIVE FOR.” Eerie enough, about an hour before Robin William’s suicide death was announced to the public, Billy had posted on facebook that it was the 5 year death anniversary of his brother James, who also happened to die from suicide. HEAVY HEART. Although a person may look happy, you sometimes have to look past their smile and see how much pain they may be in. We all need to start looking out for one another more, and starting show that we care. ❤
No matter how transient or unpredictable life gets, some music will ALWAYS remain a CONSTANT, an extension of something familiar (people, places, things). That is how I –and others– feel about Augustines. Their music is safe territory for people to find their voice, express themselves, and heal their wounds inside and out. It is a mainline to Billy’s heart and a conduit for people to connect with his experience in a very real and very personal way. Earnest Hemingway once said that a person’s “virtue” (what makes them great) is also “what makes them more vulnerable” and “they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.” It’s this very vulnerability that make us fans able to connect with Billy in ways that most other frontman would never know. I’m not sure if Billy’s watched Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability (I hope he has!), but it’s an excellent reminder that “shame is the fear of disconnection” and that, no matter the past, we must “fully embrace vulnerability in order to make connection happen.” THIS is why the music of Augustines is SO powerful, and why Billy has received fan letters from people proclaiming that their music has cured grief and prevented suicide. There are not many bands whose emotions are brimming so close to the surface (ready to boil over) that you can nearly taste their pain. Despite everything that makes us fragile humans, Augustines reminds us that DREAMS DO COME TRUE. Their music is the very vessel that carries people forward through hardship and helps them harness the strength to “rise ye (own) sunken ship.”
It was not until I first saw Augustines at The Lexington (150 capacity) in London for an impromptu pre-album release show (selling out in 4 min), that I finally understood what it feels like to RISE, Augustines’ style. I remember that night so clearly because it was such a rat race to get to the venue and I almost did not make it. After an exhausting 12+ hr day (no food/drink) of injecting/imaging mice as the mad scientist, the music junkie kicked into full gear and I was off in a mad dash to arrive on time. Profusely dripping with sweat as a entered the door, I heard Billy’s voice upstairs realized that they had ALREADY STARTED. With panic mode soon kicking in, I became flooded with adrenaline and somehow (it’s sill all a bit hazy to me), I dodged through the crowd like a dark phantom in the night and was able to glide along the perimeter walls before magician-ing myself to the front. This scrappy, lil’ Italian ain’t no rookie, and although I normally wouldn’t be so rude, it was AUGUSTINES, and I had a HARD DAY. The fact that I even MADE IT there was shocking, so I wasn’t about to TWINKLE TOE in. If I got there, I was GETTING TO THE FRONT. And a sweet spot at the left corner of the stage (facing front) is where I landed. (like A BOSS) 😛
I thank EVERY HIGHER POWER out there, because that show was one of the most blistering, raw, cathartic performances from a rock group that I HAD EVER SEEN. (I see tons of bands). Seriously UNREAL on SO MANY LEVELS. Although I missed Augustines‘ opening song of Headlong into the Abyss–which is a real shamed because I love shouting along the chorus (“Call the police, go ahead call your shrink…Call whoever you want but I won’t stop the car…Call the police, go ahead call your priest…Call whoever you want, call in the National Guard”)–I was there for the full rundown of Chapel Song, one of my favorites from their debut album, ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships.’ Rob’s opening drums remind me of a racing heart beat, while Eric’s vacillating chords remind me of an apprehensive mind– both of which are very fitting for a song about a man standing indecisive on his wedding day:
“Well there goes my girl Into the chapel Now she’s walking down the aisle And it feels just like a mile And I shake shake shake like a leaf And I’m lyin’ lyin’ lyin’ through my teeth.”
Sung out with desperation and inner rebellion, Billy’s brutally honest vocals will have you feeling his every inch of emotion. The same goes for the line in Augustine when he pleads, “Keep your head up kid, I know you can swim, But ya gotta move your legs” (love the trailing guitar part), and when he shouts (my personal favorite), “New York City can go to hell!” I am always wondering if the “kid” he sings about is himself; if so, then Juarez helps explain why it might not be so easy to keep his head up: “Lord I see red…and I think my Daddy’s dead…Lord I see red and I’m prayin on my bed…I got a drunk for a mother…Got a saint for a brother.” Also early in the lineup that night was Cruel City, one of the first new songs delivered to the audience that night. This one was devoted to NYC, and Billy describes the meaning behind its name: “We did 255 shows over 23 countries for the last record, and I would come back beaten to a pulp…and I would get back to New York and there would be all these honking horns, and ‘Fuck You Buddy’, it was all really rough. I couldn’t relax; I would walk down the street feeling tense.” Although you might expect this tension to transpire into a harsh, angry song, it’s quite the opposite. Cruel City feels more upbeat than the others on the new album, and it has a distinct levity to it – a lightheartedness that can be attributed the influence of West African rythyms. Eric learned many new styles after studying music in Ghana, and the bouncy beats he brought back definitely give Cruel City its resilience: “Hey, I miss your skin…I still reach for you in the dark.”
