Some albums give you an unmistakeable feel for a place.
PJ Harvey’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea injects you with a Big Apple buzz. Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun leaves you hovering over Icelandic fjords.
Augie March’s third record Moo, You Bloody Choir carefully lays out their yellowed and curled edged map of Old Melbourne Town with songs that document lost adventures, and imagined interactions with remnants of a faded history.
It’s an album that reminds us that inspiration and wonder are all around us. In the people and events that have passed by, ghosts still whispering tales and accounts of the shaping of a community.
“'Victoria’s Secrets' is one that I wrote in East Melbourne,” Augie March frontman Glenn Richards explained to triple j in 2006. “It’s very old money around there. It’s one of the original settlement spots and I was just looking at these buildings, these big white concrete buildings that have been here since white people got here. I guess I was thinking, ‘This is where the directors of a city’s culture might have always been and perhaps they still are in places like this’.”
During other nocturnal traipses through the streets of Melbourne, Richards encountered other lively characters who would inform a different song – ‘Bolte and Dunstan Talk Youth’ – on Moo, You Bloody Choir.
Former Victorian Premiers, Bolte and Dunstan, are immortalised in life size bronze statues. Their likenesses depicted with animated expressions, relaxed, but lost in deep discussion about the weather or unresolved policy chit chat.
“I used to walk home, probably from Pony (a late-night bar in Melbourne’s CBD) through the (Treasury) Gardens, and I used to sometimes just stop there because they’re wonderful statues. They’re really quite lifelike,” he said.
“That song was really just born out of falling asleep in the gardens, because I sat down and I fell asleep and I woke up and the sun was coming up and the first thing I saw was Bolte and Dunstan.”
There is a collision of brutal bushrangers and biscuits on ‘Thin Captain Crackers’.
“I think I was reading random historical snippets at the time and I always wanted to write a song with the names Ned Kelly and Redman Barry in separate verses, the criminal and the hanging judge,” Richards said.
“So, I just used fragments of Melbourne for that song. I imagined Ned Kelly riding down the main street of East Melbourne and Thin Captain Crackers was the brand of cracker biscuit I was eating at the time. I don’t know why or how I put songs together like that.”
Other tracks like ‘The Honey Month’ were formed through admiration of certain lush and ambitious musical offerings, such as XTC’s 1999 record Apple Venus Volume 1.
For Richards that record offered a lot of moving imagery of “the end of a relationship being aligned to the end of a harvest period and new beginnings.”
But the creative origins for the album’s majestic hit song, ‘One Crowded Hour’ remain completely mysterious.
“When I’ve been talking about this song, because it’s the oldest song on the record by far, I’m being as honest as I can be by saying, ‘I simply can’t remember what it’s about’.
“It’s one that has three strains or stories going through it, I tend to write a lot of songs like that, each verse has to have a new beginning for me but they all intertwine somewhere.
“More than anything I was just trying to write a classic structured song, one that has I guess a bit of Dylan about it and also Van Morrison. I think they were just a couple of people I was listening to at the time, because I borrowed someone’s house and they had these records there, and that’s all I can remember.”
Through players Adam Donovan, Edmondo Ammendola, Kiernan Box and Dave Williams, this band has crafted arrangements which are sensitive to and extremely supportive of Richards’ dense, nourishing and haunted tales.
This album is very much about the power of the words, not so much in the emphasis on the meaning of one specific thing, but more in the physicality and resonance of the word’s sound and its ability to plant a seed of thought. To remind of a feeling or to wonder what could be.
Or, as Richards told Lucky Oceans at the Fremantle Arts Centre in 2016, his love of literature and music that is ‘old fashioned’ might just come down to a personal sensory gratification.
“That’s me having fun,” he said. “If I’m not entertaining myself while I’m writing, then there’s no way I’m going to pull it for other people and that leads me to use ridiculous words sometimes. It’s good fun for me. They feel good in your mouth.”
The weight of expectation that the huge success of Moo, You Bloody Choir brought to bear on the Melbourne group has been well documented and is something they’ve collectively dealt with in the ensuing years. But, in 2006, Richards was very focused on keeping his feet on the ground.
“I was new to writing songs, I was new to everything, I was new to playing an instrument,” he said of Augie March’s early years.
“I started a band and I started playing straight away, always just to see what was around the corner, what people I might meet, whether we were going to go from (former beloved live music venues) Nicholson’s to the Punters, that sort of thing, and it’s still the same.”
With Augie March now off hiatus since 2014’s Havens Dumb, we can patiently expect this unique band to continue to make more rich additions to their catalogue, driven by that same, unerring ambition.