Cayetana’s Augusta Koch on Disastrous Sweet 16s and How Ska Changed Her Life

Annie Zaleski

By Annie Zaleski

on 11.12.14 in Features

Nervous Like Me


In conversation, Cayetana guitarist/lead vocalist Augusta Koch comes across self-assured. She’s self-deprecating about her formative years (“I think I’ll always be a ska kid. It’s a place for dorks”) and enthusiastic about her musical influences (Joe Strummer, Rx Bandits and Weakerthans, to name a few). So it’s jarring when she says that she and her band mates — drummer Kelly Olsen and bassist Allegra Anka — “were just too scared to try and do [music] on our own” before they decided to form a band together.

It’s appropriate that Cayetana’s long-awaited debut full-length is called Nervous Like Me but is distinguished by its confidence. The record swings between saw-toothed punk rock and fuzzy, ’90s-vintage indie, recalling a host of like-minded bands (early Rainer Maria, Velocity Girl and Swearin’), while boasting several characteristics that add distinct personality: namely, Koch’s quavering vocals and reckless guitars, Anka’s prominent bass and Olsen’s raucous drumming.

‘I had a friend that was like, “Come to this punk show!” And I lived in the Poconos, so it was in the middle of nowhere. I had this stupid tank top on with little tiny pink guitars all over it, and Dickies shorts, and I was in the back seat sweating.’

Olsen and Anka met in college, and Olsen knew Koch from around the Philadelphia music scene — the former used to book shows and was an avid concertgoer, while the latter worked for several radio stations. The trio started Cayetana after running into one another at a mutual friend’s birthday party. “We ended up talking that night and then meeting up [later] that week,” Koch recalls. “We just started hanging out all the time.” A late 2012 demo posted on Bandcamp led to with a record deal with Tiny Engines and a Philly following.

Koch spoke with Wondering Sound about being a dorky ska kid, how Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee gave her band an early shot of confidence and why the relationships she’s formed with her band mates have been so transformative.

What made you want to pursue music?

We all really wanted to play music, but we were kind of scared. We didn’t have the right opportunity, or the right people to play with, you know? When we met, we were all in our mid 20s already, and people [around us] already had been playing since they were like 16. So we didn’t really think it was going to happen. We were just three weird, goofy girls. We had no idea we were going to make a record. We didn’t even know how to play any of our instruments. Any time we had free time we would just get together and hang out and practice stuff together and drink beers and goof around. Once [we] started writing songs, we were like, “Let’s try and do this more.” Luckily, our friends are supportive; we started playing shows and people were really nice and said, “Oh, you should really continue doing this.” I think we all started getting the idea that maybe we could do this [after all]

What record changed your life?

Life-changing…so it can be embarrassing? [Laughs] The Rx Bandits’ …And The Battle Begun is one of my most life-changing records, which is a weird one. And maybe [a record by] the Weakerthans — I can’t even pick my favorite Weakerthans record. Left and Leaving, maybe? I love the way John K. Samson writes, his lyrics are really important to me. And I really love the Mountain Goats; I love the way [John Darnielle] writes, and sad music always makes me feel good. Leonard Cohen [too]; I love to read his poetry. I think his voice has a really hurt sound to it.

What about the Rx Bandits really stood out to you? That’s really interesting.

I first started listening to Rx Bandits when I was a freshman in high school. They were just [this] straight-up corny ska band at the time. As I got a little bit older, I felt like I grew up with them. I remember listening to …And The Battle Begun, which was their most mature record, when I was going through a hard time. It’s just something that stuck with me.

I would go to their shows all the time with my friends, and drive to Philly before I lived here, and see them at the TLA, which is near my house now. Seeing them play live, it made me really love music. I definitely don’t listen to music like that as much, but every time I hear Rx Bandits, it will always be a very sentimental thing.

I’m the same way; I think about stuff that I loved when I was in high school, when I was a kid, and some of it’s held up and some of it hasn’t. But I get so nostalgic for that time.

Yeah. I love that. The way the Weakerthans are for me — if I hear one of their songs, it could just fucking tear my heart out. That’s not the way Rx Bandits songs are. But there’s something about it. When I was in high school, that was the band that was mine. It was the band that I loved that I would listen to in the car with my friends. I had like six fucking Rx Bandits shirts. The first tattoo I ever got was a really bad Rx Bandits tattoo.

What was the first show you ever attended — was it an Rx Bandits show or was it something else?

‘I had to pay this weird valet parking guy $10 so we could just park the van for a minute and run into the Pacific Ocean because Kelly had never been there. It felt like a movie.’

[Laughs] My family was always into music, so the first actual concert I went to was Simon & Garfunkel‘s reunion show in Madison Square Garden, which was fucking awesome. So [my mom] was always into me liking good music. I think it was right before I was going into high school, I had a friend that was like, “Come to this punk show!” And I lived in the Poconos, so it was in the middle of nowhere. It was at this place called the Underworld. I had this stupid tank top on with, like, little tiny pink guitars all over it, and Dickies shorts, and I was in the back seat sweating so bad that I had like huge pit stains [laughs]. I was super nervous. My friends were there — it was a small show — and I remember my mom being like, “We can just keep driving if you feel weird!” I don’t think she wanted me to get out of the car. And then she parked down the street and waited for like six hours and read a book so I could go to this show. She continued to do that until I could drive. Which was really awesome, because I would always have to drive far.

