In 2007, I had the opportunity to see Pela perform at South By Southwest in Austin. Their performance was one of my favorites of the festival and confirmed the buzz that I’d heard while in Austin. It spurred me to hunt down their terrific record, Anytown Graffiti. Records like this are the reason this website exists. While I thought it was one of the best records I heard that year, I rarely heard reference to it in the music magazines or in the blogosphere. It spurred me to start a website where I could highlight these gems that seemed to escape notice. Much to my chagrin, Pela broke up and I lost track of the band. In late 2010, Todd Howe from The Boxer Rebellion sent me a note about a band called Augustines (they’ve since changed the name to We Are Augustines for legal reasons that I think have something to do with a lounge act in a hotel in Miami with the same name…..), along with a copy of the record. Upon discovering that this was two key members of Pela, I was intrigued. Upon hearing the record, I immediately put it in my Top Ten of 2010. Everyone involved, quickly reined me in and let me know that this was a 2011 release. Needless to say, an interview ensued and you can rest assured that this album will be on my list at the end of 2011. In its own right, the music itself is enough to warrant this praise. But once I had a better understanding of the story behind the making of this record, I was moved in a way that only a handful of albums have impacted me emotionally. Thus, you will find this interview to be set up in a format unlike any we’ve done before. We start by asking you to read Ryan Berg’s amazing introduction to the band. This will help you to understand the context that this amazing band lives within.
A quiet Canadian winter night. In this neighborhood of snow-covered homes and corner markets, the dilapidated Anglican Church was an unlikely venue for a recording studio. There was no indication that inside three men were toiling to record a song. Tensions were running high as Bill McCarthy sang the vocal track into the microphone, his breath visible from the glacial cold of the studio. When McCarthy and Eric Sanderson arrived from New York the night before to work with renowned indie rock producer Dave Newfeld, best known for his work with Broken Social Scene, they were eager to see where he’d push the music. With their band, Pela, now defunct, and their new project, We Are Augustines, not yet named or fully realized, the musicians were in limbo. The track they’d come to record was “Book of James”, the final song to be written and recorded for the album Rise Ye Sunken Ships. After two years of struggle everything was riding on what would happen at Newfeld’s studio. The quality of the work was a kind of litmus test to see if Rise would ever see the light of day.
“We had no idea what his process was,” Sanderson said, while discussing the recording session over coffee months later in Brooklyn. “We arrived late at night and talked until maybe three in the morning. Billy and I woke up the next day at ten ready to work but we had to wait for Dave who didn’t wake up until twelve or something. We sat around while he had breakfast, coffee. Finally, sometime in the afternoon, we went into the studio.”
What McCarthy and Sanderson didn’t know was that after they had gone to bed the night before, Newfeld stayed up recording a new drumbeat for the song, scrapping what they had brought in with them on the demo.
“He warned us we were going to hate it,” McCarthy said. “But to be patient.”
What they heard was jarring and incongruent with the original. It was not what they expected. Even though they were unsure about the drumbeat, they continued to follow Newfeld’s lead. He’d produced some of their favorite records of the last few years and his unconventional method had worked in the past.
“He was going for this Motown-y thing, making it really percussion-heavy,” McCarthy said as his fists clenched summoning back some of the frustration of the moment. “I didn’t understand what he was doing.”
As the recording process progressed Newfeld continued to confound the musicians with his unorthodox approach.
“I was going through the song on my electric guitar when it was unplugged and out of tune. I didn’t even know he was recording,” McCarthy said. “Somehow that ended up on the mix.”
Throughout the three-day session McCarthy and Sanderson played all the instrumental parts to the song but when they heard it played back to them, the vibe seemed all wrong.
Time was running short. McCarthy and Sanderson had scrounged together enough money for only three days of recording with Newfeld. As the second day closed it was looking more and more like the song wouldn’t be finished.
While McCarthy was starting to show his frustration Sanderson was trying to work as a mediator. He stayed up late at night with Newfeld, working meticulously to move the process forward. During the day he tried to stall McCarthy’s growing frustration but the strain of the session was obvious to everyone.
“At one point [Newfeld] kicked us out of the studio so he could get back to work,” Sanderson said.
Eventually the aggravation became too much to take for McCarthy. He was afraid his song was straying too far away from his original vision. In hopes of salvaging the record, he cornered the producer.
