Hard work and (not so) divine intervention propel Augustana to mainstream acclaimThe morning before my scheduled interview with North County folk pop chartbusters Augustana, I get a polite but rather urgent call from the band’s ebullient publicist. The band needs to push the interview up, she tells me, as they’ve been offered a last minute spot on the Today Show. I gladly accommodate—having your interview rescheduled because the band’s singer is heaving Schlitz Ice into a bar toilet is one thing, but getting bumped up so they can pal around with Al Roker on national television is another. When I finally get bassist/vocalist Jared Palomar on the phone, the band are just hours from a flight that will take them to New York City to perform their hit single “Boston” for the show’s estimated 6.2 million viewers.
“We’ve met Matt Lauer before, when we did Letterman, and he was a really nice guy. Al Roker seems like a character, I’m not sure what to think about him,” he chuckles. Palomar then mistakes their cohost Anne Curry for vicious right-wing pundit Anne Coulter: “Anne Coulter’s kind of crazy, too. I used to read a lot of her columns, but now I don’t know.”
If Palomar is a little confused, it may have something to do with the band’s dizzying schedule. In addition to the Today Show, they’re in the midst of a national tour with the Goo Goo Dolls (to be interrupted again by a flight to Burbank to appear on Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show) before their own headlining stint through the South and Southwest. Speaking from Detroit, Palomar, vocalist/pianist/guitarist Dan Layus, drummer Justin South, lead guitarist Chris Sachtleben, and keyboardist John Vincent have been recording demos in a friend’s studio.
Palomar’s voice is friendly and familiar, though his tone bespeaks some fatigue, as if he hasn’t quite had a chance to catch his breath in months. Their first full length, All the Stars and Boulevards, has just been certified gold, and over the next few months, the band will be taking their Counting Crowes-meets-Coldplay brand of alternative folk rock on its second headlining tour. Their sound is full of swelling choruses and the kind of personal yet open-ended lyrics that listeners from teens to the stay-at-home moms have found appealing.
Success, however, wasn’t preordained. Augustana’s rise from beginnings at a conservative Christian college to being the type of band that rubs elbows with major network television stars is a story that takes place over two time zones, two years of performing in relative obscurity, and the not-so-divine providence of one Garden State filmmaker. It’s also a story of one of the longest incubating hit singles in history.