Billy McCarthy of the Augustines (seen here in the middle) chats with Kevin Cooper about touring with Noel Gallagher, their forthcoming UK tour, the release of their new album This Is Your Life and headlining The Dot To Dot Festivals.
Augustines (formerly We Are Augustines) is an American indie rock band based in Brooklyn, New York and consists of guitarist Billy McCarthy, multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson and drummer Rob Allen. Also known for their intense shows and heavy interaction with the audience, they often leave the stage to perform on the floor with the fans.
The band derived its name from the month of August. Both McCarthy and Sanderson were born in August, as was McCarthy’s brother, James. James’ suicide was one of the major influences behind their first album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships.
In 2014, the band released their self-titled second album, Augustines and then embarked upon their first headlining American tour, selling out most shows well in advance. Augustines returned to the UK in early April, and spent a great deal of the summer doing European festivals. After further American dates in the autumn, they returned to Europe. The band finished the year with a triumphant gig in front of 3000 at the London Roundhouse.
Whilst busy rehearsing for their forthcoming tour, Billy took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Billy how are you today?
Hi Kevin how are you man?
I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
It’s a pleasure man, it’s a pleasure. Here I am sitting in New York City getting ready to come over and see you guys over there in England. I am really excited about getting back over there and playing in front of some of the best crowds in the world.
And just how is life treating you today?
Life is good man. I’m just hard at work really. We are currently working our way through the new material building up a set. It is like a workman type existence right now (laughter). We are spending around fifty hours a week in the studio rehearsing.
It’s a hard life but somebody has got to do it.
(Laughter) it has got to be done man (laughter).
You are going to be headlining the Dot To Dot Festival here in Nottingham on Sunday 29th May. Are you looking forward to it?
Absolutely Kevin, yes. We love to play live music man and those types of festivals are really fun. We place such an emphasis on the live stuff, and it is something that we are really proud of. I’m expecting it to be a great experience. We are going to be playing a hell of a lot of music over the next two years. I’m really looking forward to playing Dot To Dot, I really can’t wait man.
You have recently played a few gigs with a certain Mr Noel Gallagher, how was that?
(Laughter) it was great. To be honest with you it was really nice to see his crew, which I know sounds like a strange compliment but as well as the front of house which everyone sees on stage, there is a lot going off behind the scenes which the audience don’t get to see. It really was a pleasure to learn from a lot of these guys who have been with him for decades. It was a joy to watch them work; they were gifted, warm, smart, helpful and really kind. For us it was a really good experience.
You mention learning, did you manage to learn anything off the man himself?
(Laughter) no nothing at all (laughter). There are various ways of doing what I do and his way is not to speak and just to let his music do the talking (laughter). That’s not my way but it was interesting to observe someone who has had great success in doing that. He is such a witty guy, and so I was expecting him to be cracking jokes and stuff but actually he didn’t speak all that much but he really was interesting to watch.
And I assume that he had his leather jacket on all of the time?
(Laughter) that’s right he was always dressed in the leather jacket and kept on making references to football especially Manchester City. There was this big banner backstage (laughter) and I thought wow he really does like his football (laughter). I like it too but this guy really likes it (laughter).
Swiftly moving on from football I have been playing your new album This Is Your Life for a few days now and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work and is probably, in my opinion, your best album to date.
Ok, are you really enjoying it?
Very much so, yes.
That’s so cool man, thank you. It is such an interesting time for us because how our songs work is that they firstly exist in our thoughts and then you bring them to your bandmates and then you all collaborate and hopefully the songs begin to exist in conversation, in action and then there is a very long process before you can get into a room and track it. After that we have to mix it, and it is so exciting to realise that it’s a journey. Eric (Sanderson) and I worked really hard on the album in fact I think that between Eric and myself we turned in fifty songs which is a pretty good amount (laughter). That is a lot of material so I think that we both really tried to outdo ourselves and I think that it is going to be really exciting to see exactly how the people and especially our fans receive the album.
Are you all pleased with how the project has turned out?
Yes we are although there was a moment where, in typical Augustines style, we weren’t satisfied with the whole experience and we wanted three weeks longer but hey, that is just how we are (laughter). We just work something until there is nothing left that you can think of to do to it. So I am really thrilled, there were lots of moments while we were making the album which we are really proud of. (Laughter) I was just thinking that there was a moment when I had a totally different vision of the album when we first started, a vastly different vision, so it was quite interesting where it actually came to.
My favourite track at the moment is Are We Alive; I have been playing it to death, pardon the pun (laughter).
(Laughter) thank you man but to be honest with you I have to give Eric the credit for that song. I love the manic crazy intro and that was Eric’s idea. I like the fact that Eric and I seem to complement each other, it feels nice.
You have recently been playing some solo dates. How did it feel to be out on the road on your own?
