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August List - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 14 / 11 / 2014

August List - Interview


Malcolm Carter chats to Oxfordshire husband-and-wife duo the August List about 'O Hinterland', their much acclaimed debut album

After two well-received EPs the August List recently released their first full-length album, ‘O Hinterland’. Of the eleven tracks only three had featured across the two EPs, so there was enough new material there to grab the attention of anyone who had heard either the ‘High Town Crow’ or ‘Handsome Skin’ EPs. Both EPs were successful in highlighting what makes the August List stand out from not just the current influx of male/female duos, but from any other artist or band that is pushing the Americana genre to some weird but wonderful places. It was Kerraleigh Child’s chilling vocals that first grabbed our attention; there are few female vocalists performing in any genre who have the ability to capture disturbing beauty quite like Kerraleigh. The sound Kerraleigh produces is unsettling but captivating and is ideally suited to the music that the August List make. Each EP was like a complete statement; four songs each which really flowed. They really were more like mini-albums, and if the duo had continued releasing EPs of this standard they would not have only kept their ever growing fan base happy but also captured new fans with every new release. There was some concern then that, with three of the songs having found the perfect home on their respective EPs, maybe their inclusion on a full-length album wouldn’t work so well. In some ways the songs take on a different light when taken as part of ‘O Hinterland’. While a song like ‘Forty Rod of Lightnin’ which is a song that is featured on both the album and the ‘Handsome Skin' EP, is never likely to lose any of its power as it displays the foot-stomping, bluesy side of the August List to perfection, in the context of the album it sounds even more urgent and passionate. It also brings to light just how talented Martin Child is as a singer too. Over the course of the album both singers are given more of a chance to shine. Instead of having to cover all bases of their sound in just four songs, the space afforded by the album format gives the duo the chance to expand their sound without losing sight of their roots. We’ve put a few questions to the duo before, but with the welcome release of ‘O Hinterland’ we felt it was time to intrude again and catch up with a little background to the album and to find out what Kerraleigh and Martin, who decided that unusually that they wanted to provide their answers by email together, have planned next. ‘O Hinterland’ is worth checking out if you like your Americana delivered with an edge that takes it beyond the usual confines of that genre and into a place that, while you might not always find it immediately comfortable, is one of those journeys you feel you just have to experience again and again. It might well be a cliché but the August List really is breaking new ground on ‘O Hinterland’, and the album is one of those rare collections that throws up new experiences with each play. PB: You’ve taken three of the eight songs that are featured across your two EPs to make another appearance on ‘O Hinterland’. Why those particular three songs? Did you feel those songs fitted the flow of the album best? AUGUST LIST: We didn’t want our first album to just be recycled songs off our EP’s but at the same time we felt that these three songs deserved a place. We didn’t feel ready to just leave them by the wayside just yet, and they were very much a part of our current sound. We did a subtle re-mix and re-master of them from the EPs. PB: You told us before that you wanted to wait with an album so you could learn more about the recording process and that you wanted to take your time to get it right. Now it’s completed and out there are you happy with the results? AUGUST LIST: It was a very unique experience making the record. With both EPs, we were pushed for studio time so had to go in with a very clear idea of what was to happen and were limited for any changes. Looking back, there are things we would both have done differently for them. We didn’t want that for the album, we wanted a more relaxed creative atmosphere so didn’t give ourselves a deadline. What actually happened was that by taking the pressure off, we had the album completed within a matter of six sessions! Graeme Rawson produced the record and we brought in other musicians to play drums, bass, electric guitar and banjo. We love working with other musicians and were really happy with the balance of the full band sound and our own sparser/rougher sounds. PB: There’s a lot of imagery not only in your lyrics but in the overall sound you create. Can you reveal the inspiration behind some of the new songs on the album? AUGUST LIST: The main themes on the record exposed themselves after recording. There’s the unforgiving march of time, there’s hiding issues in boxes or burying them in the ground and it seems most of the protagonists in the songs are in a state of desperation! The atmosphere really is designed to underlie these things. PB: It was an inspired choice to make ‘Wooden Trunk Blues’ the opening song on the album. It sums up the August List perfectly. The album flows brilliantly. Were hours spent choosing the running order? AUGUST LIST: Yes, it took a while to settle on the running order, but we tried to get it down early on, even before a lot of it was recorded. In the end we dropped one song, as it didn’t have a space to occupy and disrupted the feel. Two tracks were swapped around late in the day, which really helped the flow. PB: The back cover image of ‘O Hinterland’ is striking and thought provoking as well as reflecting, in many ways, the sound