Artist Spotlight: Gladie – Our Culture
Gladie is the indie rock outfit led by Augusta Koch, who grew up in the Poconos and moved to Philadelphia after high school, fronting the beloved local punk trio Cayetana between 2011 to 2019. On the first Gladie album, 2020’s Safe Sins, Koch unpacked the feelings of grief and isolation that resulted from the group’s dissolution over introspective, lo-fi arrangements. It followed the 2018 Everyone Is Taking But You EP, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Matt Schimellfenig, to whom Koch is now engaged. But the pandemic brought even more big shifts: Koch was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and she quit alcohol. With a five-piece lineup that also includes guitarist Pat Conaboy, bassist Dennis Mishko, and drummer Miles Ziskind, she was able to explore the well of feeling that had suddenly opened up: “The way I feel, I could fill the ocean/ When the wave comes crashing in, it said I’m not a fixed thing,” she sings on ‘Born Yesterday’, an early single from their sophomore album Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out, which is out today. The result is their most dynamic and expressive record to date, fuelled as much by anxiety and fear as it is by love and a rejuvenated sense of self. At the end of a never-ending cycle, standing at the precipice of change, Koch seems to find her grounding.
We caught up with Gladie’s Augusta Koch for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the life changes that informed their new album, the recording process, writing love songs, and more.
At the start of the album, we get this gentle instrumental called ‘Purple Year’. Given the content of the next song, ‘Born Yesterday’, it almost feels like a time capsule of everything that came before we transition into this new phase of life. What does this one minute of music encapsulate for you?
I love an album as a full album, and I think a nice way to do that is to tie in the beginning and the end. “Purple year” was going to be the name of the record, actually, and a lot of the songs are about big change. A majority of them were written in the spring, so it was very much this lush, new growth, wet dew in the morning, hearing animals again. I was in the Poconos, which is two hours out of Philadelphia when we were working on the record. I just love in the morning, in the spring – this is kind of gross, but it kind of smells like worms, and it really smells like the earth. Everything’s kind of quiet, and I feel like spring is such a time for reflection and growth. Matt came up with that soundscape. He’s so great at creating these beautiful soundscapes, and our friend Mark [Glick] from the band AJ J played the cello that you can hear and that’s on other songs in the record. Matt made this beautiful intro and I was like, “This is perfect.” It pulls from the last song on the record, and I feel like it really ties everything together.
Can you talk more about those big changes? Because ‘Purple Year’ almost sounds like you’re looking back, I’m curious if you wanted the rest of the album to focus more on what was happening in the present.
I think when writing the songs initially, when we just had a ton of songs we were working on and they hadn’t been recorded yet, it was easy to pull out the theme because it was just what was happening in our lives. It was the first year of the pandemic. I had gotten sick, I got diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. I’ve never really had health issues, and I ended up leaving my job that I had been at for 10 years and moving to stay in the Poconos because we were worried about my health and being immunocompromised during the pandemic. That was definitely a huge change, and then I stopped drinking, which was also a huge change, and started really working on my mental health. Which, I have for a long time, but being in this mindset was a real commitment. I think it was the first time in my life I saw the physical – I felt that I was actually changing. I think there’s a saying, you change every seven years.
Like the cells in your body regenerate.
Yeah. And I definitely felt that. I felt different. There’s so much global turmoil in the whole world, there was a lot of fear, living under the Trump administration. So those external – just how the world felt, and then also changing so much personally, I was like, “Whoa, this is intense.” I’ve never felt this different before. And so as we were writing the songs, I was like, “This is what it’s about.” When we came up with an actual name of the record, I think that’s when we were able to really hone in on those themes. I wanted the title to be optimistic, but it could also be viewed the other way, like regret. But also, things will get better, and you’ll be able to look back and see a change from a different perspective.
Did you feel like you had to deal with those challenges yourself first before you were able to process and put them down in song?
Honestly, I always write at the same time. From the demos to the finished songs, I think they evolved – it was the first time I had gone back and changed some lyrics. We recorded the songs maybe eight months after they were written, so I did go back make sure that I knew what I wanted to say, or had a little bit of a different perspective. But honestly, for me, writing is the best way to process things in real-time. And sometimes, what I’m learning about myself is a way of me being honest with my feelings. Which is why I always think everyone should write music. [laughs] Or write in general.
What was the new perspective that came in after those months passed?
I think it was just seeing the fruits of my labour as far as settling into the changes a little bit more. Settling into life with this diagnosis, or settling into being someone that doesn’t drink, and actually sticking to therapy. Seeing the seeds growing, you know? I was like, “Okay, I can do this. This is reality now.”
Did that feed into that the recording process as well? How was it different this time?
I think one of the biggest differences was being able to take our time with it. Matt, who plays in the band and is my fiancé, he’s a recording engineer, and he has a studio. You would think, “Oh, you have a studio, you can use it whenever you want.” But, you know, life is hectic, and he’s usually recording other bands. I don’t want to call it a gift, because obviously the pandemic was such a crazy time, but it was the first time in my life that I had a few months off of work. And all I did, all we did was make music. And it was incredible. To be able to be patient and take your time and be thoughtful about everything – I think that’s probably a big reason why we feel so proud of the record, is because we were able to have that luxury of time to really work on it and slowly put the pieces together the way we wanted to. That hadn’t necessarily happened in the past.
