Small Following - Big Future: Getting To Know Augustine
Get an insight into the life of the 22-year-old from Sweden who has burst onto the scene in 2019 with music that oozes originality, warmth, and charm.
"A wild longing for strong emotions and sensations seethes in me, a rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life." Inspired by this and many other quotes found in "Steppenwolf" by Hermann Hesse, everything from the songwriting to the vocals, to the production is certainly not lacking in passion and strong emotions from Fredrik Gustafsson.
Better known by his project name Augustine, the 22-year-old has, in the space of just a couple of months, reached number one on Hype Machine twice (major music blog aggregator), received international praise and captured the hearts of many, with over 230,000 monthly listeners on Spotify enjoying his first two offerings.
"I can’t really take it all in, it feels amazing," Gustafsson tells me. "I can’t thank everyone enough, it’s crazy and I’m speechless." It is difficult for him to express his reaction in words and even trickier for me to convey his sincerity and sheer disbelief. After all, just this time last year he was still at music school, dreaming big but staying grounded, ready to put in the work to realize his ambitions.
Gustafsson grew up in the small village of Jörlanda, just outside the city of Gothenburg in Sweden. Surrounded by picturesque traditional Dutch-style canals and leafy boulevards, armed with the music of Bob Dylan and The Nationals, inspiration was never too far away. The Swede began writing lyrics and poems at the age of nine, influenced by his two older brothers David and Johan, who are both very musical themselves. "My brothers are very inspiring and really want me to try this," he says. "I have their full support and they helped me a lot growing up, I couldn’t ask for more."
On the contrary to the future-retro, indie pop instrumentation you can hear in his Augustine project, Gustafsson was first entranced by rock music, with one particular album capturing his imagination. "I remember playing the Green Day album, American Idiot from start to finish on the drums," he says with a chuckle. "My love for making music evolved from that. I just wanted to start playing the piano and start producing my own music as soon as I could."
Those of you who have listened to Augustine’s music will be very familiar with his powerful yet elegant falsetto tones that elevate the choruses in his tracks to new heights. However, it took some time for Gustafsson to begin experimenting with his voice, with one particular artist being responsible for his vocal style. "Singing is the last thing I started to do. I never thought I was going to sing but I like it," the Swede says with a laugh. "So I just started trying to mimic artists with a strong falsetto, mainly Mark Foster from Foster The People. I sat down and tried to do it as he does, so I guess you could say that’s where my falsetto comes from."
"Singing is the last thing I started to do. I never thought I was going to sing but I like it!" - Fredrik Gustafsson (Augustine)
When asked the difficult question, albums that changed your life, the Swede takes some time to think of some but it comes as no surprise that "Torches" by Foster The People immediately springs to mind. "It’s just amazing with perfect indie pop songs! Listening to this made me want to start producing. I also bought my first MIDI keyboard thanks to that album," he says with a laugh.
At the age of 16, Gustafsson tried to launch his music career by forming a band with his brother called Kin Camino. "I produced the music myself and released some tracks on SoundCloud," he tells me. With that being the end to that topic of conversation I presumed that it didn’t go as well as hoped, but after doing some research their four tracks have in fact amassed over 36,000 streams, not bad at all! More importantly, he did mention that these tracks helped earn him a spot at music school, which led to an experience far more valuable than any number of streams could ever have offered.
"Before going to the music school I was just sitting in my room but now I’ve met so many important people and made valuable connections. Right now it feels like the best decision I’ve made in my life," he says. Gustafsson began studying at Musikmakarna Songwriter’s Academy in Örnsköldsvik in August 2016, which is where he met producer Rassmus Björnson.
"Augustine is not just a solo project," explains Gustafsson. "I have to give credit to Rassmus (Björnson) and Agrin (Rahmani), who have produced all of the songs on the upcoming EP. They really want to try out new things and are always pushing me. Without them and Amanda (Elefelt) this journey would be a whole lot scarier, I don’t think I could do it actually. I really need them and it’s fun to share all the nice things that are happening with them. They’re very good friends."
It was at the Academy where Gustafsson and Björnson first started working on the demo for the musical masterpiece that is "Luzon". "We started working on it in early 2018 and we finished songs in between but always came back to that beat and the chords," he says. What is very interesting is that the song that myself and many others have grown very fond of over the past few months could have sounded very different. "The chord progression was always the same but in early versions, the top line for the verses changed significantly, as did the song structure. It sounded a bit more like rock," the Swede explains with a chuckle.
