AUGUSTINES have been on the road for some fifteen weeks promoting their sophomore self-titled album Augustines. They rolled into Birmingham to play The Institute’s Library following rave reviews and countless lost voices from the cities they left behind. Ironically, Soundcheck arrive as the band is in mid sound check for the last show of their three-legged European ‘Walkabout’ tour. The bands extremely talented multi-instrumentalist, Eric Sanderson, took time out to talk to us.
Soundcheck: Welcome to Birmingham, Eric. What do you think of the venue; have you had a look around yet?
Eric Sanderson: Well so far I’ve only seen inside this room and that room out there.
SC: You recently played Koko’s in London. What did you think of that venue?
ES: I think it goes about 5 tiers high – really incredible.
SC: How does playing in the Institute in Birmingham compare to shows in your home country – in the likes of The Gorge Amphitheatre?
ES: I think it will be better – It’s our headlining show, everyone will be coming here to see us. It will be sweaty, intimate – it will be like really close. The Gorge is beautiful, it’s a really different experience, and the catering is really good.
SC: As you get bigger, the band get’s bigger – which hopefully you will do. You start playing bigger arenas then you lose the intimacy that you currently have, do you feel phased by that?
ES: So far we’ve not been affected by it, because some of the stuff we do in smaller clubs we brought to KOKO – we played a place called Astra in Germany, it holds 1,600 people. We weren’t sure if some of the stuff we do in our shows now would translate – but they totally did, there was no problem. But that said, we’re playing Roundhouse in December – we recognise that the way we approach the shows won’t translate in the same way at the Roundhouse because it’s so big, so we’re going to have to modify what we do a little bit – and grow into it. We’ve learned through playing enough shows that you have to work with what you’re given – it’s more fun that way.
SC: We got a bit of an after show encore in Oxford recently, have you got a pub booked for tonight?
ES: No that was just going off the seat of our pants. It was completely unplanned, it just kind of happened.
SC: Well we’ve just checked out the pub next door.
ES: Any Good? Ever since Oxford the promoters of the venues have come to us, and had a talk with us saying that if we go outside we will get fined. It was good though, we were running the risk of getting fined – but the club, they were great – they basically said, look if we get fined, you’re going to get fined…which is understandable.
SC: Last night of the tour. Do you have any individual show highlights?
ES: Of this leg, Oxford, although last night in Edinburgh – the street is so beautiful there, all the architecture it’s amazing.
SC: What do you get to see of the cities? Are there any you’d like to go back to and spend a few days?
ES: Yeah, Yeah. I love York, I loved Edinburgh. I was really impressed by, what was that city? – Was it Nottingham? I really didn’t expect to be impressed by it, no offence – I just didn’t know anything about it. So yeah there are a few I’d like to go back to. When we first started the tour I’d be getting up and going for walks, spending more time outside – but then as the tour got on – I mean we’ve been out for fifteen weeks now…and my body is just so tired – I don’t really wake up till about 7 o’clock, then I get ready for the show, then we play.
SC: Facebook and Twitter – how much of the content is driven by yourselves?
ES: We do it all ourselves, it’s all filtered from Instagram. Although Twitter we do independently as well. We do it all ourselves except for the occasional post which is the label announcing a festival. I think you can generally tell when it’s posted by them and posted by us. When we first started we did everything ourselves – it took a lot of trust to relinquish that to the people we work with, but the truth is we work with good people
SC: You must have had several influences back in the day; but who did you rush out and want to see live? Who would have made you get on a plane and fly off somewhere to see them play?
ES: It’s a hard question for me to answer. I’ve gone through so many phases with music and I consume music in a different way than your typical concert goer. I devour, listen to it…and don’t necessarily need to see it live. There is a live band that I would follow, I guess if I was going to follow a band it would be Manu Chao. He’s great because, he has a couple of records – and his records are made on four-tracks, and you can tell he’s a traveller and he makes them on the road – very lo-fi but incredibly well produced. Not lo-fi sonically, but just in its arrangement. There’s not much live drums, more drum machines… but then his live shows are totally flipped, it’s probably a seven or eight piece band , sometimes even bigger with horn sections – we saw them perform at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. He came out and within five minutes he had six-thousand people jumping and screaming at the top of their lungs – it’s the most celebratory party I’ve ever seen – and he’s absolutely an inspiration to us.
SC: How are you coping with the regional accents in Britain?
ES: I’m actually doing surprisingly well. Liverpudlian, that accent is so cool to me. When I first went to Scotland I had a hard time, we toured with a Scottish band and had a really hard time understanding what they’d say – but I’ve been there enough now, so I can actually hear it…I don’t struggle as much
SC: Augustines opens with ‘Cruel City’. Feels like New York, yet video is filmed in London…any particular city?
ES: The song is New York City but obviously it touches on gentrification and feeling alienated in a place that you want to call home, but it won’t allow you to call home. So that could be anywhere. It’s a very unsettling feeling.
SC: Do you write the songs with the intentions of performing them live – as in crowd sing-a-longs… how much does this go into your writing process?
