On 8th March, Welsh rockers The Automatic released their new album ‘Tear The Signs Down’. It is the band’s third album, following their hugely successful debut ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’ and its successor ‘This Is A Fix’. It is also the first release on their own label Armoured Records. Since their formation, The Automatic have had several Top 40 singles, including ‘Raoul’, ‘Steve McQueen’ and the indie-rock anthem ‘Monster’. In 2007, former Yourcodenameis:milo frontman Paul Mullen joined the band to replace keyboard player and backing vocalist Alex Pennie, who had left the previous year.

Rob Hawkins, lead singer and bass player of The Automatic, took some time out from the band’s UK tour to speak with Room Thirteen about their new album, their new record label and their dispute with The Horrors.

R13: How are things going with the new album?
RH: So far, so good. None of us really knew what to expect, but it’s been OK so far. It seems to be going down really well live and it’s been pretty well received. We’ve sold quite a lot of CDs at the gigs as well. It’s all on our own label this time, which is just a little bit scary.

R13: Why did you decide to do things that way, rather than go to another label?
RH: We’ve been through major label machinery twice now. The first time was alright, but the second time, they fouled up the whole project. They didn’t get ‘Steve McQueen’ to iTunes on time and then they did the same thing with the album. It’s the most crushing thing ever to spend a year of your life doing something and it seems to be doing really well, only to be screwed up like that. We wouldn’t rule out another record label ever again, but things are changing in music at the moment and it’s good for us to have as much control over our own music as we possibly can. No one really knows what’s going to happen in the next year.

R13: Does releasing your own records require a certain level of self-discipline?
RH: Yeah, it does. Our own initiative plays a large part in it. You’ve got to be a bit clever as well, because you don’t have the machinery or the money that a big label have. There are things like, for example, trying to get radio interviews on this tour. It was people on our record label that used to do that sort of thing, but now we’ve got to do it ourselves. It’s every little piece of control, which is the way we want it to be. In the past, the labels have tried to “popify” something that’s basically a rock song and it just comes out sounding weak because of that. If a label signs you, you think that they must like what you do anyway and they don’t want to change it. We don’t want any battles over that anymore.

R13: Did you find it quite daunting at first, to do things your own way?
RH: It was weird. I felt the same way when we got out of our record deal as I did when we got signed in the first place [Laughs]. It was great, actually. I felt so happy to take on a new challenge.

R13: What kind of response have the new songs been getting at the live shows?
RH: It’s been pretty good. You always get people just standing and watching with new stuff, because they don’t know it. But it’s been going down really well anyway. We’ve got choruses that have only got one line and, by the end of the song, people are singing along, so that’s really reassuring. Nothing’s gone down badly [Laughs]. If people are buying the album, that’s the biggest indicator that they like it, so that’s really cool.

R13: On the subject of gigs, your tours always seem to include a lot of dates compared to other bands. Is touring an important part of being in The Automatic?
RH: Yes, it’s huge fun. Even when you’re not out partying every day, it’s just being onstage and singing that’s a huge buzz for me. I can’t imagine anything comparing to it. It’s a reward in itself. We’re doing this to have people at the shows, singing our songs back at us and having fun with us. That’s what we’re about, really. Making people happy has always been the goal. It still is now and it’s still the best thing about it. This time, because we’re doing it ourselves, it’s about covering as much ground as possible. This is publicity for the album as much as adverts in the paper, so that’s a large part of it as well.

R13: You said, of ‘This Is A Fix’, that it had a more sophisticated rock sound compared with ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’. Is that something that you’ve tried to continue on ‘Tear The Signs Down’?
RH: We don’t tend to bear that in mind very much, when we’re writing. It’s more of a process to get the ideas out than saying: “What are we going to write?” I think the sound is closer to the first album with this new record, but it’s much more developed. With ‘This Is A Fix’, there was just this bombardment of ideas. This new album is more straightforward. I guess it shows we’ve grown up a bit. We’ve got strings on some tracks, whereas the most outlandish thing we’d use before is a synth.

R13: How would you describe the band’s sound on the new album?
RH: That’s a tough question [Laughs]. I don’t think music lends itself very well to being described. It’s rock music. We’re not following any sort of zeitgeist. We’re just doing what we want to do. It’s got big harmonies, heavier stuff, lighter stuff. It’s about covering as much ground within the field of rock as we possibly can.

