It’s the tail-end of December, and Augustines’ singer-guitarist Billy McCarthy is on the road, about to embark on a solo road trip from Texas into the deeper South, hoping to end up somewhere in the Caribbean. Since the band broke from its touring cycle for 2011 debut, Rise Ye Sunken Ships, McCarthy has travelled to far-flung places like Kenya, Turkey and locales in Asia.
Rise, which piqued the interest of fans and critics alike, was in many ways a grandiose, heart-breaking work that dealt with heavy topics such as the suicide of McCarthy’s mother — who lost her son to the foster care system — and brother, who suffered from mental health issues before taking his own life in prison.
McCarthy, a Santa Cruz native who spent the second half of his childhood in Placer County as a foster child, acknowledges his background and says writing about his past has helped him deal with it: “If you, kind of, blend in … you’re always keeping a secret. It’s very nice to not have to avoid the subject.”
But at the same time, McCarthy is tired talking about his personal background. He says it’s in his past, and he’s moving on.
“Every time I read one of these interviews, it’s always about me and dead people,” he says.
Augustines, who also include bassist-keyboardist Eric Sanderson and drummer Rob Allen, play at the Independent Monday. The band, whose name was previously preceded by “We Are” due to a legal complaint by another act with a similar-sounding name, released a new, self-titled album this week.
The new album doesn’t deal with the despair of the first, McCarthy said. Instead, it’s about the excitement he, Sanderson and Allen felt as they grew the band from the ashes of another project and made it its own success. After playing more than 250 shows in the past year, they feel they’ve become better live performers, and their fans have reciprocated their on-stage passion. One example is the building ballad “This Ain’t Me,” which crescendos with McCarthy reciting the mantra “I can change,” as if proclaiming that what was does not have to be.
“We were trying to capture the excitement that we felt,” he says.
The three bandmates are an interesting lot. Allen, a London native now living in Seattle, is a conservatory-trained drummer; in fact, the band’s management is British-based, as is horn player Al Hartiman, who’s joining the American tour. Sanderson grew up in New York and has been McCarthy’s close friend for more than a decade. He’s also a producer, and assisted with the new album.
“I’ve got the total West Coast (slang), like, ‘It’s all good,’” McCarthy says. “And Rob’s like, ‘sol’id, mate; sol’id.’ And Eric’s like, ‘Fuhgettaboutit’ – no, wait, that’s Italian; he doesn’t really say that.”
Augustines recorded the album in a 19th century New York church and at the Connecticut studio of producer Peter Katis, who’s worked with the likes of The National, Interpol and Jónsi.
The new album is one of many things McCarthy would rather talk about than his past. There’s also his fondness for the Bay Area, where he sees himself eventually raising a family in a place like Napa or Sonoma — “I mean, it’s where I’m from.”
He’s been waiting for someone to ask him where he’d like to tour (Australia, Sweden, Norway, South America); or about his favorite instruments and influences:
“I’m a huge fan of the clarinet and oboe and woodwinds,” he says. “I really like Chopin. I really love piano. I love composers.”
And as someone who’s never been in one place for too long, McCarthy loves to travel, which brought him on this trek through the American South.
“If I apply the same money I would have spent on New York rent to … (chase) my dreams down, it would be a pretty enriching experience,” he says.
McCarthy says his goal is to talk to interesting people, be it a homeless man with leukemia and an opiate addiction bumming for a cigarette, or “old-timers” in New Orleans, where he plans to pass through. He shares his experiences to followers on Instagram.
“Living in hotel rooms (on solo treks) is kind of hard and a little lonesome, but it’s OK,” says the man who’s always been on the move.
Augustines, My Goodness
February 10, 2014