Pete Feenstra chatted to Austin Gold for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio and an hour feature can be heard on Monday 9 October, 16:00 GMT and Thursday 12 October, 23:00 GMT
Up and coming Peterborough rock band share their magic with Pete Feenstra. Photos by Olivia Johnston.
Some thing’s are just not meant to be. Austin Gold’s third appearance at Camden’s Dublin Castle is their first headline show. They are quietly confident, well organised and focussed on the job in hand, which is to make splash in the capital with a show based on their debut album ‘Before Dark Clouds.’
Tonight they are part of a three band bill and are in the middle of a sound check that is meant to be short, sharp and functional. But there’s a problem. After a few cursory warm ups leading into the anthemic rocker ‘Roadside’, things grind to a halt, as there is a problem with the signal from the keyboards to the mixing desk.
It’s not just any problem, as this set lifter of a song is a keyboard-led piece and an integral part of the band’s enveloping wall of sound.
The accommodating soundman makes a few adjustments and the band’s own take on Phil Spector’s big sound rises again with an exhilarating pull. It’s further subtly shaped by a piercing guitar line from front man David James Smith, who passionately phrases the hook: “I’m at the side of the road now honey, out of my mind and I’m out of money, beneath the stars I’m a damn long way from home.”
Everything’s apparently cooking and we’re just waiting for the collective thumbs up when the band’s high energy drive again cuts to silence.
Two more abortive attempts and things magically fall into place. Second guitarist Jack Cable nods and the band effortlessly slips through the gears. A stop-time pause ushers in the full weight of the rhythm section and an avalanche of guitars, as Smith’s impassioned vocal adds the defining line: “Lost my head, lost all reason, now I’ve lost the one thing I believe in, I got scars and I’m a damn long way from home.”
The infectious hook fills the body of the room impressively and the band’s anthemic signature sound rises like a phoenix, before an imperceptible nod brings it all to a more satisfactory halt, sound check over and part one of tonight’s job done.
Austin Gold comprise David James Smith on vocals and guitar, Jack Cable on guitar, Lee Churchill on bass, Russell Hill on Hammond and keys and Chris Ogden on drums. They have an essential hunger, they ooze creativity, they know who they are and what they want, and on the evidence of tonight they exhibit grace under pressure.
Barely ten minutes later, we’re in the front bar as the band holds court on their music, their direction, their influences and the world at large.
The obvious starting point is their evocative name, which Dave explains: “It came from a drum pedal my mum used to use in the 60′s. I always thought it would be a great name for band. It kind of depicts classic rock, southern rock and blues and its a great name for the band. We’ve even got fans that call themselves ‘The Gold Crew’.”
“Our aim as a band is to present what we are on stage”, says bassist Lee Churchill. “What you get on the record is who we are, so there’s not a big diving line between the album and the live show. What comes out of the rehearsal and writing sessions tends to be quite big and brash and that is what we try to put across. We’re all about the live show, about recreating the album and stepping it up live.”
‘Before Dark Clouds’ is a big production for an independent release, and it’s in no small measure due to producer Andy Hawkins’s clear vision of what he wanted.
Dave: “When we worked with Andy we had the arrangements worked out, but he focussed on simplifying things, so there was much more space for the listener to digest it all much quicker. We learned a lot from that.”
Chris: “He also didn’t want to listen to any demos. He just wanted to listen to us playing the songs and then he also changed the tempos. He wanted tempos that were almost half the speed of what we were playing. We said are you sure? But when we listened back to the whole thing we realised he’d changed the songs for the better.”
The band hails from a disparate rock, pop, hard rock and metal, prog, blues and southern rock background: “Even with a little bit of disco thrown in”, laughs guitarist Jack.
The band all agree with keyboard player Russell that:
“On paper it shouldn’t work, but it does.”
Dave writes the structures, the music, the lyrics and takes care of the salient guitar parts, while the band collectively develop the songs. Smith is also a big Dave Gilmour head, which probably explains the recurring wall of sound.
There’s also a battery of incisive riffs and memorable licks, and ‘Brand New Low’ is great example of that. It’s a song that the record company suggested should open the album. The band listened to the album again and took their record company’s advice. The results speaks for themselves as the perfect opening track levers us into a very accessible album.
Lee: “The sequencing was an important part of an overall conceptual approach to the album. The album is 52 minutes long and we were in the mindset of an old vinyl kind of thing with an A and B side.”
