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The Automatic

Rocklouder catches up with The Automatic to talk all about the new album, on the last night of their first tour with new boy Paul Mullen.

Posted 30th May 2008 in Interviews, The Automatic | By Phill May
The Automatic

There’s been a big change and the release of a second album is fast approaching. Rocklouder is in The Point, a gorgeous and bafflingly under-threat Cardiff Bay venue to see local boys The Automatic on the last leg of their tour. It’s the first tour they’ve played with new member Paul Mullen (formerly of the excellent yourcodenameis:milo), and as we’ve already showed on this site, he and the new material are going down a treat with the fans. We caught up with Rob and Frost to get the info on how things are going, how things have changed and to get the low-down on the upcoming album.

Hi guys, how’re you feeling today?
Frost: Alright, yeah. Quite relaxed, actually.
Rob: Relaxed and calm.
You were pretty big news last time round, has the success of Not Accepted Anywhere put any pressure on you for album number two?
Frost: Not really. It wasn’t the biggest new album of the year. I think we did really well, quite a lot better than we thought we would. I don’t really feel any pressure. I think we prefer the music on the second album – obviously – as every band does. Whatever kind of success we get from it, if any, then... wicked.
Rob: We’re definitely not worried because we’ve written a better album this time, and we’re hoping everyone else will think that. The reaction at the shows to the new stuff has been really good, which is unusual when people don’t know the songs.

Can you tell us about the album?
Rob: It’s called 'This Is A Fix' and it’ll be released in August I think – around the time of Reading Festival. ‘This Is A Fix’ is also the name of one of the tracks on the album (adopts dramatic voice) it’s probably the darkest, most uncompromising track we have.
You’ve got a single to precede that, as well?
Frost: Yeah, it’s called ‘Steve McQueen’ and that’ll be coming out just before the album. That’s been going down really well at the shows, almost like people already know it.

How did the recording process go and did it differ from first time round?
Frost: The first time round was really rushed, I remember we had Christmas day off, but we were writing and recording around Christmas every day, frantically trying to get enough songs for an album, ’cause there was already a release date set. It was really rushed and we weren’t a hundred percent happy with it but it was good –
Rob: For the time we had to do it.
Frost: This time we spent about four months writing it, we wrote loads and loads of tracks – about twenty songs – then we went to the States, recorded some there – recorded some back in Cardiff as well. Now we have a fully mastered – I think it’s mastered now
Rob: Yeah it’s done
Frost: A fully done album
Rob: Twelve wonderful tracks of glory and joy.
Frost: We had a lot more time this time round, which was odd – bands always say they have less time.
Rob: We didn’t actually need it though. We could have done it in a month! (laughs)

How do you think we’ve progressed since the début?
Frost: We wrote that so long ago, we were all like eighteen. I think we’re all on the same level. When Paul joined the band it was awesome how on the same wavelength about how we wanted the tracks to sound [we were]. I think there’s a definite sound; it’s definitely more guitar-based and more vocal-heavy. [There’s] less of a ‘disco’ element to it, more of the rock element than the first. I think we’ve come on a lot as well as writing but as musicians in general; having two years of touring the first album, by the time we finished that we were ten times better than what we were when we started.
Rob: When we recorded the first album my voice wasn’t particularly strong, it took me a lot of takes to get useable stuff, but it’s gone so much easier this time. It’s been a joy rather than a pain in the arse.
Is there a theme to the album or the tracks
Rob: There’s a bit of an idea of something going on behind the scenes, like espionage or something like that. Bit of a war theme as well. Completely by accident, but it’s there. Kind of ties in with the album title, 'This Is A Fix'. There’s different layers of meaning to that as well. It could be a fix as in a repair, a fix as in a drug fix, something you need or a solution – there’s a lot of meanings to it.
Frost: That all points to a few of the tracks, there’s one called 'Secret Police' and one called 'Bad Guy', which are tying in with the espionage thing, but then one about needing to enjoy yourself and get drunk once in a while and how everyone needs to do that’s another kind of fix, so that title is just from a line in the song, but it accidentally ties in with almost every other track. (laughs)

What are the stand-out tracks on the album, which have been going down well live?
Rob: 'Magazines'. That’s been going down quite well, and I’d say it’s a stand out track. It’s quite different to a lot of the other stuff we’ve got; it’s just one groove on the instruments playing over and over and the vocals make the chorus, and it’s a bit slower paced.
Frost: 'Steve McQueen', obviously, the first single, that’s been going down really well. And another song called 'This Ship' which always gets a good response.

