Gladie’s Augusta Koch Got Sober And Made An Amazing Album About It
At a Philadelphia show last year, opening solo for Laura Jane Grace, Gladie frontwoman Augusta Koch played her first set since quitting alcohol. She debuted the at-the-time unreleased new song, “Born Yesterday,” an ode to the overwhelming, beautiful and terrifying waves of emotion that come with being sober; she was feeling them all up there onstage on her own. It’s now the second track on Gladie’s second album, Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out, dropping Friday. “The way I feel, I could fill the ocean on my own,” Koch sings.
“I definitely messed up a ton. It was kind of embarrassing. But it was nice to sing that song, ’cause that was exactly what it was about,” Koch says. “It was like a little letter to myself of being like, ‘You can get through this.'”
The entire album sees Koch — best known for fronting the beloved Philly punk outfit Cayetana from 2011 to 2019 — exploring the feeling of a total forced reset. The band that had been her identity for almost a decade had just ended. Then, of course, a pandemic began. Amidst that, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, quit drinking, and got engaged to Gladie bandmate Matt Schimellfenig. In her lyrics, we hear her unsteadiness, her fear, and her courage to meaningfully face and build from her new reality. “Standing on the precipice of the way things are and the parts I miss,” she sings on “Smoking.” “Try on my adult shoes and relinquish control,” she vows on “Hit The Ground Running.” On closing track “Something Fragile”, she questions, “Am I something fragile or something strong?”
Koch grew up in the Poconos, attending Catholic school until high school. On her first day of public school she felt alienated, until she met a punk kid named Dominic who showed her the Clash. The two became best friends, forming a ska band called the Blue Bananas with Koch on vocals (“We kinda just hung out and ate pizza and covered Misfits and Beastie Boys”) and attending their first shows together.
Yet in the testosterone-y music scene there, Koch says she felt “outcasted.” “I was the only woman there, and I was constantly feeling like I was being quizzed on music. That was probably why I didn’t start a [serious] band until later. I didn’t even really think about that as something that I could do.” After high school, she moved to Philly, where she found a community that was much more welcoming. “I met so many women that loved music too, and I hadn’t really experienced that growing up. Most people that play music [here] are just loving and supportive. It feels like The Great British Bake Off — like, everybody’s working towards the same goal, but people are just nice to each other.”
Two of the new friends she met were Allegra Anka and Kelly Olsen, with whom she would form Cayetana. None of them were seasoned musicians; they were learning and improving at their instruments alongside each other. The trio (who themselves were named a Stereogum Band To Watch in 2014) made warm, unpretentious, super-fun punk rock, and fans in Philly and beyond loved them straight away. They went on to tour domestically and overseas with bands like Waxahatchee, the Bouncing Souls, the Menzingers, and PUP.
“It definitely [had] the biggest impact of my life in a lot of ways,” says Koch. “I still think of it as being like, if you feel like you can’t do something, you can. And that’s something I’ll always carry with me. It gave me a strength that I didn’t know I had.”
The band announced an indefinite hiatus in 2019, brought on by the strain of constant touring. The three band members still talk in a group chat every day, Koch says — and Anka will even be filling in on bass for Gladie’s forthcoming December tour. “As much as I’m super, super grateful that people liked our band — and it was kind of insane because we really had no expectations of people listening to it, let alone people really caring about it — for me, more than anything, I’m just very grateful that we’re friends and that we’re still very close,” says Koch. “I’ll always personally think about [the band] as my relationships with them. It’s such a comforting thing to have met them and have this special relationship forever.”
Still, the breakup of the band was personally tough for Koch, and those feelings were poured into the first Gladie record, 2020’s Safe Sins — the first true showing from what had begun as a low-key side project. “That was definitely a grieving record,” she says. “It was a huge change to not play in Cayetana anymore and have that so tied with my identity as a musician. It was so much the three of us — we were a package deal, we would go everywhere together. After we ended, I felt very isolated and lonely, and didn’t really have a strong sense of self. Sometimes it’s hard being under the shadow of your past self, especially when your past self was someone who was really struggling.”
