The Automatics have managed to occupy the musical stanzas, bars, and refrains of just about every popular genre hopping style of rock ‘n roll known to man while infusing audiences with the joy of unpredictability and free-ranging humor woven neatly into the fabric of the group.
Originally known as one of the hardest working cover bands next to Jedi Mind Trip, the Automatics have stepped up to the plate to create a digitalized modern arena rock sound with heavy guitars, super tight vocals, and layered harmonies.
And nowhere is this more evident than on their new original CD release entitled Leavers & Non-Believers, which also features big nuclear-powered drums courtesy of the Verve Pipe’s Donny Brown at his most muscular.
As my cohort Bo White noted when I gave him a copy of their new CD, ‘this is a sound that rivals Switchfoot or Jimmy Eat World mixed with forceful, broad-sounding guitars’ For the release Guest enlisted Reed Recording Company to create those big arena sounds within a cohesive body of original music that is both heavy yet consistently melodic. Kind of soft and loud like Dave Grohl channeling Kurt Cobain through the Foo Fighters, only without Nirvana’s minimalist approach to craft.
Reed’s near perfect production and overreaching integrity helped bring out the best in The Automatics, especially on standout tracks such as Finished Then, Savannah Moon, and the title track, Leavers & non-Believers.
Comprised of newest member Matthew Kramer (drums & Vocals); Karl Scheer (bass & vocals); frontman & chief songwriter Johnny Guest, (guitar & vocals); and Carter Roberts (guitar & vocals, who was also involved in the recent Eagles Tribute Band involving Tim & Tammy Grefe, the sound of The Automatics is a divergent blend of influences, all tied together with tight distinctive harmonies and memorable solidly executed melodies.
The inception of the group dates back to 2007 with Johnny’s first group, Jessie’s Dirty Laundry, which yielded a blend of cover & original material. “When that blew up I wanted to keep playing and started doing solo gigs,” explains Johnny, “but was always writing songs. A few of the venues I was performing at started moving to bands, so I said, ‘Fine, I can do that’ and put a band together, which basically was the birth of The Automatics.”
Johnny admits that the band name wasn’t his first choice, but that he lost the group vote at the time and decided to retain The Automatics, as opposed to starting from scratch at branding a new name.
“I suggested that we change the name to Johnny & the Manual Transmissions,” jokes Karl, “but Johnny didn’t want to go there.” Adds Matt, not missing a beat (after all, he is a drummer): ‘I suggested we call the band Saginaw Tranny, but there are too many meanings to that one; plus people might think we’re from San Francisco.”
Personnel started shifting in late 2008 when Karl joined the fold, after cutting his chops in top-notch groups with players such as William Jackson. “I was gigging in cover bands for 8 years at the time and came into the group as a substitute. They all liked what they heard because I could hit high ranges of notes without altering my testicles in any way, so I told Johnny that I’d do what gigs I could.”
“We also found out that Karl had great equipment,” interjects Johnny.
“This is true,” continues Karl, “because at that time I wanted to become a great player until I realized how much work was involved!”
Carter joined forces with the band in 2009 with Matt entering the picture in April of this year, having earned a considerable reputation for solid chops and tight harmonization with such groups as The Thunderchickens, Voodu Dollz, the 80s hair-metal band Tantric, and Rock ‘n Country’.
When asked what they feel distinguishes their sound and the goals they are striving to achieve with their collective sound, Karl quickly points to the strength of Johnny’s tenor ranged vocal acumen.
“There are certain singers like Kevin Chamberlin and Dan O’Rourke that have a lot of different voices,” he explains. “And then you have your Marty Viers that once they start singing, you know is Marty. Johnny is one of those types of singers. It’s like my grandmother told me, ‘If you’re going to make it in music the voice must be so recognizable that nobody else can mistake the identity of the singer.”
For Carter Roberts the defining factor of The Automatics is their high-level of musicianship. “That’s really refreshing for me,” he notes. “Everybody in the band, especially Karl, is a stickler for detail; and a group is only as strong as their weakest link. Everybody in this band pays attention to detail, whether it’s a cover or original song that we are working on. I try not to come into this group as a guitar player, but as a musician listening to what the other guys are doing right, or wrong. Everybody has that perspective, I think.”
“I believe firmly what distinguishes this band are the harmonies we are capable of achieving,” reflects Johnny. “When I’m singing lead I know that I’ve got two really good harmonizers that can get above or below me; and Matt is jelling really nicely. It takes a lot of hours to reach tight harmonies and grows over time. Plus Matt sings AC/DC like nobody’s business.”
“What I contribute to the band is sex appeal,” states Matt. “They hired me for my pretty face.”
“This is true,” chimes in Karl, “because when Matt had facial hair I thought he was bad. But when he shaved his face and lost the Fu Manchu, he lost all his power.”
LEAVERS & NON-BELIEVERS
The Automatics new CD Leavers & Non-Believers is 12-songs of unmistakable beauty, power, emotion, and identity. With the band working on the disc for over a year now, Johnny started recording with Andy Reed at his Bay City studio in May 2009.
“Andy engineered it and I produced it,” explains Johnny, and I wanted to work with Andy because he gets great one, plus you’ll find a little of his vocals on the songs as well. We blend together well and come from the same musical schools. In fact, we never argued about what was the proper thing to do with a song.”
Because the band was in a transitional stage regarding a permanent drummer, the Verve Pipe’s Donny Brown plays on eight of the 12 tracks on the disc, with Josh Spyker performing on the other four cuts.
In terms of songwriting, Johnny works out the musical structure and then gives everybody scratch tracks. “I give them the bones of the song and let the band put the flesh on it,” he explains. “Carter came up with an intro for Mystery that has a creepy intro with weird timing. You need to count it out to make sure the song is performed right, and it worked really well; so everybody has contributed a ton to the songs. Now that we’re performing them live, we’re able to tweak the arrangements a bit.”
