Not many bands had more of an eventful start than The Automatic. Formed in their native Wales ten years ago, it took until 2006 to release their debut album, ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’. From that album came the ubiquitous ‘Monster’ and fellow smash hits ‘Raoul’ and ‘Recover’, quickly followed by the trashing of the GMTV studio during a ‘live’ performance and the departure of the charismatic Alex Pennie. I caught up with the band's drummer Iwan Griffiths to see how the change in line-up was affecting the band's dynamic.
The band hired Yourcodenameis:milo’s Paul Mullen to complete their line up, before recording in LA with Don Gilmore in September last year. Griffiths explains that they intended to record the album all in one go, but that, in the end, the process turned out much the same as when they recorded their debut, with the recording process spread out over a number of months with different producers, including Butch Walker.
Griffiths said: “It took a long time to record, which gave us more chance to try new things, different instruments, different ways of recording. It’s fun to play live, we can properly go for it.”
And Griffiths is frank about the change in the band’s dynamic with keyboardist Pennie leaving the band, “Pennie had good ideas, but wasn’t able to say what he meant in musical terms. Paul has amazing ideas. Paul is more musically minded. Pennie was a dominating presence. Now, there’s not just focus on one individual, there’s more focus on the band.”
The band’s return was through the rollicking ‘Steve McQueen’, a balls out rocker that does its best to hide the troubles at the heart of the band. The message is clear: The Automatic are a different band now.
But Griffiths claims it wasn’t a conscious decision for the band to abandon their catchy, poppy roots: “There was no definite decision, we just wrote the music. The first album, we were too consciously trying to write a ‘Monster’.”
The white elephant is present throughout our conversation, alluded to but hardly mentioned by name. The outsider would naturally assume the band would be sick to death of hearing about their ‘Creep’ but the reality is far from it. They take great pride in having written such a big hit and Griffiths claims they still enjoy playing it live, although they “mess around and try and do something different with it.”
I bring up the subject of indie’s sudden omnipresence within the industry and the fact that there are dozens of bands making identical music and Griffiths is quick to agree: “The Kooks and One Night Only are the same band to me.” Griffiths also points to the emergence of oodles of Libertines rip-off bands, what he calls ‘Mockney’. But, strangely, he has nothing but praise for a band that has roundly been criticised for wearing their influences far too clearly on their sleeves.
“The Enemy are different from that whole thing,” he claims. Obviously not a Jam fan then. At one point, he also compares his own band to compatriots Manic Street Preachers and, at this point, my colleague in the DN office is struggling to fight fits of laughter.
I quickly change the subject to their treatment from the NME, who originally lauded the band and even booked them as headliners on the 2006 Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot tour, but quickly turned on the band, dropping in cheap shots whenever they got the chance. It’s a cheap trick, and one the magazine is guilty of more and more often, lately.
“It did at first get the band down, it gets a bit personal. It’s just a bit low. They said that when we die people would cheer. It’s a bit uncalled for. We’re not a Mugabe regime.”
Despite all of this, the band are probably best known for destroying the GMTV set, during a mimed performance. Griffiths explains that the band were still feeling it from a long drinking session the night before and had been duped into doing the show, but claims that it wasn’t pre-meditated. “We didn’t go in planning it, but it ended up happening.”
The interview ends with Griffiths’ assertion that “this is the album we wanted to write compared with the first album. There were doubts from the first album. This is the sound we wanted.” How the public reacts remains to be seen.
The Automatic’s second album ‘This Is A Fix’ is out now on B-Unique Records.
[This feature was originally published in Degrees North]