“The best band in Australia since the turn of the century.” “Nothing short of amazing.” “Consistent brilliance.” “Mesmerizing.” “No band in this country or anywhere else for that matter is making music like this…”
Since their inception in 1996, the praise for Australian quintet Augie March
in their homeland has literally poured in from critics and a passionate following. Imports have found their way to the US where the band has received rave reviews from such outlets as Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Stylus.
With the release of Moo, You Bloody Choir
, their third full-length album and first major label release in the states, US audiences will finally have a chance to hear one of the most impassioned and poetic bands in Australia’s rich musical history.
The Augie March story begins at place called the Punter’s Club in Melbourne, Australia, where the seeds for starting the band were planted. But their origins really date back to their childhoods in the city of Shepparton (about two hours north of Melbourne), where Glenn Richards (singer/guitarist/songwriter), David Williams (drummer) and Adam Donovan (guitarist) spent their childhood. David and Adam grew up a fence away from each other and have been “best friends for years.” Glenn is a few years older than them, and was close with Dave’s elder brother, and used to hang around the house a lot. Glenn later moved to study literature at Melbourne University, but was paying the bills with a less lucrative occupation…
“I caught up with them again in Melbourne while I was washing dishes,” recalls Richards. “And I think they were doing the same at a different place. We met at the Punters Club, which is now defunct but at the time was the main gathering place for musicians in Melbourne. I handed over a tape of four-track songs, the first bunch of songs that I’d written, and said, ‘You know, what do you think? Let me know if you want to have a go at jamming on some of these.’ They said yes and recruited a guy to play bass, which is Edmondo (Ammendola).”
A week and a half later, the band booked their first gig, performing at a friend’s art exhibit. “It was an exhibition at his house that they had to vacate a couple of days later, which turned into a bit of a disaster zone,” remembers Richards. “He asked us to play in the backyard, so we did three covers and three originals. Within another week we had out first proper gig supporting another mate’s band…and it went on from there. We haven’t really stopped playing since then. It was a pretty easy beginning, really. The middle years were the hard years cause we had to become a real band.””
After a handful of gigs, the band signed with Australian indie Ra Records, releasing the EPs Thanks For The Memes and Waltz in 1998. In 2000 the band recorded their first full-length album, the pastoral Sunset Studies. The album cemented their status as one of Australia’s most acclaimed new bands, with their compelling mixture of folk, country, pop, rock, and jazz influences, enriched with Richards’ striking and expressive vocals. In 2002 with the addition of former Blackeyed Susans’ keyboardist Kiernan Box, Augie March recorded their eclectic second album Strange Bird.
Once again, Strange Bird garnered heaps of critical acclaim from the Australian press, further adding to their loyal fan base. It’s been written that songwriter Richards is “regularly cited by almost every songwriter in Australia as one of the finest tunesmiths of his generation.” But despite the volumes worth of accolades, it wasn’t until the release of Moo, You Bloody Choir that Augie March began to achieve vast commercial success in Australia.
Moo, You Bloody Choir was recorded in Melbourne, San Francisco, and the band’s own studio in Nagambie (in country Victoria). It was produced by longtime collaborator (and renowned Australian producer) Paul McKercher (You Am I, the Cruel Sea), illustrious Captain Beefheart alumnus Eric Drew Feldman (PJ Harvey, Polyphonic Spree), and Augie March. The album was mixed by the esteemed Mark Howard (Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Tom Waits, U2). While covering some similar terrain as their previous efforts, the band’s sound and production value reaches new heights on Moo, resulting in an album rich with mesmerizing melodies, classic rock ‘n’ roll harmonies, innovative arrangements, and Richards’ soaring vocals.
No longer just critics’ darlings and underground heroes in their homeland, Augie March topped the Australian sales charts with Moo, You Bloody Choir, going Platinum, while receiving six ARIA nominations (Australia’s equivalent to the Grammys) and taking the coveted #1 spot on the Triple J Hottest 100 year-end listeners poll (Australia’s leading alternative radio outlet) for the single, “One Crowded Hour.” To top it off, Augie March took home the prestigious AMP Award (Australian Music Prize, the equivalent of England’s Mercury Prize) for artistic achievement.
The album’s opener and breakout single, “One Crowded Hour,” begins with its gentle guitars and quiet piano opening, then builds and builds and builds, anchored by its enthralling chorus:
“But for one crowded hour you were the only one in the room/I sailed around all those bumps in the night to your beacon in the gloom/I thought I had found my golden September in the middle of that purple June/But one crowded hour would lead to my wreck and ruin.”
Often misperceived as a love song, the track stems from a rather unlikely inspiration.
“I was house sitting for a friend, another Australian songwriter,” he recalls, “and she has this wonderful house full of books and vinyl. At the same time, I was reading a book called One Crowded Hour, which is a biography of a wartime correspondent, a cameraman named Neil Davis. He lived an extraordinary life and was unfortunately killed in a relatively harmless infraction, where he quite famously filmed his own death when his camera dropped in front of him and was still rolling. It’s an amazing book. The song itself, that’s the best way I can describe where it came from. It’s a song with three very distinct verses and each verse seems to tell its own story.”
Even after repeated listening, Moo, You Bloody Choir keeps revealing more and more. There’s the chilling, piano-driven “The Cold Acre” (“There’s a place I’ve been told/and when I grow old I may go there/I’ve been told that my family’s bones may lie under the snow there”), the rousing rocker “Just Passing Through,” the stark, Dylan-esque “Bottle Baby,” and the subtle re-working of the enduring “There Is No Such Place” (originally released on the band’s debut album). And that’s just touching the surface. Thirteen songs deep and there’s not an ounce of filler.
The most compelling attribute to Augie March’s music is Richards’ evocative lyrical imagery. Poetic, heartfelt, wry, and sometimes cryptic, Richards’ lyrics read remarkably well even without music, quite a rare feat for any contemporary rock writing. Perhaps such literate prose should be expected from a band that lifted their name from Saul Bellow’s picaresque novel, The Adventures of Augie March.
“My conception of the singer/songwriter is very much a 70’s conception,” he explains about his lyrical aspirations, “which was generally somebody who wrote strong words, with the words no less a part of the song than the melody and the music. They’re all intertwined. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. For me that means having words that will read on their own quite strongly, not necessarily making a terrible amount of sense, but certainly something that every time I sing a line there’s substance to that line. It’s the only way I can sing so many words.”
Over a decade together and new adventures continue to unfold for Augie March. With the stateside release of Moo, You Bloody Choir, another new chapter begins. “It's very much about starting again,” he says, “and I think we're ready for that.”
And for those discovering Augie March for the first time, what does Richards hope to convey? “Probably the most important thing is that we’re not a band that will let people down if they become attached to us. We deliver interesting records that are designed to stand a certain amount of time, hopefully a long time. Those are the kinds of records that I’ve always loved, the records that reveal themselves very, very slowly. That’s what we always try to do. It means that there’s always something to look forward to.”