October 30, 2008
AUTOMATIC FUN with The Automatic Music Explosion
Interview at Canter's Kibitz Room
By Jeff Wolfman
While cars, pedestrians and panhandlers meandered on by outside on Fairfax Avenue, inside, the place was packed with anticipation. They were standing ten deep on this lonely Tuesday night inside Canter's Kibitz Room, famous for giving young groups like the Wallflowers a break. Tonight, though, the energy was palpable. And why not, everyone was waiting to hear from Los Angeles’ hottest, up-and-coming band, the Automatic Music Explosion. And it took all of one song to understand what the AME’s fast growing fan base already knew. These guys are the real deal: unique in sound, unique in look, unique in performance, and void of any pretense. If the Kibitz room had any doors, their energy would’ve blown them off.
The AME is comprised of four guys and one gal (Matt, Max, Chris, Jeff & Jodie) and though each are extremely talented musicians in their own right, together, they are definitely bigger than the sum of their parts. No wonder people in the know have dubbed them one of the hardest working bands in town.
To describe them though would take some thought. “Awesome,” is the word most often heard coming out of the mouths of their fans. The other word was “fun.” It’s a party with the AME. These guys bring an innate energy to every song and every performance. And you better be in shape for them because you can’t help but catch yourself bobbing your head to their sound, which is hard to put a finger on. They are somewhat of a nexus between pop, retro and sophisticated punk. Now, that might sound like an oxymoron, but you can’t pigeonhole these guys. They are high-energy and dynamic and anything but pedestrian. “Raw powerhouse rock” might be an apt description.
And their talent is so obvious and so out there that they were able to snag legendary music producer Mike Chapman to produce their first full-length album, (which at this time is still untitled). Chapman, no slouch himself, having written and/or produced over 140 top ten hits, selling over 350 million records worldwide with such artists as Blondie, The Knack, The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Tina Turner and many others, believes these guys are destined for greatness.
The songwriter and front man of the group, Matt Starr, is not only an accomplished guitarist, bassist, drummer and singer, but also a natural leader and showman. He can milk a lyric, a look, a phrase, and a pose as only the best in the business can. Front woman, Jodie Schell is a unique amalgam of her own. A touch of Cyndi Lauper mixed with a pinch of Gwen Stefani, she easily matches the guy’s energy step for step. Chris Price is the AME’s lead guitarist. The group calls him the next “guitar hero,” and they might just be right. Chris is one of those rare breeds that can tell a story simply with his guitar, lick for lick, chord for chord, sentence by sentence. Jeff Covey, the head-banging bassist pumps up the energy with his yeoman-like work, but it is the AME’s drummer, Max M who I believe brings the pot of gold to each song. There’s something about a world class drummer that elevates a rock & roll band to star status, and Max has that magic at his fingertips.
The band played 6 songs that night, with the crowd not just yelling, but demanding, more at the end of the set. The group came out and played one encore leaving the audience not spent as you would think, but invigorated to continue the party. My only critique of the night would be to say I wanted more. I would have loved to have heard one ballad or slower song, which emphasized Matt’s and Jodie’s voice, especially with some harmonies. These two definitely have the chops to do that. However, that’s just me. The rest of the audience was completely satiated with the performance.
When asked why she had a big smile on her face after the set, Kat Kenatar, an AME fan and musician in her own right, simply replied, “Because these guys are f'n amazing! And they’re the nicest people in the world. Everyone loves them, boys, girls, young, old… appropriate for all ages.” She’s right on that note. The audience was split evenly between men and women, and though their demographic was mostly college-aged kids, the dozen-or-so older folks like myself were probably having more fun than anyone else. That’s because we remember what rock and roll used to be – not the plastic big business sound, not the phony-glammed-out singing models, and certainly not the cloned corporate bands of today. No, rock and roll used to be fun, and the AME has brought that back in spades, and we are all thankful for it.
Talking with the AME at Canters after their set in the Kibitz room. The band members, Matt Starr (vocals, guitar), Jodie Schell (vocals, tambourine), Chris Price (lead guitar), Jeff Covey (bass) and Max M (drums) joked and laughed and talked about how the band was formed and their hopes for the future. Mike Chapman, their producer, sat in on the interview and gave insights into succeeding in a very tough business and why the Automatic Music Explosion has become one of L.A.’s hottest bands.
All Access Magazine: So, what was the most important thing you sacrificed when you moved to Los Angeles to try your hand in the music business?
Max: I sacrificed a lamp.