As Billy looks out the crowd with his “weary” green eyes (although they did not play Weary Eyes that night), you can’t help feel compassion for him in a real and personal way. This ‘my heart feels your heart’ compassion is most evident during You Got Nothing to Lose But Your Head when he shouts at the top of his lungs: “Have you ever felt lonely?…Like your hollow heart is hanging in the wind…Your black lungs can’t breath…You got nothing to lose but your head.” But, the verse that really had my heart sinking to the pit of my stomach and on the verge of tears is:
“Have you ever lost someone, Screamed Holy Mary down the hall Or cried against the steering wheel, and hated every mirror you ever saw. Have you reached out in a cold cold night, Waved goodbye into headlights, Thought you were wrong your whole life, (slayed) The day you found true love…”
That first line about losing someone really hits home, as my best friend lost her father just over a year ago to cancer (horrible). But, instead of using his emotional carnage to harness sympathy, Billy uses it as a sort of SOS to rescue those still consumed by grief. “This song is about “the realization that now is the time. Gone are the days of wandering around waiting for that right time. There is no right time, so go — ya got nothing to lose but your head,” he says. It’s clear that he’s convinced the entire audience of this when he has them all belting out the last chorus: “HEY! You gotta get me outta here…Running circles in my brain.” Billy got so carried away that he actually LOST HIS HEAD and plummeted into the drums during the closing of the song. Funny thing was, Rob CONTINUED TO PLAY the symbols over Billy’s head to end the song, and immediately after –once climbing out the drum mess— Billy says to the crowd all nonchalantly, “Well THAT was a bit unnecessary…” HAHA. We all enjoyed the academy award winning performance. x
Another song where we feel compassion for Billy is in Hold On To Anything, when he holds up his hand ups as if being resurrected and wails: “Holes in my hands, can’t hold onto anyone…Can’t hold onto anyone…Soooo, call you friends…Cause I can’t hold onto anyone….hands full of holes.” Although the lyrics are a bit oppressive, the triumphant trombone of Al Hardiman keeps us clinging on, and we can’t NOT join Billy when he roars “YEEE–EEAH!” throughout. Al Hardiman is not a full-time Augustines member, but he joins them on some of their tours and it was a real treat to have him along that night at the Lexington. “He’s a very talented artist who we have a strong connection with,” explains Eric. “He’ll play trombone and sing, and play keyboards as well. We decided, with the nature of the music that we made on this record, that we wanted someone else to come out for the journey with us, because the walkabout hasn’t stopped, now that we’re learning to play these songs live. So as we go out into America and Europe and the rest of the world, this idea of a walkabout, of finding yourself, is going to carry on, and Al’s going to be joining us, for however long it lasts.” Not only did Al play trombone for some of the songs, but he also played cello for Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love), a song whose very lyrics serve as the key mission statement for the band: “To RISE up from some dirty ashes.” Eric’s opening piano instantly dissipated any heaviness I was carrying around with me that day, and I felt a thousand times lighter as I joined Billy in singing:
“It’s the same people Just different faces All lost in a fog And we could disappear just as easy And I’m already gone To rise up from some dirty ashes, (YES)) To put away all our sobs And now we’re choking on the years But this is not your fault… It’s the city of brotherly love…”
Having been born in West Philadelphia and raised just outside, I very much commiserate with other’s who’ve faced the austerity/turmoil of this rough city. Although I could never move back after moving to the West Coast (I’ve surely left my heart in San Francisco), I do appreciate where I came from, the dirt and the roots. Philly’s cultivated in me a natural scrappiness/toughness that is unparalleled to many (we don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and we often ‘hustle’ to get our way), and so I thoroughly enjoyed belting out “Soak your scars in the ocean…YEEE-AH!’ with the rest of the crowd. Chills all over my body for this one, cause you know the scars that Billy refers to RUN DEEP. And to have this song bleed even more emotion with Al’s stunning cello howling in the background?…DEAR GOD.