“The bass line I came up with were influenced by Nashville stuff,” adds Karl. “When I started seriously gigging, I began with a modern country band called Barbed Wire, and lucked out because we gigged every weekend of the year for maximum pay. They were a serious band that performed with B-list Nashville people, so when I joined that band I would sit for hours and take these serious country tunes and transcribe them on paper, spending two to three hours per song, to get the feel for what professional Nashville cats were doing for the song. Basically, I transcribe that discipline over to this material.”
“We pay attention to detail,” reinforces Matt. “We pick out all the parts, but in most of the bands that I’ve performed with, I would be the one picking out everything, and there is a certain formula that Nashville bands use with beats that I picked upon with Rock ‘n Country.”
DESIGN, IMPACT, INFLUENCE
With any serious group, the influences that inform each individual member often color and brand the style of the band – think of George Harrison’s Carl Perkins’ influence that he brought to the Beatles; or the psychedelic guitar flourishes that Jimmy Page explored with Donovan on Hurdy Gurdy Man that he in turn brought into Led Zeppelin.
“I have an interesting list of influences,” states Johnny Guest. Billy Falcon early on and then Bon Jovi and John Hiatt, whom I feel is a monster songwriter.”
“I want to get the lyrics of John Hiatt and put that to the energy of early Springsteen and then capture the anthem songs and groovers of King’s X. That band had mid-level success but never stopped touring and had 3 guys that could sing and sound like six guys working the vocals, with big heavy, juicy grooves. I love writing songs around stuff like that.”
“Jessie’s Dirty Laundry tapped into that because it was an angry time in my life,” continues Johnny. “Since then I’ve mellowed a bit and have a lot more topics to write about, so I write music to fit the lyrics that is appropriate. This new CD on a personal level chronicles a lot of stages I went through in my separation and divorce, but each song stands on its own in terms of a situation that people can relate to, which gets back to the Springsteen influence.”
“I’ve always been drawn the early work of The Who,” explains Matt, “especially their serene records and songs like Happy Jack that have a lot of beautiful harmony going on. I also like Alex Chilton and The Raspberries and bands like Big Star.”
“Early on I appreciated Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Beatles, but by the time I hit college I listened to nothing but jazz and old school funk, which sewed my love for Black music and taught me the flexibility to play around the beat.”
“I like anything from 1965 onward,” articulates Carter. “I appreciate the Beatles harmonization, which I feel really made them, Led Zeppelin is a big influence, and anything out of the ‘80s that’s punchy rock n roll tight with detail. I also have my share of blues influences like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton, whom I listened to for hours on end, especially the tone and phrasing.”
“One of the new songs on the CD is called Rock in My Shoe,” explains Matt, “which is almost a straight ahead funk song with pop elements, but in terms of rhythm the groove is slow. Though I didn’t play on the album, when we do it live I added a Meters’ type funk groove over the pop rhythms, which adds a different dimension to it.”
“We do a false ending on that song and in clubs everybody is cheering and standing on tables, moving up to see us do more originals, and people love it.”
“There’s a lot of personality to that song,” confirms Johnny, “because its genre specific. Everybody is singing the chorus half way through which is a wonderful feeling when you do it live. For me it’s a great feeling that a song I wrote is that catchy enough to have people singing and remembering it.”
“By the way,” concludes Carl, “none of us are Rush fans!”
GOT LIVE IF YOU WANT IT
When performing live, The Automatics offer up a show that is tight, professional, engaged, and locked upon the lilt of levity. “We do fun shows and are developing a sense of what we’re doing,” explains Johnny.
“We switched up how we set the stage so Carter and Karl, the two comedians in the band, can perform next to one another. Carter has a killer Robert DeNiro impression and Karl can nail Andy Reed. We might quote an entire scene from Spinal Tap, because it’s all entertainment. I come from the school that says you turn up to 11, rock the stage solid and leave exhausted.”
Does the band enjoy a broad fan base?
“We’ve got a lot of broads,” quips Karl.
“Actually, we’ve got up to 700 people on our email list and I just moved that over to Reverb Nation, so through the confirmation process, we have 400 people that want to be out there and informed about what the band is doing, which is a solid start. Right now we’re the #1 Rock band on Reverb Nation for this area, but that can change overnight, as this is a fickle business.”
Pre-Sales of the new CD are available now on the websites noted at the end of this article. “If people want to download the disc they can,” explains Johnny. “With pre-sales it’s a trust thing. People pay their money and then see the CD, but with this they can download the MP3s, not the hi-rez version with artwork, but get the music now, and then we’ll get the signed copy to them with artwork. We’re also throwing in a couple other free doodads.”
“What I feel sets us apart is that when fans come to one of our shows they can hear a bunch of songs they love done well and original music done really well. If we can leave them with the sense they just had a great time, they will come back.”
With Karl living in Clare, Johnny in Midland, and the other two members based in Saginaw, The Automatics have chosen to make their musical endeavor a committed professional operation.
“We are professional musicians and this is what we do for a living,” concludes Johnny. “I teach guitar and bass in Midland at home full time and this is what we do, more as a result of the economy, but we’re still passionate about it. We’re not half-assed about anything that we do.”
“Except when I jump on the stage and the cord comes out of my amp,” quips Karl.
Their CD release party is still in the planning stages, but the groups says most likely they will hold it at The Vault in Bay City and invite their favorite bands to come play a set, most likely on a Thursday evening.
Upcoming August shows will find The Automatics playing The Wooden Shoe on August 20-21 in Gladwin, followed by Decker’s Lounge in Midland August 27-28.
To order their new disc Leavers & Non-Believers or find out more about The Automatics, check out any of the following websites: