Interview: We Are Augustines talk new album and activism, late night TV debut tonight
Tonight, We Are Augustines are getting a big television introduction. In many ways, the trio has been through a number of those -- introductions and reintroductions, that is.
Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson originally played together in Brooklyn band Pela. One of the group's EPs was released by Brassland, founded by the guys in The National (and, for fans, the similarities between the two bands is quite striking). That business relationship floundered. Then Pela shacked up with Great Society, the shambolic spin-off label of the World's Fair management company founded by Flaming Lips manager Scott Booker. The release of full-length "Anytime Graffiti" was a weirdly soft release, with a leg in 2007 and 2008, and the band ultimately severed ties there, too.
Even having toured and opened for the aforementioned artists, plus those like Sonic Youth and the Decemberists, there was always this feeling that Pela petered on the edge of totally eating it or getting really, really big. Business just never went their way.
Instead, Pela dissolved in 2009, with Sanderson and McCarthy going on to We Are Augustines.
"Over the past 2 years we’ve faced tremendous obstacles. We recorded an album twice, had a falling out/legal battle with our old label, fired 2 managers, had a big record deal fall through," read part of the wrap-up on Pela's site.
The Augustinian transition was even marked with tragedy: McCarthy's brother, who was mentally ill, committed suicide after having spent years in solitary confinement in a California prison. The emotional impact of that, plus the exhausting traditional label system having had its way with the band previously, made for a very new and different band.
In 2011, We Are Augustines released their first album "Rise Ye Sunken Ships," a set that consisted partly of songs McCarthy had written for Pela's second full-length outing. Taking on drummer Rob Allen, the group then released the album themselves through their own Oxcart label, backed by devotees like KEXP's John Richards. "Sunken Ships" was amped by single "Chapel Song," which has just the right amount of poison and sugar, with an impactful music video to match (below).
Last year, the band also toured in the U.K. five or six times, with the help from band fans like the Boxer Rebellion. Like The National did prior to "Boxer," We Are Augustines are enjoying even greater success overseas than they are here in the U.S. For now.
Because it appears that the trio are about ready for another reintroduction.
We Are Augustines are making their late night television debut tonight (Feb. 24) on "The Late Show with David Letterman," performing "Chapel Song." They head to the UK again in March before their South By Southwest shows and then will take the stage at Coachella in April, on the same day that Radiohead is headlining. They'll be opening for Band of Skulls (who just released their impressive "Sweet Sour") throughout the spring, on top of that, and were among the many big-name artists on the "Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International" compilation, released last month.
Above, I interview the band after they played a set at the Sundance Film Festival. The group talks about the upshot of running your own label in these troubled times, their fantasy of playing with a cab-driving sitar player, and why deserts keep showing up in McCarthy's lyrics. What was that about Juarez?
And don't forget their impromptu version of "We Built This City."