Explore the unique creative process of this Bristol-based genre-fusing singer/songwriter
Never Give Up… Now there’s an inspiring gambit to open any article with, but especially poignant in the case of Bristol-based artist AUGUST.
A singer, songwriter, producer and composer, AUGUST is best known for her work as the founder, leader and lead vocalist of the popular live act and festival favourites Bass Choir but as a solo artist she’s also been peppering our playlists for the last two years with a series of beguiling, brooding, dark soul fusions.
Deliciously unclassifiable, previous releases such as Empty Languages, Careless and No Release sit between multiple genres from trip-hop to jungle via dubstep.
Prioritising vibe and sentiment over any sense of boundaries or stifling genre pigeonhole, each cut from AUGUST so far has hit hard with that smouldering, dark soul feel that Bristol has been synonymous with since the primordial days of the Wild Bunch collective which spawned a movement comprising the likes of Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead.
Many of her tracks hit with a twist, too, with most recent works being co-produced with the equally gifted and subversive producer Eusebeia (who is about to drop an exceptional album on Samurai this month called X), AUGUST seems at her most natural when switches are flipping and surprises come from the left side. Her latest single and its mid-point jungle twist is a great example. The video went live last week, get up to speed:
Stirring flavours from edge to edge; Never Give Up is a deeply personal piece which places us as a fly on the wall as she has a conversation with herself and that creative flame that will never die out. We called her up to see what that flame is about shed light on next…
Never Give Up is one of your most personal songs isn’t it?
I’d say so. It wasn’t premeditated, though. I didn’t set out to write this specifically… It’s something I’ve been thinking and feeling for time. Forever in a way. It’s probably my most simplest song lyrically but it packs a lot of information into each line.
Musically I knew I wanted it to be an upbeat track and break-heavy, but I didn’t want to confine myself to genres. I’ve got a very eclectic taste in music, I’m always looking for new and fresh way to incorporate that into my music. When it makes sense to.
It’s a bit of everything really isn’t it. It’s got that trip-hop vibe and those awesome breaks at the end. It’s very soulful, too…
Thanks. I said from the get-go that I wanted it to be a triphop and jungle vibe and then explored it sonically from there. I’m strict with the process because you can get lost dwelling on things too long. If I like the sound of something I’ll use it. If I feel like it’s something I can sit with, I’ll go with it.
What was interesting for me was the subtle changes in tempo. It started at 168 BPM but it changed throughout the process. It went down to 165 but still felt too fast so went down to 162 where it felt right and the breakbeats meshed well with the trip-hop vibes.
It’s mad how such a slight change in BPM can make such a big difference in the groove, right?
Massively! And with jungle in particular I find it works between 160-165 range. Anything faster than that feels too fast. I have done slower tracks with jungle-esque breakbeat vibes, though. It all depends on the vibe of the track and where it’s going. With this I had an idea of what I wanted it to roughly sound like but I’m always keeping an open mind. It could have ended up becoming a UKG track or a dubstep track. The one thing I knew was that it was always going to be in the bass music realm.
You work closely with Eusebeia on productions don’t you?
That’s right. Co-producing with him is an absolute breeze. As any singer / songwriter will tell you, it takes time to find a producer who you can really gel with, but we love a lot of the same sounds and work really well together. We’re working together on the next single but I’m also collaborating with other producers and developing my own production too so you can expect fully-fledged AUGUST productions from me soon, too.
But in terms of how it usually works, I write the song and record the vocals and the harmonies and create the arrangement, maybe with some ideas on how the drums should go, then we’ll work on the drums and EQing and mixing together. The process for Never Give Up with Seb was so seamless. We put the track together in three days.
Wow! From scratch?
Oh no! The process beforehand is a lot more long winded; the whole process of writing and thinking about writing and imagining myself as someone listening for the first time and how they might understand it…. That can go on for some time!
But there’s also a part of me that loves that sense of organic authenticity that comes with letting the language be what it needs to be. I’ll lay the tack down, get the arrangement down and have a rough idea of what the chorus will be. Then I’ll vibe of it over a number of takes, add the next chorus and build it up from there, layering it up with harmonies and backing vocals.
That’s how it evolves. A song needs a chance to grow and tell a story so with each layer or element we record will have a different sense of attack or projection or emphasis and that all comes together to inspire the production.
I’m really happy with it. It’s been a new process for me. I’ve been used to working on EPs and this is a one-track single. It’s meant I’ve worked faster than usual which comes its own challenges. I always feel like I could tweak it or improve it and an EP gives you more time to reflect on how it should be and any further changes you can make. But it’s out in the wild now!
And it sets us up for more, right?
That’s right! The next one is out mid-June. I’d like it to follow with more of a dubstep vibe. There are so many different elements to me, my personality and music. As a multi-genre artist it’s not the easiest thing to do. If you follow a specific niche then you find your community and network of artists to collaborate with. I’ve found in Bristol, though, is that there isn’t enough space or representation given to live performances.
Toooooo many DJs!
Haha, I wouldn’t want to say that personally. I love DJs and I love radio DJing. It’s great fun playing music. But the music DJs play is made by artists and the artists aren’t playing as much as the DJs! And that is something I’d like to see some developments in changing.
I get it from a promoter’s point of view. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to hire and program DJs. Bands come with a lot more costs. I understand it from that perspective but there’s a lot of talk in the industry about better representation for women and transgender artists, and a fairer balance of representation full stop, so I hope that will change the dynamic and how different types of performance are included and represented. But not in a box-ticking, Black Lives Matter kind of way
Totally! It needs to be holistic and genuine for change to be real and have foundation for permanent change in the future
It does, and it needs to be ongoing, not just for people to look or feel better. So I hope that space develops for live acts. I mean, look at Outlook Orchestra. Bass Choir are getting gigs, too. But if you fit into a niche then great. If you’re a live music artist who does make music but sits outside of the rules a bit and relates to various genres then you’re a lot harder to place. It’s a challenge but I’m embracing the challenge and making a noise about it.
Are you playing anywhere soon?
Yes, I’m looking forward to Wilkswood Reggae Festival who have a great mix of styles. That’s in July and I will also be performing at The Mount Without in Bristol come November. I’m excited about where this will go in terms of collaborations in Bristol. I’m inspired by the Young Echo collective. Their leftfield, alternative spin on what bass music can be. I do feel like a lot of minimal dubstep is lacking female vocals and it’s something I’ve always vibed off. On my Noods Radio show there’s a revox of mine on Nomine’s Blind Man. I think that’s a good example of where I want to take things. Watch this space…