Josiah Rosen, lead guitar, vocals
Jared Palomar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Justin South, drums
Sometimes a young band comes along—perhaps they haven’t even been a band that long—and they just have it. Augustana, a brand-new four piece, are one of those bands. Fronted by a charismatic, deeply thoughtful songwriter with a powerfully expressive voice and effortlessly backed by natural musicians. It’s more than a band. It’s organic when it happens. The members get together and they just know. Each realizes he will never be better than he is when he’s playing with these other guys. And so it is with Augustana.
In the winter of 2004, Dan Layus, now 20, Josiah Rosen, 21, and Jared Palomar, 20, left the college where they had met and the small town of Greenville, Illinois to pursue music in California. “Dan and I were sitting on this green bench,” recalls Josiah, ‘it was snowing. He looks at me and I look at him and I said, ‘Do we really want to be here? I don’t want to be here. Do you want to be here?’”
Dan: “I didn’t want to be there.”
“Dan said, ‘Do you want to go to San Diego?’” Josiah continues. “‘We can stay at my dad’s place.’ I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”
“About a month later we moved into my Dad's apartment in San Diego and we slept on the couches and old bunk-beds from when I was younger”, explained Dan.
Dan and Josiah eventually convinced their keyboardist, Jared Palomar, to quit school and come to California to play bass in the band. “I had only been playing with them for a few months before they had left,” Jared says, “but they called me every day and said, ‘We’re at the beach right now, why aren’t you here?’” The trio soon recruited a drummer they had met through mutual friends, Justin South, 21. “I first met up with them on the beach in Del Mar. They played me a three-song demo with ‘Bullets,’ ‘Hotel Roosevelt,’ and ‘Mayfield.’ I listened and looked out at the ocean and thought, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing. We have to make this happen.’”
And with that meeting; Augustana was complete. The band bounced around the country, never staying in one place too long, often finding a song or two in the loneliness and sense of rootlessness that comes along with never really having a place you truly call home. Eventually the guys landed in Chicago where they continued to rehearse. Premiere rock producer Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Stone Temple Pilots, and Neil Young, among many others, heard their demos, and on the strength of the songwriting, flew out to Chicago to hear the band in person. That sealed the deal. A few months later, the guys met up with O’Brien at Southern Tracks studio in Atlanta to record the 11 songs that make up Augustana’s strikingly confident debut, All the Stars and Boulevards, which will be released in the Summer of 2005.
All the Stars and Boulevards is a reflective, wistful, cerebral, and somewhat melancholy record. The band delivers tales of frustration and heartbreak, while infusing the album with small windows of hope. Many songs are named after places, “Boston,” “Mayfield,” “Hotel Roosevelt,” “California’s Burning,” which isn’t surprising considering they were given life by a group of guys who, while finding their musical voice, never stayed anywhere for too long. “For me, writing about finding a home in these places, works as a metaphor for finding home in a person.” says Dan.
That theme is neatly illustrated in the album’s first single, “Stars and Boulevards.” “‘Stars really captures a time for us, as a band, and especially for me, when I was just very sad, and I needed this girl to be there, she was everywhere but with me.” says Dan. “It’s kind of lonely and that’s where I was at that point.” Adds Josiah, “That song is about being alone—nobody gets you. You’re literally alone in America, trying to figure it all out.”
The album’s centerpiece is “Boston”—“It was inspired by a friend of mine who wanted to get out of California,” he says. “A lot of people are curious about what else is out there. You can only take so many sunny days before you wonder what the rain is like. At the time I was very curious about the rest of America, and I put a lot of myself into the girl I was writing about.”
Dan wrote the lyrics to “Wasteland” on a plane flying back to Los Angeles. “Over the summer I had been visiting this girl and it was tough to leave and I didn’t want to go back to L.A. It’s partly about the shallowness of the city, but more about the shallowness in myself, and how hard it is to be a real person in that town.”
“Hotel Roosevelt” was inspired by a night Dan and Josiah were driving to L.A. when Dan looked up and saw the sign for the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. “I remembered Ryan Adams saying in an interview, that whenever he gets an idea for the name of a song, he writes it down. I saw the sign and jotted it down."
"Sure enough, two days later, we wrote about it and imagined that night all over again and it just felt good.” explains Josiah.
Similarly, “Mayfield” was written after the guys spotted a sign for the small Kentucky town on their way to record there. “It’s symbolic of a place where we began, recording in our friend’s little studio in the back of his house in Kentucky,” says Josiah.
“I think places will always be a theme for us,” says Dan. “The more I listen to the words on this album, the more I realize how lonely and sad they are. I’m fine with that because this is where I was at. I just write how I’m living. Maybe in a few years I’ll be a more uplifting person.” He grins. “But I don’t think that’s me yet.”