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Interview by Nicki Smith
The Automatic formed when they were only 12, three best mates Rob (bass and vocals), Frost(guitar) and Iwan(drums) from Wales rehearsing at the youth club. After a few years, members came and went, and they they stumbled upon synth-player Pennie.
They released two singles, Raoul and Recover, the latter featuring on a NME compilation CD. However, with their “Monster” hit they have made a house-hold name for themselves.
Nicki Smith met the band at their recent explosive show at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge
I’ve been a fan for a while now, but most people only started checking you out when “Monster” fever struck, Were you worried about being put into a one hit wonder category?
Frost: A little bit, but only by people who don’t know who we are, we’ve got a lot of fans that are proud to like everything we do. We were worried obviously, just because of the amount of people that song appealed too, compared to people who would normally hear our other songs. We’re not actually worried about it, it was just a little concern a few months ago.
I’ve heard that some of your fans wear monster costumes to your gigs, is this true and what have the most outrageous you’ve seen?
Frost: We’ve seen some girls dressed up as us with moustaches from the Monster video, with overcoats and glasses and stuff. But I haven’t seen any monsters turn up yet.
What’s the weirdest thing a fan’s ever done?
Frost: This mentalist wrote “ I love Frost” on our tour bus, and the driver was all “ Oh my God, what the hell?!?!”
Iwan: We’re probably a bit weird to some of our fans. There’s some weird things on our message boards, where they put our heads on objects…
Frost: ..Yeah like tins of spam, and they turn us into chavs and stuff like that. But apart from that it’s like “will you sign my CD?” That’s about as weird as it gets.
Iwan: or “will you sign my shoe?”
I heard that in Brighton 100 fans followed you into the sea?
Frost: We went off and came back on to do the encore in our underwear, because it was a really hot gig in July, we were all in matching white underwear and then we just said , before the last song, “we’re gunna run in the sea straight after this song so join us!”. We literally ran out of the back door when we finished, we legged it to the sea and loads of people followed us and jumped in the sea as well.
Iwan: Unfortunately I had no shoes on and it was a pebbly beach, so it was quite painful.
Frost: It was pretty cold too! Well I thought it was cold…
Iwan: It was pretty warm actually.
Frost: It was nice and refreshing after a hot gig.
Who are your biggest influences any why?
Frost: Blur probably, Ash, bands like that who were around when I was about 10.
Watching a video of the Welsh band Jarcrew, we spotted Iwan on the front row. Are they a major influence on you?
Frost: I think that was a drunken weekend….
Iwan: That was one of the local bands that we really got out sound from, a big influence on our sound
Frost: It’s kind of screamy disco, but it’s not hardcore or anything.
Iwan: We used to watch them in Cardiff
Frost: Yeah, we used to go to their gigs all the time.
What was your favourite festival of 2006?
Frost: Yep, definitely the Carling weekend.
If you could choose your ultimate festival line-up, what would it be?
Frost: It’d be nice to be able to have the choice between Refuse and Blur
Iwan: That’s just lame, you’d have Blur and Refuse together? This is a fantasy festival, I don’t think you understand the concept!
Frost: Blood Brothers, Ash, Blur, Radiohead, Beck
Iwan: The Pussycat Dolls, Girls Aloud
Not The Horrors by chance?
Iwan: they might be really lovely guys but their music’s shit!
What tunes are rattling the window of your tour bus?
Iwan: AC/DC’s always there
Frost: Kenny Rogers dvd, and Kenny G for lonely moments. Generally we all just listen to what everyone’s got in their CD wallets, Bloc Party, Kanye West, The Roots and things like that.
Reading Your NME interview, I felt they implied that The Automatic wouldn’t have made it as big as you have without Pennie, do you guys agree?
Iwan: Well we think that Pennie wouldn’t have made it big without us! We write all the music and stuff together.
Frost: I don’t know, its just part of the thing isn’t it? He’s got the biggest presence on stage, and he’s recognisable as this weird man-child thing. It’s the kind of uniqueness about him I guess.
Iwan: The special-ness.
Frost: We’re kind of grateful that he’s that special because I think we’re a bigger band than we would have been without him, we would’ve been really quiet and boring, so yeah, it’s kind of good.
He joined 5 years after you guys formed. Did he have to audition?
Frost: Kind of. He just turned up at a rehearsal. People came and went over months. Us three (Frost, Iwan and Rob) were best mates. We had people in the band that were kind of half-mates, we didn’t really know them, so it didn’t work, the whole vibe was rubbish.
Iwan: Then Pennie turned up and wouldn’t go away..
Frost: He just turned up to our rehearsals, just kind of hit a tambourine and ran around the room, literally that was what he was like. You think he’s crazy now? He was actually insane before! Now he’s slightly more choreographed, he just jumps and hits cowbells and stuff. We wanted electronic stuff in the songs. Actually we had this guy for ages who was our singer..
Iwan: Basically he left and we had to try and find someone to fill in …
Frost: We’d always done the electronic thing, but the old singer moved away and took all his stuff with him, so we didn’t have anything left. He was very much a solo kind of person, so he went away and did his thing. We had to get someone to do keyboards. We just thought “Pennie can’t sing, so you’re not gonna be the singer, so you can just shout a bit”. We spent months and months in my bedroom, just going through bits, teaching him all the songs.
As a band, what’s the worst criticism you’ve had?
Frost: There were loads of thing like “you’ve only got one song” , well obviously that’s not true; and that we’re no good live. The criticism of being a sell out is a bizarre one. I think the fact we signed a record deal made a lot of people instantly pissed off and hate us. We weren’t planning to not get signed and do it off our own backs.
Iwan: I don’t think you can “sell out” unless you have a record deal.
Frost: I dunno, it’s like we make all our own decisions, write our own music and do everything ourselves. So being called a “sell out” is kind of a strange criticism.
When it comes to writing your songs, how do you go about it? Is there a main lyricist, or do you write together as a band?
Frost: Lyric-wise it’s Rob and Pennie, probably 60/ 40 to Rob.
Iwan: Yeah Rob writes a lot of the lyrics
Frost: It’s all in one room in the rehearsal studio, kind of.
Iwan: Everything gets written by everyone, eventually some of the lyrics get tossed about.
Frost: Lyrically people come up with their own ideas, but basically we write all our songs together.
On the tour bus, who does the smelliest poo’s?
Iwan: We’re not allowed to poo on the tour bus really..
Frost: Rob, he stinks out most rooms. Obviously it’s a good rule that your not allowed to poo on the bus.
Iwan: I always remember having to share a hotel room with him. If you don’t get in the bath first, it’s nasty. He does big farts too…
(some impressions follow)
Frost: But he’s the most hygienic out of all of us, he will literally walk across town just to find showers in the local pool, where as the rest of us will just stink for a few days.
Who spends the most time grooming?
Iwan and Frost: Pennie!
Frost: The rest of us don’t really… we shave, wash, but he actually spends ages and ages just to look how he does every day.
Iwan: Sometimes it’s ridiculous
What’s the plan for the next album?
Frost : Not really sure yet, we’re not deciding that our next album’s gonna be funk, or anything like that. With the first album, the songs just came out and sounded quite good. The next album will all be written around the same time, so it’ll sound more like an album, its gonna be the same kind of music, just better. The harder bits will be harder…
Iwan: Maybe go a bit mellower
Frost: Yeah actually get some mellow bits in there…
Iwan: Yeah, just make it sound more whole, ‘cos “Not Accepted Anywhere” was recorded in three different cities, half of it was written before we were signed, half was written afterwards, three different producers…
Frost: Everything’s so random on it.
Do you have any touring traditions?
Frost: Obviously the Hoff shrine.
(The Automatic have a rider request for a shrine to David Hasselhoff in all their dressing rooms. Looking at the Corn Exchange Hoff shrine, it was pretty pathetic. Cambridge let the band down.)
Frost: We always watch Hoff movies, I don’t think there’s been a single tour when we haven’t watched one. Erm.. Get drunk, sound check every day , that’s a tradition. We like to go and watch bands on our days off and stuff, we saw The Bronx last night, took a detour to York. So I think our tradition is looking at local gig listings and trying to go and see some bands. I saw Death Cab for Cutie the other night in London. It’s just nice to see other bands because you play the same set every night and seeing something different is good.
Iwan: But we like to have some time off sometimes
Frost: Yeah, going to the cinema’s a nice one.
What’s the most appreciated thing on your tour bus?
Iwan: Bed, but we don’t really spend too much time in it.
Frost: Yeah, our bus broke down yesterday and we had to get a replacement one, and it’s got 12 bunks, and 12 of us on there so its kind of a tight squeeze.
Iwan: Bunks are definitely the most appreciated thing.
Frost: Yeah, because its like your own space
And finally… what shampoo do you use?
Frost: I don’t really wash my hair much
Iwan: Herbal Essences, smells nice, like a girl.
The Automatic re-release Raoul as a single on January 8th and will return to Cambridge Corn Exchange on the 18th February for the NME Awards Tour 2007