In the middle of last year We are Augustines, a little known band from Brooklyn self-released their first album entitled “Rise You Sunken Ships” through ITunes. A stunning collection of songs dealing with familial loss, addiction and absent parents, the record is a tribute to frontman Billy McCarthy’s Brother James, who after battling long term mental illness and drug addiction sadly took his own life before recording began. James McCarthy is the heart of the album and is the soul and positivity that turns “RISE…” into something celebratory rather that drowning in the emotional turmoil that forms the lyrical subject matter.
Billy McCarthy and multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson were ex-members of now –defunct Brooklyn indie rockers PELA, a band whose disintegration was as much to do with the cold ruthlessness of the music industry as it was personal collapse within the band. Much of the material that was in the process of being Pela’s second album makes up “Rise You Sunken Ships” with only the stunning “Book of James”, the albums moving centrepiece, written after McCarthy’ tragic loss.
Musically “Rise you Sunken Ships” pulls from the heartland rock of “Born in the USA” era springsteen without drifting into Gaslight Anthem cheese, minus the sometimes navel gazing of Matt Berninger’s crew and the rhythmic drive that gives the Arcade fire its Goosebump inducing emotional pull. It’s an elegiac, yet joyous sound that will see the band progress from small intimate club shows to summer festivals this year.
Prior to the U.K record release party at London’s The Lexington, Billy McCarthy and multi- instrumentalist Eric Sanderson (We Are Augustines are rounded out by English drummer Rob Allen) were gracious enough to answer some questions regarding the album, touring and praise From late night talk show hosts.
How are audiences in Europe compared to the U.S? Are you finding the vibe of the shows any different?
Billy McCarthy – “European audiences are a bit looser than the audiences in the States. Not sure why that is! Might be a cultural thing! On a personal front, I see more interaction with the European crowds. It also makes it easier for us to interact with people after the show, as it’s nice for us to meet with people from different countries and cultures.”
How are you finding the music industry this time around compared to what happened with Pela? Did your previous dealings with managers and labels make you wary or jaded at all?
Eric Sanderson “When we started the band it was important to do things differently than in the past. `where we once made decisions out of desperation, decisions that left us in compromised positions, and eventually surrounded by leeches, now our motivation comes from the desire to live a fulfilling life. Every day we are conscious of being the best versions of ourselves we can be. Certain aspects of the music industry will always be a shit show, but we have learned that there are also wonderful and passionate people in the industry as well. We are blessed now to be surrounded by people that we are inspired by and trust.”
Let’s talk about “Rise You Sunken Ships”. Your sessions with Dave Newfield seemed to be quite tense. Did you find handing these songs that you had this huge emotional investment in to Dave difficult? After all, you had recorded them yourselves and had such a huge personal link to them.
E.S – Dave is and incredibly talented and eccentric person. I liken him Lee Scratch Perry. His process is his process. If you are able to work with his process the stars can align and truly special things can happen. If you can’t it can be challenging. Working with anyone like that takes a tremendous amount of trust, in the end we love the work we did with Dave.
The Crooked fingers cover (“New Drink for The Old Drunk”) – why did you choose it?
B.M “I was a barman; I saw multiple melodramas play out on bar stools, strippers, cops, drug dealers etc. it encapsulated much of the environment I was living through to make a living”.
Was there a worry about putting a cover song on an album that had a very personal theme?
B.M “I don’t believe in rules in music. I believe that the heart leads the way, mind get out of the way!”
”Rise..” has a really big expansive sound. How the recreated is live as a three piece band?
E.S – “There are only three of us on stage so we’ve put a lot of time into working out the record. I basically play what ever instrument the song calls for to make the sound as full as possible. I juggle 4 different instruments on stage and think about adding more every day. We live to swim in sound”.
Who are your influences – non-musically as well as musically?
B.M – “Between the 3 of us, there are many different styles and artists that have influenced us over the years, so you can imagine there is a wide variety of music we listen to in the van! We have been increasing our data base of world music lately, mainly from South America and Africa too!”
You are based in Brooklyn which has a vibrant musical scene. Who are your musical peers there? Also any bands/musicians you think people should know about?
B.M “Two words! Charles. Bradley. – This guy is an inspiration! He is 63 years and just released his debut record! He is absolutely fantastic, a natural talent!”
Recently you played on the late show in New York. After your performance David Letterman, amongst the handshakes, said a few words regarding the album’s title. Do you think that David Letterman “got it” in his summary of your album after you played The Late Show?
B.M – “Hard to say. But I was moved to tears and he was very kind to say the things he did”.
What’s next for We Are Augustines?
B.M – “Where do we begin?! We are gearing up for our US leg with the band of skulls, which starts off at SXSW, and then we get to play COACHELLA! I think I can speak for everyone on this one when I say we thrilled to be there, can’t wait! We then head back to the UK for our May 3rd show at the Dingwalls, London and there will be more announced soon”
http://www.facebook.com/weareaugustines for all info.