Artist Spotlight: Augie March

it is somewhat fitting that yesterday’s non-a7x spotlight of an American band by an Australian poster gets followed up by a spotlight on an Australian band by an American.

While my last Artist Spotlight was about my current favorite artist, this one will be about my previous favorite band. It was in 2003 and I doing my semester abroad in Sydney Australia. A sort-of-friend said that this was her favorite band, but said that I probably would not like them. Still, instead of describing the band’s music, she lent me her copy of their recent CD. And she was sort of right. This Augie March was that kind of oldies stuff that I did not care for much at the time. This country folk, middle of the road, unadventurous, not-quite rock stuff that I had heard in college nestled between hippie jams and Eminem. And the pretentious cover for the liner notes, along with the band being named after a book, did not help my first impression. I had absolutely no use for this album…until around the fourth song. Then something clicked. I will not say that I immediately started liking the band, but that song was definitely a gateway for me growing to like the band. Very soon, I bought the album, along with the previous one, Sunset Studies, which I immediately loved.

I felt something for this band’s music that I did not (at least at the time) feel for similar-sounding music. There was an elegant balance to most of the songs. The melodies were simple without being simplistic. The arrangements were intricate without being showy. The song structures had a logic to them that did not seem just obligatory. The music evoked a time long past without seeming like just nostalgically retreading worn ground with spinning wheels. It was serious without demanding the listener be as well. The singing got across emotions well enough without being manipulative or embarrassingly over the top. The lyrics, whether nice or disturbing, had a literary and poetic bent without sounding like singer Glenn Richards wanted to hint at the novels and history books that he read that month or to bowl me over with a quirky turn of a nonsensical phrase.

They were not breaking ground, but doing the best with the ground that they had. They did not have to be showy or gimmicky to make up for a lack of substance, nor did they have to use authenticity or attitude as a crutch to make up for a substandard songwriting. They treated the genres with respect, but without succumbing to rigid orthodoxy. While some music allowed me to fool myself into thinking that I was smarter or had more interesting tastes than others, Augie March was the first band to really make me feel like I could actually be an adult. I would eventually learn to enjoy a few other artists in similar genres, but none quite to the level as I did Augie March.

Just as I was isolated from whatever fanbase Bonnie Pink has, I was also relatively isolated from the fanbase that Augie March had, thanks to my friend telling me about them only after they had visited Sydney. Apparently, the fanbase was full of hipsters and rowdy rowdies, so maybe it was for the best. Perhaps some of the Australian Avocados can shine some light on that. I did manage see the band play three times while they were in the States, where they are much less well-known. One time, I even took a bus from Boston to New York City to see them OPEN for Gomez, a band with one song that I liked. I had been told that their live sets were often plagued with technical problems, but I did not notice much other than the vocals being a little low in the mix and the acoustics of the venues being somewhat less than ideal.

So, here are six songs from their various releases. I kind of wish that I could have included “Century Son” from their 1998 Thanks for the Memes EP, just to show them in their slightly more rowdy and messy indie rock side, but the song is not on Youtube. The original EP in its entirety is on Youtube (as are, though, so you can check that out. It is quite good, but a little different from what the band would be like merely a year later. Anyways…

“Rich Girl” from Waltz EP (1999) 4:57

A lush, aquatic, and kind of jangly number, with deceptively simple chord progression that kind of falls away with the chorus. The piano riff seems to come from another creepier song, but the band is adamant on keeping it in, which I guess fit in with the somewhat unsettling lyrics about…dumping someone into the ground?

“Here Comes the Night” from Sunset Studies (2000) 4:50

Ah…this one. The chord progression in the verses and that wavy guitar bring to mind a sense of proto-rock ‘n’ roll pop, at least before the song gets louder. The intro and the first “chorus” have two guitars playing melodies that are similar, but different enough so that they compliment each other. The lyrics seem to paint an unrequited love as an epic war and misery…with a tiny bit of torture? I guess that the singer is a troubled soul and maybe a little dangerous, but optimistically joyous about it. I don’t know.

“The Night Is a Blackbird” from Strange Bird (2002) 5:23

Yeah, look at all of those words on the cover. It was this one that convinced me to stick with the album and I am glad that I did. I did not really realize it at the time, but perhaps one reason why I immediately liked this song was that part of the verse is vaguely similar to “Jesu’s Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach, a piece that have liked since childhood. At least it is not another rip-off of that intolerable Canon in D. Anyways, this song is just pretty, and the slowest of slow dances. It is also an example of how the music can be sad without drowning in bathos.

“The Baron of Sentiment” from Moo, You Bloody Choir (2006) 5:10

One of their semi-Country Western tracks. Or saloon songs. This is just a pleasant song; slightly dirty around the edges with the jangly guitars, but with lovely vocal harmonies. And I almost always love when a song does a little turn of a chord towards the end.

“Dogsday” from Watch Me Disappear (2008) 4:45

2008 was maybe about the time that I began to drift away from Augie March. Several years out of college and a year out of grad school, I had been established in actual full-time employment by this point and the notion of feeling like an adult had kind of lost its charm. When I first heard this album, I thought that a lot of the songs sounded a bit too cutesy and uninspired, too much like the other literate indie bands that did not interest me and without the balance that kept me listening. Maybe the band members agreed, as the band went on hiatus shortly afterwards. I guess that the album title was apt. Not all of the songs failed, though. This ambient slowdance of a song got to me quite a bit.

“Villa Adriana” from Haven’s Dumb (2014) 5:36

The band eventually came back and in good form. Watch Me Disappear was okay, but Haven’s Dumb is much better. Fast and energetic while still being pretty. Simple, yet intricate. I love how the singing never gets shouty or fast, but still manages to match the music.