Ahead of the Victorian-formed indie-rock band’s visit to Fremantle on their 10-year anniversary On The Quiet tour this Friday, Grok had a phone chat with Augie March’s frontman Glenn Richards. From his Hobart home, he spoke to us about their 2018 album, technology in music, and the intimacy of a stripped-back show.
We’ll start off with your newest album Bootikins. So, it’s named after the Roman Emperor Gaius Caesar. What are some inspirations behind the album?
Caligula [meaning ‘little boot’] was his nickname. For that title track, I was reading a lot about him and had actually been over to the Isle of Capri, where he spent quite a bit of time when he was younger, and I think learnt a lot of the perversions characterising his reign. I wouldn’t say I was inspired by it. At the time of conceptualising for the record, I was just trying to identify what it is at the moment, where possibly the worst in people is beginning to be an okay thing to reveal and almost celebrate. Of course, I brought it back to myself, trying to identify what it was—probably my worst self and why I would feel any compunction to reveal it or to conceal it. What are my worse characteristics? I think you can approach a time of history like now. From one way you can lie to yourself, or you can try and root out your worst characteristics and do something about it. I guess, I used a character like that in history as a kick-off point and something to give me a bit of fictional separation [laughs].
Compared to some of your other albums, it feels like the tracks are a bit thicker and there’s a lot more going on musically.
I haven’t listened to the record for quite a long time. I’m in the middle of writing new stuff. That’s an interesting observation, I certainly did a lot more of the record here. A lot of it wasn’t completed in the studio so, I probably had a bit more time to add stuff that we wouldn’t normally do. To be honest, there wasn’t really any change in approach. Half the record we did with Tony Cohen, who unfortunately passed away very shortly after we worked with him. So, there’s probably quite a bit of his sound on the record. It’s quite unique and beautiful. It can be dense as well. So maybe that’s what you’re hearing. That may be just what the songs require.
I find a lot of your music tends to be quite poetic. [Having majored in lit at uni], do you find a lot of your writing is inspired by literature?
Not necessarily. You know, probably historical fiction a little bit, but what I tend to do when I want to start getting stuck into writing is, I do tend to read quite a bit of poetry. It’s more about just getting into the rhythm of things and starting to think in not a lot of words, but rather few words structured in a way that moves musically and possibly contains a lot of meaning. That tends to get me going. Really, it’s down to rhythm. I read poetry to get a hint of that fairly different way of thinking about words.
I find music is such an important way that poetry lives on. Otherwise, there’s not much demand for poetry, in my experience.
No, and there hasn’t been for a long time, which is quite unfortunate. You’re right. To an extent, you can keep alive a version of poetry if the work is put into it. There are a lot of people still publishing and there are—probably not so much in Australia because it’s got such a small population—a lot of people in America publishing poetry, and I think it’s sort of having a revival. A lot of the more traditional and organic arts are having a revival, and people are trying to get in touch with that, as opposed to falling further and further into the digital realm.
I wanted to touch on the idea of digitisation. Augie March has been around since 1996, and a lot of technology would have changed since then in terms of music making. How has digitisation impacted your music, if it has?
I did demos and four-tracks when I was first starting out and that was the prevalent technology. I still use them—I’m looking at one right now—but it just sounds great. There’s nothing you can do in the digital realm—even though you can emulate that sound, the experience is very different, and you tend to produce different music. When we were first starting to tour and head up to Sydney, I remember a big day was when we got our first band mobile phone, a Nokia brick. That was some pretty exciting stuff. Obviously, the biggest change was when file-sharing became a thing and the bottom just fell out of everything. Not that we’d ever made much money from sales, but it was possible, and we were just at that wrong time when we were still stuck on a major label. All of a sudden, we just weren’t making any money whatsoever [laughs], fucking hell. You’re spending a couple of years making something, then you’d drop it and it’s just out there for free. That was kind of mind-blowing. I think we’re just lucky that we’ve built up a flesh audience that still comes to shows. The other side of is, I got into digital recording really early and bought the best gear I could get. That started me on self-recording with a lot more ambition. I can count myself as an engineer and musician, as well as a songwriter and performer. Technology has definitely been pretty amazing for home recording.
Where did the idea for your On The Quiet tour come from?
We did it about a decade ago. I’m pretty sure I was a bit belted around the head by big loud gigs and it was a lot of taking a crew around—the whole shebang. On stage, I was copping it and started to notice my hearing was really getting damaged. I think came out of that, as banal as that sounds. Also, I think the strength of my songwriting and more traditional songwriting is they stand out—whether it’s with an orchestra or whether it’s just me and an acoustic guitar. This is sort of halfway between, so the sounds would shine a bit more. For the audience, they’re not facing a barrage from a band. It’s being in a room with a fairly acoustic band, and it’s a really good band when we’re stripped back.
Yeah, it sounds like a really intimate set-up. So, what’s in store for the future of Augie March?
Next year’s the 20th anniversary of our first album Sunset Studies, we’re already planning for that and I’m working on new stuff. I’m pretty hopeful for getting another Augie March record out hopefully next year.