There are many atmospheric peculiarities floating through Augie March’s new album Bootikins, but they all have this affectionate analog quality, which convinces you of your place in the weird terrain. Frontman Glenn Richards explains its feel sprung from dark humour, a four-track previously owned by a movie theatre, uniquely talented bandmates, drunkenness, letting the song’s protagonists run amok, and the magical touch of late, revered engineer/producer, Tony Cohen (1957 – 2017).
In your self-written album bio, you mention “the elation that comes from writing something you haven’t written before.” It sounds paradoxical but I also understand that it means you deliberately sought originality – did you choose things or make decisions specifically because they felt unfamiliar?
Yeah. I mean, I reckon of said that probably in a different way every time I’ve tried to describe a process. I mean, it’s true. Pretty much every time you write a song that you’re actually pleased with – which isn’t that often for me, especially as I’m getting older – it’s usually because it feels new. It might just be a small thing. The only person that’s going to notice it is me. But, with [Bootikins], I reckon there was just something going on. There’s a looseness, and I suppose it’s a ‘don’t care’ factor. That was more [that] I let whatever character [which] appears to be present in the song, tell the story; not putting the brakes on and not trying to make it any prettier than it ought to be. Go anywhere as ridiculous as it wants to. So that’s probably what I was getting at with that line, this time.
The title track, Bootikins, definitely seems like an experiment in nutty chords and lyrics.
The words came out pretty easy. It was a little bit of a eureka moment when I kind of figured – I guess encapsulated – the spirit of the record, and really late as well. There wasn’t anything that I could identify that was sort of holding it together, but then it became really clear. This pretty simple, almost like a bit of black humour appeared, but as far as writing it… if I’m going to be honest, it came from a funny guitar sound I came up with. You know the wobbly raspy thing? It put in mind of stuff like early T-Rex and early Bowie, that kind of very early ‘70s, when those kind of guys were just starting to form a notion of what it is that they were. There’s just something quite special about the music they were making then. So, I realised that, and then half way through it I realised there weren’t enough chords to make it move, so I kept adding more transitionals and stuff. That’s how it got its dynamic, which is a nice, evil dynamic. We dig it.
There’s a wonkiness all over the album, with many bent notes and things. But I feel like there’s a particularly atonal chaos going on in the background of Mephistopheles Perverted – there’s some demonic shouts and things. Tell me about these effects.
Well, when you’ve got somebody like Kiernan Box in the band, there’s always something going on that you didn’t even realise was happening. So he deliberately goes blue, sometimes, with his note choice. There is definitely something going on with the keys. It was recorded mainly here [in Hobart]. Again, I have to be honest, I think I did a lot of it when I was drunk, and all of that drunken laughter and stuff that you hear in the middle, that’s genuinely scary stuff. I really didn’t like hearing it the next day, but I had to do it drunk ‘cause otherwise it wouldn’t of sounded like what it was supposed to sound. You’re right, I made a real effort – I’m not a great guitar player by any stretch, but I do like to make any parts that I play interesting and memorable. So, I played around a little bit with the guitar.
The Third Drink is absolutely poetic – I can’t even choose my favourite couplet. How did you write these lyrics?
It was after I just got myself a really sweet four-track. I got this one locally. It used to be in the Village Cinemas; they used it to play ads. It’s one of the really good ones. It had just been serviced and I got it for about 100 bucks. The quality of it… everybody will tell you, it’s just a magic sound, and you get an immediate vibe from it. I spent about three or four days writing one after the other and just set them down on tape as soon as I could, and The Third Drink was one of them. It’s entirely about what happens – it’s usually the third drink where it ticks over into “Man, I’m going to keep this going,” and usually that’s a bad idea. It is. Write what you know.
I don’t want to get invasive on your time with Tony Cohen, but could you expand on your comment that he made you feel like, and play like, a real band again?
Well that’s exactly what happened, even though Tony slowed down a little bit – he was having to look after himself quite a lot. This is also the guy who was apologising after doing eight or nine hours in a day. Insane. The rest of us are sitting down, he’s just standing up the entire time and then apologising for not being able to do 16 hours like he used to. I was trying to tell him that just about every engineer now will set it out at the beginning of the day saying, “I start at 10 and I finish at 6 and that’s it.” He couldn’t believe it. The art of it, I suppose, is being unobtrusive, and then revealing a bit of the art a little bit later in the session, and you hear what he’s got down to tape with some pretty simple miking – but very clever miking – and then he’s just very slowly adding some reverb here, or space where there wasn’t space, or drawing something up. He’s really great to experience.
Bootikins is out February 23 via Caroline.
Read our review of the album.