ES: No. It’s not about that at all. When we did these songs we were – well they were kind of been written as we were performing them in the Church and all of the sing-a-longs and all of the melodies came from expression and what made us feel good. There were moments – in the song ‘Now You Are Free’ – It was a tricky song to arrange as it’s not a traditional song structure, we just really liked that breakdown into the hit…like how many times can we get that into the song because it felt really good. And we tried lots of different ways to do it – we used a vocal processor so Billy didn’t have to worry about his lyrics yet – it was just pure expression – we could perform just for ourselves and get excited…or different emotions.
SC: That’s ideal. If you can feel that for yourselves…
ES: Yes I feel that it always has to come from yourself, it has to be – for one – something that I would like to listen to, and then something that I would be proud to show my friends. Once it lives up to those standards, then it’s ready to show the rest of the world. I kind of don’t care about the rest of the world – until it’s time to go out and perform. When we’re performing we, obviously, care about the people who are there – more than we care about ourselves – It’s selfish to only care about yourselves on stage.
SC: Augustines has very mixed reviews – however mainly as a comparative to Rise Ye Sunken Ships – possibly due to less angst and moving on both personally and developing musically… Where do you see inspiration from future songs coming from?
ES: Future songs. When we started on this record we knew that people would automatically judge it – and judge it for not being so emotional as the previous record. But we’ve worked very hard on getting out of that phase within our lives, and we had to do a lot of soul searching. We had to come to terms with who we are, and what we do as people; and we had to find, like, a new foundation – a new rock that we could grow from – and it turned out to be a very positive record. It wasn’t intentional – that’s just how it became. Everything we’ve done has just been an expression of what we’re going through…so the truth is I don’t know what the next record will be about, I don’t know what we will be going through yet.
SC: Peter Katis co-produced the album. I think that the build up and layers on the track ‘Walkabout’ from a production point of view stands out. What influence did Peter have in the final sound? And would you continue to co-produce on the back of Augustines?
ES: When we went to The Church and started to recording I brought all my recording equipment up there, and we recorded and demoed out like twenty songs or something. But the entire time we knew we wanted to work with somebody after the initial recording phase, so that we could show the songs to them. They could kind of help us select the songs for the record – plus see the good parts and the parts that needed work…just a fresh ear.
So that’s what Peter did, he actually came in and ended up using a lot of those individual track that we did – that we recorded in The Church – be it guitar, bass, drums…whatever. He ended up using quite a lot of it, much more than I’d expected…but of course we did most of the drums because Peter got a much better set up for drums and he’s much more experienced. Peter’s an incredibly talented engineer; a lot of people don’t know that about him. They think he’s just a producer, but he’s also an incredible mix engineer and recording engineer. A lot of the sound he gets as a producer comes from the way he records it and mixes it – so the big drums and distorted kick-drum – the way the vocals sit on top of the mix without having like a pop-gloss, but still having a leaning towards that, but perhaps a little more greedy.
It’s all Peter’s style. Peter helped us; he brought in a guy called Rob Moose to play violin on ‘Walkabout’ and a couple of other songs. And I did a bunch of string arrangements on the record and Rob played them or also improvised and came up with arrangements on the spot – which is incredibly exceptional. The ‘Walkabout’ strings he literally heard the song once, and the strings he wrote it and played it.
‘Walkabout’ took a while, we weren’t sure – we knew what we wanted to do, like, I had come up with the intro piano part. I’d be playing and Billy would be just singing along – eventually we just came up with that melody. It was great, but we just didn’t know what to do with it. Everyday we’d work on it…one morning I just changed to the faster tempo type thing, worked on that for a couple of days and then Bill and I worked on the core progression a little bit – tweeked it, modified it…and then we knew we had something. We just kind of improvised it, and played it in the studio, jamming it. Then we knew where it could go – but we didn’t know how to get there, and how long of a journey it would take – we kept morphing and modifying. A lot of it came from the way Rob built up the drums and the way that the vocals went on top. So everything came together over time – but we didn’t rush it.
SC: Festivals season is coming up including a couple in Germany…how much do bands interact with one another backstage?
ES: It depends on the festival, most of the Green Rooms are all shared, or all in a hall. The catering is usually always shared. The last festival season we did we saw the same bands over and over again, after we saw the same bands for the fifth time it’s kind of like – Hey, how you doing. It’s not like you become friends, but when you see each other repeatedly – but like The Savages we saw them at eight festivals, so eventually we just started talking and hanging out.
SC: It’s odd with people in the public eye. People who have never met you, yet know quite a lot of personal stuff about you already – from the internet or interviews. Do you find that concept odd or are you getting used to it now?
ES: I forget to be honest. I’ll be talking to somebody after a show. I’ll be talking to them for a while and I ask them their name. I’ll say ‘Hi I’m Eric’ and they’ll be… ‘Yeah. I know.’ And I just forget.
I’m a little bit private and so I don’t share everything, but I have shared a good amount of my life to the public.
SC: Roundhouse announced, any surprises there?
ES: We’ll have some surprises, we’re working out right now.
SC: Any surprises in store for tonight?
ES: For tonight. Al’s working out how to play ‘Ironman’ on trombone. I’m not joking – if he figures it out that will be a nice surprise.