Augie March's rise to fame was slow; their first two EPs failed to make an impact on the market, despite being nominated for ARIA Awards. Their first album, 2000's Sunset Studies was a critical success and ARIA Award nominee, but again sold poorly. Critics lauded its 2002 successor, Strange Bird, further, but its reception was equally mediocre in Australia. The reception in the United States was similar; critics praised the album, but it sold and charted poorly. Augie March's third album, Moo, You Bloody Choir (2006), broke into the mainstream spotlight; its lead single "One Crowded Hour" attained critical acclaim and charted successfully on the ARIA Singles Chart, while the album won numerous awards. Now a mainstream heavyweight, the band toured Australia and the United States regularly through 2006 and 2007, before returning to the studio to work on a new album, Watch Me Disappear, in 2008.
Augie March's musical style is distinctive, and is led by songwriter and vocalist Richards. His lyrics often draw critical acclaim for their poetic style. The band's music is generally described as lush, dense, and filling, acting as a backdrop for Richards' vocals. Their in-studio perfectionism is often noted. However, Augie March's live performances have been said to be lacklustre and not up to the same standard as their recorded work.
Augie March's first performance was in Brunswick at a friend's art exhibition. After playing several other gigs, the band were signed by record label Ra Records, at the time considered to be pregistious. Augie March's first EP, Thanks for the Memes, was produced by Victor Van Vugt and released in early 1998. Despite highly positive reviews it received very little airplay and failed to make an impact. Williams later remarked that he was surprised the band had been able to find a producer considering the obscure music on the EP, which at the time the band had considered "hip and cool, and intellectual". They followed up with their second EP, Waltz, in October 1998. Produced by Richard Pleasance, this EP included "Asleep in Perfection", which would become the most requested song on ABC's rage program. The song was nominated for "Breakthrough Artist - Single", and Pleasance was nominated for "Producer Of The Year", at the 2000 ARIA Awards. The band began touring around Australia, getting as far as Perth, and their popularity increased through word of mouth. BMG offered Augie March a recording contract, which they accepted.
The album's critical reception, however, was highly positive; Noel Mengel of The Courier-Mail wrote said that on the album, "songs of quiet reflection, starkly beautiful melodies and intimate poetry collide on the canvas without a thought to sales graphs or what radio program directors might think", while Allmusic's Jack Rabid told American readers "it's worth the effort to track down [the album], particularly for those who think there are no more musical craftsmen out there". The album's production earned it the 2001 ARIA Award for "Engineer of the Year", as well as a nomination for "Producer of the Year". It was further nominated for "Breakthrough Artist - Album" and "Best Cover Art". Of the singles released from the album, "There Is No Such Place" was the most popular, charting at number 47 on the Triple J Hottest 100, 2001.
Preparations for a follow-up to Sunset Studies were thrown into disarray on 2 January 2001, when Dawson died in a car crash. The event had a significant impact on the band, and would play on the back of Richards' mind constantly as he wrote their next album. However, the resultant work was not brimming with despair; Richards described it as optimistic and humorous. Drummer David Williams described the music on the album as more immediate, the songwriting more muscular. To replace Dawson, Melbournian Kiernan Box joined the band as a keyboardist. The band produced Strange Bird independently, which worked to their advantage as they felt more comfortable in their own studio. Donovan said as a result, Strange Bird was a better album than Sunset Studies, though the band's debut album was "probably received better by our fans". In response to complaints concerning Richards' Sunset Studies wordplay, Augie March included a lyrics booklet with Strange Bird.
Strange Bird was released by BMG as the band's second studio album in October 2002. It was also released by spinART Records in the UK in that month. It would later be re-released in the United States in September 2004. Like its predecessor, Strange Bird failed to make an impact on the charts, spending one week on the ARIA Albums Chart at number 34. Its first single, "The Vineyard", spent one week on the ARIA Singles Chart at number 31. Augie March began touring around Australia almost immediately following the album's release.
The critical response to Strange Bird, unlike its brief chart history, was overwhelmingly positive. Too much so at times; Williams told Rip It Up "I could see a few holes in the album and I'd say, 'how come no one else has picked this up?' Reviewers, however, focused on the positives; Guy Garvey of The Independent said "My favourite of the year is Augie March's Strange Bird", while David Fricke wrote in Rolling Stone of "luxuriant melees of chiming guitars, mountain-stream voices and keyboard grandeur". Donovan said the band found it hard to take the positive reviews too seriously; "if we did our heads would explode or overinflate", he told Beat.