R13: Do you feel as though you’ve developed a lot as a band since ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’?
RH: Huge amounts. When we recorded that, we’d only ever played about thirty gigs, I think. My voice wasn’t up to very much back then and we just had so much to learn about songwriting and everything. We were only eighteen and nineteen, and we were thrown in, very much, at the deep end. Here we are five hundred gigs later, or something like that, and I can sing now [Laughs]. We can do more because we’re better musicians, having done that many gigs. It’s a constant process, in any profession, that you’re always learning. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. The more you understand, the more you realise you’ve got to develop. But yeah, we’re a hell of a lot better than we were then, definitely.

R13: When Paul joined in 2007, did his involvement have an instant impact on the band’s sound?
RH: Yeah, it was like the missing piece of the puzzle, really. We were going in a slightly heavier direction and Paul was coming from a heavier direction, so we kind of met in the middle. It really was quite seamless. A mutual friend suggested he join after Milo had gone on hiatus and after Pennie had left. The first day he came in, we had a jam together and wrote ‘This Ship’, or most of it, which ended up on ‘This Is A Fix’. That was pretty good going, really.

R13: How different was ‘Tear The Signs Down’ to make, compared with the previous albums?
RH: The difference was just that we had no time limits. We had time to just mess around and try things like swapping instruments. We recorded ‘Not Accepted Anywhere’ in three different places and we recorded ‘This Is A Fix’ partly in LA and then finished it at home. This one was actually done all in one place and with one producer. I think it’s really good to have that cohesion on a record. It seems disjointed to me to do it any other way. Also, Paul’s role as a singer is much more consolidated now, because he was part of the songwriting process from the beginning rather than halfway through like on ‘This Is A Fix’. There isn’t too much of a power struggle, which is cool. Neither of us are particularly egomaniacs. We get along really well.

R13: What was the reason behind deciding to share lead vocals with another member of the band?
RH: Paul said he never wanted to just replace what Pennie did, which was good, because we didn’t want someone to just be mimicking that. He wanted to do a bit of guitar, a bit of keyboard and a bit of straight singing, rather than screaming. From the outset, he was always going to have some singing element. He had ideas that were really good, so it was like: “OK, you can sing this track”. Whoever wrote what, ended up singing it. It was all very natural.

R13: What’s your favourite song from the new album and why?
RH: I feel bad about picking a favourite, because it seems like I don’t like the others as much. But I was dead pleased with the way ‘Race To The Heart Of The Sun’ came out. It’s quite to my taste, a little bit prog-rock and the lyrics are quite sci-fi as well. Looking to the future and trying to say big things about mankind [Laughs], but not in any serious way.

R13: You’ve previously played on the Warped Tour over in the States. What kind of response have you had over on that side of the pond?
RH: It was small but good. There were pockets of anglophiles that knew of us and were checking us out, so that was cool. The crowds that were there were always loving it, but sometimes it was only thirty people and sometimes it was quite a lot. I remember, oddly enough, we went down really well in Utah for no particular reason. The problem is that when you try and go over to America for a few months, there’s just nowhere near enough time to do anything serious. It’s such a big country. In two months, you’d barely make a dent on New York, it takes ages. We were travelling around constantly, so there was no real focus. We could have done a lot more, but it wasn’t really feasible at the time.

R13: What other bands are you currently listening to?
RH: I’m just going through my old record collection at the moment. I’ve been listening to Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Their fantastic live album has some of the dirtiest guitar stuff I’ve ever heard. I’ve been listening to At The Drive-In as well recently. [In a deliberately strong Welsh accent] Millions and millions of bands, innit?

R13: Finally, is it true that you once settled a dispute with The Horrors over a game of Rock Paper Scissors?
RH: [Laughs] Not that I remember, but I like the rumour though. It was weird. We did slag them off in the NME, but we were slagging off the NME, really. We were just saying that they should be ashamed for promoting haircuts over music, which is pretty much what I think The Horrors are. There was never really any personal grudge there. I just don’t think they’re very good.

‘Tear The Signs Down’ is out now. To see a review of the album, click here: