Jacob Augustine has an old soul. Watching him perform with his nine-piece orchestral indie-folk band, Jacob and the House of Fire, you get the sense that he’s been through a lot, seen a lot, and has come to the place he’s at via some kind of rock ’n’ roll destiny. Or maybe he’s just a guy telling it as he sees it. Either way, there’s something undeniably powerful about the music he and his band make.
“I think I was born to do what I’m doing,” said Augustine, 29, who performed with the House of Fire on the main stage at the KahBang Music and Arts Festival in August. “Somebody, some band, has to put Maine on the map for good. And it’s going to be us.”
The group, which will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, comes out of a multitude of scenes, genres and experiences in the state of Maine — but it starts with Augustine, a Lincoln native and a musician for most of his life. Before the House of Fire, Augustine played in a metal band called Red Cloud Revival with his two brothers, which started out as Donnybrook. While he sang over power chords with them, however, he was writing songs on his acoustic guitar on the side.
“When I was in that group, I was always writing music like this. I just never really brought it to the table,” said Augustine. “A lot of what was written on my first album was written while I was in that band. It’s just another part of my musical creativity.”
That band broke up in 2006 and shortly after that, Augustine moved to California where he played in a funk band called Mojo Fatbelly and quietly worked on his own songs. He also found himself exhibiting some self-destructive behavior, drinking to excess and taking drugs. Just before leaving California, he recorded those songs and released them as “Harmonia,” recording as Jacob Augustine.
He moved to southern Maine in 2008, and while living in a beach house in Old Orchard Beach, he got sober and straightened out his life, embracing vikram yoga and turning his focus entirely to his music. He planned to find musicians to play his songs with him. What he found instead was a family.
“I guess I had no idea what a great musical community there existed in Portland,” he said. “Not everyone we played at first with was right for it. But after a while, everybody that plays with me now had kind of come to the band. We had found the people that were really committed and into and we were all on the same page.”
The Jacob Augustine solo project had morphed into what is now Jacob & the House of Fire, a mini-orchestra with the heft of a full one. Combining the joyful-yet-cerebral vibe of the Arcade Fire with the vocal pyrotechnics of Jeff Buckley; the spiritual gravitas of Leonard Cohen or Sufjan Stevens with the worldly folk sounds of Beirut or Devotchka, they’re truly a band to be reckoned with. And while they share similarities with the aforementioned artists, Jacob & the House of Fire seem to do their own thing. They’re Mainers. That automatically makes them different.
The complete band features a who’s who of Maine musicians. Drummer Erin Libby played with Augustine in Red Cloud Revival. Bass player and multi-instrumentalist Stan Dzengelewski and guitarist Chris Moulton both were in the now-defunct alt-rock band The Cambiata. Trumpet player Micah Maurio plays in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Sax player Brian Graham also is in Portland funk powerhouse Sly-Chi. Fiddler Heather Kahill played in the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. Trumpeter Mark Tipton teaches music at Colby College and is in the Fogcutters Big Band. Guitarist Tim Perrino and accordion player Gabby Raymond have played in a variety of Portland bands. It’s quite a pedigree.
“We’re a family. We’re all really, really close,” said Augustine. “I’m a very spiritual person, and I believe in a higher power. I don’t go to church or follow any particular religion, but for me, when we play live, it feels like church.”
The band has finished recording their debut album, Frontier, and is busy readying it for release. Augustine hopes to see a finished product available by January 2011, and if all goes as planned, it will be released on a national level.
“I can’t say anything else,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
Jacob & the House of Fire will play at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Common Ground Country Fair; they also will play at the State Theatre in Portland for their opening week local bands showcase, set for Sunday, Oct. 17. For information, or to preview songs from Frontier, visit www.myspace.com/jacobaugustine.