Monster hit for The Automatic
EMMA LEE They were all set to go to university – then the rock ’n’ roll life beckoned. Monster hit-makers The Automatic play Norwich on Wednesday. Emma Lee spoke to drummer Iwan Griffiths.
“Scary but cool” is the way that Iwan Griffiths, drummer with youthful Welsh four-piece the Automatic, describes the band's eventful last month.
They've seen their single - the ridiculously catchy chant-a-long Monster - crash into the top five and were drafted in to be the headline act on Later… with Jools Holland after Keane were forced to pull out due to a bout of food-poisoning.
And to think that they were set to have had their noses buried in their books instead.
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The band, who have been together for eight years since their early teens, were all set to take up university courses. But a few lucky breaks later they were signed and heading for the charts and bid academia bye-bye.
Iwan, singing bass player Rob Hawkins and guitarist James Frost, who would have been a pro golfer if he wasn't in the band, met in their last year at a primary school in Cowbridge.
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“We started getting into music like Radiohead and Manic Street Preachers. Where we live there's nothing to do apart from hang out at the youth club,” he says.
“We were the first band in Cowbridge - we weren't into rugby and sports so we ended up playing instruments and fell into it naturally.”
Shouty keyboard player Alex Pennie, known by his surname, and who when in doubt just bangs a cowbell, joined after seeing the band playing an under 18s show in Cardiff in their previous guise. He thought that White Rabbit were pretty cool. His other destiny was to be a psychotherapist.
“It all happened at the last minute - we thought we were going to have to split up and go to uni,” says Iwan, whose other career aspiration was to own a beach bar in Hawaii.
“It was really easy for us - it's a lot harder for other bands. We did have to go around in a van for 10 years. I was going to study English.
“I don't feel like I'm missing out - I'm living the student life, but with none of the debt or exams.”
In the last six months they've built up a fanbase for their raucous disco-punk thanks to tours with the likes of Hard-Fi, the Ordinary Boys and their fellow countrymen Goldie Lookin' Chain. They were also second on the bill at the recent NME New Bands tour, alongside the Long Blondes, who while looking for a record deal were dubbed the best unsigned band in Britain, Howling Belles, who are tipped to be headlining festivals this time next year, Forward Russia and Boy Kill Boy.
“The NME tour was the best tour we have ever been on. All the bands were hanging out together. All the other bands respected each other and got on. We had a lot in common with Forward, Russia. They're a bit older than us, but like us they're just here to have fun and make the most of what we're doing,” Iwan says.
Signed to B-Unique, their debut album, Not Accepted Anywhere, was produced by Steve Harris, who's worked with U2 and their label-mates Kaiser Chiefs and Super Furry Animals collaborator Richard Jackson - and declared the record a ballad-free zone.
Their first two singles, Recover and Raoul, were both NME singles of the week.
They look close to home for inspiration for their songs. Raoul is a real person - he owns a café across the road from where the band rehearses in Cardiff. As bassist Rob has earlier explained: “The song's about how you end up pandering to expectations of those around you and doing what you think you should do to succeed in life, and ending up in a job you hate. And whenever we're sick and tired of what we're doing we go and see Raoul. It's like the little things that we use to escape.”
And their big breakthrough single, Monster, is a cheeky homage to the beered-up Ben Sherman-clad townies who roam Cardiff on a Saturday night. In its first week of release it charted at number four.
Iwan says: “We were hoping for it to go into the top 20, so we were well chuffed. We watched it all week. We thought the first day everybody would buy it and then it would stop, but it didn't.”
Making the video sounds like fun.
“We had a long day outside Slough in a park where they used to film the Carry On and Hammer Horror films and we got to mess about in fake beards.”
And then, of course, there's their other highlight - headlining Later… with Jools Holland. “Jools Holland was surreal. Keane got food-poisoning and they had to pull out three hours before filming. We had a 10-minute soundcheck. It was the weirdest thing, but it was the most fun TV we've ever done,” Iwan says.
Who needs school?
t The Automatic play the Waterfront, Norwich, on Wednesday. Box office 01603 508050 (returns only). The album, Not Accepted Anywhere, is out now on B-Unique.