The Third Man
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The Third Man


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"Broadcast News"

Local quintet Augustine's soon to be released album Broadcast comes on slow. Droning tones swell in and out of discord over gurgling electronics and white noise. Steady, catchy drums drop into the mix, riding the sonic collage and shaping it as deftly as one of Stereolab's experiments. Just when things start to get good and weird, there's a sudden course change as three brightly tuned guitars crash through the futuristic burbling and launch into a riff that calls to mind the Flaming Lips in their Clouds Taste Metallic heyday, while Toby Vest's haunting, breathy vocals come on like the freakish progeny of Robert Smith and Morrissey raised on a steady diet of Bob Dylan and Blue Oyster Cult.

Broadcast is presented not as a collection of songs but as a series of movements in a grand pop symphony that merits a spiritual comparison to the Olivia Tremor Control's fantastic Black Foliage.

Locally speaking, Augustine's worldly-wise rock strikes a perfect balance between the Glass' operatic squall and the gothier end of the Satyrs' spectrum. What's not so easy is explaining how Augustine's transparent sound transcends pastiche and charts new territory for Memphis rock-and-roll.

"It's always more about aesthetic," Toby Vest says of his influences. "It's what a band represents, not what they sound like. I'm conscious about the overall mood of a song. A band's ability to set a mood or create an emotion influences me a whole lot more than a guitar riff. I'll ask myself, how do you set that mood or get that emotion, before I'll [lift] a riff."

Augustine's roots are in Marion, Arkansas, where the Vest brothers, Toby and Jake, grew up learning to play their instruments together.

"We didn't have any training. We just went looking for Web sites that had guitar tabs," Jake says, praising Olga, an expansive guitar tab and lyrics database.

Augustine became a five-piece with the addition of Jeff Schmidtke on guitar, Preston Todd on drums, and Dirk Kitterkin on bass. The band was officially born in December 2003, when they started playing regular gigs at the Caravan, where they were often incongruously paired with hardcore bands. "We played a lot of shows at the Caravan," Toby says. "It was the only place that would give us gigs."

Augustine also recorded a demo, which they took to Easley-McCain's Kevin Cubbins to master. After hearing the finished product they decided it was time to get serious and get into the studio. The idea was right, and Cubbins, sonic architect behind Cory Branan's The Hell You Say and the Glass' Hibernation, couldn't have been a better choice, but Augustine's timing was terrible. Although the band's recordings were spared when Easley burned, the fire delayed completion of Broadcast by nearly a year. To finish the album, Cubbins took the band to the same cabin in Heber Springs, Arkansas, where the Glass re-recorded Hibernation after their original tracks were wiped out in the blaze.

As it turns out, Hibernation and Broadcast have a lot in common. Both are beautifully nervous, nearly paranoid, and lushly impressionistic documents of life during wartime. Both sound like the work of bands that have walked through the fire and survived.

"We don't write songs about girlfriends," Toby says, repeating almost verbatim what Glass frontman Brad Bailey said when Hibernation was released. And, like Bailey, Toby says his songs' darker edges are a response to how America has changed since 9/11.

"It's not really political, but it's socially aware," Toby says of Broadcast, a record that uses broad pop strokes to paint a pre-Orwellian picture of a world where church bells are always ringing and the neighbors listen at every door.

"I do a kind of William S. Burroughs thing," Toby says of his songwriting process. "I don't just sit down and write a song. I get an idea and I write it down, and later I start putting these ideas together." Though far less caustic than Burroughs, Toby's songs come on like a series of noirish images built into bright, inviting melodies that turn imperceptibly tense.