Shortly after the release of Safe Sins, the pandemic began and Koch’s job as a bartender was put on hold, giving her an amount of free time that she had never had before. When she was also diagnosed with an autoimmune disease during a uniquely scary time for that to happen, she began channelling her anxiety into what would become Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out. “The only thing that kinda made me feel normal was writing songs again,” she says. “It was really nice to write something really slowly — it was the first time since I was a kid that I wasn’t working. And even though I was dealing with all the health stuff, I was like damn, it’s really nice to work on songs and really make them the way that I wanted them to come out. Which was a huge privilege that I don’t know if I’ll ever have again.”
The writing of the album was a newly collaborative process, given that constant members Koch (vocals/guitar) and Schimelfenig (vocals/guitar/keyboard) had been joined by guitarist Pat Conaboy, bassist Dennis Mishko, and drummer Miles Ziskind. It allowed them to stretch their sound beyond the lo-fi, bedroom-y feel of early Gladie. There are storming punk songs like “Nothing” and “Heaven, Someday,” while “Soda” and “Fixer” are more textural and mellow. Highlight “Hit The Ground Running” has a rollicking Americana feel with a big horn section finish.
The album was produced by Schimelfenig, whom Koch originally met when he produced Cayetana’s two full-lengths. “It’s funny, because I’ve always been like, ah, I don’t wanna be in a band with my partner,” she says. “But it’s really nice, ’cause I’m very self-conscious and pretty hard on myself, and it’s nice to have someone where you can feel comfortable enough to share a song [that is] very vulnerable. It’s been a very safe place for me.” She explores their relationship across the album, on tracks like “Soda” and “Hit The Ground Running,” on which she sings: “I wanna love you in the way that you still feel free” — a mantra inspired by bell hooks’ All About Love.
“Especially since I got engaged during the pandemic and I never thought I would get married, I was like, how do I want to love people, and how do I want to be loved?” Koch explains. “After reading that book I was like, I wanna create my own ethic, and especially before I commit to marrying someone. [“Hit The Ground Running”] was me thinking about all these things, and the ways in which we show up for each other in these huge shifts. This is so funny, but I think the most romantic thing that ever happened to me was when I got sick, Matt did all of my injections for me. I really [have been] able to take a look at my relationship and how my partner does show up for me, and how I wanna be better.”
Underscoring all of these life changes, and the entire album, was Koch’s newfound sobriety. Drinking was a problem she had always been aware of, particularly having spent her adult life in the alcohol-heavy world of punk music. Since she was no longer going to shows or working behind a bar, the pandemic felt like a perfect opportunity to give quitting a try. “I think it’s mostly what all the songs are about at their core, because the one thing I wish I knew when I stopped drinking was that you would just have a lot more feelings,” she says. At one of the first shows Gladie played post-lockdown, opening for Slaughter Beach, Dog, Koch had a panic attack on stage. “That straight up had never happened to me before in my life. It was horrible, but it was like, at least I’m living in my reality,” she says. “I’m a very, very anxious person, and that’s definitely why I drank a lot, I realized. So trying to play shows again, and now I’m back working at the bar — doing that and not drinking anymore was like, holy shit, this is like a whole new person.”
She adds, “[Drinking is] a tool to get through life, and when you don’t have it you create new tools for survival. Like, never in a million years would I think I would be the type of person to read before bed and drink tea and wake up and do yoga — I would laugh hysterically at that version of myself, but I’m happier doing those things now. I always talked about mental health in Cayetana, and I think in my heart I knew that I would never be able to really work on my mental health if I was still drinking. And since I’ve stopped and I’ve found the best therapist, I’ve been able to work on my mental health in the way that I needed to for years.”
With the release of Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out, Koch feels ready to embrace a new vision of her life and career. “I feel a healthier sense of self, that isn’t tied to music; I’m more secure in [myself], and feeling a better sense of personhood,” she says. “I am trying to appreciate things as they happen, instead of worrying about what other people think as much. I remember Cayetana being on best of the year lists, and I was so depressed at the time. And now I’m like, ‘I wish people liked my new band, and I wish I could be where I used to be,’ but none of that stuff really matters in the long run. I love making music, music is what saves my life, music is what makes me feel good. I wanna make music that makes people feel any type of way, and not worry about all the stuff that really doesn’t matter.”
Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out is out 11/18. Pre-order it here.