We sent Graeme Johnston to interview and review The Automatic so any jokes about monsters are entirely concidental.
Date published: 13th Oct 2006
As the noise of stage preparation and the giggles of bored support bands reverberates around Glasgow's ABC, us press pests are ushered into The Automatic's dressing room, passing the ever- affable radio dude Dominic Diamond on our way. We have to wrestle for the band's attention, as they're currently hanging out the window, flirting with a girl on the other side of Sauchiehall Street.
Frontman Rob turns to greet me with a smile, surveys the messy couch that's been elected as our interview space with a frown, and carelessly sweeps some junk onto the floor to offer me a seat. On the coffee table in front of us, there's a half-munched apple slowly turning brown, some scattered papers with "MSN!!" and "EMAIL!!" scribbled as reminders, and various dog-eared magazines. Casting my mind to my own living space, it's apparent that Rob and I are going to get on just fine. Pleasantries aside, we get down to the interview.
G: You started life as White Rabbit and then changed the name - so I was wondering what is "The Automatic", and why was that the right title for you?
R: There were lots of other White Rabbits already. The Automatic was sort of an ironic name, because so many of our friends and people at school just did the automatic thing that's expected of you - just going through school and uni and going through the motions just to get a good job. Most people don't do what they really want to do, just what's expected of them. So it was a bit of a reaction against that really. For some people, that's fine, but for other people, that's shit.
G: So how does it feel to be away from the average lifestyle - carving out a career on the road?
R: It's interesting. We don't have the uni experiences or the work experience that other people have, which feels pretty weird. I don't know. To be honest I'm probably one of the people that'd never get into uni as well. [Laughs]. But yeah its pretty cool. I feel like my brain's gone to shit though.
G: I'm a bit the same way myself. Now, I won't be too offended if it's not Glasgow, but what's the best show that you've ever played?
R: Ever? We have done some amazing ones. We did a really cool one in Brighton where we all took our clothes off and ran into the sea at the end.
G: Fair enough.
R: And the audience came with us, and properly just legged it into the ocean.
G: Fair enough.
R: The other one was Reading Festival, because we all went there three years in a row. That was a special festival that we always wanted to play - every year just wishing we could be on that stage, opening the Carling Stage!
We played at like five o clock on the Radio 1 stage which was absolutely incredible, but I was shaking before going onstage! It wasn't technically the best gig we've ever played but all the energy was just right. It was so good, and the reaction was incredible. It was like I've never felt before. I came off stage and there was a lot of people we know - the wife of one of us was there, and she was crying. I was like "Are you okay?", and she said "Yeah, I'm just really moved by the emotional energy that went into the performance."
Shit, we made someone cry in a good way!
G: Great achievement.
G: Umm, you were bored of miming on a recent GMTV performance, and you ended up going a wee bit mad.
R: [Sheepishly] Yes...
G: So do you plan to steer clear of morning telly from here on in?
R: What a stupid idea to put us on GMTV. It was not our decision. Leave that to the Orsons and the Sugababes. Who the hell does go on GMTV?!
G: So that wasn't your decision then?
R: Hell no. We were cheated into it. It was sprung on us at the last minute. We weren't told until the night before the gig, which was way too late to pull out. So it was early in the morning, and we were like "We really don't wanna do this!" So we just stayed up all night, cause there was no point in sleeping with the amount of sleep we were gonna to get. Frost [Automatic guitarist] started drinking. I was just gonna go through the motions. So it was about 6 o clock and Frost was wasted.
Thirty seconds in, Frost's guitar strap comes off. In a moment of insanity he lost the plot - just started swinging the guitar around and knocking microphones over.
It's like, most people knew we were miming anyway surely. So it was perfectly clear to everyone that we were miming. I was just like, playing my bass with the cheesiest grin I could possibly muster - just trying to get on with it while dodging the flying equipment! Apparently a cameraman was injured.
G: Yeah I saw that.
R: Sorry about that, cameraman. We did apologise and sent him a bottle of wine.
G: So you didn't get entangled in a legal battle?
R: No, no. He said he was going to sue, but then he was like "No actually, I was just pissed off", and we apologised to him.
G: Do you think in the process you converted any old women or unemployed people to your cause?
R: Iwan [Automatic drummer] was saying he reckons that a lot of middle aged women probably think that we're rock and roll. GMTV is rock and roll! We didn't damage any of their stuff, just the hired gear! So they've said we're not banned.
G: That's good. That means you can go back on.
R: It was just mindless destruction. There was no real intent, no view or politics being expressed. We just didn't want to play at six o clock in the morning, which I think is quite reasonable!
G: The whole thing actually reminded me of Nirvana messing around with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on Top Of The Pops.
R: Yeah. Swapping instruments and stuff?
