Interview with Billy McCarthy of Augustines

Interview with Billy McCarthy of Augustines

Augustines are a Brooklyn-based rock trio consisting of Billy McCarthy, Eric Sanderson, and Rob Allen. Forming in 2009 in the wake of the death of McCarthy’s brother and the falling out of he and Sanderson’s previous band, Augustines has since found their footing by belting out inspirational and emotionally intense songs about hardship, love, and the hope of things getting better. Their third album, This Is Your Life releases June 10.

Northern Transmissions: Thanks for speaking with Northern Transmissions. How are you hoping for fans and new listeners to take your upcoming album?

Billy McCarthy: We are very well, thank you. We’re hoping that our record finds people well and that the passion and our care for the work gets across.

NT: You guys first formed Augustines in the wake of personal tragedy. Would you consider that tragedy to still be a defining or integral part of who Augustines are?

B: No, we’ve always maintained we were good people going through a bad situation and that the band was a war for us to get back to feeling good again.

NT: Given the seven years and three albums you’ve used to cope, is This Is Your Life meant to be a sort of bookend on that part of your lives and careers?

B: I think it’s one part battle-cry and another part self-realization. I also think there’s a lot of interesting political things going on in the world; decisions that people have to make for a future we can believe in. “This is your life.”

NT: You’ve adopted many worldly sounds for your latest album, such as choirs and monastic chanting. Would you say spirituality factors into your sound or lyrics?

B: I’m not a spiritual person at all, not religious either. I just have a love for music from around the world and I’m not too silly to think that the only music out there is Western rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s just one part of the spectrum so we often search other styles of music for inspiration. I can’t tell you how many absolute gems I’ve discovered looking outside Western music.

NT: Your live shows are known for their intensity and fan interaction—would you say you invite fans to empathize with you or do you see yourselves as a sort of champion for the people?

B: We champion life and positivity and that’s not a given—we really have to work at it—and at times it’s difficult but we truly believe it’s all about the live show and being with fans, so hopefully people can leave their lives for a bit and sing. That’s a win for us.

NT: This Is Your Life seems like a very personal record. Who is the title referring to, and can that change the meaning of the album as a whole?

B: Like I said before it’s a bit of a reflection and battle-cry but it’s also a stark reality and reminder in a disconnected, hollow era that we’re living in. In America if we don’t choose a solid political life this is indeed the life that we’d have chosen. So, put bluntly, Trump is a massive step backwards. And this is our life.

NT: Is the album art going to become a staple in Augustine’s branding?

B: I think it looks really nice, I guess we’ll see about that.

NT: Many of your new songs have a distinct arena-rock sound. Do you see Augustines as heading in that creative direction, and if so, how do you plan on balancing that with the more intimate nature of your lyrical themes?

B: The term “arena-rock” is very interesting in and of itself. I don’t think we’ve ever aspired to make music for a venue size per se, we just want to make it larger than ourselves.

NT: You’ve noted in the past that you’re very popular over the in UK. How do you think your music and message translate overseas?

B: I’ve been living in Holland since last year… Josephine Baker, a lot of the jazz guys, Nina Simone, many folksingers seem to get a nice start in Europe, I’m not really sure why. America’s huge and with radio being so programmed and stale I don’t know that American listeners can depend on that format any longer.  I really see now how large America is since I’ve been living overseas.

NT: Your 2016 tour is taking you through Germany, the UK, the US, and back to the UK in a matter of months. Do you ever find a chance for some downtime?

NT: Who are some other artists that have inspired you all as a group?

B: Lucky Dube, Planxty, and Jason Isbell.

Interview by Matt Wardell