But for me, the most moving moment in the show –one the evoked the strongest visceral sense of sincerity–was when Billy described his disbelief of the show’s record 4-min sellout: “Four minutes to walk to the subway that used to take me to my last shitty job, two and a half to three years ago; Four minutes to tie the boots that would take me to that subway; Four minutes to queue for coffee before starting the job I had before Augustines…and…FOUR MINUTES TO SELL OUT THIS ONE OFF UK GIG.” (heart racing as if it might come through my chest!) This same thread of appreciation and devotion reminded me of Billy’s comment in an previous interview: “I think that art gets really good when you need to do it…I could drive a truck again, and I’d survive, but my soul wouldn’t survive. I need this music for my soul to make sense.” GOD I love this frontman and THIS BAND. Billy’s voice and lyrics are like a lifeline to the heart, and his live performances are concrete evidence of this NEED for music. He recently elaborated: “Music, some people enjoy it…blah blah…but something interesting happens when you need it…I NEED IT…I need music…music has made me become a better person…I just kept playing guitar and it gave me focus…I couldn’t afford a therapist, and my guitar and my heart and my band mates, it’s allowed me to not completely destroyed by some of the things that happened.” ❤
And with survival often being the mother of invention, this need for music sparked the very FLAME that would become Augustines—who rose from the ashes of Billy and Eric’s previous group, Pela (which broke up in 2009). Billy and Eric were joined by British drummer, Rob Allen, and together they grew immensely as they ignited the ashes of Pela to a new success. Eric says, “As individuals, we hit rock bottom after our dream of becoming musicians evaporated with Pela’s demise. We started drinking the pain away and gave up on mostly everything.” But, they DIDN’T GIVE UP. Using Pela’s defeat as sort of a fresh stimulus to create their debut alum, ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships.’ The very crux of that album was the loss/longing that deteriorated Billy as he suffered the death of his brother (James) to suicide and his mother (a schizophrenic) to a drug overdose.
“During that record (Rise Ye Sunken Ships),” Eric explains, “we spoke openly about a deeply personal time period in our lives, especially Billy’s.” Eric, Rob, and Billy all became each other’s therapists and wound-healers, reminding me of a quote I once heard from a famous rock climber: “Experiences that require that much struggle and involve that much raw human emotion, really expose us. When you’re that exposed, you can’t help but either love or hate the people you’re with. It just happens that way. When you’re rubbed raw, your partners are going to be salt in your wound, or they’re going to be Bandaids.“ (love this) Together, Augustines was able to transform this tragic past into emotional emancipation— emancipation from pain endured by others with similar tragedy. Their struggles only built them a stronger warrior, adding more metal to their armor. They’d beaten off every unfortunate circumstance thrown their way, spinning every negative into a positive, and eventually shouting this message to the world with renewed spirit and vitality. “By the end of that tour,” explains Allen, “we had people at festivals dancing and singing words back to us. It was incredible. I don’t think we were fully expecting that. But by the end of it, it was so inspiring that, after two and a half years, we were able to look at the past with a positive attitude. And that’s really what this new record is about – capturing those feelings and positive energy. It made us a unit. It made us a band.”
The positive reaction and excitement from Augustines’ first album (Augustines) ended up overpowering the tragedy and darkness that inspired it, and they realized that they wanted to feed off that excitement. “The new album doesn’t deal with the despair of the first,” Billy said. Instead, it’s about the excitement that he, Eric and Rob felt as they grew the band from the ashes of another project and made it its own success. After playing >250 shows in 2011, they feel they’ve become better live performers, and have enjoyed the fans’ reciprocation of their on-stage passion. “For me,” says Eric, “the core of the record is the concept of a walkabout. Going on a journey to find– re-find–yourself after going through a life changing experience. What do you do when you make it through the other side? When you can confidently say that you’ve worked through the tragedy? When your life actually starts to mirror the belief you have in yourself?” It’s an album of rebirth, renewal, and regeneration, as well as growth, exploration, and moving on from the past. Robs adds: “The whole point is finding who you are and finding yourself, taking in everything that happened and moving on. Because by the end of it, we felt so many positive vibes and we wanted to put that into the record. There are loads of big sing-alongs and choruses, and it’s all because, when we were playing, we’d get that back from the crowds and it was so inspirational for us. It was a wonderful feeling and we wanted to make sure that got put onto the record.”
