published: 8 /
American musician Aug Stone speaks to John Clarkson about his new 60's-inspired soul band Aug Stone and The Love Conspiracy and their double A-sided debut single
Aug Stone is an American musician and songwriter who has written songs and played in a variety of indie pop bands such as H Bird, the Soft Close-Ups and Eiscafe.
His new project Aug Stone & The Love Conspiracy is a departure for him as it is the first band that he fronted in many years and, rather than being pop-influenced, is a 60's-inspired soul act.
A committed Anglophile, Stone recorded the Love Conspiracy's first single, the double A-sided 'Don't Put a Time on Love'/'Written in the Stars', which has been released on download on Soft Bodies Records, as he has done most of his recent music in London.
The single was recorded with an impromptu band, which included H Bird's Kate Dornan on piano and vocals, Desperate Journalist's Jo Bevan also on backing vocals, Ladytron live drummer Billy Brown and a brass section.
In our third interview with him, Pennyblackmusic spoke to Aug Stone about The Love Conspiracy.
PB: You have in recent years with bands such as H Bird, the Soft Close-Ups and Eiscafe assigned vocal duties to someone else, while you have focused on playing the music. Did you intend from the outset with Aug Stone & The Love Conspiracy to be the front man? Was this your first time in a group as a lead singer?
AS: Back between 2002-2005 I released some singles, EPs, and an album under the name rock stone for which I did the vocals and most of the music. I say "did the vocals" rather than "sang" because I really didn’t know how to sing back then. Most of them are up for free digitally at Corporate Records - https://corpor.at/artists/rock_stone/. I’m still really pleased with the ‘Girl Talk’ EP, which I recorded with Ian Catt in September of 2003. It was that trip that really made me fall in love with London and drove me to be there as much as I possibly can. There were two 7”s singles as well - https://www.discogs.com/artist/382587-Rock-Stone – on the cool Plastic Pancake and Sonic Syrup labels. I really like the sound we got on the ‘Song for a Girl’ 7”, that ‘space-pop’ that I’m after. Colin Rhinesmith was an incredible engineer. There were some really good rock stone songs, I’d recommend checking out ‘New Val’, ‘World’s End’, ‘French Magazines’ (which I wrote with my sister at the family piano one Christmas), ‘When I C U’ and ‘To Bring You Blue Roses’. The project was pretty equally divided between my love of synthpop and noisy guitars.
Nowadays I can carry a tune. I’m not sure I set out to be the singer for Aug Stone & The Love Conspiracy, though the name implies it and since we didn’t have any rehearsals for recording the single it was simply a done deal that I would sing them. I’ve been doing solo acoustic shows again, playing songs from all my bands over the years. They’ve been really rewarding and a lot of fun. I’ve been trying to find musicians while I’m here in America for a US live version of The Love Conspiracy. That will be a lot of fun. I picture myself as the frontman for that, maybe not even playing guitar. It’s my favourite thing to do, to play the guitar, but I’ll do whatever the occasion calls for.
PB: The record seems to take its direction from classic 60's soul records from artists such as Dusty Springfield, yet there also seems to be a strong element of humour involved. You seem to be encouraging your audience to laugh along with you for even attempting this. Would that be a fair assessment? It is one of the great joys of these two songs.
AS: Thank you. That’s honestly just the way they came out, I hadn’t planned them to be any particular way. I woke up New Year’s Day this year and, starting as I meant to go on, wrote ‘Don’t Put a Time On Love’. Loneliness was on my mind a lot during that time. I was listening to Keith TOTP’s excellent cover of Mud’s ‘Lonely This Christmas’ (playing it myself at a local open mic night) and Hanoi Rocks’ version of Phil Lynott’s ‘Dear Miss Lonely Hearts’ was also on my stereo a lot. That "jellyfish with misery" line is taken from the Bing Crosby film ‘Holiday Inn’ which my family watches every year when we’re home for the holidays. So with those things in the back of my mind, the song just popped out.