“I told him, ‘Dave, this isn’t about you, man,’” McCarthy said. “And he looked right at me and said ‘Bill, it’s not about you either. It’s about making a good song.’”
Newfeld continued to push forward undeterred.
When the three days of recording were up, McCarthy and Sanderson left Newfeld’s Anglican Church studio with only half of the song showing its shape. The second half was nothing more than a bare vocal track.
Newfeld told the musicians they could always come back to finish. But the truth was, they couldn’t. They weren’t able to afford it. The “Book of James” sessions that were supposed to be the catalyst to finally finishing the record felt like yet another sign that Rise was destined to flounder.
“I was raging the whole drive back to New York. The entire trip felt futile. I don’t think I stopped railing on until we hit the U.S. border,” McCarthy said.
The protective attitude McCarthy had towards “Book of James” was not only about preserving the integrity of the composition. For McCarthy it resonated much more personally. The song was written about his younger brother, Jim, who, battling drug addiction for much of his life, had been living in homeless shelters and on the streets of California since high school. As Jim grew older his mental state deteriorated. McCarthy tried again and again to help his brother. With his older sister, they attempted to place Jim in a psychiatric hospital. At one point McCarthy even invited Jim to come stay with him in New York to get back on his feet. All attempts failed.
One day, at a shelter where he was living, Jim attacked and seriously wounded a worker with a knife. While being held in prison he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, deemed unfit to stand trial and too dangerous to be housed with the general population. For three years he was placed in solitary confinement and remained there with only brief respites to psych hospitals where he was able to have contact with others. While residing at one of those hospitals Jim overheard he was to be remanded to solitary confinement and began to panic. Three days later McCarthy received a phone call from a legal advocate lawyer saying that Jim had hung himself.
The tragedy of Jim’s death was not foreign territory for the McCarthy clan. Growing up, McCarthy’s mother was also diagnosed as schizophrenic. Unable to provide for her children, the state took them away from her. None of her children knew their father. The boys lived out much of their youth in foster care. When McCarthy was nineteen years old his mother, after years of struggling with chemical dependency and psychic deterioration, ended her life by overdosing on painkillers and cocaine. Her body was discovered on a cot in a homeless shelter. Next to her was a business card from the local mortuary, her children’s names scrawled across the back.
“She was really sick but trying to help us with the process,” McCarthy said.
He was sent to retrieve her belongings from the shelter.
“I found crack pipes and four packs of generic cigarettes. It broke my heart.”
McCarthy had been writing music for only a couple of years by the time his mother passed away. The subject of her mental illness and death were subjects he tried to breech, but unsuccessfully.
“I lost my mom when I was nineteen,” he said. “So trying to address the subject in songwriting was fairly bad. Not in bad taste. I just lacked the vocabulary and subtlety wasn’t my friend.”
Pela was still together when McCarthy attempted again to write songs about how mental illness tore through his family. Now more than ten years later, his brother, still alive at the time, became the central character. Music was the medium McCarthy used to reengage with his past with a new perspective. He mined the interior world of memory and what surfaced was a collection of twilit, soulfully charged songs that threaded together like chapters in a novel. Images swirl through the lyrics, the gritty, forgotten corners of New York and L.A., flickering lights of TV sets and state psychiatric hospitals, neglected family photo albums and 99 cent stores, dashboard Marias and road trips to Mexico in search of a father. The songs wrestle with McCarthy’s thematic preoccupation of trying to keep his brother afloat amid the reckless waters of psychosis. In the song “Augustines,” he pleads with Jim, “Keep your head up kid/ I know you can swim/ But ya gotta move your legs.”
McCarthy and his band mates in Pela began to shape the songs into what would eventually become Rise Ye Sunken Ships. Building on the momentum of the band’s first release Anytown Graffiti and the subsequent tour they set out to Los Angeles to record the new album.
Sanderson and McCarthy stayed in a cheap motel. Guitarist Nate Martinez and drummer Tomislav Zovich were staying with the producer and his wife along with another band. The recording sessions were often times grueling. The band worked 17 days straight before their first day off, the last of which ended in a booze-filled marathon. In his studio blog McCarthy wrote: “We sure tied one on last night. [The producer] kicked me out of the vocal booth at some point. I was too sloppy. My vocal take was pretty much a nose-dive.”
