Search for "August Spies" and you're not going to come up with an Albuquerque band bent on smart, tight songs—songs that kick over the genre trashcans as they run rowdy down Pop Ave.
You'll find August Spies, a German immigrant known for aggressive, socialist rhetoric. Spies was hung after an 1886 labor rally in Haymarket Square got rowdy and a pipe bomb killed four policemen.
"He died a martyr of the labor movement," says Seth Hurwitz, guitarist for August Spies. The name, so close to U.S. socialism, is a fitting one for a band in which everybody sings, and where the songwriting motto is "the greatest good for the greatest number," Hurwitz says. They speak as a unit, finishing sentences, jabbing in fragments, playing off one another's ideas. Even in conversation, all four participate and there is no clear "idea man," no discernable band boss.
Ideas get democratically edited all the time in band practice. Even strong parts get the old, "No. That sucks. Move on," drummer Steve Pusztai laughs. Professionalism is easy for these old hands, who've been playing alongside one another in Albuquerque acts like Simulacrum and Last Day Parade for a decade or so. They don't drink before they perform—after, but never before—in order to ensure they can stick to each other through their stew of post-hardcore, punk and dance atop sudden math rock on-a-dime changes. New Catastrophe, the debut LP, finds a precise balance between technical chops and good energy, easing the jolt of sudden gear shifts.
"We're all perfectionists," says bassist Dave Goldstein. August Spies has a total of 13 or 14 songs, but only seven made it onto the album. When you're not producing genre-ready material, "it's harder to find an audience," Goldstein says. "Ears are looking for something that's immediately familiar, and when they get something that's a little different than that, it takes longer for some people to catch on." Without a genre, August Spies finds itself using the phrase "we mesh well with ..." in place of "we sound like ... ." The group plays only mixed-bag lineups.
Don't jam an August Spies disc if you're looking for the average heartbreak fare. In addition to being perfectionists, "we're all dirty liberals," Hurwitz says. The tracks, though, aren't about politics as much as social commentary—general ideas about how things work among groups of people. "We basically took the conversation on the front porch in the middle of the night and applied it," says guitarist Gabe Salinas. Still, you don't have to be a leftist to find meaning in their intentionally oblique lyrics. "People who agree with us aren't the only audience we're going after," Hurwitz says.