How the final variant of the track came to be is a story that bears resemblance to Maggie Rogers, an artist who hugely inspires the 22-year-old. For context, Rogers had a masterclass at her music school with Pharrell Williams, where she played her demo of "Alaska". The song, by her own admittance, was not finished and necessarily ready for the world to hear but Williams loved it as did a huge audience on YouTube and the rest is history. While Gustafsson’s masterclass video didn’t go viral, he got some invaluable feedback from two of Sweden’s finest songwriters. "I actually first played the demo of the final version of the track on the day of my graduation in a masterclass with Max Martin and Shellback," he tells me. "We had 10 minutes each with them and I played this demo and they really liked it. At that moment I just thought, ‘they like it and this just feels right, this demo is the one!’"
Describing "Luzon" in one sentence, Gustafsson utters the phrase: "A summer night abroad." This description sounds perfect for the warmth and joy that this track provides, particularly with the chorus and the astounding falsetto vocals, which have an interesting story of their own. "The vocals you hear on the track were actually just recorded on my MacBook microphone when I was first coming up with ideas for the melody," he explains. "It just had that feeling, it was a special take. I tried to record it again with other lyrics because, you know, ‘poppers in my head’, I don’t really know what that is! But it didn’t really sound as good, it didn’t have that spark! It’s indie," he says, trying to contain his laughter about how the story comes across when spoken out loud.
"If you don’t get the song in the first listen it’s very hard, especially in this age with Spotify and streaming just to get heard, let alone for people to go back and try again." - Fredrik Gustafsson (Augustine)
For those of you who are curious, Luzon is an island in the Philippines that is home to the nation’s capital, Manila. You may be surprised to hear that the Swede has never been there, in fact, it was never his intention to write about this place specifically. "In the first demos when Rassmus and I were working on lyrics I sang something about a palace down the lake, like when you’re just singing random words. So, I then googled to find out if there is such a place somewhere in the world and that’s when Luzon came up, giving me the name for the track," admits Gustafsson.
At the time of writing, "Luzon" has been streamed over 290,000 times on Spotify, an amazing figure for a first release. Gustafsson never imagined reaching this figure in his wildest dreams and was incredibly apprehensive about how it was going to be received upon its release. "I was afraid that most people were not going to get it," he concedes. "If you don’t get the song in the first listen it’s very hard, especially in this age with Spotify and streaming just to get heard, let alone for people to go back and try again. The reaction was better than I expected in every way."
The listeners certainly fell in love with the track, culminating in "Luzon" reaching number one on Hype Machine’s chart on March 28th, 2019. Hype Machine is very well known in the online music community as a valuable source in discovering new music. Founded in 2005, it indexes hundreds of music sites and collects their latest posts for easy streaming and discovery. To reach this landmark was a dream come true for Gustafsson. "I was speechless, I’ve followed that website along with other music blogs frequently over the years," he says with a tone of disbelief. "It’s where I found Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People back in 2011. Ever since I’ve always wanted to write songs with this indie touch. When Luzon hit number one it all came full circle, it was crazy. This was something I really longed for, for a number of years and it’s very exciting, very fun!”
On April 12th, 2019 Augustine released "A Scent of Lily", a beautifully poetic track that showcases Gustafsson’s versatility, opting for a larger, more up-tempo production in a cinematic track inspired by the chorus in “Into You” by Ariana Grande. Hitting over 50,000 streams in the first 24 hours, the Swede is certainly far more than a one-hit wonder. Just one week after its release the 22-year-old celebrated more success, with this track also climbing to number one on Hype Machine's chart. "It’s the first song I wrote where I was thinking about me as an artist," he says. "It’s almost three years that I’ve been working on and listening to it. I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind when I wrote it, it was the thought of meeting someone who can knock you off your feet."
Looking ahead to the future, the world is Gustafsson’s oyster as he prepares to release his debut EP in early summer. The five-track EP will be getting the full live treatment when he plays his first show in Stockholm on June 12th 2019. "We’re starting rehearsals soon and we want to break down the songs to make them different, to offer something new for the live experience," he says in an excitable manner. "There’s going to be four of us on stage, a lot of rhythm and a lot of dancing hopefully and just having a good time!"
On the possibility of soon embarking on a European tour, the 22-year-old could hardly contain his excitement. "That would be awesome, that’s the goal! It’s something I’ve dreamt of for so many years and for that to be a possibility is just crazy!" he says.
Augustine may have a small following now but definitely has a big and bright future ahead. As a testament to Gustafsson’s refreshing and original lyricism, I’ll leave you with another thought from one of his inspirational figures Hermann Hesse. "Once it happened, as I lay awake at night, that I suddenly spoke in verses, in verses so beautiful and strange that I did not venture to think of writing them down, and then in the morning they vanished; and yet they lay hidden within me like the hard kernel within an old brittle husk."