Adversity is often a big part of finding success, just ask 24-year-old Californian songwriter, Angelo De Augustine. After relentlessly touring his debut album, Angelo developed whopping cough and found himself on stage, completely unable to sing. His voice took eight months to recover, and it was during this time that he turned a problem into an opportunity and sat about crafting the songs that would go on to become his upcoming second album, Swim Inside The Moon.
Swim Inside The Moon is Angelo’s first record working with Asthmatic Kitty, the label created by Sufjan Stevens and Sufjan’s step-father Lowell Brams. The record is a majestically lo-fi affair. Thinking deeply about his approach to songwriting, Angelo concluded his music couldn’t thrive inside a normal recording studio, and set about discovering his perfect recording method, which as he explains involved a bathtub, a reel-to-reel tape player and a single microphone. By keeping it simple, Angelo tapped into the truth behind his music, and like Elliot Smith or yes, Sufjan Stevens, he created a mood that flows throughout the record, giving it an instantly recognisable tone and atmosphere.
A brave, warm and frankly magical record, Swim Inside The Moon is the sound of a songwriter discovering himself, just in time for the rest of the world to surely learn who he is alongside him. Ahead of Swim Inside The Moon’s release next month, Angelo was kind enough to sit down and talk us through his recording process, how his mum is his major inspiration and why his dogs deserve to be credited as co-producers.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Angelo De Augustine?
I have wondered that myself.
FTR: Your new album, Swim Inside the Moon, is out next month, what can you tell us about the recording process?
It was exclusively recorded in the bathtub of my house with one sm57 microphone, a 1970’s 4 track reel-to-reel tape machine, and an old P.A. mixing console. The album was recorded live. I thought it would be much easier to capture the performance as a whole and have it the way that I wanted from the start. It was a frequent occurrence that my dogs would bark outside the door or decide to happily saunter into the bathroom looking for a snuggle with their jingling collars interrupting the recording midway. I suppose in some ways I should thank them for unknowingly having a hand in choosing the appropriate takes. Perhaps the liner notes should state ” co-produced by the clever musical intuition of dogs”, Another important part of my process was to position the microphone in such a way as to pick up the reflection of my voice and guitar that bounced off of the walls of the bath tub. I would engage the 4 track in my room, press record, and run into the bathroom to sit on the side of the tub and begin the song. When the guitar and voice were recorded , I would, in the same vain, record my mom’s 100 year old piano, electric guitar, or synthesizer on top of the song.
FTR: The album’s coming out on Asthmatic Kitty Records, how did you come to work with them?
I had known Sufjan for a few years from my visits to New York City and I also had previously met John Beeler in Indianapolis who works for AKR. This past February I happened to be in New York staying at my manager’s house. I met with Sufjan and another friend Thomas Bartlett at Thomas’s recording space in Manhattan. We all listened to the album in its entirety, this being their first time hearing the record. They were both very supportive and encouraging. A mention that night of the possibility of Asthmatic Kitty giving the album a home was something that Sufjan had alluded to. A week or so later when I was back home in California I got a note saying that AKR would love to put it out.
FTR: What was it like growing up with a singer for a mother? Was it a very musical household?
Being the age that I am now I realize that it is a bit more unusual to have a parent in music. Even still, I have always looked at it as her job the same as anyone else’s parents. My Mom was a single parent, so I was dragged around to a lot of recording studios, sound stages and tours as a kid. Being a child, one isn’t too concerned with the famous musicians that their parents are playing with, but rather with how to subtly convince one’s parent into buying them the action figure of their current deepest desire. So basically, a lot of time was spent playing with toys and making up games to quell the inevitable boredom of waiting around. You could say that my house was musical in the fact that my mom wrote songs and that I was privy to those songs being made. The other side of the coin is that my mom did not allow very much listening to other people’s records. Her reasoning was that her mind was filled up with all the music she was doing at her job which was mostly backround singing on other artist’s albums or singing on films. By the time she got home, those songs were running through her head and driving her crazy. if i tried to play a cassette tape or CD out of curiosity, she often wouldn’t let me haha.
FTR: We were reading that you lost your voice after making your debut album. How did that affect the writing of your second record?