Former yourcodenameis:milo man Paul Mullen is now part of The Automatic, how is he fitting in?
(Rocklouder hasn’t realised Paul has just walked in)
Frost: hmm, well, he’s alright... I guess...
Rob: Pain in the ass.
Frost: Nah, he’s finding it okay, last day of the tour today i think he’s looking forward to going home.
Rob: Back to ‘The North’
Frost: Yeah, it’s been surprisingly, er, he fits in really well with the rest of us.
How did he come to, (rocklouder finds its manners) Paul, do you want to join us on this one?
Paul: yeah, sure
How did you come to join the band?
Paul: My old band went on hiatus during the summer, and I was just kind of writing stuff myself, a mutual friend of the band got in touch and said do you wanna come down, Pennie’s left the band and the lads are looking to do another record, write some more stuff so I thought ‘alright, brilliant’. So I came down and... it just kinda happened from there. It was a really natural process. We’d done a previous session before on the collaborations record called 'Print Is Dead' so I’d been in a studio with them before. Thought they were, hmm, decent enough blokes
(Frost and Rob laugh)
Paul: Got on quite well with them, saw them at festivals and stuff like that, I just kinda knew it was gonna work, but I think the main thing was once we started writing from scratch it all came together really well. And now we have an album. Ready to go.
(To Rob & Frost) What kind of different element does he bring to the mix?
Frost: Another guitar! (laughs)
Rob: We replaced a keyboard player and screamer with a guitarist and singer, so that’s the main difference; it’s the main difference in sound between the first and second albums.
Frost: There’s loads of melody coming in from all directions. The first album was a lot about rhythm. Whereas this time is much more based around melody and different time signatures and stuff. It’s still very accessible pop music on some of it, but we’re pushing ourselves a little bit more than we did on the first album.
Paul: Though obviously I wasn’t involved with the first record, but I think this record has been through so many versions and different ideas and in the amount of times we’ve recorded it, it’s evolved. The songs have actually had time to become what they are now, as opposed to just getting straight into the studio and “Right. That’s a demo. That’s a song.” [This time] It has been a recording process, it’s gone through all the motions and emotions that you’d expect. And it kinda sounds like that on the record.
This is the last night of the tour for you until the middle of May. How has it been?
Paul: Amazing.
Rob: Yeah, we thought it’d be trickier than it was being back on the road after so long off it. But it was great. The first gig was the hump really, just because we hadn’t done it in a while, but it was fine once we got out there.
Paul: The first gig on this tour was the first gig we’d played with this new line up. And the new tracks too – they’ve gone down so well. We could [easily] forget that this is the first time these people have heard these new songs, but it just seems great.
Any major successes or disasters?
Frost: Well there was one gig, in Brighton, where a lot of things broke. But it was fine, as that meant we could fix all those problems, and then they didn’t happen at any other gigs. Especially London, which was a few days after that which would have been a nightmare because that was quite a big show in the Koko for club NME, so guitars or keyboards or mics breaking then would have a bit more embarrassing.
Paul: It was one of those gigs where you’re just like “oh” but you’ve just got to get on with it, but it kind of made it more relaxed so we probably played a lot better than we usually do.
Rob: It’s not like you’re afraid of anything going wrong, when it’s gone wrong.

Now that Paul’s on board, how has it changed your live show, how did you adapt to a new member?
Rob: The most difficult bit was dividing up the keyboard parts. Pennie’s bits were from the old stuff, really, Paul’s got a different role, but even that was fairly easy as there’s two keyboard stations now and there’s always someone not doing something when a keyboard part needs to be played.
Frost: We’ve adapted the old songs to involve more guitars and certain harmonies that we had on the recording that weren’t possible before but now we have three people who kind of sing so we can do that now live. And yeah, it’s like a brand new set. There’s people who’ve seen us thirty times before but who’ve never seen this set, which is cool, what’s made this tour quite fun was the whole thing was fresh, even for us.
Has it been fun touring with Viva Machine again?
Rob & Frost: Yeah.
Paul: My old band had their old band, Ipsofacto, as support on a few shows as well, so I knew them from back then. But they’ve come on a hell of a long way, they’ve got great songs, amazing tight live band.
Frost: We used to support them about four years ago in Swansea and we played with them in Cardiff as well. We’ve known them for ages now, toured with them before as well, so it’s just been wicked; we’ve partied almost every night. What rock’n’roll tours are made of, y’know? (laughs)
Paul: It’s good going on tour with your friends. It helps it along.

