Alternately known as both the Automatic and the Automatic Automatic, due to an obscure 1980s act laying claim to the singular form of the band name in the United States, the four-man rock band from Wales enjoyed a precipitous rise to pop prominence after a bidding war netted them a contract with a respectable up-and-coming music label and a considerable signing bonus. It was an auspicious beginning for four high school friends who were then still under the age of 20, playing a style of music that they described as "electro-disco-metal-rock." An interviewer for Sound Nation compared their work to the music created by such acts as the Killers, Bloc Party, and the Bravery.
The Automatic first formed at Cowbridge Comprehensive as schoolmates. Alex Pennie, Rob Hawkins, Iwan Griffiths, and James Frost decided that there was a more enjoyable way to make pocket money than working part-time jobs. "There wasn't much to do for young people where we live," Frost told Claire Rees, a reporter for Celtic Newspapers. He added, "We all love music so we started out playing local gigs, recreation centres, clubs, [and] … then it grew." Griffiths, Hawkins, and Frost were classmates in middle school, and began playing covers of songs by Radiohead, Blur, Queen, Manic Street Preachers, Nirvana, and Green Day. Calling themselves Teen Spirit, the group caught the eyes and ears of Alex Pennie, a classmate who began to sit in with the band on keyboards.
Once the lineup was completed with Pennie on keyboards, the group began writing songs. They knew they had hit on a winning formula when they composed "Monster." According to Hawkins on the group's official Web site, "It just sounded so huge."
When the quartet graduated, they made a pact that they would forego a university education for one year in order to give the band a chance to succeed or fail. Each member had originally planned to attend a different university in the United Kingdom, but delaying enrollment for one year enabled them to build momentum and repertoire as a band.
The group was calling itself White Rabbit when they were approached by artists and repertory (A&R) representatives who were looking for new talent in the wake of such hyped British bands as the Arctic Monkeys, the Kaiser Chiefs, and the Rakes. They were signed by talent agents to a management deal with SF Vinyl in Cardiff, Wales, who changed the band's name and financed recordings that eventually wound up on the group's debut album, Not Accepted Anywhere. According the group's Web site, the name was chosen as a rebuke to the society they witnessed growing up: "Our name is a commentary on the way people carry on as society expects them," said Griffiths. "They trundle along on autopilot: Work, work, work, eat, sleep, work, play. Five days on and two days off; week after week. It's the opposite of what we are. We always knew that it could never be like that for us." Thematically similar is the song "Raoul," about a sandwich seller who operated a stand outside the studio where the band recorded the album. "But he's just a metaphor for that escape from mundane activity," Pennie explained on the band's Web site. "When you're working in an office, you need to feel like you have an escape, whether that's a cigarette break or a drink after work. Raoul is that thing you do to get away."
The group signed to the B-Unique label, noted for its roster that included the Kaiser Chiefs and the Ordinary Boys. The buzz surrounding the band as "the next big thing" netted them an opening slot on tours for Hard Fi and the Ordinary Boys. They released Not Accepted Anywhere in 2006, and issued a remastered CD in the United States in 2007. Sophie Heawood, a critic for London's Guardian, noted that "indie is getting faster and angrier. Your standard four-piece is now doing the guitar and drums thing at twice the speed, powered by an urgent rage and yelping like squashed Chihuahuas as they go. And now the Automatic have perfected the recipe to take it to the top five."
Despite the rapid rise of the band into the ranks of popularity and media acclaim, they have also garnered their fair share of detractors. Marisa Brown, a critic for All Music Guide, declared: "Despite the individual talent and innovation of their various influences, the band still comes across as derivative, a whole that's much less than the sum of its parts, instead of as an entity with its own idea to add to the scene."
Detractors aside, the group spread its wings considerably in 2007 by headlining the NME [New Musical Express] Awards Tour, which took them to some of the biggest venues in the United Kingdom. They also put in an appearance at the South-by-Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, where musicians and music industry executives rub shoulders each spring, looking to find, or be, "the next big thing." The group then participated as an act on the Warped Tour across the United States and Canada. They also made a triumphant appearance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City.
Returning home after the hectic summer, keyboardist Alex Pennie departed the band and was replaced by Paul Mullen, the former guitarist of the Newcastle group Yourcodenameis:Milo.
For the Record …
Members include James Frost , guitar, vocals, keyboards; Iwan Griffiths , drums; Robin Hawkins , vocals, bass, keyboards; Paul Mullen (joined band in 2007), guitar, vocals, keyboards; Alex Pennie (left band in 2007), keyboards.
Band formed 2003 in Cowbridge, Wales, as White Rabbit; changed name to the Automatic, 2005; singles "Raoul" and "Monster" hit U.K. Top 40, 2006; released debut album, Not Accepted Anywhere, 2006; debut album issued in U.S. with new band name, the Automatic Automatic.
Addresses: Management—Martin Bowen, e-mail: [email protected] Booking Agent: Mike Greek/Becky Wedlake, Creative Artists Agency, telephone: 44 (0) 208 323 8016.Web site—The Automatic Official Web site: www.theautomatic.co.uk/, e-mail: [email protected]
Not Accepted Anywhere, B-Unique, 2006; reissued in U.S. with band name the Automatic Automatic, 2007.
Celtic Newspapers, October 14, 2005.
Guardian (London, England), June 16, 2006.
Sound Nation, Issue 27.
All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com (April 8, 2007).
The Automatic Official Web Site, www.theautomatic.co.uk/ (April 7, 2007).
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