The Automatic choice for NME tour
EMMA LEE The Automatic's hit Monster was one of the anthems of the summer - and they return to Norwich as headliners of the NME's Indie Rock Tour on Thursday. Emma Lee spoke to keyboard player and shouty backing vocalist Alex Pennie.
“I've had no press training. I just say what I think,” says Alex Pennie. And the Automatic's keyboard player is true to his word. He has opinions and he's not afraid to share them - even with journalists armed with a pen, a notebook and a 100 word-per-minute shorthand certificate.
Take, for example, his opinion of the line-up on the NME Indie Rock Tour, which the Welsh quartet is headlining and calls at UEA, Norwich, on Thursday. Bands who've previously played the NME tour include Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers.
The four bands - they're supported by The View, The Horrors and Mumm Ra - are going to be spending rather a long time on the road together. But forget any niceties - Southend art goth rockers The Horrors aren't Pennie's favourite band.
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“I know quite a lot about the Horrors. I don't know them as people but I'm not a massive fan of their music and they already know that. I don't want any friction or animosity, but if it happens it happens. I'll try my best to avoid it, but I'm not going to change my opinions. I donsee the point in not being honest.
“It's nice of the NME to give you us the headline spot. I personally didn't expect it. I thought they would be fed up of us by now. That's how it seems to go with them once you've had a couple of singles and an album. It's going to be a good tour.”
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Most teenagers would probably spend a pre-university gap year travelling round Australia. The Automatic, wisely as it turned out, decided to spend a year trying to make rock and roll their day job.
Pennie had been the missing piece of the jigsaw.
He joined singing bass player Rob Hawkins, guitarist James Frost and drummer Iwan Griffiths as a full-time member after an early incarnation of the band played an under-18s show in Cardiff and he joined them on vocals for a cover version of an At The Drive In track.
Described as having “on-stage Tourettes”, he shouts, jumps around, makes sci-fi keyboard noises and if in doubt bangs a cowbell. Buying a keyboard and learning to play it came after he was welcomed to the Automatic fold.
“I lose myself in the performance,” he says. “Being on stage - that's the reason I'm in a band. And because people have paid money, used their pocket money or their wages to buy a ticket to see us and have made an effort to come you have to put on a good show.
“If I wasn't in the Automatic, I'd be doing the same thing without as much money or attention. I'd have a day job, so I'd be a bit more tired, but it would be worth it.”
Inspired by a mutual admiration for Blur, Ash and Radiohead, they cut their teeth on the Cardiff live scene and were effortlessly signed to B-Unique, also home to the Kaiser Chiefs.
They had an intensive period of recording in Liverpool, Cardiff and Lincoln and the result was the album Not Accepted Anywhere.
The band's first two singles, Recover and Raoul (about the owner of their favourite sandwich shop), both charted in the top 40.
But it was, appropriately enough, the track Monster, which propelled them to the big league. As well as being a favourite in both playgrounds and on football terraces the song, about the heady experience of a night out in Cardiff, also soundtracked the BBC's current affairs show Panorama.
“It was a surprise,” Pennie says. “I'm not really one for figures - the number of records we've sold doesn't make me go 'wow'. I'm just a guy who likes music. But I'm grateful that people have supported us and enjoyed the record. And you need to have a record so you can go out on tour.”
And they've certainly travelled - there was a round of festival appearances at T in the Park, Reading and Leeds and gigs further afield. They've also won a Vodaphone Live Award and were nominated for a Kerrang Award.
Pennie's also appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks - but it was tabloid favourite Amy Winehouse who stole the show.
“I do quite like her music, but I think there's a lot of people who do that style of music. She's got an interesting image so she gets the attention for that. Which is a shame because image isn't anything really,” he says.
t The Automatic headline the NME Indie Rock Tour at UEA, Norwich, on Thursday, February 8. The bill also includes The View, The Horrors and Mumm Ra. The show is sold out - and if you were lucky enough to get tickets make sure you get there early - the first band is on stage at 7.15pm prompt. The band's album, Not Accepted Anywhere, is out now.