Are you looking forward to the even more intimate shows you have rescheduled for later in May?
Frost: Yeah, should be fun. A few places in Wales i think we’ve done before, but are always interesting places to go to.
Rob: Paul’s tour of Wales!
Paul: ‘Paul Round Wales’. They’re going to show me the sights! I’ve only really seen Cardiff and Holyhead and Wrexham.
Frost: We’re gonna show him the Valleys and the countryside.
Paul: Lookin forward to it. (laughs)
You mentioned Reading Festival. Are you playing many festivals this year?
Frost: Reading and Leeds, we’re playing the Main Stages this year, which we haven’t done before. Should be really cool. It was our dream to play Reading, Paul’s done it with his old band and we did it two years ago in one of the tents, but we get the chance for the main stage now, so that’s another one off the list.
And you’ll be doing a bigger tour later in the year?
Rob: Yeah. Ten days around the country, places we didn’t do on this tour. We deliberately went to places off the usual gig map, like we didn’t do Manchester or Glasgow or Edinburgh so next time we’re playing there in slightly bigger venues.
Frost: We’re really looking forward to touring once the album's out because then people will know the new tracks.

From your last album, Monster was a monster success for you, it was all over everything, but it’s gained you a lot of detractors as well as fans. How do you feel about that song now and how do you go about putting it into a set?
Rob: Well, it’s not our only song, is the main thing to remember. We’ve got a (laughs) lot of really good songs, it’s just that one got biggest. It’s a really big, obvious pop song and it did what really big obvious pop songs do.
Frost: We put it in the set about fourth song so it’s over quite quickly, really.
Paul: We have a lot of fun with it as well. It’s great live and it always goes down really well.
How much have the older songs changed now you have a different line up?
Rob: It’s probably better now, because we’re playing a lot more parts off the album than we were before. A bit fuller sounding I think. (Perfect advert voice) Rich and full bodied!

That’s pretty much it, but the venue you’re playing tonight, The Point is one of the only venues of this size left in Cardiff, but it’s under threat of closure. What do you think about that and what’ll happen to Cardiff without it?
Rob: Shite.
Paul: Well i’ve just walked into the building and it looks amazing. Can’t wait to play it, it looks ;like it’s going to have such good atmosphere. Even the sound crew are really buzzin’! (laughs) When any kind of independent venue that closes down, it’s always a crying shame. I know the Academy’s are popping up all over the place, and everyone seems to be on Academy tours now, but it’s such a shame when this kind of place shuts down. I don’t know much about it, but there’s a few places in Newcastle where the same kind of thing has happened. The Mayfair got closed down and the first date of the Nirvana tour was there, and now it’s just a shopping centre.
Rob: I think the reason it might be going is stupid as well... If you buy a flat near a venue you don’t really have a lot of right to complain about the noise. It’s like people that bought coffee from McDonalds, burnt themselves on it and sued them. It’s that kind of ridiculous thing.
Paul: I think we should take the gig outside and do it in the streets.
Frost: (laughs) Do it in someone’s flat.
Paul: Do it in whoever’s complaining’s flat!

That night, they opted for playing in the venue as planned, and it was clearly the better option. The new songs sound fantastic, the old songs sound better than before, and it all bodes well for the release of 'This Is A Fix'. It could easily be a tough ride for them; following chart success and losing a band member the press incessantly wanted to focus on means there’ll be a legion of detractors waiting for them. But The Automatic don’t appear phased by this in the least, because they have a great deal of confidence in their second album, a confidence that is justified by proving its worth to fans that night.

You can read the live review of that night's show here.Phillip May