Someone asked me this recently and it’s a good question. The day that I lost it also happened to be the last date of a US tour that I was doing. I’ll never forget it because I was opening the concert for a friend of mine in San Francisco and it was completely sold out. I could just barely get through 3 songs and had to walk off the stage. I wasn’t able to fully sing for about 8 months after that, and that was a particularly odd time. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I get into a state of mind where I am compelled to intensely focus on one thing for months at a time. Often when that happens, everything else in life falls by the wayside. Mostly, that spot of focus is reserved for music. but without it, I was left with thinking about music and thinking about making songs. I’m guessing that perhaps by the time my voice had healed, the songs were ready to be made.
FTR: Did you have a backup plan in place for if your voice never came back?
No, since I started on this journey when I was 14 I have never had a backup plan. If fact I was always encouraged against having one. I have also never been good at compartmentalising my brain into finding balance between interests and regular life. It all plays out fairly impulsively and seems to jumble together in a disorganized way. It’s funny for me to think about this because I could not imagine that particular mindset flourishing in another career where consistency and punctuality was expected.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record?
It’s hard to feel anything but gratitude for all the support that I have been fortunate enough to have this year. I’m very happy that people from all over the world will get to hear this album and I feel extremely thankful that my dreams are coming true.
FTR: Why do you make music?
I am a firm believer that no one really knows the answer to this question. It’s something supernatural or extra-terrestrial. You are drawn to it by a force that really can’t be explained. I don’t want to give you a dishonest answer and pretend that I know… When I stumbled upon writing songs, it didn’t happen because I wanted it to or tried to make it happen. It happened because it wanted to.
FTR: Where does the inspiration for lyrics come from? Is it true some of them come to you in dreams?
The way that it feels for me to write a song is a lot like dreaming. Another way to attempt to describe it is to say that it is akin to some sort of trance. Your mind goes somewhere else and you forget about what you are doing and who you are, and then you wake up and come back to earth and subsequently have a song. The memory of dreams tends to fade away as the day moves on much like the memory of songs and the once briefly clear picture of what those inspirations looked like in your mind. All you are left with is a feeling.
FTR: What about musical inspiration? Who were you listening to when you wrote Swim Inside the Moon?
I was exclusively listening to my own voice inside my head and made sure that I was following those instincts. In a broader sense, my mom has been an inspiration to me because of watching her write songs, and the encouragement that she bestowed upon me that helped me to feel that I could pursue music as a career. Seeing what she was able to accomplish in her career and supporting our family all the while being a single parent and an amazing woman in the world is quite incredible.
FTR: We really enjoyed the video to ‘Crazy, Stoned & Gone’, what was the inspiration behind it?
Thank you. You would have to ask Sufjan Stevens. I let him have free reign to do what he wanted with the video because I completely trust and believe in his talent and artistry.
FTR: You’ve also done your own artwork for the record, is that DIY-ethos something that is important to you?
There are many wonderful people on my team and at the label that make this a very non-do-it-yourself enterprise. They deserve a ton of credit for all their hard work and expertise in avenues that I am not gifted in and would never be able to do myself. But In terms of artistic endeavours, I am given the full freedom to see my vision through, which is such a rare and important thing to have these days. It is something that is essential for me to be able to thrive. Without artistic freedom, the creation of music ceases to have a point.
I really enjoy making visual art and I find myself being drawn to many different creative fields. I do not believe that creative limitations exist in the physical world, just like many other socially constructed truths we often adopt in our own lives. I like to have a hand in most everything in my career because I often know what I want and I have a need to see it through.
FTR: What’s next for Angelo De Augustine?
We just announced my first European Headlining tour in the fall with more dates likely to follow. I was also recently delighted to be supporting Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, and James McAlister as they performed Planetarium at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on July 20th as well.
Swim Inside The Moon is out August 18th via Asthmatic Kitty Records. Click HERE for more details on Angelo De Augustine.
Tour dates below
9 Nov – Leeds @ The Lending Room
10 Nov – Glasgow @ Broadcast
11 Nov – Dublin @ The Grand Social
13 Nov – Manchester @ The Castle Hotel
15 Nov – London @ St Pancras Old Church