For Billy, finding himself and moving on from the past meant to re-visit it (old schools, old teachers) and to visit places FAR from “home”: Turkey, Mexico, Kenya, Alaska. My good friend Allie once told me that you “never know what ‘home’ is until you travel away from it,” and I couldn’t agree more. Before playing Walkabout at the Lexington that night (yes, I definitely went on a tangent), Billy talked about how he was unsure where “home” was, and so he decided to do a “walkabout” and explore the world. He drove his motorcycle all across the States, up to Alaska (“exploring isolated territory of caribou and dogsled packs”), and even went as far as Turkey, Mexico and Kenya (“I played the demo of ‘Cruel City’ to Kenyans in Kenya”). He made everyone laugh with his witty story, but soon these giggles became tears as he wailed this melancholy majestic ballad in stride with Eric’s beautiful piano (during the beginning and end):
“Into the arms of the sea, Where my tide had carried me, I walked out of the waves, To be quiet with storms inside.” (slayed)
While I do love ALL of the songs on the new album (Augustines), Walkabout –the albums’ key track– strikes a special chord in me. Although I didn’t flee Brooklyn and ride a motorcycle down to Mexico and up to Alaska like Billy, I did leave California for international work and have been traveling around Europe (17 countries in 15 months) in search of new adventure, paying close attention to where I could see myself calling “home.” Walkabout was released right about when I needed to start making some hard fast moves regarding my decision to stay in London (or go back home), and I can’t help but tear up every time Billy roars “COME ON HOME” during the middle. And “roar” means ROAR– Billy feels every word and relives every moment of every lyric that he vocalizes on stage, and YOU feel it too. Knowing this, he asked the audience after Walkabout: “Was that too much?” This apprehension reminded me of something I heard Billy discuss in an interview: “If I’m not mistaken, life aches…It’s like when I hear flamenco, I like it when those women go [he imitates a wail]. I didn’t wake up one day and go, ‘Hey, I’m going to sing like I’m nearly crying’. It’s just that that’s how it makes me feel.” Life sometimes DOES ache, and although we often travel (“walkabout”) to make sense of this life, travel too, can hurt. I quote Anthony Bourdain: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
Aside from Walkabout, the other standout track to me is Now You are Free, and I only just found out that it was previously considered for the album’s title: “When we started working on this record it was called ‘Now You Are Free’. Because when you invest all your time and heart and passion into getting somewhere and overcoming obstacles and finding a sense of peace and you finally get there, you’re free to do whatever you want. We’re free to finally prove ourselves to people and live life the way it should be,” Eric says. Adding to this, Billy comments, “You’re free to walk the walk you always said you could walk.” Now You Are Freeis one of those universal songs that most ANYONE can relate to and make sense of in their own unique way. Everyone has ghosts from their past that they need to “let go,” and so when Billy belted out this ballad, we couldn’t help throw our fists in the air and belt along too:
“You got to let go Let go all of your ghosts You got to let go Or more will come around… Alright, now go easy on yourself.. Alright, now you are free…”
As if that verse didn’t satisfy your inner rockstar, the next one would. Fast-forwarding from the Lexington gig to the much larger gig at KOKO (a few months later), I lucidly recall my anxious anticipation as the entire crowd (1,500+ screaming fans) shouted “WHAT AM I RUNNIN’ FROM?” over and over –echoing Billy in a call-and-response kind of manner– right before the highly climatic response of: “Myself and everyone….LET GO!” Hands down one of the most CATHARTIC musical experiences of my life. And to top it off, Billy introduced the song with some inspirational words that will forever stay present in my mind: “THIS IS YOUR FUCKING LIFE!…Don’t give up on your shit I promise.” I DID have ghosts, but now they’re gone. x
I’ve always found that the most powerful way to SAVOR is to share feelings and events with others as they unfold. This is EXACTLY what makes Augustines different from any of the other bands I’ve seen. They SHARE THE STAGE with their fans. “Action for me is in the crowd,” Billy says. “If we can minimize the distance between the artist and the crowd and make it for more of crowd participation, then that’s really something.” Eric adds, to us “It’s not (about) musicians up on a pedestal…The audience is singing, the audience is dancing, they’re all making music together…That’s what we’ve been trying to do our whole lives as musicians, but only recently have we been able to embrace that.” On the recent Augustines tour in particular, the band had developed a reputation for playing their encore (~5 songs) IN THE CROWDS, some of which are also IN PARKING LOTS. I mean, you can’t get anymore public than that. When asked to comment on this, Billy explains: “This is us handing it over to those people that sang our songs back to us all over the world…It’s all about being inclusive…Interaction is the lifeblood of what we think music is.” This inclusiveness is what sucks us fans into the Augustine vortex and has us roaring in a vehement sing-a-long to their lyrics, gasping for air at the end of each verse. You feel exhausted at the end, but it’s an exhaustion that you crave because it’s made you heal. The best medicine out there.
