By Poppy Tohill
Think rock, psychedelic, blues, crank the volume up as loud as it can go and then you have the kiwi four piece known as These Automatic Changes.
Recently releasing their debut album 'Have Mercy,' I had the privilege of sitting down with the boys for a chat about the album, hours ahead of their support slot for London based kiwi rocker's Agent, at the Kings Arms, near the end of last year.
"These Automatic Changes really began with the demise of another Auckland band called Payola," Solomon Cole, the vocalist, guitarist and band's front man, began. Lee Catlin (bass) and I just kind of sacked everyone then went off in an entirely new direction. It's taken us about two and a half years, almost three, to get to where we are now with the first album coming out," Cole explained.
Having wondered about the origins of the band's name prior to the interview, I then couldn't help but ask if there was a story behind how the trio came to calling themselves, 'These Automatic Changes.' "There is a story behind it!" Lee enthusiastically chimed, in a thick Yorkshire accent. "Well we were looking for a name," he began explaining, "and I had been listening to 'Let It Bleed,' The Stones album which had a working title of Automatic Changes, which were the old record players that used to have singles on them," he stated. "I always thought that was a pretty cool name, so then we put 'these' on the beginning and that's about it!" he chuckled.
While I was doing my research about the band prior to the interview taking place, I noticed the description on the group's bandcamp page states "we're a band that ignores fads and fashions and draws from the eclecticism of rock and roll." Bringing this up in conversation, they went on to tell me why they believe this is important for them to do, as a band. "There's so much content out there at the moment," Solomon remarked. "I guess the kind of rock and roll that we play isn't really in favour at the moment either. There's a really large indie scene that has grown over the last five years," he continued. "Things like bFM have changed scope, as it used to be quite easy to get all sorts of music on there, but now it's quite difficult. A lot has changed across all radio networks now though, because even The Rock have changed to play more of that American sounding metal on air, from bands like Agent. I think we are kind of the only ones left doing this kind of style for no other reason than it's the kind of music that we like, and really you should only be in a band to play the music that you like to listen to," Solomon concluded.
"When you're younger I think you just decide, right... I have to play this kind of music because that's what is currently cool, then after a while you come to realise, shit, why don't I just play the shit that I actually like," Lee added.
Pointing out that rock and roll isn't particularly the most popular genre in New Zealand currently, we went on to talk about what the scene here is really like. "I think it's quite easy to get shows here in New Zealand," Solomon remarked. "You are definitely only doing music these days for the love of it though, particularly if you're playing in this kind of band," he exclaimed.
"It's really difficult, because I guess the work is in getting marquee shows," Solomon went on.
"We've stopped doing all the small shows to concentrate on having the album out and going for support slots at bigger shows. We've done a lot of those underbelly type of shows, so now we're just ignoring the smaller stuff to try and get these bigger shows, because at the end of the day you still have to go back to your day job and normal life," he laughed. "So the band is a really great release, like anybody else who does music. To be able to turn the volume up really fucking loud and have some fun for a bit is what it's all about," he laughed again.
Moving on to chat about the album, Solomon went on to describe their sound. "You know, I guess the album itself is a kind of blues based rock androll and the new stuff is heading towards kind of the same sort of swinging, stones, blues based rock and roll," he confirmed. "I love bands like Monster Mack and as a band we're all into really different styles and genres, but our sound is technically a blues based rock and roll, I would say," he declared.
"It was released digitally yesterday, and physicals start to be available from the shows tonight," Solomon exclaimed, referring to their debut album 'Have Mercy.' "Online and vinyl will then start to be available from early 2015- (Now being available on all platforms, this means you don't have any excuse not to purchase it!)
"It has been good," Solomon replied when asked what it feels like to finally have a full project completed and released for the public to enjoy. "It's taken a year for us to get the record out, so we've already kind of moved on, but with the release it's more just like, 'Yay! Thank fuck, it's finally out!" he chuckled.
"Yeah, it's taken a long time," drummer Phil Peters agreed. "I remember we went to TAPAC and recorded 10 songs, none of which are on this album."
"That's a good point!" Solomon chimed, in response to Phil's comment. "We've had a few mis-starts with the record," he admits. "As Phil pointed out, we initially recorded a first version of the album then ended up dumping the whole thing."
"We started things off with our first EP when Derek (Solomon) finished with the other band," Lee exclaimed, joining in on the conversation. "We got a drummer in and did a three piece thing because we just wanted to get something out really," he explained. " So we released the EP which had four songs on it, in 2010, because we just wanted to get something out really quick, for ourselves, then between releasing the EP and the album we had to go through this process of finding the right people we wanted to work with on a full album," Lee concluded.