What a cool mom!

Oh my god, she was great. She let me have a ska show for my Sweet 16 at my house.

At your house? Who played?

Actually, this is a really, really funny story. Some of the Menzingers used to be in a band called Bob and the Sagets, which was a ska band. I don’t think Greg [Barnett] was in it but it was Tom [May], Joe [Godino], and Eric [Keen] from the Menzingers. And they were the best local ska band. And so I had asked them to play the show and they said yes, and there was this other band called Slightly Askew that played. And we had a cotton candy machine in my garage, and a popcorn machine [laughs]. And then the day before the show, I got an email from them being like, “Is there gonna be a keg?” And I was like, “No, I’m 16,” and they dropped off the show. I was so mad, so heartbroken; I remember being like, “I hate them, I hate them!” We always joke around about it now, because they’re some of our really good friends. We just went on that five-week tour with them [laughs]. It’s just so funny that they were the kids that ruined my Sweet 16.

You guys went to the West Coast for the first time this spring with them, the Menzingers. What surprised you the most about being out there?

It was so weird [laughs]. We had such a good time. I remember one point where we were just driving to L.A., and we were like, “I can’t believe we’re driving to play a show in L.A.” It was weird to be on a different side of the country, because Allegra and I have been to the West Coast on vacations or visiting friends, but Kelly had never been there before. I had to pay this weird valet parking guy $10 so we could just park the van for a minute and run into the Pacific Ocean because Kelly had never been there. It felt like a movie. It was just like, “What the hell are we doing out here? This is so crazy.”

Your tour photos were so funny — you guys went to a baseball game, you did yoga…

We always joke that it was like summer camp. Everybody got along really well, which isn’t surprising, but we were so nervous, especially being the little guys on the list. But everybody was so supportive and really helped us — we weren’t even used to professional sound-checking, and we had never been on a long tour before.

You’ve said in the past that another of your dream touring bills was with Waxahatchee. What do you really admire about Katie’s music?

I started listening to her music when I first moved to Philly, which was six years ago now. She was in a band called P.S. Eliot. I always loved listening to females make music, because for a while, it wasn’t happening that much — at least for me in the local punk scenes. It’s just so honest; I love the way she writes lyrics. She makes beautiful songs, and she’s such a nice person.

We owe a lot of what’s happened with the band to her. We played a show with her when we were first starting. I was so nervous, because I liked all of her projects so much, and she was so nice and so normal. She asked us to play her record release show in Philly. She didn’t know us; she just said she wanted us to be a part of it. It was such a big deal — that was the first time we were all just, like, “Wow, this is crazy.” Especially since we do have a lot of friends that happen to be really successful that are all male, to have a female that we really respect that didn’t know us have faith in us was really important.

Those [Crutchfield] sisters, Allison and Katie — they know what they’re doing, and they’re really fucking nice. And they really care about what they do, and they do it in the right way. It’s nice to be able to get advice from them or talk to them, because they’re definitely people I really look up to.

As a music fan, I’m like you — I’m so heartened to see so many awesome women making music. I think of girls growing up and not having anybody strong or badass or smart to look up to, and that makes me sad. Every girl when they’re 13 or 14 needs someone to look up to.

‘I always felt like people saw me as someone’s girlfriend, or that me liking music wasn’t valid, or I had to prove myself. Now I feel independent of that for the first time. I have women that I have looked up to for a while that I can call friends.’

We talk about that a lot. I didn’t really know that many women that liked music in the Poconos, because it’s a really small place. I always felt like people saw me as someone’s girlfriend, or that me liking music wasn’t valid, or I had to prove myself in some way. Now that I’m 25, I feel independent of that for the first time. I have women that I have looked up to for a while that I can call friends. And especially having Kelly and Allegra in my life, it makes me see how important that is.

How have your bandmates changed your life?

They’ve changed my life completely. It’s like you’re married to two other people. And it’s a different relationship than you have with any of your other friends. We spend so much time together; we’re talking all day, we’re creating something. To me, the music is [almost] secondary to our friendships. They’re very strong.

It’s almost like [how] you know your family so well that you know how they’re gonna react to certain things. It’s a really strange relationship that I’ve never experienced before. Having true best friends like this, and being able to share every experience that’s going on in your life — I can’t even imagine my life without them.

I had to play an acoustic show [recently], which I never do; I never play without them. And I was so nervous, and both of the girls came and were sitting right in front and were really supportive. I never would’ve done this if it wasn’t for them. So it’s a really special relationship. It sounds so corny! [Laughs] [But] I feel very, very lucky. We always joke about how someday we’re going to be weird old ladies on a porch, and we’re going to talk about all the stuff that we got to do when we were younger. And I do think we will do that.