New Drink for the Old Drunkwas one of those songs that they played IN THE CROWD that night at the Lexington, and in fact, Billy was standing RIGHT in front of me. (Dying). There are many caustic lines in that song, but this one always stands out: “And you cringe as you binge to forget how you hate…All the doom in the pitiful room you create.” Wow. Aside from New Drink for the Old Drunk, Augustines later added The Avenue, Weary Eyes, and East Los Angeles, as songs they would play in the crowd as part of their encore. They also learned some cover songs, like Guns of Brixton by the Clash, which they played at KOKO. That KOKO gig was MENTAL, and while The Avenue was played on one of the theater balconies, the rest of the encore was played with Billy, Eric, and Rob surfing (pretty much) in the middle of a SEA OF FANS. This highly anticipated gig surely escalated into one night of EPIC MUSICAL ESCAPE, and I could not be more captivated by a band who’s honesty and pure passion is more tangible than most bands will ever know. By the end of the show, every fan looked as if they had been spellbound by the Augustine fever. I nearly died when Rob, a London native (usually very shy), shouted to the crowd with his hands raised high in the air, “LONDAAAAN, you MAKE ME PROUD.” Yup, THESE is these are the moments I live for. Like Billy was saying all night: “This is your FUCKING LIFE!”
And if there is ONE SONG, one song that Billy breathes life into MOST, it’s Book of James. He’s commented before that Book of James was the most meaningful song of the first album: “I think anybody that’s a writer… well, sometimes the closest distance between what you want to say and how it’s being perceived, sometimes that can be a big gap or it can be very immediate: right from your heart, out of your hands, into a page and the person gets it. I think that happened in that song. I needed it to happen in my life that kind of straightened me out. It’s kind of an interesting thing that you can set a four-minute piece of music and it can change your life. I needed to say some things. I needed to reach out to somebody that wasn’t treated well. I needed to restore some innocence to somebody who I didn’t think it was his/her fault. It gave me a platform to move through the process of adjusting what had happened. It was a bit of a gift. I’m really proud of it.” As a listener, this song encourages you to be with Billy as he grieves his brother’s loss and lives to honor it—to be somewhere between life (hope) and death (fear): “Here lies, my green eye, rolled back in my head…but they’re ALIVE.” (SLAYED) And, if that doesn’t lather your skin with chills, this next verse will: “And all these words can all get spoken…just know we tried…and you’re forgiven.” (could be a Hail Mary) They extended the instrumental intro to Book of James that night at KOKO in order to build up rapture and lure us in even more. Billy has definitely made the legacy of his brother live in him during this song. That’s obvious. For me, Book of James was the ONE SONG in particular that kept my legs moving and had me cross that finish line for my first marathon (Gran Canaria) a week after the Lexington gig. Each Augustines song (especially Don’t Look Back, Kid You’re On Your Own, and This Aint’ Me) contributed a mile to that marathon, but Book of James found my ‘SUPER HUMAN.’
There is no denying that Augustines has changed me for the better, and that their WALKABOUT into my life came at a perfect time. Just like they give it THEIR ALL at each and every gig (playing every second as it if was their last), I wanted to give MY ALL in writing about them. This review had brewing in my bloodstream for a WHILE –ever since I first saw them at the Lexington back in January– But, it wasn’t something that I wanted to rush. I wanted to exhaust all of my efforts to convey my appreciation for this band, and to lead others to do the same. I find that the most beautiful/extraordinary things in life are often the most difficult to convey, so this review was surely a challenge. If you’ve stood next to me at an Augustines’ show, then you would UNDERSTAND. Some emotions, feelings, and experiences just CAN’T be transcribed, and so my best advice would be to GO SEE FOR YOURSELF. Every Augustine gig has been branded in my memory as a ‘moment I’ve LIVED for,’ moments that DO last a lifetime. “This is your FUCKING LIFE.” The music and story of Augustines has given us SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN, and for more than just a moment. Don’t forget to RISE UP in helping to make their story heard. 🙂
I won’t be able to make their Roundhouse gig in Dec cause I’ll be in Melbourne, Australia, so I need to SAVOR EVERY MOMENT at GREEN MAN festival this weekend! Augustines will play on Friday, August 15th. This also happens to be BILLY’S BIRTHDAY!! (with ERIC’S BIRTHDAY the next night!) WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!! I mean, REALLY. We BETTER make sure we HELP THEM CELEBRATE! xxx
All of my pictures and videos from their gigs can be found below.
