Roderick August talks America, inspiration and honesty in a conversation about his debut album
Balladeer and traveller, Roderick August has journeyed the States playing his songs for those who’ll listen. After throwing away dead-end jobs in favour of music and touring around the country, he decided to record a full-length record — the result is a raw and authentic catalogue of songs. Indeed, on his debut and brand new album Forever the Far the Closer the Near, he pens warm lyricism in an intimate set of tracks, backed by acoustic guitars and drenched in American sun. I caught up with him using the power of the internet, picking his brains about the album and its processes.
You’ve just released your debut album, Forever the Far the Closer the Near. How does it feel to have a full project out into the world?
Exhalation sums up the feeling. It’s great to be done and I’d usually say I’m performing somewhere this week but things are different, of course. I wrote an album for the weary traveler and though not many of us can travel right now, we’re all traveling the times together. It feels right, releasing such a meaningful batch of songs during everything that’s going on.
You mentioned you’ve played 40 states alone. How did that influence the making of the album?
It forced me to experience America trough the lens of others for a change. Be it in the hood or the trailer park, Long Island or Manhattan, I wanted to see the humanity in everyone before going forward on this album. Whatever my ideals or values were, I believe they were refined out there. That’s one thing I took away from touring, I felt connected to audiences beyond music. Some nights it felt spiritual.
Is there anything else you wanted to capture or explore, lyrically or otherwise, with this record?
I wanted to introduce myself to everyone. No bells, no whistles, just honest delivery and getting to the point of things. When I’m playing, it’s just me and my guitar. Those gigs are really intimate so I felt compelled to bring that energy on this record. All I have are these experiences and maybe some backwards lessons I learned along the way. I’m excited to share that with people on this one.
Where do you find your inspiration?
The cliché answer would be “life”, but honestly I don’t know where the inspiration comes from anymore. Life has become this unpredictable, nail-biting endeavor and like everyone else I’m just doing my best. I’ve always been inspired by great artists, but lately overcoming doubt and insecurity has been the greatest source of inspiration. Those personal victories are beautiful when they occur, so a song or two usually follows.
Are there any artists who have directly influenced your music?
Anyone who tells the truth. I just need to believe the artist. I’m not good at listening to music passively so I look for music that’s going to shake my world up. I love that! That is rare to find of course but a few artists that come to mind are Gregory Alan Isokov, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers and others. I’ll have to make you a playlist!
What’s been your favourite show to play?
I mean that’s probably the toughest question. I think of Fort Worth, TX; Albuquerque, NM; Littleton, NH; but the most magic of times had to be Mt. Airy, North Carolina. Whenever I’m there, the crowd is a little bigger, a little louder and just full of life! Any free time I have there is usually spent in the Smoky Mountains or hanging around Asheville somewhere.
A lot of the tracks on the record are pretty stripped back, with just you and a guitar. Is that how your songwriting starts?
It’s tempting to go for that big heavily produced thing when you get in the studio but the more I thought about what this album was to me, the more I knew that’s just not where I’m at right now. I don’t think a good song needs much at the end of the day. Lately, I’ve been writing at the piano a lot. I’m thinking about going that direction on the next one and seeing what I get.
I read that you produce all your material yourself. How is that?
It’s longer hours and very stressful at times but what you’re left with is an understanding of the songs on a deeper level. I want it to flow how it would in a live environment. I remember being asked how I was able to get a crowd of people to record the hand claps on ‘More Easily’… I didn’t. That was actually all me. I did a dozen or so takes and for each one, stood in different parts of the studio, giving the impression there were many people but it was all just me. You learn fun tricks like that going into it alone that you may not have had to otherwise. Any production is done with the intention of making sure it still sounds human when it’s done.
Ultimately, what do you hope people are going to take away from this album?
I think of artists I related with, the ones who helped me get through the heavy times in life, and that’s what I hope to do for people. I’ve been in the shit, I know what that’s like, so when I’m singing about overcoming something, that’s from experience, not a book I read. One thing I like to say at my shows is that no matter how violent a wildfire becomes, the mountains will survive.
What’s next for Roderick August?
I’ve been writing a lot and one of these days I may just press record and start the process all over again. Outside of that I’m grateful for the people who’ve been able to discover me thanks to talented writers like yourself and the streaming platform. The album’s playing everywhere that music is, I have new merch up on my website and I’m looking forward to playing for you soon. Thanks Harry!