Interview: Gladie Vocalist Augusta Koch on New Music

From the breakup of her previous band Cayetana to starting her new band, Gladie, and then receiving the news she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease during the height of the pandemic, it’s safe to say Augusta Koch has seen her fair share of changes over the past three years. Despite all this, Koch has rolled with the punches life keeps throwing at her, channeling the fear and anxieties that come with change into her creation process.

Back in November, Gladie released their sophomore album Don’t Know What You’re in Until You’re Out, following up their 2020 album Safe Sins.

What do you enjoy most about recording with Gladie? How is it different from recording with other bands?

I think, at least, especially for this record, my bandmate and partner Matt (Schimelfenig) has a recording studio, so we were able to take our time recording the album, working the record slowly—instead of typically booking a week or two at a time to work on it spaced out. It kind of made it a less stressful and more relaxing experience, being able to take our time was really nice. We could experiment with how we wanted the songs to come out, like scrapping them and rebuilding them whenever we wanted.

Who influenced you most during the time the album was being made? Your slower songs have a very distinct sound to them, which is unique to the album, but somehow fits perfectly in with the rest of the album.

I think during that time I was listening to a lot of Aldous Harding and Perfume Genius—a lot of more slower paced stuff. I’ve kind of been partial to slower music. I feel like I do write a lot of faster songs. It’s kind of weird.

What’s the experience like when you’re recording a love song about the person who’s helping you to produce the album?

It is funny. It was interesting. I’m a hopeless romantic. I’m a sappy person. I always tell my friends I love them when parting ways. I always felt very self-conscious about writing love songs or using the word” love” in a song. I don’t know why. I’ve just been nervous to do it. During the writing of the record, I hung out with my friend Jake (Ewald) who plays in Slaughter Beach, Dog.

I was hanging out with him one day, and he was like “Why? Write love songs. They are the best.” I was like “I don’t know. It feels weird.”

I feel like people, myself included, really like sad songs, but I was just feeling very in love. It definitely was a little awkward. I didn’t talk about what the song was about to Matt, but it was pretty obvious, and we had just recently got engaged. We’ve been together for almost 10 years. And it was one of those things I was like, “Alright, I’ve written a lot of songs in the time frame we’ve been together. Better than hate songs.”

With your newest album, what do you hope fans take away from it?

I’m just happy anyone’s listening to it, honestly. I think the core of the record is about change, and how everyone’s able to do so. Judging yourself and people in your life with less rigidity is the big lesson present. I mean, we went through such a shift with the pandemic, and the state of the world is so bad right now. It’s about reminding ourselves that we’re able to grow and always able to learn something new about ourselves and the people we love. The main thesis of the record is life’s ability to change all the time and trying to be okay with the changes whether good or bad.

In 2020, you were diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. What has touring been like since this diagnosis?

It’s pretty scary. I got diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis right as the pandemic was starting. I noticed things were really wrong about a month into the pandemic and got a diagnosis in November. It was really, really bad at first. It’s hard to diagnose autoimmune stuff. It was definitely scary because I play guitar and it’s in my hands. We’re supposed to be on tour right now, but a few of the shows got canceled due to COVID, and I am experiencing a flare right now. It’s definitely different.

I definitely have to be more careful. I do worry about it a lot. Luckily, I had COVID, and it wasn’t horrible for me. It is something to think about even moving forward. It’s a new existence having to consider that there might be a day on tour when I’m really struggling playing guitar, which is another reason why we wanted to move into a five-piece direction. God forbid that happens—It hasn’t happened to me yet, having to have another guitar player in case I can’t use my hand. It’s scary.

That was really going on when the record was happening, so I was pivoting to playing piano or writing songs in a different way, which was helpful. Like, “Soda” was written in a way I’ve never written a song before—a lot of pivoting. I mean, I’m in my 30s. Our bodies are changing. It definitely opened my eyes to people who have issues a lot more severe than mine, like how different their lives are from an able-bodied person.

Gladie’s music is about progress and having to evolve as human beings. So I can imagine how transformative this experience was recording this album.

That’s what I kind of wanted this album to showcase. As much as these hard things happen to us, it does give us room for immense growth. There was a point when I couldn’t play guitar, and I was so angry, and anger is not the most prevalent emotion I usually get—like just straight-up anger. I was like, It’s so hard to play music, and now I have to deal with this other issue of my body, especially learning guitar late and starting so much later. And feeling like I was behind, and now my hands don’t work?

Matt went out one day and bought me a music stand, and I know it sounds so corny to say, but it was so loving. It has definitely increased my capacity for being grateful even though I tend to have days where I’m like, “Goddamn it, all I want to do is play music. Why is this so hard?” But that’s what happens. I was reading about Celine Dion, and people were making fun of her due to her medical condition, and I was like “Damn, we’re not invincible, people.” People have real shit that goes on with them. I think the pandemic highlighted that not everyone is on the same page, and it’s good to remember that.

Safe Sins is the name of a poetry zine you used to write, which you also named Gladie’s first album after. So, I have to ask, who are your favorite poets?