- The Memphis Flyer - By Chris Davis

"The Year in Memphis Music 2007 (1)"

By Chris Davis

4. Among the Wolves — The Third Man (self-released): Smart pop is hard to come by, and the Third Man's latest release, Among the Wolves, is borderline brilliant. The relentlessly dark, organ-soaked groove of "Psyops Marching On" borrows elements from such great local bands as the Satyrs and Snowglobe and wraps it all up in Nuggets-worthy psychedelia. Mixing electronic flourishes with guitar thunder sounds old as dirt and brand spanking new. - The Memphis Flyer

"The Year in Memphis Music 2007 (2)"

By Andrew Earles

2. Among the Wolves —The Third Man (self-released): Among the wolves is indeed the place that any young indie band will find themselves this day and age, but the Third Man play a strong card with their Southern-tinged, Memphis-centric answer to psych-rock contemporaries like Dungen. Memphis' shining beacons within the realm of indie rock can usually be counted on one hand at any given point in history (or at least the last 10 years), and Among the Wolves puts the Third Man ahead of the pack for the time being. - The Memphis Flyer

"Return of the Third Man"

By Andrew Earles

Because Memphis music is so consumed by its roots heritage — blues, soul, rockabilly, garage-rock, alt-country — creative success can often be had by fighting against those expectations. In recent years, artists such as Snowglobe, The Coach and Four, Lost Sounds, and Jay Reatard (among others) have made some of the most exciting local music outside the boundaries of what most listeners immediately associate with Memphis music. And so it is with The Third Man.

The Third Man is composed of multi-instrumentalists Jake Vest and elder brother Toby Vest, guitarist/keyboardist Jeff Schmidtke, bassist/keyboardist/trombonist Dirk Kitterlin, and drummer Preston Todd. At this juncture, the band is probably better known to local music fans by its original name: Augustine.

"There is a Hawaiian nü-metal band called Augustine," says Jake Vest, explaining the name change. "They sound like P.O.D. or Disturbed and sent us a few e-mails that stated they were about to go on tour and if we didn't change our name, they would take us to court." Something else also helped the band with their decision: "All of their e-mails were in all-caps, and I don't like it when people send us e-mails in all-caps," Vest says.

Along with a name taken from the classic 1949 film that stars Orson Welles, another noticeable change came with the sound of the band's new album, Among the Wolves.

When they were known as Augustine, these local faves probably deserved a few of the Radiohead comparisons with which they were saddled. But, as the Third Man, the band has dialed down that frame of reference with an incredibly realized, catchy blend of '70s hard rock, bluesy boogie, and '60s psychedelia. This bevy of interesting influences does wonders with the band's lingering indie-rock elements, emerging as a best-case scenario of what might happen if Scandinavian cult favorites Dungen were, well, from the South.

"The Stones' Exile on Main Street was a big influence on the making of this record, as was the Love, Peace, and Poetry series of compilations, especially the Brazilian one," explains Jake Vest. Each volume of the Love, Peace, and Poetry compilations, released by Normal Records, showcases a selection of late-'60s/early-'70s garage/psychedelic tracks from a particular country or continent. But a local influence in the same vein also provided inspiration for the Third Man's current direction: underground Memphis rock band Moloch.

"I love that self-titled album by Moloch from '69," says Vest, a longtime friend of Ben Baker, son of the late Moloch guitarist and Memphis music legend Lee Baker.

The Third Man is a team effort (all of the members are in their early-to-mid 20s), though the Vest brothers form the songwriting core. "At this point, my brother and I come up with the basic ideas for the songs, which we then bring to the band for everyone to work out," Jake says.

Keyboards, a Mellotron, and a 12-string acoustic guitar are among the instruments that take a front seat on Among the Wolves. "We were going with a more organic sound with this record, but it's a natural progression," Jake continues. "You can hear those instruments creeping in on the Augustine album."

Augustine's 2005 debut Broadcast was released to local critical acclaim on the Makeshift Music imprint and was recorded at Easley/McCain Studios. Among the Wolves will be self-released and was recorded at Young Avenue Sound. Continuing with the band's DIY approach, the Third Man plans on self-releasing future albums, and they are in the midst of constructing their own practice space and studio.