I find ‘Written in the Stars’ amusing because in the past few years I’ve taken a real interest in astrology, both the Eastern and Western systems. I just completed a three month course in how to draft the Ba Zi (the Chinese star chart) and I find this stuff really helpful from a psychological point of view. And although I deeply believe in it, what popped out was this really ‘pop’ look at the subject. I love the song though. It was my goal this year to write a song as good as H Bird’s ‘Pink Lights & Champagne’ and I think I succeeded with ‘Written in the Stars’. But yes, sharing humour is one of the great joys of life and I’m glad these songs come across as fun, because they are.
PB: The two songs seem to have been recorded with a real sense of spontaneity, with studio time grabbed at the last minute when you were over in England and the band pulled together without rehearsal. Both songs have a real earthiness. Do you think that spontaneity was something that helped the recording?
AS: Definitely. Johnny, who runs Soft Bodies Records, is always telling me that I’m too much of a perfectionist and that takes the soul out of what I do. And I agree, at least to the point that if I trusted more and just let things be I could get a lot more done. And in this case I really needed to trust and just go with the opportunity being presented to me, which was a very small amount of time, or else it wouldn’t have gotten done at all. So, I decided to trust and not only am I thrilled with the results but everyone had a really good time making the single as well.
How it happened was I went to Kate Dornan from H Bird’s flat one Sunday afternoon to see what chords she’d put under my vocal idea for ‘Written in the Stars’ (which I finished the final chorus to right after I walked through passport control at Heathrow). Then I played her ‘Don’t Put a Time on Love’ which she really liked. We recorded quick live demos on our phones. Then I thought I might as well see if we could record these two in the week and a half I had left in London so I messaged Simon Nelson, who runs Studio Klank in Wood Green. Simon’s an old friend and a great engineer and musician. He had two evenings available at the studio so I grabbed them and set about putting a band together. At the same time I was organizing getting interviewed by Bill Drummond and having it filmed - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBldEashtxc – which was an awesome experience itself.
PB: Your last few records have all been transatlantic affairs recorded with English musicians. Although you are based in Massachusetts, you have lived in London at various points during the last ten years. How easy it is for you to get to the UK these days? As a committed Anglophobe, could you conceive of not making a record involving British musicians?
AS: I haven’t been back since April which is a shame because there’s always so much great stuff happening that I’d love to see and be a part of. The Luxembourg reunion springs to mind, and any time David Devant plays. Plus I have so many close friends over there who I’d love to spend more time with. It is all really a question of having the money to come over, but I’m working on that now.
I’d love to play music with as many people as possible but I’ve never really found people to work with in the States. Whereas in London, and something that I really love about London and the UK in general, is that people are always up for, and very enthusiastically up for, doing anything creative. I’m writing a full Love Conspiracy album now, and an Aug Stone solo album as well, and I’d love to record them with my friends in London and do it with Simon at Studio Klank. That’s the plan.
PB: 'Don't Put a Time on Love/Written in the Stars' should really have been released on double A-sided 7" vinyl. Would you agree? Why instead has it come out on download? Was it a case of just doing what you could to get a release?
AS: Yes, a double A-side 7” would be perfect and I’d love to make that happen. Jodie Lowther’s cover art would be perfect for a record sleeve. It’s just a case of physical releases costing money and downloads being very easy and cheap to put out. But if anyone wants to release it on vinyl, I’m totally up for that.
PB: The Love Conspiracy featured Billy Brown, Ladytron's live drummer. Is it true that you did not know who he was until after the recording? How did you know Jo Bevan from Desperate Journalist who helps out Kate Dornan with backing vocals? Who are the brass section?
AS: Yes! Well, until we got to the studio at any rate. When looking for a drummer, and a drummer who could learn two songs and record them the following week with no rehearsal, I’d always been impressed by Ben Handysides who plays with Mikey Georgeson. I emailed him but he was busy and referred me to Billy. Billy was up for it and I liked his attitude, we emailed about ideas for the songs. When we got to the studio we were talking and I mentioned how I was now living near Boston, MA and he said he’d played there a few times on tour with a band. I was expecting a much smaller venue but then he said The Paradise which is a big rock club in town and when I asked who he played with he replied, "This synthpop band called Ladytron." I laughed because I love Ladytron, ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ was one of my favourite songs of 2005.
I’ve known Jo for ten years now and we always knew she’d be a star. I remember seeing her first public performance (I think) when Charley Stone was doing a solo set on the Holloway Road and Jo got up and sang the Human League’s ‘Love Action’ with her. It was amazing. Jo’s always had impeccable musical taste but when she started singing we were all floored and knew she was going to go on to do something special. Shortly after this, Jo and I did a very short acoustic set as the Icebergs at The Good Ship in Kilburn covering two Siouxsie songs (‘Janet & The Icebergs’ being a pseudonym the Banshees once used). That was cool. We did ‘The Killing Jar’ and ‘The Last Beat of My Heart’, two of my favourite songs. Because we were so pressed for time, Jo only had ten minutes to figure out what she was going to sing and then sing it. But the results speak for themselves. I love what she did, so much that instead of editing her vocals in and out as was the original plan, I kept them all in. This was for ‘Written in the Stars’. Because of time, we had to finish the recordings via Skype once I got back to the States. Jo and Kate came back to the studio for the backing vocals on ‘Don’t Put a Time on Love’. Those were great fun. And I think we captured that 60s vibe. All of this stuff was pretty much conceived and then put down while we were in the studio (or rather them in the studio with me in my kitchen in Ashland, MA watching, listening, and offering suggestions via Skype). It was the same for the horns, who laid down ‘Stars’ while I was in London and then came back for ‘Don’t’ via Skype.
The horns – Phil Whaite on sax, Nathan Thomas on French horn – are fantastic. Both of them are always just up for playing. Phil’s done a bunch with Kate before, they were in Penny Orchids and Sea Vitch together (Check them out - https://pennyorchids.bandcamp.com/album/worse-things and https://seavitch.bandcamp.com/ ) And Nathan plays with Mikey Georgeson and a ton of other people. He joined the Soft Close-Ups onstage once for our ‘The Way I Don’t Kiss’ and a cover of the Divine Comedy’s ‘Songs Of Love’. I think they’ve both played together in Keith TOTP’s band. They were certainly communicating like they’d played together for years. At one point, while we were writing the parts for the third verse of ‘Stars’ I looked up and it’s like they were communicating telepathically! Their eyes were closed but they were both playing the same exact part.
PB: Finally do you see Aug Stone & The Love Conspiracy as a one-off project or can we expect to hear more from them, maybe in a different line-up?
AS: No, no, this is definitely an ongoing thing. I’m writing the album now, which is going to be called ‘It’s Always a Good Time for Love’. How The Love Conspiracy came about is that last December I posted on Facebook that I’d really love to make a soul record one day. And Keith TOTP instantly commented "Do it. You have no reason not to." Which is very true. I’ve always loved soul music and there was definitely a soul influence on H Bird. Barbara Lynn’s ‘You Left the Water Running’ was on my mind when I posted this and that song was a big influence on ‘Don’t Put a Time on Love’. And I touched on my interest in astrology before. Well, I was at work a few days later talking to my friends Aleana and Olivia and I mentioned that Venus had just moved into Sagittarius and it was a good time for love. Aleana shot back , "It’s always a good time for love" and I knew that had to be the name of the album. A few minutes later in the same conversation Aleana used the phrase ‘Don’t Put a Time on Love’ which I also wrote down for future use.
Kate and I have been writing via email. Which is great. There’s new one I really like called ‘Emotion Commotion’. And one I need to finish from last winter called ‘Strange & Lonely’, which is the soulful ballad.
I’d love to do gigs with the line-up on the recording too. Those would be a lot of fun. And I’ve always wanted to cover the Four Tops’ ‘Turn to Stone’, which would be perfect for the occasion.
PB: Thank you.
Photos by Megan Stone
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