Although some songs were beginning to gel, with the raucous velocity of rockers like “Philadelphia” and mid-tempo ballads like “East Los Angeles”, the recording would not come easy. In the end the band was underwhelmed with the results. Pela returned to New York and decided to start over.
“We had to do it twice because it just wasn’t strong,” Sanderson said.
The decision to re-record was easier said than done.
Still in contract with the label that put out Anytown Graffiti Pela found themselves up against a wall. Despite Pela bringing them their greatest success to date, the label refused to provide more money for the project. When it became clear that they were to receive negligible support, Pela made a bold move and decided to step outside of the industry model.
Sanderson’s father-in-law invested in the band. He made it clear that this was not a loan but a business decision. A contract and budget were written up to include everything up to remixing the album.
The band scrapped 80 percent of what was initially recorded and with Sanderson’s step-father’s financial investment they worked prodigiously on re-recording, editing and producing the album themselves. Then, a month was spent arranging. The final step was to have the album mixed. They had sent a demo to Newfeld who liked it enough to agree to do the project.
At their manager’s prompting, Zovich took out a significant loan in order to buy the band out of the contract with their label. While the band worked on the album the manager was working at securing a new record deal. Each member of the band had received only $800 from Anytown Graffiti sales and a silent shrug from label executives when they asked why so little. The hand-to-mouth existence they all lived in order to be a band was becoming more and more difficult to maintain and the Lads, as they were informally known, hoped Rise could land them a more lucrative deal. Within the two years it took to record and re-record Rise two members of the band got married. The urge for a little security was beginning to show.
The boys in Pela had been close to success before. Industry folks had assured them of the inevitable record deals and hefty advances that would come their way. After a few burns they learned to become wary of too-good-to-be-true promises.
But the suggestions of success weren’t unwarranted. Pela sold out shows in nine cities across the country. They played major music festivals like Sasquatch, shared stages with Sonic Youth, Sleater Kinney, Feist, Flaming Lips, among others. Pela’s songs appeared in TV shows such as Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, and Veronica Mars. Their album Anytown Graffiti sold 10,000 copies, a minor success considering the scant marketing push it received from a fledgling label. Anyone could see there was a fan base growing. They even did a taping as musical guests for an episode of the Jimmy Fallon Show. The lads seemed poised for success.
Initially when Rise was shopped around the response was encouraging. Labels threw around figures that would make most bands smile. But each time negotiations would be underway the inexplicable happened. Green-lighted record deals collapsed in the final moments before signing. The band demanded answers from their manager, who was responsible for the negotiations, and listened warily as he gave them a list of excuses. It was clear the manager had bungled the record deals. There was nothing they could do. With their hands tied by contractual agreements and red tape they watched as promises of advances disappeared and personal debt piled higher by the day.
By the time the last record deal fell through and their manager was fired, the members of Pela had worked exhaustively for 24 months on Rise.
It’s then McCarthy received the phone call from California.
A legal advocate lawyer was on the other end of the receiver telling McCarthy his brother had committed suicide. The news left McCarthy an exposed, raw nerve. His band mates pooled money together for a plane ticket and McCarthy flew out to California to collect what was left of his brother.
At the hospital where Jim had died McCarthy was once again faced with the cold and ugly reality of the system in which he was raised. The hospital director seemed indifferent towards McCarthy, who demanded answers about how this could happen with such tight psychological supervision. McCarthy was curtly informed that Jim’s body would be turned over but his file would remain confidential. A box– filled with Jim’s sneakers, boxers, wristwatch and hospital ID–was the only physical proof left that Jim had ever existed. Angered, McCarthy demanded to see Jim’s commissary, hoping to find some clues as what had happened, but the director refused to hand it over. It became obvious that the hospital was more concerned about being sued than providing the bereaved the essential information needed to properly mourn.
McCarthy left the hospital with his brother’s cremated body and few possessions.
No one showed up for the funeral, not even the foster parents who housed them as children. McCarthy took his brother’s ashes to the backyard of one of the homes they shared together. Behind it there was a creek where he planned to spread Jim’s remains.
“I was about to open the bag when this Russian guy comes riding up on his motorcycle,” McCarthy said.
The man was the current owner of the house and wanted to know what McCarthy was doing on his property. McCarthy tried to explain but the only words he could utter were, “My brother,” as he lifted the ashes as evidence.