To support Among the Wolves, the band plans on organizing a tour in early 2008 around a performance at Austin's South By Southwest Music Festival.
- The Memphis Flyer

"Top 10 Memphis Records 2007"

By Mark Jordan

2. The Third Man, Among the Wolves (High/Low): Progressive rock marches on. Memphis' answer to Radiohead, this quintet rebounded nicely from a forced name change following their breakout 2005 debut, Broadcast. Their first record under the new name is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece with glorious writing and Jake Vest's cutting guitar antics. - The Commercial Appeal

"From Augustine to Third Man, band sees post-apocalyptic future"

By Mark Jordan

When their debut recording, Broadcast, was released in 2005, the five-piece art rock combo Augustine suddenly found themselves the darlings of the Memphis indie rock scene. The album, a heady mix of guitars and science fiction that would do Radiohead proud, was praised across the board as one of the best releases of the year and the band as one of the most musically ambitious in town.

So it must have been frustrating when the band was forced to change its name earlier this year because of a legal conflict.

"That was the result of being given cease-and-desist orders from a metal band in Hawaii that had the trademark on the name," says Toby Vest, part of the trio of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumenalists, including little brother Jake and Jeff Schmidtke, that front the four-year-old band. "It worked out, though, because I think it invigorated us and let us start fresh."

For their new name, Vest turned for inspiration to "The Third Man," a classic 1949 Orson Welles film that follows an American writer (Joseph Cotten) as he navigates the seedy underworld of post-World War II Vienna to piece together the mystery of the death of his friend, Harry Lime (Welles).

"I was watching this movie and to me the theme of the movie ... was how this one event sparks all these different perspectives from all these different people," says Vest. "I thought that was a cool comparison to how we look at music, incorporating all five of our varied influences and trying to turn them into this one single event."

Not accidentally, the film, with its dark, exotic, claustrophobic atmosphere and pessimistic worldview, is reflected in the music of the band that now calls itself The Third Man.

Broadcast was a sweeping vision of a post-apocalyptic future -- a future the band saw as just a hop, skip and jump away from post-9/11 reality -- where people are pawns of governments and corporations. On the band's second CD, Among the Wolves, whose release will be marked with a show at the Hi-Tone this Saturday, the band continues the paranoid epic with the same dedication to layered sonic effects and Jake Vest's soaring and melodic guitar work.

"If you look at the lyrics and the sound of the first record as a wide-angle shot in a movie," says Vest, "this record is more about getting close-ups on the characters within that world we created."

For Vest many of the songs were the result of a series of dreams he had during the nine months of the songs production. "I would wake up at 3 in the morning with these dreadful feelings after these dreams, and I would just grab a piece of paper and write down all the images."

Working with his brother, Schmidtke, bassist Dirk Kitterlin and drummer Preston Todd, Vest fashioned those images into bitter portraits that are not as divorced from the real world as the band's sci-fi imagery would lead one to believe. The brilliant "Psyops Marching On" depicts the dehumanizing effects of poverty.

"The way Memphis is, where you're surrounded by poverty on one block and complete wealth on the other," says of the track. "The dichotomy of just living in this town fed into that."

With a new name and new album, The Third Man plan to pursue their music career with more vigor than in the past. The band will tour through early 2008, and hopes to have another new record out in the spring.

"We started our own label so we could promote our own music," Vest says. "We're in a good mode right now, and things are coming quickly. We've already got half a record written." - The Commercial Appeal

"Top Ten Most Vital Memphis Artists"

8. Augustine

A now omnipresent name around town, Augustine is, along with the Glass, the local rock scene's best bet to break out beyond mere regional success. The five-piece, in which three members play keyboards (but, if this makes sense, they play keyboards like they're guitars), are steadily gaining positive local press through regular shows and that elusive task that local bands seem to be allergic to: (gasp) TOURING.

