We Are Augustines
Rise Ye Sunken Ships, the debut album from We Are Augustines, bowed into the Top 10 of SoundScan’s New Artists chart on the strength of its first week of digital sales. The physical album was released on August 23rd on the band's own Oxcart Records via Atlantic.
The band, made up of singer/guitarist Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson on bass/keys and drummer, Rob Allen, have warmed the hearts and souls of fans worldwide with their sublime live shows featuring many of their heartfelt anthems from the album that received the ‘iTunes Alternative Album of the Year’ award in the US at the end of 2011.
The UK has become a second home to the band where they recently played the legendary Brixton Academy and won the hearts of many with set up single 'Book of James.' Their album will be released there on March 5th 2012
Having propelled themselves into the spotlight with former outfit Pela – whose debut (and only) album Anytown Graffiti achieved significant success, the group collapsed from personal tensions, chiefly instigated by the industry at large. Just as it got going with sold out ballrooms under their belts, Pela’s momentum ceased. For two of the group, however, remaining afloat was the only course. Pela was sunk but conditions were made to launch a new vessel and We Are Augustines were born.
Drawn together by a continuing musical vision and mutual understanding, Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson, were also, on a more personal level, no strangers to turbulent waters. McCarthy in particular, whose volatile upbringing is candidly documented in the lyrics of his songs, has felt himself frequently capsized by the vagaries of life. Having spent much of his formative years in foster care a sense of self-reliance is perhaps more finely attuned in him than most. McCarthy’s enthusiasm for his current situation is addictive yet his affable characteristics also betray a certain gravitas. Like a child who’s been told one too many lies, there’s a sense of restraint – like the very fabric in front of him could vanish in a puff of dissolution at any time. He says the word ‘present’ a lot – though not the gift-wrapped kind – like a man holding on to the NOW with white-knuckle determination. He is also given to shaking his head, with cartoonishly grim disbelief, especially when hitting upon something fortuitous. Through all the upheaval and broken promises that have come, Billy McCarthy is a man who takes nothing for granted.
“It’s quite gratifying to be where we are now,” he says, reflecting on the past two years, which has seen them rise from the ashes of Pela to garner a new, equally fervent following with We Are Augustines – something which, on the back of previous setbacks, looked in danger of being drowned at birth. Fortified by British drummer Rob Allen, who has lived in New York for 10 years – and who met the band through Pela stick-wielder Tom Zovich – We Are Augustines have since embellished their sound with a harder rhythmic edge – the price of adopting an Englishman – with Allen now a fully integrated member of what has, until now, been an extremely closed group.
Much of the material on aptly named album Rise Ye Sunken Ships – most of which was written and recorded when Pela still existed – documents perhaps the most traumatic period of Billy McCarthy’s life. After losing his mother at 19, in 2009, McCarthy's younger brother James, diagnosed schizophrenic, hung himself while still in the apparent care of the hospital that was supposed to be treating him. Having been songwriting for only a couple of years following the death of his mother, initial forays into compositional catharsis fell short (“I lacked the vocabulary and subtlety”), but by the time of James’s death, a virtually obsessive McCarthy had assimilated his understanding of the world with the nuances of his craft.
“There were years of my life that just blend into each other, because all I cared about was writing, it was just pure dedication. When you believe in your art – whether you’re a writer or musician or whatever – you’re essentially believing in yourself. I never put that together until recently.”
Sitting between Sanderson and McCarthy is like watching a game of conversational table tennis. Like an old married couple, the pair seem to be completely aligned to each other’s thought patterns. With Sanderson having shared very similar personal traumas to McCarthy – particularly his own family history of substance abuse – it’s small wonder the pair are so reciprocal.
“The timeline to where we’re at now, we don’t feel robbed or any remorse,” says Sanderson. “We try every day to focus on the immediate circumstances and seeing the bigger picture. As hard as it is when things aren’t going well for you, it’s important to recognise that’s just part of the puzzle.”
And as navigation and momentum remain essential to their survival, We Are Augustines are steering a course by way of a chart speckled with the fragments of shattered dreams and guiding lights long extinguished. Not the easiest of paths to traverse, but then plain sailing was never their command. With Rise Ye Sunken Ships, momentum is about to bring some lost treasures brimming triumphantly to the surface.