The Russian popped wheelies in his driveway as McCarthy said his goodbyes, releasing his brother’s remains into the tiny creek where they used to play together as children.
When McCarthy returned to New York Pela reconvened and began rehearsing for an upcoming gig opening for Sonic Youth in Seattle, but something wasn’t right. Instead of focusing on running through their songs they were distracted by playing mock Reggae and drunken Blues Metal.
“I remember Tommy doing these hilarious, over the top drum fills when I was trying to be serious singing,” McCarthy said.
Focus seemed to be waning but no one was discussing why. At one point McCarthy looked around the rehearsal space and, as he put it, “everyone was shit-faced drunk and I walked out all pissed off to smoke.”
When asked why he was upset he said, “I find it strange that we’re sharing a stage with Sonic Youth in front of thousands of people this weekend and no one gives a shit.” On the way out to Seattle the atmosphere was somber. Some of the band members were wondering aloud if this would be their last show.
“I remember being on the plane, drunk on bad wine, looking at the guys wondering if we’d ever travel again together.” Sanderson said. “It was such a confusing time. I should have been excited for the show, I should have been thrilled that NPR just did a feature on us, but I couldn’t feel it.”
After the show, back in New York, there was little to look forward to. They were still tangled in a web of bad business contracts and the task of freeing themselves of it all seemed insurmountable.
“We were pinned down by total soulless pro music business types…and crumbling internally,” McCarthy said.
Many bands, similar to Pela, having garnered rave reviews for their live shows and independent releases find it difficult to cement a substantial deal with a record label. Out of the frustration of constant touring, the accruing debt and the personal pressures one levies at oneself to succeed, many bands end up splitting. Pela was no different. They disbanded, leaving an album, one that they all had invested so much in, unfinished. After almost a decade together the Lads went their separate ways.
“Everyone walked away, just wasted,” McCarthy said.
“The thing that finally broke up the band, was probably the thing that breaks up every band. For eight years we never really fought. Sure we had disagreements, but we always talked them out. Our friendship was our greatest strength; it was the thing that kept us together while so many of our friend’s bands called it quits. But in those last few weeks our strong personal bond cracked and we fought amongst ourselves. The minute that happened, the band was over.”
Both McCarthy and Sanderson admitted they began drinking heavily when the band broke up, isolating themselves from everyone. What they were experiencing felt like a kind of divorce.
“We were grieving,” Sanderson said.
McCarthy tried to move on, worked odd jobs, but couldn’t get the record out of his mind. Especially now that Jim was gone Rise Ye Sunken Ships seemed like a way to validate his brother’s life.
“After Jim died,” McCarthy confessed, “the album took on crazy meaning.”
He and Sanderson had never stopped talking. They both felt that after two years of working to reinvent the record, it deserved to be finished no matter what, but they were unsure about how to release it. After dealing with bad managers, conniving lawyers, and an unfair label for the better part of a decade they had no interest in participating in that world anymore.
“They all professed to be ‘one of the good guys,’” McCarthy said. “And they all vanished within weeks of us breaking up. Never to be heard from again except for money.”
McCarthy turned his focus solely on the record. Still raw from his brother’s death, he locked himself in a closet and banged out “Book of James”.
Conversations with Sanderson continued and before long the talks shifted from music to the mirrored experiences of their families. Much like McCarthy, Sanderson’s family had a history of substance abuse. His mother was racked with stomach ulcers, at one point needing a blood transfusion as a result of her drinking. His stepfather also had battled with the bottle. And Sanderson’s brother, also named Jim, jumped from drug to drug and drank like a fish. His reliance on substances eventually led him to stint in solitary confinement.
“It isn’t healthy to pretend like this doesn’t exist,” Sanderson said. “Truth is I come from a house full of substance abusers and some level of openness about that is important and healthy.”
The coincidences in their stories were hard to ignore. Both had brothers named James whose lives were shattered by addiction, mothers with similar ideation. Then there was the eerie zodiac correlation. McCarthy and his brother Jim shared the same August birthday. Sanderson’s was 24 hours later.
Before long McCarthy and Sanderson bandied questions back and forth about how they’d move forward with the album. How would they define themselves? Without Martinez and Zovich they were no longer Pela. Would they work as a two-piece? How could they possibly finance releasing an album? If one of them began to feel unsure about resurrecting Rise the other would bolster his resolve. But with all the questions posited before them, one thing was clear: they would not work with a record company on this project.
