Gladie | photo by Jessica Flynn
Intimacy, Optimism, and New Beginnings: In conversation with Gladie’s Augusta Koch
“I am selfish, lazy, and guilty too,” sings Augusta Koch toward the beginning of “Twenty Twenty,” a single from Gladie’s superb new album Safe Sins, out today via Lame-O Records. This line is mirrored later on in the song: “I am angry, I am lonely, but I’m optimistic too.” Lonely, selfish, lazy are words of self-flagellation we can all identify with, but there’s confidence tucked in there too, and that hinting adverb, admitting we’re much more than our worst moments, better than our most detestable traits. Safe Sins doesn’t romanticize the worst or aggrandize the best, it simply lays it out, warts and all, and in that finds some peace, or at the very least, progress.
Safe Sins may be Gladie’s first LP, but the collective talent behind the music is far from new to the Philly scene. Gladie hinges on the collaboration between ex-Cayetana frontwoman Augusta Koch and Three Man Cannon’s Matt Schimelfenig, a partnership years in the making, allowing honesty and vulnerability to bend and weave its way through every chorus and breakdown.
Safe Sins is an album of ebbs and flows, of good days, bad days and days that don’t distinguish, all bookended by two arresting moments of acceptance and choice. It’s a record that both cherishes the “bright days” — like on the excellent single “When You Leave The Sun” — and recognizes their fickle nature. It’s a record that acknowledges the fault lines of our history while not letting them consume us. Its best moments, highlighted by “A Pace Far Different,” are a meditation on longing, finding purpose and allowing yourself to give in to what we can’t possibly control. All of it held together by Schimelfenig’s intricate production, a sticky and sweet blend of intimacy and heft.
I recently got a chance to talk with Augusta Koch about Safe Sins. Tracking Gladie from their beginning as a songwriting exercise to their debut record and upcoming tour, we discussed, among other things, challenging yourself, starting over and balancing isolation with acceptance.
The Key: I read somewhere Gladie began as a sort of songwriting challenge, is that correct?
Augusta Koch: My friend Russell, who plays in Cherry, and my friend Matt, who goes under the name lowercase roses, decided to try to do a song a month — or a week, I don’t quite remember — but we would send them back and forth. It was just a way to keep active. I was still playing in Cayetana at the time, but was trying to challenge myself to write more because you can get into those ruts where you’re not writing as much. This is how the record kind of manifested, but I wanted to write songs without any expectation of them being on a record or even heard by anyone else, which is why the record is a lot different than other stuff I’ve done.
TK: So when did this change from being a personal project to a legitimate band?
AK: Matt, who is my collaborator on this, runs a recording studio and works at Miner Street [Recordings, in Fishtown], so we were able to record everything in the Poconos and really take our time. Once we had a few songs, a theme developed and we really wanted to have a cohesive theme with the whole record so then it was like, alright this is a record we’re writing. But we still had no idea if we were going to put it out with anybody or try to do this full serious thing. We just wanted to make a really nice record that felt like a full album and not just a bunch of singles, which I haven’t really done before because I usually have to write everything really fast.
TK: Tell me a little bit about Safe Sins; I understand the title comes from a poetry zine you used to write?
AK: When I was touring all the time, I would write poetry zines while being in the van. It was just something to keep me sane. When I was trying to think of what I wanted the record to be like, I wanted it to be a very intimate, close-sounding, an almost diaristic record. I wanted to use the name because it was always my little special project. And so I thought it was a good way to put it out there. All of the songs for this record, except for maybe two, were definitely written as poems first. I feel like every time I write a poem, I am thinking of them as writing lyrics. I don’t ever really write just for the sake of writing. In my head I am always thinking about making them into songs.
TK: When did the writing go from writing a song here and there to specifically writing for Gladie and this record?
AK: Once we started making the full record and knowing we wanted to start with a really slow song and end with a really slow song, and have this very intimate vibe. This was all really scary for me because I have never done anything like that, and I think when people think of me, they think of the loud, fast songs. Which have their place, but it’s not really like the kind of music I listen to personally. There were definitely some songs where I didn’t think they fit and maybe shouldn’t be used because I wanted the record to sound cohesive. I will say, there are two songs on the record that sound like they could be used for Cayetana, but I hope they are different enough, because I do want it to sound different — which I know is hard because my voice is the same.
TK: You’ve said that Safe Sins is a lot about “safety, acceptance, and progress.” How does that tie in to the fact that this represents a kind of new beginning for you as an artist?
AK: I talked to a friend about it recently, because it is very scary. Cayetana was a lot more successful than I thought it would be, ever, so to start all over again is scary. I kind of equate Cayetana to my first love and then this record was written in that weird time after a break-up where you’re actually finding your voice and figuring stuff out, so there is a lot of progress in that. The ability to try new things and experiment with different sounds, or even being very scared to have a record start the way Safe Sins starts, a lot more vulnerable, not to mention performing those songs now. The first and last song I am just singing alone, and I would have never done that if this was a band where I had to play in front of a bunch of people. I would be way too self-conscious. So it’s a lot of personal progress even though it can feel like completely starting over, which can feel defeating.
TK: While it may be tough to start over, as you say, do you think you are better equipped to handle that now than you were when Cayetana first began?
AK: Oh totally. I was so young and starry-eyed at the beginning of that. I feel like we all were the whole time, but now I really appreciate getting to play any show I get to play, because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do that again. As much as that huge Union Transfer show was awesome, there is not really a big difference to me in playing that or Boot & Saddle, because I am still the same amount of nervous, still just as grateful, if anything I am a little more comfortable in a space like Boot & Saddle. I like an intimate vibe.
TK: While much of the record is about progress, there are certainly themes of loss and isolation in there as well. How do these two opposing ideas work together?
AK: I wanted to use those themes together. We kind of placed the album where it would be both optimistic and sad. I wanted it to be about how your moods can change throughout even a day or an hour, where you can go from very happy to very isolated. So I think they all make sense because that was how I was feeling when I was writing them, feeling super optimistic and excited and also fucking terrified and very isolated. Recently, I’ve listened to the record again and revisiting all these things, sometimes I’m like, that’s exactly how I feel and sometimes it’s all still very raw. I feel like I am on both sides all the time. That’s why I wanted to end the record which “Choose,” which sounds like a closure song but is really an open book.
TK: Tell me about the rest of Gladie. I’ve seen people describe it as a kind of “supergroup,” but I understand it’s more of a collaboration between you and Three Man Cannon’s Matt Schimelfenig. Can you tell me a little bit about that partnership?
AK: Matt has recorded everything I have ever done. We have always collaborated on our songs so it is honestly really easy. I usually write everything on guitar and will record garage band versions of it and bring it to Matt. He has such a good way of hearing a song that is just guitar and vocals and being able to see it in this crazy way. He has a really interesting ear. So he helped bring in a lot of the textures and the drum machine. He knows the kind of music I like so he would say, this is how we can make this sound this way or that way. I really wanted the guitarless tracks (“Pray” and “Choose”) to have a Lorde kind of vibe where the vocals are really up front but I don’t know how to make that happen. I know a lot about recording but not how to place the mic that way. So I just told him I wanted it to sound like Sharon Van Etten and Lorde and Granddaddy, and he was able to pull all these crazy textures and get crazy with it. It’s a good balance because I can get really frustrated and he is the most chill person in the world, so it works.
Safe Sins is out now on Lame-O Records. Gladie plays Boot & Saddle on April 10.