My two favorites, who I have been obsessed with during the past two years, are Ocean Vuong and Mary Oliver. I feel like I’ve been going through everything (Oliver’s) ever written, and that’s all I read. I try to read it, like, once a day. I just don’t think I fully grasped her a few years ago. I wanted to because I had close friends be like, “You’d love her.”

Ocean writes a lot of nature. I was like, “I don’t get it!” But now I feel like I get it, and it’s cool. It really grew on me. Those are my two number ones right now.

Have they inspired your songwriting process?

Absolutely! I saw Ocean speak in person, and it was so fucking cool. He has such a beautiful mind. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as inspired by just a person aside from just their work. He talked about how all of your writings—it applies to songwriting too—are trying to answer these big life questions you have. They’re always the same questions, and I was like, “Yeah, that’s so true. I’ve been asking the same questions my whole life.”

Especially just from reading them so much, and when I obsess over someone in that way, I’ll listen to every podcast they’re on. Even though Mary Oliver passed away, there was this really good podcast about creativity, and it definitely inspired a different work ethic in me. I just feel like there’s so much competitiveness with music, the end-of-the year lists. “Are your streams up? Do people care?” Especially when you’re not doing as many shows as you used to. But, I do this because I really like music. I love having older guidance in my life, and when you look at it from an outside perspective, none of that stuff really matters. It feels nice, very temporarily. I don’t want it to feel like a competition. I love my friends that make music, and I think everyone should make music.

What are you most excited for about coming up? Any definitive plans?

I’ll be honest. I really don’t know, especially since we put this record out ourselves. We’ve been trying our best to continue to play. My main goal is to play more shows, but we’re not really sure what will happen. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to just keep playing music, but we have a few shows here and there. I would love to try and figure out a way to get on a bigger tour. I love traveling with friends, and I want any excuse to have sleepovers with my friends in my 30s.

I’m not the best at the internet, so I feel like playing in front of people is way better for me to get people to listen to music than posting about it online. The record hasn’t been out already a month, and I’m like, “Gotta write another one.” Hopefully we’ll start that. It’ll be exciting because I don’t know what it’s going to be like at all.

You kind of touched on this already, but when you’re writing song lyrics, it very much feels like you’re writing the lyrics from the perspective of a poet. Is this something you’ve noticed?

Yeah, I mean, I didn’t start playing music until my early 20’s, which is late in some people’s eyes. I’ve always loved writing, and I was just saying to myself to make a goal list, and I would love to maybe make a poetry book. My favorite part of writing is the song lyrics. I think of them before anything else. I’m definitely not the strongest musician, so it’s trying to find a way to compensate for that in a way by singing and writing lyrics I like, and then trying to figure out the music from there.

What made you decide to pick up music?

I’ve always been such a huge music fan. It’s the only thing I feel like that I know that I love. But, I was very intimidated to start playing. I feel like the culture has definitely changed now. There are so many women who play music now. Some of the top artists are women, but it didn’t feel that way growing up. I was just very intimidated. It didn’t feel like there was a space for me to do it. I was honestly scared. But then meeting my old bandmates Kelly (Olsen) and Allegra (Anka), who also always wanted to do that too, it was definitely the push I needed. I don’t know if I could have started playing music and felt as safe and vulnerable as you have to be, at that time at least, by starting to play with men and not women. Obviously, I play with a bunch of men now.

I still sometimes get nervous before we play. I’m pretty naturally an anxious person. Before we go on stage, I’m always like, “Why am I doing this?” It’s like, what the hell am I doing? But I get on stage, and I’m like, ‘This is so much fun.’ But I think a lot of people feel that way. People don’t see that aspect of a live show.

Yeah, there’s always that old quote, ‘If you’re not doing something that scares you, then you’re not doing it right.’

Yeah, I like that. It’s good to do scary stuff even though it’s scary

Do you have any tips or words of encouragement for those wanting to get into music later in life?

I wish I had known this earlier, but there is space for everyone. Our world operates on the notion of scarcity and the idea that there isn’t room for you. But there is. I firmly believe the world would be a better place if people were able to feel safe—to feel more vulnerable—to express themselves. I think a lot of the deep pain we’re experiencing with everything that’s going wrong now is like a repressed emotion.

I love to hear peoples’ music because I believe everyone has their own story to tell, especially with the internet and how music is now. I have to remind myself that music will find the people it’s supposed to. Everyone can do it; anyone can play music if they want to. You deserve to allow yourself to experiment with it and not worry about what anyone thinks. I always say to people that you know more about songwriting than you think you do if you listen to music all the time. You know what’s catchy. You know a good melody if you listen to music. It’s not as hard as people make it out to be. Some of the most amazing songs are the most simple. You don’t have to be a guitar hero. Now, we have so many tools where the access to music is so amazing. You can make it with a phone or a computer. You can sing on TikTok and find people. The barrier is open, and I love it. It doesn’t matter your age, anyone can do it.

Gladie’s new album can be purchased here.

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