When we first crossed paths with Oxfordshire husband and wife duo The August List back in 2014, it was on a dusty, tumbleweed-strewn track through a Wild West ghost town, transporting us from the verdant beauty of The Chilterns to the wide-open spaces of the American frontier with the raw, stripped-back Americana sound of their debut album O Hinterland.
Seven years later, their third LP, Wax Cat, due for release on 3rd September via Reading indie label All Will Be Well Records, places us in an altogether different expanse with its sparkling psych expeditions leaving us floating gently between undiscovered planets and technicolour nebulae. But somehow, despite the touchpoints being more Spiritualized than Hank Williams, there are invisible threads that bind the two with some sort of intangible August-List-iness and makes both sounds very much their own.
These are songs given room to explore but with the navigational skills to prevent them ever getting lost into the wilderness of self-indulgence that so often ensnares those less aware of their surroundings. Whether its the tub-thumping drums of opener ‘Seams’ in which Kerraleigh Child’s crystaline vocals are given free-reign to soar, or the beautifully sparse duet ‘Puget Sound’, gently shimmering on a stream of weeping guitar, or the whale-song strings of ‘I Might Get Low’, The August List plot a perfect course to the emotional heart of each of the nine songs on this record, and we’re delighted to have been brought along for the ride.
We caught up with one half of the duo, Martin Child, for a track by track tour of the record.
We went to see Kristen Hersh play in Oxford and the next day we decided to write a chugging distorted song. The drum loop is straight from Garageband, so we wanted it as the first track on the record to show the push in a different musical direction that this album takes. Loops and synths and distortion are tools we’ve used before but not to the extent that this album has them. Lyrically, each line is something to get an anxiety attack over. Swans stealing children, crane flies stitching your eyes closed are old folk tales and we like to mix that with more up to date fears. The whole track is an anxiety pop song!
This began from a news story about a guy in the USA who worked in an airport as a baggage handler and then one day, on a complete whim, decided to steal an empty passenger plane. He could take off and fly from learning how to do it on flight simulators, but he didn’t know how to land. Air traffic control spoke to him throughout and fighter jets were scrambled to fly alongside him. The tower controllers said that he sounded excited and jubilant and he spoke of doing barrel rolls and flying to Mount Olympus, but then the realization that he was going to have to crash land set in and he became melancholy and spoke of dead whales in the ocean. He then ditched into Puget Sound and unfortunately died. The compulsion to do something catastrophically crazy really resonated with us! The band then sculpted the music to emulate the flight and did an amazing job.
God is in a Wire
A song about internet fear and how the web is the new religion. Then nature comes along and shows everyone whose boss and then, in the end, love wins out. This was another first for us, in that all the drum elements were recorded separately and then stitched together in the mixing process to give it that machine like vibe. The final part of the song where it goes almost anthemic came from listening to REM’s ‘Out of Time’ and the amazing Kate Pierson vocals.
Lost at Sea
This was a song that fell out in one go over the course of an evening. We were playing a couple of shows in the Netherlands with The Epstein and they had booked into Twang Wolf Recording Studio for a couple of days. While they were recording, we sat in the kitchen with the owner’s father who made spaghetti. The studio was in this old, dilapidated house and they had closed most of it off and only lived in a couple of rooms, so they didn’t have to heat the whole place. There was ivy coming in through gaps in the window frames and the house had such a unique atmosphere that the song came straight out.
We write a lot about the power of nature; how awesome it is and how scary it can be. Now with climate change a tangible thing that is in front of us on a daily basis across the world, the song is about not hiding from, but working with nature. It has doomy vibe that is great to play live!
I Might Get Low
Again we used a drum loop for this as well as live drums. It’s a longing love song and the verses are pretty surreal. It was fun layering up drones and stacking violin parts to give it an orchestral feel.
Another anxiety attack! This time at full tilt. After some longer, slower songs, we thought this point in the album would be a good place for it, this would be like a shot in the arm. The lyrics are stream of conscious and ‘wheelhouse’ was a phrase that we kept hearing all over the place and it stuck in our minds.
We had never done a purely instrumental track before and as this album relied on what the full band bought to the table, we thought that this would be a good opportunity to do one. A simple guitar part was recorded as the base of the track and then each member of the band (Tommy Longfellow-Drums, Ryan Quarterman-Bass, Ben Heaney-Violin, Garry Richardson-Guitar) would take passes at it until we had lots of different takes. Then Roland Prytherch, who mixed the album, sculpted the track from these different takes. Lastly Kerraleigh went in and put the vocal textures down which really adds magic to it. We’re really pleased with how it turned out.
Big Black Dog
This is a cover of a Diamond Family Archive song. We’ve played with them a few times over the years and love them to pieces. Their shows are always incredible. We started to cover this song as a duo and then as a band which amped up the sonic textures. Laurence Collyer from Diamond Family then gave us free reign with the song and his blessing to record it. It’s clearly a song about depression, but that last verse is such an optimistic sign off (“I took a little light and I shot it on out / Into the darkness”) that we new it was the perfect album closer.
The album, Wax Cat, is out on 3rd September on All Will Be Well Records – pre-order now on CD or digital download via Bandcamp.
Introduction by Paul Maps