They are the type of band that would justify a thesaurus designed exclusively for music writers. There is no choice but to fall back on tired crutches like "soaring" or "grandiose." The attention-commanding guitar/keyboards layer cake defies the band's "disaffected love affair with minimalist art rock" -- as stated on their Web site. Last year's Broadcast (on Makeshift) sounds like the forgotten late-'80s proto-Brit-pop mini-movement that included bands such as House of Love and the Mighty Lemon Drops, albeit with a breadth of influence wide enough to include both Sonic Youth and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

Gathering a respectable live draw over the past year and a half, Augustine is an important element in Memphis' independent rock scene in much the same way that the remainder of the Makeshift roster is important: They don't sound like they're from Memphis. While some may balk at that statement, understand that variety in our exports is vital, and while we produce worthy outfits that become regionally associated with the city, Memphis shouldn't be known only as a home base for garage or Southern rock. A sort of bombastic Anglophilic surprise is healthy, and that's exactly what Augustine provide on Broadcast. -- AE

Voter comments:

These young guys have it together. Good attitude, great band, and their crowds are getting bigger all the time. I expect great things from them -- Mike Smith

Unlike anything else on the Memphis music scene today, this band appeals to hard- and indie-rockers alike. The songwriting is pure Joy Division, full of keyboard washes and angry-young-man lyrics, but the guitar heroics and jams are '70s rock on the order of Marc Bolan and the Velvet Underground.

-- Mark Jordan - TheMemphis Flyer

"The Year in Local Music 2005"


Andrew Earles

#3. Broadcast - Augustine (self-released):
This impressive debut album is big-broad stroke indie rock that exorcises any stigma one might associate with the term "indie rock". With enough straight-ahead song construction to avoid alienating fans of grandiose, vocals-up-front guitar rock, Augustine manages to throw in unconventional rhythms, dynamic scares, and almost per-song episodes of guitar thunder and extravagance. Augustine sounds nothing like what outsiders associate with Memphis and is a vital component to the di-pigeonholing of our independent music scene. As such it's easy to imagine this band finding a sizable audience outside the city limits.
- The Memphis Flyer

"2005's high notes of music"

By Mark Jordan

#1. Augustine, Broadcast (Makeshift Music). At once retro and cutting edge, contemplatively arty and hard rocking, few local bands in recent memory have seemed so perfectly on the cusp of something fresh and great.
- The Commercial Appeal

"Augustine's debut album was worth the wait"

By Mark Jordan

The debut album from rock band Augustine has been one of the most eagerly anticipated local releases of the year. Formed just two years ago, the group has been building momentum behind a series of live gigs that showcased their unique mixture of angular, '80s-style songcraft and '70s-era guitar theatrics. Like several other local bands, the group saw the release of its album delayed by the destruction of the Easley-McCain Recording Studio earlier this year, but the result was more than worth the wait.

Recalling recent albums by such indie rock darlings as Wilco and the Flaming Lips, Augustine's Broadcast plays as an extended work, with songs blending easily into each other. And as with the Killers and Franz Ferdinand, the tunes themselves frequently harken back to post-punk bands such as the Cure and Joy Division (at times even a young Duran Duran), with guitars and keyboards layered over each other in intricate arrangements that establish an overall dark mood.

Lyrically, the album is tied together by an overarching despair and paranoia. Bereft of the standard love songs, the world the politically charged band paints in words is one of corporate conspiracies and governmental duplicity. It's a predictable world outlook for an angry young man in the day and age, but one that's given remarkable voice on tracks such as "Spaceships In the Parking Lot," where the robots of blind faith are represented by Dirk Kitterlin's jagged, staccato bass line. Or "Roll Commercial," in which lead singer Toby Vest's media shill orchestrates real-life misery for the television cameras before being drowned out by one of guitarist Jake Vest's extraordinary, fiery Jeff Beck-like guitar solos. Whether it's 1985 or 2005, this is a tremendous debut. - The Commercial Appeal


Among the Wolves (High/Low Records and Memphis Records)
Broadcast (Makeshift Music)




The band's unique combination of influences range from Radiohead, Big Star, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Sonic Youth to The Smiths, Stax, Motown, The Zombies, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Band, Ennio Morricone, The Flaming Lips, Neil Young, Spiritualized, Tom Waits, and The Velvet Underground. From this vast circle of influences The Third Man has succeeded in creating a new and vital sound.