Little Green Cars– Sebright Arms, London
(August 22, 2013)
After first being blown away by this Dublin-based indie/folk quintet (Little Green Cars) at The Great Escape back in May (see pics below), I HAD to see them again when they were playing at one of my favorite tiny venue (Sebright Arms) in London. Even though the gig happened to be the night before I needed to head out early on a bus up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, I still put on the champion face and powered through (not at all packed, exhausted from lab). It ended up being SO WORTH the diehard effort because this year’s best. Not only was I able to grab a spot RIGHT in front of Faye and feel the energy of her freaking INCREDIBLE PIPES first hand, but I was able to get a good chat in with her afterwards. That night, she told me that she notices EVERY ONE IN THE ROOM– the wide-eyed, bobblehead (me) in the front mouthing along to the vocals, the asshole in back talking to his friend during the song, etc. She said that she SEES EVERYONE in that audience, and that the vibe from the fans really influence their performance and can make/break the gig. She was also telling me that they were exhausted from a recent tour in the states (including festivals like SXSW, Coachella, Bonnaroo), and that they would be heading back there again soon for another round. They are signed to an American label called Glassnote Records(Temper Trap, Mumford & Sons, Two Door Cinema Club, Vampire Weekend) and thus they have a larger fanbase in the states because their debut album (Absolute Zero) was released their firt. I gave and Chris (the keyboardist) some suggestions about San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest, and in exchange they gave me some tips about Ireland. Faye told me I needed to visit again and needed to go back for the ‘Other Voices‘ music event in Dingle in June. Little Green Cars played there for the 2012-2013 series, along with Daughter, Laura Marling, John Grant, Villagers, Neil Hannon, Savages, and Beth Orton.
Kicking off the set with Harper Lee, Little Green Cars then moved on to Angel Owl, one of my favorites from the album. “Only at night, does my angel sing…Ooooh…Oooooh.” Such a siiiick vocal arrangement for this one. Please is another make you plead for more of Faye’s vocals (maybe it’s not a coincidence that it’s called ‘Please’): “Please believe my lies…At least I know you gave it your best try.”
They then shocked the audience with a cover of Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘I’m on Fire’, for which the vocal arrangement was so awesome. It really captured the breadth of Faye’s pipes, and I think Bruce would approve. Not only did they cover one of my favorite songs (“I’m on fire”) by THE BOSS, but they covered a song about my hometown (‘Philadelphia‘) written by the legend non other than Sir Neil Young (he might as well be music royalty). Crazy odds!
Next up came ‘My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me, and Faye’s voice SOARS on this one. Such powerful pipes for her lil’ frame! I’m so glad I was parked right in front of her for this one, cause the power of those pipes COULD BE FELT!
Even though this gig was specifically set to be an “acoustic set,” Stevie stripped it down EVEN MORE by going into the crowd with his guitar unamped and leading the rest to follow with no mice. The band ended the intimate, acoustic set by playing The John Wayne in the center of the crowd and encouraging everyone to sing alone. A very heartfelt encore (see video below):
“It’s easy to fall in love It’s easy to be alone It’s easy to hate yourself when all your love is inside someone else It’s easy to take it all It’s easy to give it to when there’s more people out there to love than people who love you.” (TRUTH.)