Matt: Good pizza.
Chris: I sacrificed crappy winters and fat chicks, so it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Jeff: I’m from Phili, so I didn’t sacrifice much, just a couple of friends, but that’s about it. I needed a career, so it’s what I wanted to do.
Jodie: I have two rad parents and three sisters, and I’m thousands of miles away from them, so I needed a family out here, and I found it in the AME.
AAM: So, tell me how did the band form?
Matt: Like mold. How did the band form? After I moved out here, I wrote a bunch of songs… about 15 songs, and I made a C.D. and I put it into my car and I listened to all of them together, and when I heard it, I said, so what does this look like? And I saw the cover of the first Archie’s album, the cartoon, the two girls and the guys, and I said it looks like that. So, right around that time I met Max at Amoeba, and I liked his haircut, so I started talking to him and gave him a three song demo. It was just acoustic guitar and me banging on the table for drums. So, Max and I got together and immediately it was just awesome. It was huge. It sounded big. And that’s how the band’s name came up. I was on my way home, I was talking to my girlfriend, and she asked how the meeting with Max went? So, I told here it was like an automatic music explosion. It sounds so corny now, but that’s how it happened.
AAM: So, why did you want a girl in your band?
Matt: When I listened to all 15 songs, it sounded… I just was getting this vision. Also I knew there needed to be tambourine through everything. And I needed somebody who could sing harmonies, and effortlessly, you know. So, it was just natural to have a female.
AAM: Lead us through your very first rehearsal together as a group.
Max: Matt brought a bottle of wine to the first proper rehearsal of the Automatic Music Explosion. It was also Jeff’s audition as well. So, basically, after our meeting that we had with Jeff, all we told him was learn these tunes and bring it, come in and bring it. And we were all basically talking behind his back saying this is our guy as long as he comes in and blows doors, which he did. The wine was cracked, and we got busy.
AAM: So, you’re a new band playing around town. How in the world did you score the legendary Mike Chapman as your producer?
Matt: Well, we just made a list of all the producers we wanted, and Mike was at the top of the list. And so, I just said, okay, I’m going to find him. And I just Googled his name for three months. I found out his wife’s name. I knew his kid’s name. I felt like a weirdo, but I’m like I got to find this guy. So,once I found all the information, I’m like, I couldn’t find his phone number. Then I looked in the white pages, and there it was.
AAM: So, you flew out to meet him.
Matt: Yeah, well, the band bought me a ticket and flew me back to the East Coast, cause I had sent some stuff and we hadn’t heard back. I went to his house, and his wife answered the door. And I was telling her my story, and she was smiling. And she’s like, yeah, you know, it’s really weird, because he just gave me the CD last night and told me to check you guys out. So, she goes, can you come back in an hour? And I’m like, can I? She goes, yeah. And I said, okay. And I’m being all cool, and I drive down to the bottom of the hill, and I call Max, and I go, don’t call me in an hour because I have a meeting with Mike Chapman. He’s like, “no way!!!” I’m screaming. He’s screaming. I call all these guys. I’m just yelling.
Jodie: I remember. I just came out of the shower. I was in a towel. I’m screaming, “what the f--k!”
AAM: Mike, when you went to L.A. to see them live for the first time, what were your thoughts?
Chapman: Well, obviously, the first thing that hit me was the music was awesome, so, I mean, to me it’s all about the songs, number one…
Jodie: It was the Fox and Hound show at Club Dynamite in April of 2007.
Chapman: Yes. So, I get to the Fox and Hound, and here they are, the AME. And they blew me away, totally blew me away. I mean, they were the songs that I heard on the CD coming from real people, you know. I mean, pretty much I didn’t have a choice really. I said, okay, let’s just do this thing. It’s pretty simple. The guys have got the goods.
AAM: When you signed with the Knack, you said, you wanted to get them into the studio as fast as possible to capture their live performance. Do you see any similarities with AME?
Chapman: Exactly the same. I think with any great band that’s what it’s all about. I mean, it’s rock and roll music, and if the band is pulling it off live, and they got the tunes, what you got to do is you got to capture that thing on a record. If you don’t capture that thing then basically the audience goes to see one thing when they see them live, and they hear another thing on the record, that ain’t going to work, right? So, the deal was we got to get this on the record and I think we managed to do that pretty much.
AAM: “Get the Knack” took you all of 11 days to record, while Blondie’s “Parallel Lines” lasted 3 months. Where does AME fall in this timeline?