Chris: “We’d already rehearsed the album, we’d gigged it and we played the whole album at a gig just before we recorded it. We were confident enough to gig it and thought about recording it in one take. Of course it took longer than that, but we were confident.”
Jack: “From start to finish we had 5 days to do the whole thing. Apart from a few of Dave’s vocals and overdubs which you can’t do in a live take, it was all done in 7 days.”
The band got their initial media break after sending some songs to BBC Radio Cambridge DJ Sue Merchant. Their record company Jigsaw heard a subsequent interview and events took their course. Both the record company and the band agreed on an old school approach to recording, with all the band in the room together to capture an organic feel that would get the best out of them.
The further aim of translating the album into an exciting stage show is exactly what Austin Gold has in mind for tonight, except for a few further gremlins.
The soundman reappears to say that the other two bands have now expanded a brief line check into two full blown sound checks and as a result tonight’s headline slot is now looking like well after 11pm.
The band members calmly look around the bar full of Austin Gold T shirts and David Smith firmly asks the guy for an 11pm slot, no later.
Austin Gold have risen from a supportive Peterborough scene that has so far peaked with an impressive 400 capacity sell out album launch party. They worked hard for 2 years to learn their craft before venturing further afield to well attended gigs in Leeds, Gloucester, Stamford and tonight’s return to London.
Their music is a fiery, but coherent style that evokes the timeless retro feel of say, Bad Company and Free. That strand is counterweighted by taut songs, steely licks, booming hooks and a big production give their music a contemporary impact.
Dave explains the band’s musical process: “I structure the songs, write the lyrics and work out the chords, but then drummer Chris might take it somewhere else….”
Chris adds: “We strip the songs down first and above all we don’t overplay. There’s no real egos, everybody’s humble because it’s all about serving the song first.”
It’s an approach that David summarises nicely: “We strip our parts to hear the space.”
Their record company Jigsaw loves Austin Gold and are content to play a waiting game, as the band hones its craft and builds up a following, starting with a hard core bunch of fans known as ‘Team Gold’.
And it’s midweek nights like tonight, when heavens open and the other two band overrun, that you realise they have built a loyal following.
Musically speaking, Austin Gold is broad church. The band has an essential crossover appeal bolstered by the strength of their material and a fiery live show that will surely convert even the most jaded musical palettes.
Perhaps the most surprising influence of all, is the southern rock feel and harmony guitars on ‘All The Way Down’, which Dave tells us is: “The oldest song on the album. I wrote the melody about 8 years ago and it was also the title track of a previous CD/EP we did. Jack suggested doing it again.”
Jack: “It tends to have a life of its own. Live, it becomes monster when it’s got more body and balls and links well into the next song. The harmony bit at the end is influenced by John Mayer. We were really into him at the time and he took us into that realm.
David: “Yeah, but Jack brings on that tag line and that’s a pivotal part of the song.”
Keyboard player Russell Hill is an unassuming, but important presence in the band who glues everything together and provides the recurring moments of grandeur.
He reflects on the often overlooked role of the keyboard layers in rock: “It’s a long tradition in rock isn’t? The keyboard player can get lost in the mix. If you took John Lord’s Hammond away from Deep Purple, or left out Backmore’s guitar, the subtlety of the music would be lost, as well as the ability to complement the music and be heard.”
Dave: “This is why the band is a 5 piece, there’s got to be two guitars and a keyboard, it’s all interwoven.”
Jack: “As second guitarist I fit around Dave’s ideas, riffs and songs. Sometimes it’s playing reductions of chords in a rhythmic sense, sometimes it’s just filling in small amounts of spaces and sometimes it’s a counter-melody that works really well.”
Dave: “Sometimes he’ll play the whole verse and I’d drop out.”
The band is already working on the follow up album, but don’t expect big changes.
Dave: “We’re always working on arrangements and tempos. I’m writing all the time and we jam constantly, so I guess it’s a natural evolution.”
A few more fans drop by to wish the band luck and any previous minor frustrations give way to a sense of pre-gig anticipation. The long lead-in stretches late into the night, meaning that this correspondent has to head off towards the darkness at the edge of town.
Austin Gold will doubtless fulfil all expectations tonight. They are a lean, mean and confident machine, full of boundless enthusiasm, unfettered creativity and have a willingness to learn that will take them far.
They also have a great rapport with the fans and they have sealed the deal with a debut album ‘Before Dark Clouds’ on Jigsaw Records, that promises plenty of crossover appeal to rock fans of all persuasions.
Austin Gold will be special guests of the Pete Feenstra Feature on 8 October at 20.00hrs.
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