G: Just messing about with alien voices and carrying on.
R: Miming is bullshit. You put so much into your live performance. It's a really important thing.
G: It's almost an insult.
R: It is an insult. So much emotional energy goes into playing live, so to be robbed of that, cheated of that, you know, it's so unfair just for the sake of television. If you want the band , let the band do what they do. If you want the band to be on your programme, have the band as they are.
G: So is it fair to say that Kurt Cobain was an influence on your sound or attitude?
R: Not really. If that's what he thought then I agree with him!
G: What about influences?
R: A lot of indie stuff - Radiohead, The Cooper Temple Clause, At The Drive-In, Manic Street Preachers.
G: I picked up Blur?
R: Blur, yeah. Blur, Frost is well into them.
G: What about current music, how do you feel about it?
R: There's a lot of bands I like. I don't look on bands as new or old.
G: Do you think the charts are in good nick? Or...
R: The charts? I don't know. I don't know, honestly. The last CDs I bought were Broken Social Scene and Gay For Johnny Depp. Just on a whim really.
G: Is that the new Broken Social Scene?
R: Something like "The People That..."
G: "You Forgot It In People"? It's a really good album.
R: Yeah, I heard some samples and it was really cheap. And Gay For Johnny Depp - I like my hardcore. They're really good, one of my favourite bands.
G: What about new stuff from yourselves? How do you plan to follow up huge fan favourites like "Monster" and "Recover"?
R: We're just trying to write stuff all the time. We write the music that we want to hear, always. We won't set on something unless we think it's good enough - the chorus has got to be big and strong. We're always going to write catchy songs, but we'd like to experiment a bit more. That was part of the problem last time - we had like two weeks to write half the album, basically. We wrote five songs in that period.
G: Was that record label pressure?
R: Yeah, we just didn't have the time, we were just doing too much. In the last year we've never had more than four days off in a row. The example I always cite is Christmas last year, where we were in the studio until eight o clock on Christmas Eve, and back in the studio at 10am on Boxing Day.
G: Harsh. Do you still enjoy it though, despite all that pressure and the fact you don't have much time to yourselves?
R: Yeah we do. It's a shame that we don't see our friends and family that much. But yeah we still enjoy it.
G: Last but by no means least - I've heard that your rider demands a David Hasselhoff shrine at every gig. I don't know if that's true or not...
R: It is.
G: But I've heard that your request isn't exactly being met - so have you had any luck tonight?
R: The Celtic countries are not doing well with the Hasselhoff shrine!
G: How many times have you had it?
R: Now, probably upwards of twenty.
G: That's not too bad.
R: The last one, there was a massive picture of Hoff beside the toilet for us.
G: Cool. Well that's us - enjoy the gig, and thanks a lot for your time.
R: No problem.
Back in the ABC venue, indie rockers Mumm-ra are taking to the stage with mascot Matthew The (wooden) Duck in tow. "Jarvis Cocker's Dance Workout", if such a thing exists, has been studied thoroughly by Mumm-ra's frontman Oli - bounding around with a serious little look on his face, it really shows how important he and his band feel songs like "Out of the Question" are.
Truth be told, it's flatter than a week-old Coca-Cola. We're here for electric-pop monsters The Automatic - and someone thought boring indie-drivel would be the way to hype us up? An odd one, but before long they've buggered off and taken their silly duck with them - hooray!
Bizarrely, it's The Hoff's big ugly mug that first hits you about The Automatic's stage - adorning their bass drum is a cracking picture of the Baywatch legend, grinning like only he can. Rob and co. soon surface and the crowd get their dancing shoes on in anticipation; the Welsh boys whip us into a frenzy with tunes from debut "Not Accepted Anywhere", large portions of the crowd even echoing the words of their non-single efforts.
Beastly tunes like "Raoul" - the band's tribute to a sandwich man near their studio in Cardiff - are actually so perfectly pop that they're better suited to the slick sound of a record. Their music is so polished, so catchy, that the murky and sometimes frantic environment of the live setting detracts. Still, it's just too fun to give a fuck. Synth-man Pennie pops up to layer every verse and every chorus with hilarious banshee backing vocals; a flute appears for a crazy fan- favourite cover of Kanye West's "Golddigga"; and before long it's time...
"WHAT'S THAT COMING OVER THE HILL?!"
If "Monster" doesn't get your blood pumping, then you're dead. Or a really boring arsehole with criminal taste in music. Either way, the crowd can breathe a sigh of relief at getting this one out of their system - all that's left to do now is the obligatory encore and the brilliant "Recover" thrown in as a blinding finish.
So long as Rob makes good on his promise to keep the choruses big and strong, we'll be seeing a lot more of this mob - perfect crowd-karaoke fodder to alleviate the Monday night blues.