That was a hard night of music to top, and I look forward to more unexpected treats like this. ❤
I’m On Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover):
Philadelphia (Bruce Springsteen cover):
My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me:
The John Wayne:
Little Green Cars– The Great Escape, Brighton
(May 16, 2013)
Back in February, I noticed that my Facebook newsfeed (already dominated by an onslaught of music reminders) kept REMINDING ME about a NEW ARTIST that was rising on the scene: Courtney Barnett. This reminder was further back by the opinions of my credible music resources: Paige Parsons– who saw Courtney at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, and Chris Hayes- who saw Courtney at the Ace Hotel in London. Both spoke highly of her musical talent and her unique delivery as a singer/songwriter. One thing that I don’t recall them mentioning–something that is no obvious from her EP (‘A Sea of Split Peas’) either– is the RAW ROCKER EDGE that kinda just SMACKS YOU IN THE FACE during her live performances. For someone as chill and nonchalant as Courtney, her display of SHREDDING GUITAR comes as a surprise to most who come see her for the first time. Similar to St. Vincent in that regard, she makes stare in disbelief as she RAVAGES that electric guitar and sends it WAILING. I caught myself continually looking up at her all googly-eyed, thinking how freaking siiiiiiiiick it would be to reign a throne that once used to only be occupied by men. She sure does put the HER back in rockHER, and I’m all about pumping my fist in the air to show my support. HELL YES. xx
Having had the luxury of seeing her TWICE in 2 WEEKS —the Great Escape Music Festival in Brighton (May 9, 2014) and the Islington Assembly Hall in London (May 29, 2014)– I was AMAZED by the cool, collected confidence she carried throughout both performances. She didn’t appear to be nervous at all, and instead engaged in casual conversation with her fans (whom she refers to as “new friends”). In fact, at one point during the London gig, she asked “So what are you all doing tomorrow?” Having been nominated for NME’s Best New Band (2014) and having managed sold out tours in the UK, USA, Australia, I am impressed by her humbled appreciation for the audience support. She’s very apathetic about the whole fame thing and really makes an effort to greet all her “new friends” after the gig. Standing in the front for both gigs, I was lucky enough to flag her down (Sheree and I) after the show and strike up a chat. I am not ashamed to say that I am part of the Courtney CULT that is beginning to spread like wild fire.
Meeting Courtney after her Brighton Dome gig at the Great Escape music fest on May 9, 2014. Dying!! (From the left: Me, Courtney, Sheree)
Courtney’s Brighton Dome gig at this year’s Great Escape was hands down one of the STANDOUT PERFORMANCES of the festival. No question about it. Her lackadaisical but completely honest vocal style reminds me a bit of Kurt Vile, who I also really love. She delivers her dream-like narratives with such tangible imagery that you can’t help but jump in and go along for the ride. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “Barnett is a storytelling twenty-something singer/songwriter from Melbourne who writes matter-of-fact tales that unspool like barstool revelations and sound like some hybrid of Kimya Dawson and Kurt Cobain.” All of her tales carry their own element of sass and sarcasm, but it’s the rambling restlessness of History Eraser that we can’t seem to ERASE from our minds. With lines like “they made their paints by mixing acid wash and lemonade” and “We drove by tractor there, the yellow straw replaced our hair, we laced the dairy river with the cream of sweet vermouth,” you can only grin over the pure ingenuity of her impressive imagination. The best, though, is the chorus: “In my brain I re-arrange the letters on the page to spell your name…” (I just wish her bass player sang it louder during the gig!)
My favorite verses have got to be the last two:
“You said “we only live once” so we touched a little tongue, and instantly i wanted to… I lost my train of thought and jumped aboard the Epping as the doors were slowly closing on the world. I touched on and off and rubbed my arm up against yours and still the inspector inspected me. The lady in the roof was living proof that nothing really ever is exactly as it seems.
We caught the river boat downstream and ended up beside a team of angry footballers. I fed the ducks some krill then we were sucked against our will into the welcome doors of the casino. We drank green margaritas, danced with sweet senoritas, and we all went home as winners of a kind. You said “i guarantee we’ll have more fun, drink till the moon becomes the sun, and in the taxi home i’ll sing you a triffids song!” (Tamanna, this one’s for you!)
A girl next to me grabbed what she thought was the setlist, only to find a list of scattered words with no obvious meaning (except to Courtney of course). We later found out from Courtney that this was her lyrical “cheat sheet.” Something EVEN MORE valuable than a setlist. “Love you/hate you” –> FENCE –: “Like you/despise you”….What with the FENCE separating those sets of contradictions? And what with he “Turpentine” and “Cyanide” references? She’s such an interesting enigma! xxx
After Courtney’s impressive performance at The Great Escape, I was patting myself on the back for having purchased tickets early to see her at the Islington Assembly Hall (cause they sold out within weeks). The day the gig came around, however, I happened to be in a HORRID MOOD (might as well have had “f*ck you” written on my forehead), and was on the verge of a tears walking to the venue. Well, thank god I made it, cause Courtney proved to be the ultimate cure, and singing along (yes, I know most of the lyrics now) to her dark, witty tales had me smiling in no time. Who needs therapy when you’ve got musical madness as medicine?..