within. Why that particular image and how did it come about? AUGUST LIST: It’s a huge sculpture called ‘The Nuba Survival’ by John Buckley. It’s located in a village called Checkendon that’s halfway between Reading and Oxford. We saw a picture of it on the internet that a friend of ours had taken, and we had to go and see it immediately. Not many people know about it, even people local to the area don’t know of it’s existence as there’s no sign posts or anything to point it out. It’s on farmland next to this dilapidated barn, these two skeletons in an embrace, taller than the barn itself. We just thought it summed the sound of the album up perfectly; even the ramshackle barn is perfect! It’s like the two figures are bracing for an end that only they know about. Apparently the sculpture just appeared there with no explanation and every once in a while it gets a fresh coat of paint. PB: There’s no denying that the August List have a distinctive sound and it’s not just because of Kerraleigh’s remarkable vocals. But we’re as guilty as the next guy in putting you in the Gothic Americana bracket; where do you feel you fit in? Who do you feel are kindred spirits musically? AUGUST LIST: Americana Folk is good for us! Or Porch Folk. Backwards Country. It’s always tricky. We’re certainly more on the American side than English. That purely comes from what we listen to and love: The Low Anthem, Wilco, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Willy Mason, Silver Jews. But we also love the alt. rock of Angel Olsen, Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, Waxahatchee. When we write a song it goes through the Americana filter and through the instruments at hand and what comes out is our sound. PB: Trying to capture the energy and, at times, rawness of a live performance on record isn’t so easy. But over the course of the EPs and album you’ve achieved that. There’s a lovely spontaneous feel to the songs; you shared production duties with Graeme Rawson. Have you produced music before? If not that’s a pretty impressive beginning! AUGUST LIST: We recorded as much of the songs live as possible to capture the energy and that feeling that it could all fall apart at any moment! For both of us, this is our first and only band and we have only made small attempts to record our songs before the EP’s at home on a four track. Neither of us are very technical and quickly became annoyed at the mechanics. We love to experiment though, so it was great to be able to play around with ideas and then take a song away and think about how we could attack it in a different way. We’re very lucky to have Graeme, as we can come up with an idea and he’ll be the one who knows how to achieve it in the real world. PB: If I had to review ‘O Hinterland’ again it would probably come from a different angle. Whenever I listen to the album after a break of, say a week or so, I honestly hear the songs in a different way to which I had before. There seems to be so much to discover yet the songs are hardly solid walls of sound. By keeping things sparse and stripped the listener is pulled into the songs and feels part of them. Were you aiming for this intimate, captivating sound? AUGUST LIST: For many of the songs, we were aiming for a bigger sound than we had captured in the past, not just in terms of volume with the band, but in atmosphere with sound texture that hopefully works with the lyrics to make it an all encompassing experience. PB: There are two distinct sides to the August List; the foot-stomping cuts like ‘Forty-Rod of Lightnin’ and ‘Cut Yr Teeth’ and the mellower but no less affecting songs such as ‘The Ticking of the Clock’ and ‘Cabin Fever’. Do the two different sides reflect who had the biggest input into a particular song? AUGUST LIST: It’s more about trying to keep things interesting for the listener and us. We don’t want each song to be the same pace as the last; we want to create a variety and a balance that comes over live and on record as well as working for the song itself. PB: ‘Radiator Song’ and ‘Cabin Fever’ both have an eeriness, this otherworldly feel about them, which few artists capture as well as The August List and which are two of the songs that make the listener feel they are hearing the songs for the first time again even after repeated plays. Would you agree that its songs such as those that set the August List apart from the other ‘Americana’ bands? AUGUST LIST: We love albums that have a texture that runs through the whole record, not just one song after the other. So things like ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot’ by Wilco or ‘Fevers & Mirrors’ by Bright Eyes or anything by Sparklehorse, you enter the world of that album. So we definitely wanted to go down that route. PB: Although Kerraleigh’s vocals are a major factor and attraction in your sound there are times when it’s Martin who sends shivers down the spine with his vocals (‘Long Division’ is but one). With two strong vocalists, how do you decide who is going to take lead on a particular song? AUGUST LIST: It usually depends on the tone of the song. Some are more obviously from a male or female perspective. When we first started the band, Martin took a very small vocal role but that is certainly changing as we learn how our voices sit with each other. PB: Are you touring the album? AUGUST LIST: We’re looking at next year. Hopefully we can work something out! PB: Are you planning any more recordings to keep those captivated by the EPs and album happy or are you going to take a break from recording while you see how the album is received? AUGUST LIST: We really enjoy the recording process so will definitely be looking to go back in soon, but mostly we are concentrating on writing new material and developing our live set up. PB: Thank you.

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