Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Brian Thorn at The Magic Shop in NYC during CMJ weekend 2011
The second night that we knew We Are Augustines lead singer Billy McCarthy, things were starting to get bad. The weather reports were gnarly and there wasn't much good coming any of our ways. We were out on our fall Barnstormer tour and Hurricane Irene was barreling up the eastern seaboard, playing possum with some big cities along the coast and those inland as well. Unfortunately for the cities, this hurricane wasn't capable of flinching. It was a work of a bitchy Mother Nature and it couldn't stop itself or steer one way or the other if it wanted to. It was on a crash course and whatever was going to happen was already predestined. The ocean and the winds were scheduled to win.
We were all getting diverted away from New York City, so we made our hideout in Burlington, Vermont, a beautiful college town and a place of ice cream renown. The day that we arrived - one day sooner than we'd anticipated - was move-in day for all of the University of Vermont students and it was one of those days that you look back on, at any time, and still claim as pretty picturesque. It was sunny and warm and there was no indication at all of what was going to hit - aside from the footage of piers in North Carolina and other places being broken apart and New York City's public transportation being shut down indefinitely for the first time in who knows when. It was going to get back, but just not that day yet. We were going to have one last good spaghetti dinner and some strong games of bowling before we watched as everything crumbled around us. We wanted full bellies and we wanted to go out with some fun having happened, way out here, away from our homes.
The rains and the winds kicked in during the overnight hours and damn if we didn't feel good knowing that McCarthy was close by. The former Pela frontman - whose former bandmate in that group, bassist/keyboardist Eric Sanderson, joins him in this new band with drummer Rob Allen - seems like a natural captain. He could take anything that the furious sea and its horrible squalls wanted to do to him and he could turn it into lemonade. Or else, some lemonade spiked with something that has a bit of a boot to it, cause lord knows that when the angry sea comes calling or angry life comes calling, there needs to be something more. Sanity won't do it. You'll need some craziness and you'll need someone like Lieutenant Dan (or Billy) to get up there in the crow's nest as the ship's being pounded upon, as the attempt is being made to break all spirits into a million fucking pieces, and curse right back. You need someone to toss up some middle fingers and threaten right back.
McCarthy and We Are Augustines maintain this steadfast temperament. It's front and center when the group performs live. The songs and the players are standing up against a bashing storm, wailing back out at it, trying to turn it away. And if they can't turn it away, they're just going to withstand the hooks and the jabs. They'll swing back. McCarthy sings, "As long as my heart keeps pumping blood/I ain't gonna disappear," and it doesn't sound like a boast, but something that he's had to come to understand. He's learned over the years and through all of the many pains he's endured, that the blood keeps pumping against most odds and you're stuck here to deal with whatever gets thrown your way. He sings about the "lost sobs" and advises that you should, "Soak your scars in the ocean." None of it feels good. You can see it in his eyes. They're tired and only partially happy. They are those of a survivor. When he sings, "I know we tried/You're forgiven," the hardest reality is that some people aren't and they disappear, leaving others to suffer and wail at their storms.