There’s waves of overwhelming emotion that you dive in and out of throughout the record, but you also pull back on songs like ‘Hit the Ground Running’ and ‘Soda’, which embrace freedom and clarity with a slower, more patient sound. Did those moments feel just as cathartic for you?
I genuinely love the slower songs. That’s the type of music I listen to. And especially those songs, ‘Hit the Ground Running’ and ‘Soda’, I’ve never really written love songs in my life. For some reason, I was always detested by that idea, but the pandemic really deepened my love. And all of the – if we blanket call it recovery, or the transition that I was going through – really deepened my love for the people in my life, and Matt in particular. And I would hope you can feel it in those songs. I don’t think I’ve ever had a true acceptance that I could be loved, and I think those songs are me really being like, “This is real,” even though we’ve been together for 10 years. Love can really, as corny as it sounds, change you and help you through really hard times. I love the slower songs, because that is naturally where I tend to enjoy music the most.
I definitely hear that deep love, especially in a line like, “I don’t want you to be seen, I want you to be known.” But yeah, loving deeply isn’t just what you do in your actions – it’s also learning to accept that you can be loved back.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s something that we’re not taught. I don’t think we’re taught how to love in a healthy way, and I definitely don’t think we’re taught how to accept love. And for me, I want to love someone in a way that they feel really accepted for who they are. That line is definitely about Matt. Matt is a relatively shy person, and it’s definitely like, “I want you to feel known, I want you to feel totally known and loved.” Which is what I would hope for anyone in a romantic situation, or even a friendship.
Given that you’re also in a collaborative relationship, was there any kind of acknowledgement that you’re writing love songs for what feels like the first time?
I mean, I feel like Matt probably knew. Because how we would do things, at least initially, is he has a studio that’s in a barn that’s not attached to the house, and I would be writing in our room. And I would send him the songs in Dropbox, and he would be in the studio, and then he would listen to them when he was done with work. So, I didn’t say anything at first, and then I think we acknowledged it when we were actually recording where I was like, “I can’t believe I’m writing love songs [laughs] – love songs about you.” But I think the blessing and the curse of, I would love to be the type of person that could write from – and I tried to do this – an outside perspective, like more of a storytelling thing. But I can only write about what I know and what I’m experiencing. So when there’s a strong love vibe, I can’t not. [laughs] We did acknowledge it and it’s kind of goofy, but also there are worse – it would be weird if I wrote a song about how I didn’t like him.
Even if it’s not storytelling from an outside perspective, both this album and Safe Sins have a narrative thread. As a songwriter, did your approach change, and how did the narrative come together this time?
It’s funny, I was thinking about this recently while preparing for the record. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the author Ocean Vuong, but I saw him speak over the summer. I love him, and he was talking about how if you’re an artist or a writer or any type of art, all of your work is a continuation of these big questions, the big mysteries to you. And I was like, “Damn, that’s so interesting.” Because I feel like even though I try and make albums about a specific thing or a few things, I think they all carry the same big questions about just existence and our place in the world and how we interact with each other. I guess those would be my life’s big questions. I don’t think I really did anything super different as far as writing. I do feel like at that time, since there was so much change, the music thing was the consistency in my life, and I maybe relied on it a little bit more than usual. But lyrically, the approach was the same.
I’m not surprised you’re drawn to poetry, because you describe emotions in a very poetic and vivid way, and there’s a certain physicality in the language that you use in your lyrics. What kind of poetry inspires you?
Aw, thank you. [laughs] I love poetry. It’s one of my favourite things. I think during this record, I mostly read Mary Oliver. I was in the woods for a good amount of time and having a deeper appreciation for nature. I’ve always read her work and loved it, but now that I’m a little bit older, I feel like I understand more. And that’s what I like about poetry, you can always reread it at different times. And obviously, Ocean’s work I was obsessed with during the pandemic and kept rereading and rereading his novel, but also his poetry books. Those were my main two that I was obsessed with while writing the record.
You said before that the music you listen to is more on the slower side. Could you share a few influences that maybe aren’t so apparent?
Especially during writing this record, I was really into Perfume Genius’ records, and Aldous Harding. I was constantly watching all of their music videos because they have such an amazing visual component to their music. Aldous Harding is so weird, and her lyrics are so weird. And I don’t get them. [laughs] But the music is so beautiful. Normally, I’m a lyric person, I love lyrics. Her music is so strange, but she’s so emotive in the way that she sings, which I really look up to. You can paint the emotion that you can’t really get from the lyrics in the way that you sing. That is so cool. The two of them I was just enamoured with, it was all I could listen to.
On ‘Nothing’, you sing, “I keep seeking advice that I must have forgotten.” What do you want this album to remind you?
I think to me, it’s just a reminder to keep going. The only constant thing we have in life is change, and to just keep going through it. I think I’ll always look back on this chapter as an example of healing that I can remember throughout my life, like, You can do this. And I hope that resonates with people and I hope that they find comfort in that, because life is hard, but it’s also really beautiful. And I just want everyone to keep going.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Gladie’s Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out via Plum Records.