It is true what they say, there is nothing like Augie March. This is a band that has created a distinct sound and loyal following worthy of any Australian band that has come before them. As much as their enigmatic band leader Glenn Richards seems to believe they will be forgotten in time, many of us believe that their musical style heightened with an array of complex and poetic lyrics and melodies will never be forgotten.
They first formed in 1996 and have travelled far and wide down that hazardous road known as the Australian music scene. In a career now spanning a period over twenty years, a number of critically acclaimed albums were released, but the casual listener might know them best for their award winning song One Crowded Hour.
Prone to periods of long hiatus, Augie March are back yet again with a new acclaimed album, in fact, incredibly their sixth studio album entitled Bootikins. With that in mind, I recently caught up with the genius craftsman, Glenn Richards, to talk about Augie March’s latest release and their forthcoming tour. It was a surprisingly open and frank discussion with some interesting insight and food for thought. Here is some of what we talked about.
I have to ask the obvious question first, well at least it is to me, and my interest in Roman history. Why did you decide to name the album after the Roman Emperor Caligula, aka Bootikins?
I was re-reading Camus’ play “Caligula”, not by chance but because I suppose he’d been lurking behind the songs the entire time and I wanted to see if I remembered him right. I felt the album required something menacing and musically abrasive to propel it from a casual stroll to a bit of a desperate, ragged-gaited hopalong, and my aim was to bring this character in, this chief nasty, with something brutal. I reflected in an earlier interview that he would come to tie the rest of it up with a bloody rope, but then that image reminded me of the Roman punishment for patricide, the poena cullei. You can look it up. Little Boots is the cinch.
Some people are calling Bootikins a comeback album. Is that a fair comment? And why?
I suppose a couple of years, maybe three, is sufficient time to begin rumours of our demise again. You’re lucky these days if anyone is bothered creating rumours. It’s another album but it’s significant for us. To be doing something for 20 years with relatively little success in the wider picture and certainly not much financial security, and still be vital and challenging is, I guess, the culmination of consecutive comebacks. It’s very difficult to make a real record and it knocks you rotten, especially when it just sinks after a week or so which can happen a lot. Most bands of our generation are dead and buried or making pointless music.
The strength of Augie March lies in its consistency to produce fine work over and over again. Bootikins is no different. What’s the secret?
I think I answered this one above, but to flesh it out, there’s still desperation and despair in the songwriting, as well as what vestiges of curiosity and wonder can be dug up. There’s naivety in the ways of the social and the music world and also technically, which means originality is not out of the question. Mostly though I kind of hate everything we’ve done and I keep trying to make amends. The Sisyphus myth is strong in a lot of what we do, even to the point of literally pushing a boulder up a hill in our of early clips.
This album seems to have an unsettling charm to it. Would you agree? I can’t quite put my finger on it. I don’t know if it’s philosophical look at life through your poetic lyrics or its sweeping new sounds.
I couldn’t say. It’s the first one, barring Havens Dumb which was a guinea pig for the atmosphere of this experiment, that sounds a fair bit like what I do at home. Not what I hear in my head but what I’m merely capable of dredging out of it and into the demo stage. It’s truthful to a point, it has imagination, it doesn’t flinch too often but it isn’t in any sense close to that awful confessional journal shit you hear too much of today. The album has a lot of life in it, even if only life of the mind, and even if viewed through a pretty dark lens. That said if you can’t find the playfulness in it then it’s probably not for you.
My favourite track on the album is strangely Mephistopheles Perverted. It comes across as the most adventurous track on the album. What can you tell me about it?
Of course you’ve picked the one featuring the words of some other dude. Not too perturbed by that, if you’re going to get preferred over it ought to be by a dead poet of much grander scope and ability – which is a sentence that implies I’m a dead poet, I’m neither. This was originally for another project called “Borrowed Verse” which should be released pretty soon, a collection of songs written by contemporary Oz artists using the words of poets. I chose Kenneth Slessor for this one and a shorter one by Michael Dransfield. As far as adventurous goes it’s probably closer to early Augie stuff when I was trying to write a space opera on a backyard play budget every second day. A lot of it was recorded at home and I didn’t give a shit, just wound up the pedals and played nonsense all over it. Got drunk and recorded 12 tracks of maniacal laughter, tried to blitz my multi cores and my little mind. Showed a lot of respect to old dead Kenneth. Good fun and a timely lesson in the words too.
Can you tell me briefly about the message behind the album’s next to last track I Hurtle Back to a Conservative Locker?
I think of this one as the repository, or the bed pan, for the most lethal toxins, the ones that leached through the underbellies of the other tracks and co-mingled to formulate a rank pond, the fumes of which rose and meshed for a miasma of poisonous suggestibility. And then a forest grew around the pond and in my dreams I walked in it long enough that I didn’t know anymore what was topsy or turvy, who was telling the story. And then we went and made it into a pleasant little jaunt. But if there’s one song that represents the serious and the painfully un-serious tone of the Bootikins album it’s this one.
Do you have any trepidation about your upcoming May tour? It’s fair to say it’s been a while.
Not really, we’re actually a very good live band, have been for a while. I was pretty disappointed with how few shows were able to get last time around but that’s Oz Muzak. It’s still unprofessional and we talk a lot, but we’re a dynamic force and we take on so many moods it’s to be applauded. And people will applaud.
Which of these new songs of the album are you most looking forward to performing? And why?
Well we’ve only played once and it went very well. At this point there are no preferences, they’re still working themselves out. Some are very difficult, some are a walk in the park, some are hiding behind the toilets in the park and very difficult to handle after dark. Yuk.
What are the best and worst things about your success?
To still have something of an audience, and a really strange, intelligent and accepting audience, to make music for is the best thing. The worst thing is having to explain that we haven’t been successful. We’re about number 1000 on the list of ‘prominent’ Australian acts and Australia is like one state of the US and it’s that depressing state where hardly anyone goes to gigs. It’s drop in the ocean stuff. We’re the last shake at the urinal. (I should insert an emoji here yes?)
When this is all said and done, how do you think Augie March will be remembered? Do you fear that people will only remember Augie March for One Crowded Hour?
Second part first. Yes I fear that and it will happen. By the rest of the world, we won’t be remembered at all. By the people who have been on our long but little journey we’ll be remembered as a group that probably could’ve done better, that had plenty of the bad luck and mishandling that so often befalls creative, original acts, and that were capable once in a while of doing the most difficult and wonderful thing which is to remind them, in any number of indefinable ways, of their humanity. I hope that last part is true, it’s what I look to art for even when I don’t realise I need it.
Augie March’s new album Bootikins, is available through iTunes and Augie March’s online shop. You can connect with Augie March via their Facebook page or twitter feed @augiemarchtweet. You can also visit Augie March via their website. Follow them on Instagram. Watch them on You Tube.
Check out their national tour dates below:
Friday 4 May: Theatre Royal Castlemaine, VIC
Saturday 5 May:The Workers Club, Geelong, VIC
Friday 11 May:The Night Cat Melbourne, VIC
Saturday 12 May:The Night Cat Melbourne, VI
Friday 18 May: Mojos Perth, WA
Saturday 19 May: Mojos Perth, WA
Thursday 24 May: The Imperial Hotel Eumundi, QLD
Friday 25 May: The Zoo, Brisbane, QLD
Saturday 26 May: The Lansdowne Sydney, NSW
Already announced tour dates:
Friday, February 23: The Velvet Room, Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne, VIC – sold out.
Saturday March 31: Good Saturday Festival, Sydney NSW.
Photo credits: The header image and album cover art is courtesy of revolutions per minute. It cannot be used without their expressed permission. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.