On the strength of the demo they sent him, Newfeld agreed to record “Book of James.” Unsure how they were going to proceed but knowing that they had to do something, they picked up the pieces of the abandoned Pela album, the new song “Book of James” and made their way to Canada. Three days later they returned chest-fallen from their confusing recording experience.
“I was pretty depressed after we returned from Canada,” Sanderson said. “I couldn’t justify not being happy anymore. I was reconsidering my decision to jump into this again.”
The time up north proved to be yet another obstacle in a sea of deterrents. But then Newfeld surprised McCarthy and Sanderson with a copy of the finished “Book of James.” They were awestruck.
“I was rendered comment-less,” McCarthy said. “And that’s difficult to do.”
“When we got the track back I was almost pissed,” Sanderson said. “Now I couldn’t walk away.”
Both McCarthy and Sanderson were humbled by Newfeld’s production of the song. What seemed like a disparate collection of odd sounds and strange snippets during the recording session had been masterfully aligned. As a nod to the musicians, the song ends with the original drumbeat from the demo that they arrived with in Canada.
At first listen it became obvious that something fairly profound had taken place. The making of Rise Ye Sunken Ships, with its clear beginning and vast ocean of middle, had finally found its stories’ end with “Book of James”.
“There’s a moment of peace before the first chorus where everything goes quiet,” McCarthy said, speaking of Newfeld’s production of the song. “Within all the noise and chaos,” McCarthy said, shaking his head, “he was able to find that peacefulness and that’s exactly what the song’s about.”
McCarthy and Sanderson were eager to share the track and get working on finishing the album but without managers and record label executives vying for a listen, what was the next step? There wasn’t even a band to tour and promote the material. Little precedent existed for musicians wanting to work outside of the system of labels, managers and lawyers.
“We were a little stumped as how to proceed,” Sanderson said.
Enter John Richards.
Richards, a DJ and program producer for Seattle based independent radio station KEXP, was a major supporter of Pela’s work. Responsible for keeping them in heavy rotation at KEXP, Richards also set the band up with many of their Northwest gigs.
When Richards heard about McCarthy and Sanderson’s dilemma distributing Rise without the aid of a record label, he suggested a new approach.
“A listener supported model,” Sanderson said.
The idea was that listeners could have a subscription to the work and become a participant in the process. Different tiers of support would be offered depending on the level of involvement each listener was interested in. For example, for a $200 donation, perhaps they’d receive producing rights, their names on the liner notes, tickets to a show and back stage passes. Each level of support would carry its own benefits. The higher the support, the greater level of inclusion in the process.
This new approach was appealing to McCarthy and Sanderson. The record industry had made it clear that there were little incentives for signing with a label other than upfront cash and marketing assistance. Instead of relying on industry insiders who couldn’t care less about the music, they could work with listeners and colleagues who demonstrated a real appreciation for their work.
They decided to name the project We Are Augustines, after one of the songs on the album, and began to see themselves as a part of a listener/artist collaboration.
While progress was being made with Richards on how Rise would be released, McCarthy and Sanderson made a pretty radical decision for rock musicians. They quit drinking.
McCarthy has Tony Fitzpatrick to thank for that. He met Fitzpatrick at his gallery show in New York and the two hit it off immediately.
“At one point he said ‘this conversation isn’t about if you’re an artist, it’s about what you’re going to do about it,” McCarthy said.
Fitzpatrick suggested he quit drinking.
The idea was contrary to much of his experience in Pela. The Lads were known to throw a few back. They boasted that no one could out drink the band. Never did they play a show sober. If McCarthy felt a rattle in his throat he’d blow his voice out on purpose. Drunkenness with a self-destructive edge was deeply fixed in his concept of the rock ‘n’ roll identity.
Fitzpatrick explained his point with a simplicity that startled McCarthy.
“You’re human and will break down. Be careful what you dream to be, you might become it someday.”
The consequences of substance abuse had played itself out in both McCarthy and Sanderson’s families, to devastating degrees. The idea that it could play a part in hindering their own progress as artists was unacceptable. Both Sanderson and McCarthy heeded Fitzpatrick’s advice and quit drinking.
