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Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Automatic hit Carlisle's Brickyard

It’s something them pop stars have covered up for years. Look at us, they say. We only exist between two and four am, propped up on groupies in a room full of drugs. If we reach the stage on time, it means we’ve gotten up early.

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Except, of course, it doesn’t. These people are musicians, who grew up annoying their neighbours with bedroom versions of Stairway. They’ve got writing to do in the daytime, and comics to read, and websites to maintain.

Because musicians, if they’re any good, are almost always geeks. So are journalists, by the way, and we’re not even that nice to look at.

From Jarvis Cocker to Aphex Twin, the rock n’ roll nerd has produced some of history’s most memorable sounds. And one man who’s happy to let his geek flag fly is Rob Hawkins, lead singer of Welsh band The Automatic.

He may be on tour to promote his new album, Tear The Signs Down, but he still found time to attend a London meeting of Esperanto-speakers the other day.

He says: “It started out as a hobby really, just to see what it was about. There’s quite a few of us around – people think it’s a dead language, but it’s not.

“Yesterday there was a lovely fellow I met up with from Poland and he didn’t speak any English, but we managed to have a nice chat.”

For those of you who didn’t know, Esperanto was invented in the late 1800s by a Polish doctor called Ludovic Zamenhof. He wanted to make communication easier between cultures, so he spent 10 years developing a new language.

Still spoken by around two million people, Esperanto uses the common roots of languages from all over Europe and Russia.

Rob adds: “You pick it up very fast – it’s very simple and there’s all kinds of different tricks to make it easier. It’s spoken mainly by fairly optimistic people, because I think a pessimist would say ‘Why bother?’”

It’s an outlook that’s informed his career since the early days in Cowbridge, near Cardiff. After getting together at primary school, band members Rob, James Frost, Iwan Griffiths and Alex Pennie took a gap year at 18 to concentrate on making it big.

They were rewarded with a five-album record deal in 2005, and their first hit single in June 2006, when Monster reached number four. The indie-dance hook smashed its way into the nation’s subconscious, dividing critics and crowds as it went.

“I do get asked quite a lot about this,” says Rob. “Everyone’s kind of hoping I would hate the song by now, but we wouldn’t be where we are without it.

“I kind of feel like it’s a child who’s gone off to do his own thing. It sends royalty cheques from time to time.”

A four-minute slice of overblown, binge-drinking pop, the song became famous as its parents lurked in the media shadows. They enjoyed their early success, but were soon disillusioned when label B-Unique started messing with their sound.

Debut album Not Accepted Anywhere was released in 2006, with its distorted guitars toned down to broaden its appeal.

Rob puts it like this: “Major labels try and push you into a certain marketing route, because they’re big corporations who’re there to make money.

“I can’t blame them for doing that, but it does annoy you when they change all the sounds on your record, just to make a few quid.”

When the band kicked up a fuss, the label got its own back by neglecting to market their second album, This Is A Fix. Backed up by only one single, it sank without a trace when it came out in 2008.

The disaster coincided with keyboard player Alex quitting the band, to be replaced by Paul Mullen of Yourcodenameis:Milo.

Rob says: “It was weird at first, but Paul’s very much settled in these days. We’ve been doing a lot of swapping instruments and writing lyrics for each other.”

Deciding they were better off without a major label, The Automatic set up their own Armored Records and started making plans for album number three.

“My theory is that big companies need to sell a huge number of records to make money,” he adds. “But a band needs to sell a lot less, because they don’t have the label there taking all their cash. It’s a big problem that’s yet to be addressed in the industry.”

On the back of their existing fans, he felt they could go it alone without facing starvation. It’s given them the chance to write the music they want, without the pressure to sell millions of copies.

“I think we’ve managed to walk a fine line where we’ve got the pop hooks, but really we’re more of a rock band,” says Rob. “We’re not a twee indie group – I listen to more hip hop and hardcore, and there’s always a heaviness to what we do.”

Third album Tear The Signs Down is due for release in early 2010, but if you can’t wait to hear the new songs, you can catch them at The Brickyard on Thursday, November 26.

The band will also be playing their back catalogue of singles, including that Monster hit.

THE AUTOMATIC, The Brickyard, Nov 26 SUPPORT: Straight Lines, Reginald

DOORS: Doors 8pm

TICKETS: £8 in advance from www.thebrickyardonline.com

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