360°Sound recently had the opportunity to chat with author/musician/comedian Aug Stone. He has a new book out called The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass, an absurdist road comedy about a fictional band, and two friends’ quest to acquire a copy of their “as legendary as it is obscure” first record Live in Hungaria. Stone performs comedy as Young Southpaw, has played guitar in a number of bands, and is the author of two previous books: the memoir Nick Cave’s Bar and the comedic novel Off-License to Kill.
Stone has written for The Quietus and The Comics Journal, among other publications. He is currently on a book tour and made time for us between appearances in Raleigh, NC and Chapel Hill.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
I understand that you grew up in Connecticut. Tell me what it was like growing up where you lived.
I grew up in Stratford. Connecticut is trapped between New York and Boston. Bands would always come to those two cities of course, and it was never a guarantee they would stop in Connecticut. So, it was always exciting when they took the extra day to stop. We had really cool clubs, nothing huge, but I saw lots of great shows there. And our record stores were fantastic. I pay tribute to them in the book; they were really important to me. When I finally got to go to Boston and New York, I would put our record stores up as good as what was in the bigger cities.
When I got my license, at least once a month seven or eight of us would pile into my parents’ minivan and we’d drive all over the state and go record shopping. It was awesome. Besides the music, it was just a great time out with your friends, finding places to eat, bonding – so much else happens when you’re on the quest for records.
That’s something really lovely that comes through in your book. It’s not even a question for these guys. Of course they’re going to know everything about Buttery Cake Ass and they’re going to go on this quest to find Live in Hungaria. It’s great that you built on the ritual that you had with your childhood friend, coming up with fake band names to ask for at record stores.
My friend Vic and I went on insane, epically-long quests. This one time in college [Boston University] when we should have been studying for finals we went all over Boston. I was used to hours-long record excursions, but this just took that to another degree. We were exhausted, but we just had to do it; we had to find “Wisconsin Hayride” by Gumball.
On the quest; I love it. The book is really a love letter to collecting. What are the first albums that you remember acquiring?
The first one I ever bought for myself with my own money was Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, which is dedicated to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yep. That comes from just looking at the liner notes non-stop. I was 8 and I think it was $3.98 at Graf-Wadman Records in my hometown. I took Graf-Wadman and Brass City in Waterbury, CT and put them together for Graph City in the book. 1984 was another huge one for me. I loved all the stuff my mom played, but when I first heard Eddie’s guitar sound, that hit right here and it was mine. It had come to me, and I just fell in love with it.
Did your parents support you in your passion for music and collecting?
Oh yeah! Totally. It comes from my mom. She was a huge Beatles fan and would play them all the time. Also all the Motown stuff and the girl groups. All those 45s — we always had them around the house. I remember being 5-years old, sitting there fascinated by it all. My mom has a couple hundred CDs, and I marvel at this. She has Green Day’s Nimrod – I assume for “Time of Your Life.” It’s weird for me to think of my mom going to a store and buying that specifically, but she has continued to collect.
My dad too. He was the one who, on weekends before we could drive, would drive me and my friends around Connecticut. He’d take us all around and we’d buy a ton of stuff. Thinking back now, that was really awesome.
That’s cool. So you come by it genetically as well. How has your collecting journey evolved as formats have evolved?
I’ve narrowed it down to 500 CDs that I can’t live without. I still have like 50 cassettes that have special meaning to me. I’ve sold vinyl, which I kind of wish I still had. I do have a couple hundred records. And I have about 900 gigs of music on a hard drive. I move a lot. I’ve lived in London, LA, Nashville, Boston, and since the pandemic I’ve been back in Stratford. Transporting stuff around is tough, so I do have quite a big file collection, but I prefer physical formats.
There’s a nice moment in the book where the guys make a mixtape, but it’s all the same song over and over again.
One of the first things I did with home taping was for a family trip. 1984 had just come out. I put “Jump” on two times in a row, because I was like 9 and I didn’t know how things worked. My older cousin was like, ‘What are you doing? You can just rewind it.’ I was like, ‘No, I definitely know I’m going to want to listen to this twice in a row, cuz I love it.’
Did you participate in music file-sharing like Napster and its offspring?
I never got into that. A big thing for me was Martin Newell and The Cleaners from Venus. He was this British guy – eccentric, jangly, similar to Robyn Hitchcock. In the early ‘80s he made his own cassettes and just did mail order. He never wanted to have anything to do with the music industry. But in 2012 [Brooklyn indie label] Captured Tracks reissued them for the first time on CD and vinyl.
What’s your opinion of CDs?
CDs were a big thing for me. I remember it was March 1998 – I have the exact date written down somewhere. I bought my 1,000th CD. I had a big party to celebrate, and it had to be something special. It was the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Honey’s Dead. I was living in Boston and some friends had come up from Baltimore and Connecticut, because it was a big thing. We were all huge record collectors. Then the next day we went shopping and I bought twelve more CDs. I still buy probably a couple dozen CDs a year — I like them well enough. But I fell in love with vinyl. I hope that comes through in the book. With the 12″ sleeve, it’s the ideal.
Do you have special gear that you listen to music on?
I don’t. It’s my dream. I always say when I figure out where I want to be, and settle down and buy a house that I’m going to buy a really killer stereo. Walter Wegmüller is this German kraut-rock guy, and he’s got a double album called Tarot, which is this trippy, psychedelic record that I love. That’s the first record I’m going to listen to on my new awesome hifi system. That’s my goal.
Tell me about the book tour. How is it different being on a book tour, compared to touring with a band?
I do like being on my own. I don’t have to coordinate with anyone else; it’s just my responsibility to be at the venue. I don’t have to worry about the other band members showing up, or being too hung over to play. It’s great. I’ve met a lot of people who I’ve only known through the Internet. It’s really cool that people made the effort to come out. What I used to do in the ‘90s was hang out at record shops all day, talk about music, and learn about new stuff. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past week, which I haven’t done in a long time. It’s awesome – I really love that. I was trying not to buy anything, because my car is already jam-packed, but that went out the window fairly quickly. Brett Ralph, who runs Surface Noise in Louisville, gave me a Sammi Smith 12”, so I’m worried. I’ve got it safe in the car, but I don’t want anything to smash that.
It sounds like the book’s been pretty well received so far. How’s the response been?
It’s been a bit varied as far as attendance, but the first night in Cleveland and the other night in Nashville were awesome. It’s obviously more fun the more people that come out, but even when events have been lesser attended, it’s been great hanging out with people and talking about music and the book. It’s been cool, independent shops have been taking the book.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’ve been talking about the music-obsessive part of it, but the book is, I think, very funny and that was the goal too. Music and comedy were always the two big bonding things with my friends. That day I heard Bri [childhood friend Brian Ewing] ask for Buttery Cake Ass, not only was it the fucking funniest thing I ever heard, but also I bought a bunch of great albums that day – Captain Beefheart’s Lick My Decals Off Baby, and the first time I heard Fugazi. I bought the first Funkadelic record that day. So it’s a combination of the two big loves of my life. The reviews have compared [the book] to Spinal Tap and Monty Python, which is pretty awesome.
Here’s Aug Stone reading the first couple pages of The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass
You can buy the book in print or for Kindle on Amazon, but I’m pretty sure he’d prefer you purchase it from an independent retailer.
Keep up with Aug Stone (just try) on augstone.com