“We know it’s not a sexy topic. Not very rock ‘n’ roll,” Sanderson said. “So what.”
The youthful posturing of a rock star was starting to lose its luster, but not entirely.
“It’s still one of my dreams to do a stage dive,” Sanderson said, “but I’ll have a knee brace on when I do it.”
McCarthy and Sanderson perched themselves on a bench in front of a local coffee shop, watched as a Mexican woman struggled to get her dog to walk on a leash. The sun had set and a blue twilight washed over Brooklyn.
They had just returned from a meeting with Richards about We Are Augustines and seemed enthused. After a long, arduous road, the album was finally finished. Now the logistical work of releasing it had begun but they didn’t seem stressed.
For both McCarthy and Sanderson Rise Ye Sunken Ships is about perseverance. With all the roadblocks they’ve encountered along the way they knew this album never would have made it without their tenacious streak and unwavering belief in the material.
“I mean I didn’t want to have a record called Rise that sank,” McCarthy says, with a casual flick of his cigarette. “It needed to get out there.”
In many ways Rise Ye Sunken Ships is also about reclaiming agency in one’s own life. From beleaguered family histories, from systems that ignore and shut down the individual, be it a record label, the foster care system, the prison system or a psychiatric hospital. The song “Book of James” is, specifically, testament to that struggle.
I never asked why McCarthy and Sanderson used such religiously charged language on the album. Did they know St. Augustine wrote about his embattled past in order to step into the present? Or that one of the key verses of Book of James in the Bible is “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
Chances are, no. But the gist certainly wouldn’t be lost on them. These boys are no strangers to coincidence.
TDOA: You’re in a rare position, in that Pela broke up despite being critically acclaimed. Yet, you’ve recorded an album as a new band that seems destined for even greater praise. I expect you to tell me that you didn’t let your experiences with the record industry influence you, as you re-recorded the Augustines album with Dave Newfeld. Yet, I’ve got to imagine that you had to wonder about the reception to the music by fans and critics, as you re-recorded these songs. How do keep those pressures from altering how you write and record?
ES: We have a simple yet firm definition of quality control. If it’s not something we are proud to show our friends, then it doesn’t get released. That’s really all that matters.
TDOA: The path to the actual release of this album is a story that I would argue is unrivaled in the history of rock. How did the process of writing it begin?
ES: After touring Anytown Graffiti for a year or so with Pela, as a band we decided it was time to start working on a new record. At that time we knew that the only way we could do something different would be to get out of New York and away from the usual distractions.
Billy had been working on this concept ‘Rise Ye Sunken Ships’ and was writing furiously, he wrote dozens of songs in just a few months. Nate (our old band-mate) and I were also writing demos and sketches of songs and handing them off to Billy to see if he heard anything he liked. It was a really collaborative time.
By the time we were ready to record we had something close to forty songs to pick from. Some were fully realized, some were just ideas, but we believed that we needed as much material as possible. When we did the LA/NY sessions with Dan Long we narrowed down the songs to about 18 or so. Dan is a great friend and a talented engineer, but in the end we simply ran out of time in the studio and the record was not complete.
At that point we were out of money and had an unfinished record. So we took the tracks home and continued to work on them. Nate and I bought Pro Tools rigs and learned how to use them quickly. Billy continued writing more material, and rearranging the songs, and we started rerecording parts/rearranging the instrumentation. That whole phase went on for a few months until we were ready to go back into the studio to record more drums and new material that Billy had written (like Juarez).
At this point we were entirely self producing the record, and funding the record ourselves, so the importance of everything took on a different meaning. After recording more at Headgear and Saltlands Studios, we took the tracks home again and got everything ready to be mixed.
We knew that we needed someone else to step in to mix the tracks because we were too invested in the creation of the material.
TDOA: Is that the point that you reached out to Dave Newfield?
ES: We made a list of mixing engineers and Dave Newfeld was number one on the list. We sent him a rough mix of the song Augustine and he said he would love to mix it, but with one stipulation, that we couldn’t been there for the sessions. That was a big curve ball for us because mixing Anytown Graffiti was done over the shoulder of the engineer and we had complete control over the decisions.
Dave actually told us that when we get the track back we were going to hate it, freak out, play it for our friends, they were going to love it, and then eventually we would fall in love with it too. Dave was right.