Matt: It was three weeks for 15 songs for the first album.
AAM: Have you written the songs for the next album?
Matt: I’ve written a bunch. A few that Mike has heard. A few more that we’re going to play, and then Mike has one song that he’s written that we’re going to start working on. So, yeah, we just want to get bigger and better and keep moving forward.
AAM: So, what’s your ultimate goal for the band?
Chapman: To stardom, I mean, what else? They’re going to be rock stars. I mean, we’re only in this business for one reason, we all want to be f--king famous. Famous. Rich and famous, and wonderful, and successful, and cool, and just powerful, you know. We want to rule the world.
AAM: Jodie, as a woman, what do you think you add to the band?
Jodie: [LAUGHING] I want to hear what the band has to say.
[After some fairly raunchy comments from everyone including Jodie that won’t be repeated…]
Chapman: Jodie has a personality and an aura that adds a dimension that takes us somewhere where your regular rock and roll smelly boy bands don’t, you know, they don’t live there. So, we live in a separate zone. There’s a lot of bands with girls in them, but there ain’t a band like the AME with a girl in it, and there ain’t a girl like Jodie. See, Jodie is a very unique talent. She has a unique look. She sings like a mofo, and she’s just pretty spectacular. So, the dimension that she adds is something that we have and nobody else has.
AAM: So then, how would describe the AME sound?
Max: There’s like, you know, a 60’s influenced drummer, a punk rock base player, you know, a heavy metal guitarist, East Coast song writer, sort of MC5, and then we have Jodie who ties it all together with her tambourine playing and style, and it just makes what we do. I think we have every base covered for a wide variety of people. They’re going to recognize things that they love from all their record collections and go, yeah, that’s it.
Chapman: It’s tomorrow’s sound! It’s where music is going tomorrow for Christ sakes! AME are the vanguard of Los Angeles rock and roll for the world, because the world needs what they got. This is pure frantic rock and roll pop music from the center of the rock and roll f--king volcano!
AAM: Well, that might be a little understated. But it does bring up a point: Mike, you’re known as one of the most talented, creative and energetic producers around, but you also have a reputation for being controlling, how do you control these guys?
Matt: He gives us liquor and tells us we’re geniuses, that’s how he controls us.
Chapman: That’s not actually far from the truth. First of all, if I’ve decided to work with them, I think they’re going to be stars, otherwise, I’m not going to waste my time. If they then give me the max that they’ve got, then I know that I have the ability to take it over the top. So, I just have to communicate. Now, the control thing, there’s different degrees of control. Now that I’ve older I don’t use the same methods. It used to be the rack, the iron maiden, that worked well. But now, it’s just a matter of they just got to believe that I believe in them, you know.
AAM: And finally, when did you feel this band was special?
Max: It was one of the early Fox and Hound shows. Maybe the second one where I remember coming off stage and saying, that was a serious reaction, and it was noticeable, and everybody knew it. It was like we really cracked something there. So, yeah, I guess it was maybe the second show we did.
Matt: I knew it the first time I played with Max, and the first time I played with Chris, and the first time I played with Jodie, and the first time I played with Jeff, and our first gig, and I’m just reminded of it constantly. I mean, we…I’ve never been in a band where people come up to us and they’re trying to explain what they experienced and they can’t.
Chris: I just remember after we finally got everyone (together) and we realized not only do we work well together, but none of us are retards. ‘Cause I’m sure you all know musicians are insane people, so if you can find five of them that can live together and work together then you got it made.
Jeff: For me, it was the first night we played a show, we actually booked two shows and played them both within a half-an-hour of each other, and they were both just f--king amazing. Everybody went wild. And yeah, that was it. There might have been a handful of people in the crowd, but they all loved it, and we all just went out 100%, and I was like, that’s it, man, we’ll just do anything to make it. That was it.
AAM: Jodie, when did you feel the band was special?
Jodie: The first time we were meeting Jeff, we were all in this Irish pub, and all five of us were sitting at this table and everyone of us were on the edge of our conversation, each one of us had something else to add to everything. The electricity in the air was just building as if we were already a tight family, and we were really excited to be in a room together. And to me, that was the first time. That was it.
And that’s it for the AME’s first sit-down interview with All Access Magazine.
You can hear a selection of the Automatic Music Explosion tunes at: www.mySpace.com/theautomaticmusicexplosion. They are playing live at Canters’ Kibitz room every Tuesday and at various other locations around town. Email contact for the band at: firstname.lastname@example.org