I think that being a human being, apart from being in my band, it was probably one of my larger achievements in my life. It was at times really scary and I think that I went into it wanting to do a story telling tour. However the truth of the matter is that I have never actually seen a story telling tour (laughter) so I had to kind of invent this whole kind of show that I had never seen. It was extremely daunting and time consuming and if I am honest with you, it was really funny because I put candles on the stage and at the first show my hands were shaking so bad that I couldn’t even light the fucking candles. It was really intimidating but by the end of it I was playing two hours and forty-five minutes for one show (laughter).
You can be absolutely shit scared about something but by simply going out there and facing it like a bullfighter and no backing down to it then eventually you really do get the hang of it, which to me was rather gratifying. To be totally honest with you Kevin, I have never told anyone this but I got the inspiration for the solo tour when a friend of mine asked me to marry him and his wife last summer. I was completely frightened (laughter) and I only said yes because he was my friend but as the date got closer I was fucking scared man (laughter). Anyway on the day I just got up there and I got through it which started me thinking if I can get through that then I can do anything.
Is it something that you will do again?
Yes, very much so, I absolutely love it. The problem is that I worry about doing too much, but just how much is too much. I don’t want to oversaturate people with it. I think that when the tour for the new album dies down I will probably start working on another solo show. I think that it is really healthy and it involves a lot of storytelling and also lots of comedy (laughter). There is an oral tradition in music and if you ever sit back and watch a documentary, all that people do are telling stories. That’s all it is. Some of these stories have been passed down for years. As soon as I realised just how many of these stories revolved around music it made me want to get right in there and tell my stories. It really is a great feeling.
And will you bring the solo show back to the UK?
Absolutely man. I have so many stories that I want to tell such as I went to David Bowie’s house once (laughter) and I also went to Madonna’s house and this is all because I was driving a lorry and I was delivering and installing art with Eric for this company before we got signed to a record label. We went to all of these megastars homes and that’s a whole story (laughter). It was so gratifying to be able to not just tell it to someone over a pint in the pub, but to be able to tell it to a sold-out room full of people was really fun. I really do like it a lot.
And The Augustines will be back touring the UK in October.
Yes we will be headlining then, it’s all going to kick off. The best thing about that tour is that we will be playing Brixton Academy which is going to be our largest headline to date. So be careful Kevin, the crazy carnival is on its way (laughter).
Do the British audiences treat you well; do we make you feel at home?
When I was younger I used to live in Ireland and I would always be skipping over to England, but I would never get to spend much time there as I would always be passing through. Because of that I had no idea about the character of British people; all the difference between the Welsh and the Scottish, or the different accents. I have to say that without a doubt the most avid, loyal, seriously music loving people in the world are the British. I don’t know if it is down to the weather or the amount of time that you spend in pubs with the music playing; I just don’t know what it is but just how much music that you put out from that small island is incredible. One of the joys of my life is to be able to play for you guys. It makes me feel proud.
What was the last song that made you cry?
Oh boy, that would have probably been when I was listening to Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets To The Wind In Copenhagen) which is sometimes wrongly referred to as Waltzing Matilda by the American singer songwriter Tom Waits. It is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
How is the Indie rock scene over there in Brooklyn, is it fit and well?
I personally think that its shit (laughter). Its weird man, like anything such as Camden, Berlin, Dublin or anywhere you think about; they all go through waves. At one point in time it took a lot of courage to live in New York but now that has all changed due to inflation and rents. Patti Smith was famous for once saying “if you want to be in band then don’t move to New York City” (laughter). I sometimes feel that the whole spirit of New York City has shifted and that it is not as spirited as it used to be. That’s a tragedy. I am pretty notorious for talking shit about New York but I have to say that it is now a Capitalist place man.
There is now a feeling of, if you can swing it, if you can make a profit from it then do it, which is something that I always struggle with. Just because you can doesn’t always mean that you should. Whenever you have that trajectory it almost always trickles down into the fabric of the culture and the artists. It is really inhospitable and so it has affected the scene. The sad thing is that you no longer get that whole Joe Strummer thing going on. It’s now like a whole bunch of kids who went to very expensive schools hanging out together making laptop music; it is really upsetting (laughter).
Who has musically inspired you?
That’s a great question man. It’s funny but I kind of pick and pull if that makes any sense at all (laughter). I always find myself gravitating towards singers a lot. I love Flamenco music, Irish music, and more recently I love Balkan music. I love people who sing from their soul such as Édith Piaf. If I can hear that in someone’s voice and I believe it, then they have got me. I am a loyal music fan and they have got me for life.
On that note Billy let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today and I am looking forward to seeing you here in Nottingham at Rock City.
It’s been a pleasure man. I will see you in Nottingham, you take care man. Bye for now.