Dave is an incredible talent. Not just as an audio engineer, but his musical ear is highly refined. He is unorthodox, but intentional. Dave brought a space to the song that wasn’t there before, he made it bigger and more raw.
We sent Dave the rest of the songs to be mixed and he finished everything over the next two months. Then, after a lot of unfortunate events, Pela broke up.
TDOA: Was there a point where you felt that those songs would never be released?
ES: Pela breaking up hit our emotions like a bomb. Billy and I talked almost every day for hours, working though all of the issues that we found ourselves surrounded by. Our friendship broke through to a new level at that time. We had this beautiful collection of songs mixed by Dave Newfeld, we had the desire to continue, but we had no band.
Billy started writing again and wrote “Book Of James”.
When it came time to actually finish the record we went back to the home sessions approach, but at this time my home studio had really developed so we had a little more to work with. We had some 16 songs to pick though to make a record out of. Not to mention that every song had 2-5 mixes that varied quite dramatically. Billy sequenced the record after countless late nights, and I started getting the final mixes ready for mastering. Many of the songs are actually multiple mixes spliced together. On some of the mixes I imported stems from the original tracks, and even recorded more on top. It was a grueling process.
All in all, I think it took us three years to make the record from start to finish. That said, we didn’t work on the record straight through. Those three years included the time when we were touring Anytown Graffiti with Pela, dealing with the break up of the band, and Billy’s brother passing. If you boil it down we probably spent a year and a bit on the record.
TDOA: Everyone will have their own favorite song, but mine is the track “Augustine”. Can you talk about how you came upon the brilliant melodies contained within this song? Is it out of line for me to ask if you hear a bit of “Hungry Like The Wolf” in the vocal melody during the chorus?
Billy: There was an overflowing amount of material to draw from seeing homeless people outside the studio in LA, my immediate family has been on and off the street since I was little and it really stung to see it while writing down there . Down where?
TDOA: John Richards with KEXP helped execute a brilliant plan to help get this album recorded. It’s so difficult for small bands to succeed within the current business model of the music industry. Do you think this record could have been made without the help of John and your fans?
ES: No, not really. John and KEXP’s role has been more of a fan then anything else. John’s wife Amy is a dear friend of ours. They helped us gather the confidence to continue on after the break up. You could say they aimed our boat in the right direction: community, and we took over from there.
TDOA: To what extent was the subtle religious symbolism embedded in the record, intentional?
Billy: It’s probably unavoidable to talk about the edge of human sanity and the rest of the themes on “Rise” with out mentioning God. And when mentioning them is a western context, your bound to run into the bible I think.
TDOA: Can you tell us how you met Todd Howe from The Boxer Rebellion and what influence he’s had on the process of getting this record out?
ES: I believe we met Todd through Myspace years ago. He came to us as a genuine fan and we developed a dear friendship since then. What influence did Todd have on getting this record out? I would say more than anything, he believed in the songs and just couldn’t accept the record not seeing the light of day. Todd’s belief, along with other people that we hold close and dear, was the fuel that helped us push through to get to this point.
TDOA: We frequently ask veteran bands to give a bit of advice for new bands that are just getting into the business. This seems like such a loaded question to lob at you, but….. fire away!
ES: Don’t do it unless you have to. Remember to enjoy the moment. Always reflect on why you do what you do. Trust is a very powerful word. Tour.
TDOA: Obviously, the songs on the new album have been around for a while. In the meantime, have you been writing new material?
ES: The short answer is yes, we have a lot of new material. In addition to a tremendous amount of b-side material that we recorded during that time, we have also been writing and recording a lot in the past few months. To be honest it’s an odd position for us to be in. We have all of this older material that we love and worked hard on, but we are also excited about the new material that we are working on. The new stuff is still us, but it’s very different at the same time. We are pulling from music from other cultures more than ever before and mixing that with the sound we have developed over the last ten years. Maybe we will release a b-sides record some day. But for now it’s more gratifying to work on the new stuff.
TDOA: What’s next? How will you distribute the record and what plans do you have for touring? I hope we’ll see you down at South By Southwest, again!
ES: We have the next six months mapped out, but it’s still a secret. We’ll keep you in the loop step by step. Sorry that’s not much to share, but I can say this. We have been working on how to put this record out for months and months, and we have some exciting stuff coming your way.
For more information and to pre-order the new album, visit http://weareaugustines.com/