"Have Mercy the record started with Have Mercy the song actually," Solomon declared, as we continued talking about the album. "So we dumped that other album we originally recorded, then changed direction and all the rest of the songs just came naturally after we wrote 'Have Mercy.' So we decided to name the album after that song because 'Have Mercy' was really the spark that started the whole thing and took it to where it is now," he explained.
"Once we had all the material, we took the songs to York Street, because we always record live in a the room with the whole band, so that's what we wanted to do in the studio, and York Street allowed us to do just that," Solomon exclaimed. "We didn't do what normal bands do, I guess. Which is, we didn't swap all our gear for the best gear we could find, and hire. We just used what we did in the rehearsal room because a lot of the earlier stuff that we'd recorded where we'd swapped gear around, it just didn't sound like the band to me and I preferred listening to the rehearsals, so we just took in what gear we had and what you hear on the record is us literally live in York Street with microphones up around us including the main vocal," he explained.
"It's purely an aesthetic based on the individuals and the people in the band I guess," Solomon responded when asked what he believes the benefits of recording the album 'live' were. "It's not for everyone and I'll tell you what it gets," he continued. "It gets a small thing that I'm a big fan of and it's called a halo or spill and that's what happens when five people get in a room and start making noise and when people start to record and strip that stuff away and clean up the mix, the halo or spill gets lost, so we use a lot of room mic just to keep that energy of the spill and the band alive," he declared.
Solomon took the reigns on informing me of his musical influences when working on the album. "If you look at all of the words on the album, they're old old blues analogies and themes that have been reworked," he explained. "Tonight's show starts with a blues chant which is a 'chain game chant,' which is really the theme that exists throughout the whole record," he admits. "So the album starts with a blues chant, then there's an acoustic bluesy song, and then another blues chant, so the whole record is essentially based about organic based blues music."
"There's definitely a lot of blues influence in there," Lee chimed in, taking his turn at the talking. "But there's also your obvious punk balladsinfluence," he remarked. "Like those albums where there is five American black dudes from Detroit playing rock and roll. So although there's the definite blues and rock aspect to our sound, there's a bit of punk in there too," he pronounced.
"Yeah! Have Mercy is really just an early Sabbath," Solomon jumped in again, agreeing with Lee's statement. "It was really important for us to have that swing in the album, as a lot of rock bands these days don't seem to."
"I'd say rhythmically, trying to focus on the groove rather than doing flashy things all the time, was a big thing for me," Phil joined in. "Providing a solid back beat and groove was my goal which I guess comes from listening to a lot of soul, funk and groove based music," Phil concluded, adding his two cents worth of who and what influenced him while working on the record.
Moving on to favourite tracks from the album, Solomon informed me that "Have Mercy," has to be my favourite.
"I like the interludes," Lee honestly responded. "Because they key everything together and we had a chance to experiment a lot more with them because they weren't the main focus," he went on to explain. "They're not songs, but we knew we wanted them to segway into the tunes," he continued.
"The album was mixed at Roundhead Studios while we were in the room, then with the interludes it was just a case of going back home and everyone had the chance to put a little part/interlude together and experiment more with effects which it was really nice to be able to do."
"There's four interludes on the album that knit the whole thing together," Solomon jumped in to explain. "They kind of help tell the story. There's Mourning, Toil (which is the blues charm), Benediction and then at the end there is Trouble No More. So those four little interludes just knit the whole record together nicely," he concluded.
With their sound check only minutes away, Solomon went on to inform me what we can expect from a 'These Automatic Changes' live performance. "We try to be as loud as possible. It is a mix of energy and just good, classic dynamics," he confessed. "We're not trying to be who we're not, like we're not trying to jump up and down- I'm thinking of Sum 41," he laughed, "and I know they haven't been around for years," he laughed again, "but that sort of thing," he exclaimed. "We are
on stage, I guess, who we are normally and there's no kind of pre tense it's really just about volume and a wall of sound- hopefully if the sound guy is on our side," he laughed again.
Wrapping up the interview each member filled me on what artist/band, dead or alive they would love to support or tour with given the chance.
"I'd go for 1969 Funkedelic," Lee responded, laughing. "Because it'd be a great experience and a great show," he added.
"I'd probably have to go with Black Sabbath actually," Dan May replied. "I think they would have had a fucking ball on the road and it be awesome to tour with them," he reasoned.
"I'd be Monster Mack," Solomon quickly replied without needing any time to think twice.
"I really don't know," Phil responded as he tried to think of someone before Lee cut in cheekily saying, "Put Phil down to go on tour with Taylor Swift!" As everyone broke out into a fit of laughter, asking if they could come too, the band jumped on stage to begin their sound check.