Following the mixed fortunes of Strange Bird, Augie March returned to the studio. The band worked with two producers; Paul McKercher and Eric Drew Feldman, recording in Melbourne, San Francisco, and their own studio in Nagambie, Victoria. This studio was built by Augie March in 2004. Donovan said it was more suited to the band's style; as they co-produced on all their albums, they took a great deal of interest in production. He said it also enabled them to work at their own pace, hence the four year gap between albums. The band's upcoming album, according to Triple J, was inspired by the streets of Melbourne. Upon completion of the recording of Moo, You Bloody Choir, there was a six-month delay before release, as Augie March meticulously added finishing touches to it. In March 2006, the album was finally released.
Moo, You Bloody Choir would see the band move from solely critical acclaim to mainstream success. The album spent 21 weeks on the ARIA Albums Chart, peaking at number ten, while lead single "One Crowded Hour" reached number 29 in its 20 week ARIA Singles Chart stint. The album was certified platinum in Australia. It was also nominated for three ARIA Awards in 2006, with "One Crowded Hour" also nominated for "Single Of The Year". Despite the hype, the band did not win any award. The band were still more successful underground than on mainstream; "One Crowded Hour" topped Triple J's Hottest 100, 2006. The album's popularity also saw it nominated for the 2006 J Award. A 2008 The Weekend Australian poll saw "One Crowded Hour" ranked the tenth best Australian song of the past 20 years.
Augie March's musical qualities were certified when they became the winner of the second annual Australian Music Prize for "the most outstanding and creative Australian album released in the past year". Ammendola told Drum Media winning this award was more significant than an ARIA Award, as "it's an award that's nominated on the grounds of music, and the art of it - not necessarily record sales". The band used the $25,000 prize money to help fund a US tour. Richards later said that the band had no great expectations of breakthrough through in the US, and that if their second attempt was not successful, they would not try again.
In August 2007, Moo, You Bloody Choir was released in the United States on the Jive Zomba record label. In the lead up to its release, Augie March toured regularly, playing in Los Angeles and New York in May. The shows continued followed the album's release, as Augie March were praised by US media. That the band had not broken through in North America earlier was a crime, wrote Pitchfork Media, though Allmusic remarked that Strange Bird was a higher quality album than its follow up.
Despite the success of Moo, You Bloody Choir, much of Augie March's post-album touring involved supporting other bands. They played shows supporting The Aliens and Andrew Bird in the United States, before returning to Australia to open for Crowded House. Richards said the band's status as an opening act, rather than headlining their own shows, was something they saw as a challenge—their intention, to win over fans who came to see the main act. He called the tour with The Aliens depressing; the bands played very different types of music, and the attendance at shows was minimal. Augie March later earned a prime slot at the 2008 Big Day Out.
Augie March worked with producer Joe Chicarelli on their fourth album, Watch Me Disappear. After declaring an interest in the band's music, Chicarelli took a significant pay cut to work on the album, in a process Richards said contained "a fair bit of friction". The success of Moo, You Bloody Choir saw Richards expected by record label Sony BMG to produce a quality follow up. He denied being under significant pressure, though the persistence of the label—"Richo, have you got a single? Do you have singles? Please, do you have singles?"—was noted. Much of the writing took place while touring the United States, which Richards argued minimised the band's opportunities to be creative. In 2008, Augie March recorded at Neil Finn's Auckland, New Zealand studios, and in Melbourne, Sydney, and Los Angeles. They worked primarily in New Zealand to get away from the distraction of Melbourne, so they could focus solely on recording. The album's title track, "Watch Me Disappear", was made available for download on the band's website on 26 August 2008. Augie March then announced their first "proper headline tour of their homeland", in which they would play music from the new album.
While Augie March generally fall into an "indie rock/folk rock" genre, their ability to mix other genres into their style at times makes classifying their musical style difficult. A common thread that runs through the band's sound is Richards' literate and often verbose lyrics, which have set the band apart from much of the rest of the Australian music scene. Even early on in their career, Richards' unique style attracted attention, with one reviewer describing him as "unique", "refreshing", and "intellectual". Allmusic's Jack Rabid said Richards "exhibits a honey voice" on Sunset Studies, but Grok pointed out that the album was rendered too complex or intricate for many.
Richards' passion for poetry and literary studies again stood out on Strange Bird. Rolling Stones John D. Luerssen said "poetry aficionado Richards puts his own literary stamp" on the album, and Allmusic's James Christopher Monger said the album contained "pastoral beauty, labyrinthine arrangements, and breathtaking prose". Pitchfork Media's Joe Tangari described the album as "so stuffed with ideas and instruments that it's wont to rupture from time to time". This was both a positive and negative criticism; Tangari complained that at times "there is a surplus of sound", but also said that the combination of the first two tracks—"The Vineyard" ("slow beauty") and "This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers" ("a wailing rockabilly psych raver")—was an excellent set-up. Derek Miller of Stylus Magazine called the opening trio—the third song being the "simple acoustic guitar and arcing piano" of "Little Wonder"—bewildering, and that the album remained consistently as such throughout. PopMatters' Zeth Lundy described Richards' wordplay as frenzied, and said the "refined, worldly wit" on Strange Bird was striking.
Where Strange Bird was brimming with musical content, on Moo, You Bloody Choir Augie March were more simplified, while still maintaining some of the successful aspects of their music. Ammendola considered their third album, led by "One Crowded Hour", to be significantly different to their previous releases. IGN's Chad Grischow wrote of "lush, mesmerizing music meld with gorgeous melodies brought to life by Richards' rich vocals that wrap themselves around each instrument". In The Sydney Morning Herald, Bernard Zuel argued the album was more subdued; "the tempos and the arrangements are a little quieter and simpler". Richards' lyrics, however, still drew praise; "he writes with a 19th-century novelist's ear and a Dylanesque tongue". Styluss Miller also touched on the fact that "Moo is as direct a shot as you'll ever get at Augie March", but that it was nonetheless a "refining and continuation" of the band's work thus far. Shirley Halperin, writing for Entertainment Weekly, summarised the album as featuring "smooth, emotive vocals mingle with soaring melodies that'd make Paul McCartney proud".
Glenn Richards thinks of language like a patient high on nitrous oxide thinks of laughing. He delights in its possibilities, its connotations, its kaleidoscopic permutations, its violent convulsions.Songwriting for Augie March is primarily done by Richards, who will deliver demos to the rest of the band members. The rest of the band then collaboratively develop the music written. The Daily Telegraphs Kathy McCabe suggests "almost every songwriter in Australia has name-checked [Richards] as one of the finest tunesmiths of his generation" and that "Richards is a storyteller who is spoken of in reverential terms by peers". Richards simply states that he enjoys "dabbling with words", and that people often appreciate him doing so. Despite this, Richards rejects the "literary" reputation he believes the band have gained. At the 2006 ARIA Awards, Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst called for more political songs; Richards told The West Australians Simon Collins he saw great risk in writing political music, and would rather write music that rung true, so that "I can sing the song a thousand times after it's been written". Richards asserts he would rather draw on everyday experiences than on literary influences. He also says that some of the music he writes is intentionally confusing.
The band, and especially Richards, are noted for their perfectionism. In a post-Sunset Studies interview with Grok magazine in 2000, Williams criticised the song "Good Gardener", to which the interviewer noted "the Augie March perfectionism ... a slavish, romantic, almost passionate pursuit". This meme would be continued throughout Augie March's career; following the release of Moo, You Bloody Choir, Richards said he was not truly happy with anything he had produced so far. Ammendola agreed, and added that the band considered Moo, You Bloody Choir the weakest of their first three albums, and Sunset Studies the best. Richards later stated that he considered Watch Me Disappear his best album yet. Andrew Murfett wrote in The Age that for Augie March, "creative tension, adverse circumstances and perfectionism seem to go hand in hand".
Augie March's live performances have regularly failed to live up to the quality of their recorded work. Interuptions are common; at a 2000 concert following the release of Sunset Studies, Richards rhetorically asked the audience "what's an Augie gig without glitches?", and Inpress Jayson Argall described a 2001 performance as "absolutely captivating one moment, utterly frustrating the next", pointing to numerous instances of Richards halting the show due to minor nigglings. Richards will sometimes refuse to play songs popular with fans; in 2007 Williams told Beat Richards would no longer play "Asleep in Perfection" as "Glenn cannot fathom to sing the words that he wrote back then ... he's moved on from that place". He is also reluctant to play "One Crowded Hour", having "played that song in every possible format and so many times it's just a ridiculous joke", and forgotten the song's lyrics on a live television performance at Federation Square.
A 2002 live review quoted an overwhelmed Richards as telling his audience "I don't have anything to say tonight, there's too many of you". Another 2002 live review, however, stated that "the band seemed both at ease and happy to be back" when playing one of their first post-Strange Bird concerts. dB magazines Steven Hocking, in a review of the band's 2004 Drones & Vapid Ditties live DVD, said the band are "either unable or unwilling to engage the large audience", and that they were "just not very visually engaging" live, when compared to the sound of their albums. Performances post-Moo, You Bloody Choir have earned more positive remarks, however, as Richards has focused on improving his stage presence. Rolling Stones David Fricke lauded an Augie March concert he saw in New York, which assisted the band in making inroads in the United States.
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