Colin Kelly and Jim Herlihy of Augustus.Emma Kelly
Denver indie-rock band Augustus has released a fairly large amount of material in its seven-year run, but its latest record, Ragtime World, is something of an anomaly.
“For the first time, [we] had written a record to be recorded instead of, [as] in previous years, bringing tunes into the mix slowly and touring with them and playing them for a while until they solidify,” says Jim Herlihy, who founded the band with Colin Kelly in 2014.
“This was the first time of, like, 'Here’s a whole crop, and we're going into the studio,'” Herlihy says. “So that was a different experience.”
Longmont-based Octave Records had approached the band about making the album, which was laid down at Animal Lane studio in Lyons. The new tack was necessary, in part because of the lack of live music last year during the height of the pandemic.
Not being able to go into a room together for months on end was definitely a weird experience, Kelly says, adding that it was probably the same for a lot of bands whose members weren't already living together. People were forced out of their comfort zones.
“That was part of our process — testing out rooms that didn’t know who we were, and less friendly rooms," he says. "But it was pretty cool to have the opportunity to try it out the other way. You have less time to second-guess yourself, so it has its advantages.”
Kelly, who is Augustus's primary songwriter, says that Ragtime World isn’t so much a concept record as it is a collection of songs that were written in mid-2020 and earlier this year.
“It’s definitely affected by the state of the world, even if [the songs] are personal,” Kelly says. “That isolating feeling everyone has been living with, that kind of strangeness of the pandemic. None of these were written before the beginning of this, so it definitely had an effect.”
Herlihy wrote “Carried All the Weight,” which he says is reflective of the pandemic days when he had a lot of time to sit around indoors and think about life.
“What was my life before this moment? Is it the life I really intended to live? Were the effects of my life on the people around me what I intended?," he wondered. "I don’t know if I would have had the time to write that without the pandemic. It’s not necessarily about the pandemic, but it exists because of it.”
Herlihy and Kelly enlisted members of Denver band Pink Fuzz to serve as their rhythm section. They'd also worked with producer Nate Cook of the Yawpers on their last two records and left a lot of Ragtime's sonic decisions to him. A vocalist himself, Cook also helped Kelly work through the vocal takes to get them just right. For a band that's centered around songwriting, it was an important part of the recording process.
“It really was interesting, his interpretation of what we should sound like or who we should sound like, and encouraging specific qualities,” Kelly says. “He really had ideas on what kind of vocalist I needed to be, especially on Ragtime World. He’d say, 'I need you to scream here,' or 'I need you to whisper here.'”
The band had a more folky, acoustic, stompy kind of sound in its formative years, Herlihy notes, but that has segued into a more garage-rock, screaming-guitar style. Augustus's previous release, Color TV and Tall Tales, refined the garage vibes a little further, and the bandmembers continued to hone the sound on Ragtime World.
Herlihy says he likes being in a place where the band is working on evolving its sound rather than just reacting to the previous output. In the early days, he and Kelly would try to go in the opposite direction of their prior recording. Things seem to take a more natural path now.
“It’s a more sparse record,” Herlihy says of Ragtime. “Sonically speaking, there are different textures. … It’s more of an extension of the last one, but more refined and more sparse. It’s less of a reaction to the last one and more of just a constant evolution.”
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.