Courtney starts off the gig with Don’t Apply Compression Gently, David, Lance Jr., Canned Tomatoes, Scotty Says, taking a break in between to thank the audience and ask questions like: “Are you all having a good time?”, “Who has seen me before and has come back?” She also called out a person in the upper balcony who was leaving for the toilet during her set (haha). Although I didn’t get Don’t Apply Compression Gently on video, it happens to be another favorite. The brut honesty of the chorus (“I may not be 100% happy but at least I’m not with you”) and last verse is killer:
“I take pieces of myself from everyone around me I’m not individual enough for you I replicate the people I admire But at least I’m not bitter and sad.” (TRUTH).
Next up was what she introduced as an “angry song” about a “bad person,” soon correcting herself to say that person is probably “not so bad.” It’s called Out of the Woodwork, and it’s exactly what I needed to extinguish those bitter flames of frustration/anger/confusion I had burning inside. The line responsible for cracking a smile in my otherwise frowny face was: “I noticed you stopped talking to me, now you’re talking to me all the time” (we’ve all been there)
But then she stabs at him even harder, saying: “Do you know you’re no good at listening? But you’re really good at saying everything on your mind. It must be tiring trying so hard, to look like you’re not really trying at all. I guess if you’re afraid of aiming too high, then you’re not really gonna have too far to fall.” (SLAYED.)
Out of the Woodwork:
Then there was Are You Looking After Yourself?, which Courtney said was inspired her mom’s voice (e.g. nagging). This song makes so much more sense after you separate half the lyrics to include her mom’s part. (GOD, she is so freaking witty and clever. )
Mom: “Are you working hard my darling, we’re so worried, always thinking of you and we just want you to be so happy, keep on going…”
Courtney: “I don’t want no 9 to 5, telling me that I’m alive and ‘Man, you’re doing well!”
Mom: “Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days? You should start some sort of trust fund just in case you fail” (sound very familiar…)
Courtney: “My friends play in bands, they are better than everything on radio…”
Are You Looking After Yourself:
(I think it’s safe to say that she IS indeed LOOKING AFTER HERSELF. She’s KILLIN IT right now!)
Following that one was a new song which they still haven’t a name for (hence it listed as “Blah” on the setlist). This one was probably the most volatile of all, and the lyrics cut like a knife. The harsh words kinda remind me a bit of Alanis Morrisette.
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.
Tell me I’m accessible and I’ll only exploit you.”
Next up was Avant Gardener, HANDS DOWN my favorite from Courtney’s kickass collection. I FREAKIN’ LOVE THIS TRACK and the entire witty rendition of a relatively serious event: the time she suffered from anaphylactic shock when trying to clear her front yard on a hot morning. “The one thing that captivates me in a song is the honesty of a songwriter. It could be about walking to the shop, but if it’s said with that person’s perspective then it can make it interesting,” says Courtney. This is ethos that dominates her EP, and this song in particular. My favorite verses (although they’re hard to choose!):
“Life’s getting hard in here So i do some gardening Anything to take my mind away from where it’s sposed to be. … I feel pro-active I pull out weeds All of a sudden I’m having trouble breathing in… I take a hit from An asthma puffer I do it wrong I was never good at smoking bongs. I’m not that good at breathing in.” (Genius ending.)
Setting up a DOUBLY WHAMMY and hitting us with her two best in a row, she follows with the crowd pleaser, History Eraser.
Then, we all didn’t think there was going to be an encore, as Courtney affirmed that History Eraser would be their official “last song.” SO, we were all super excited (jumping up and down inside) when she came out to play one more song. It was an ode to Preston, the area in Melbourne where she was possibly going to live until she realized how “depressing” it is (hence Depreston as the title of the song). She quickly mentions that it’s really “not that bad, though..” and she doesn’t want to give Preston a bad rap. The lyrics which really stood out to me were:
“If you had to spare half a million, You could knock it down and start rebuildin’..” (chills)
So amazed and utterly IN AWE of Courtney after this performance, I couldn’t help but wait in line to chat with her real quick and tell her how much enjoyed the show for a second time (this time knowing MOST of the lyrics.) I also asked her why both gigs they didn’t play Anonymous Club, which happens to be one of my favorites. Lyrics like: “Turn your phone off friend, you’re amongst friends and we don’t need no interruptions…Leave your shoes at the door, along with your troubles.” YES. Get me there. She responded by saying that was a difficult song to play live and they haven’t quite figured it out yet. Mainly I think it’s because they need to get another guitarist (or maybe the drummer?) to make some of those background effects while she keep on rhythm. Hopefully that’s something they’ll work on for future cause I LOVE IT…love her. Def seeing her again and again. ❤
I should have asked her what the PEDIGOGEE (and foot) were referring to! Haha