Chainsaw fanzine (issue 12)
By Charlie Chainsaw
The Instant Automatons have been one of my favourite bands for some time now despite the fact that they play few gigs and have only released one record. The vast majority of their recorded material has been on cassette, as they reckon this is an easy and cheap way of getting their music across. Their one and only release on vinyl is Peter Paints His Fence, a six-track EP on their own Deleted Records label, which retails at 75p.
They have also released 3 cassette albums (the best being Eating People - Hints For The Housewife), have two tracks on the We Couldn't Agree On A Title compilation and several cassette compilations. Their music is minimal in the extreme, but they have their own unmistakable sound. They are basically a two-piece, Protag (bass/synth/vocals) and Mark (guitar/vocals/synth etc.) with a drum machine - they're joined for their rare live performances by Mic Woods.
Protag lives on a farm just outside Scunthorpe; I paid him a visit a couple of months ago and did this interview (on a tape recorder which was completely fucked, i.e. a lot of it was inaudible when I got back). Most of their recordings are made in Protag's room, which is a concentrated mass of equipment.
Their gigs are rare. I have only ever seen one, a recent free Fuck Off Records gig at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, which was a disaster for nearly all concerned - the council in their infinite wisdom had fitted a sound meter on the wall which cut off the electricity if the sound reached a certain level. Every group managed to cut the electricity off (usually once in every song). The council have shut the place down now. I'm not sure if that's good news or bad.
Anyway here's the interview.
Charlie: Do you have a following around here?
Mark: We thought when we brought the first EP out that there'd be a little bit of local interest, but it didn't do very well locally because nobody knew we'd released it.
Protag: It's a kind of vicious circle because we've never done a gig locally, so people don't know we're here.
Mark: We did one in Grimsby, it wasn't a particularly good gig.
Protag: We'd hired some gear - that was the main stimulus for getting our own PA. We got this gear and it was just crap and it destroyed the whole gig. Besides, it had been advertised as a Slaughter and the Dogs gig so it was an unsympathetic audience.
Mark: Also we haven't sent any copies of our records and tapes to the local radio or press.
Protag: The thing is, everybody else does it, or everybody I know about. I mean, John Peel read our address out on the radio a few times, so anybody who's a regular listener of John Peel should know. Or another example recently - the NME did their cassette thing with Rough Trade. Rough Trade printed my address and I got letters from all over the place - about 250 letters and none of them were from Scunthorpe. A few from Cleethorpes. So not only does nobody know in Scunthorpe but the people who are in a position to find out by reading the paper or listening to John Peel just say "Oh, I'm not bothered about it."
Charlie: Why don't you play more often live?
Mark: Basically, neither of us can play synthesiser and guitar at the same time.
Charlie: So why don't you get another member of the band?
Protag: We don't have problems when there's two of us, because if one of us didn't turn up then there was no band at all, and if two of us turned up that was it. But with Mic, we've got this problem because he lives in Woolwich. Last week we went to York to record in a 4-track studio and Mic didn't turn up and we ended up in the ridiculous situation where we were rewriting the songs to enable us to play the guitar part.
Mark: I mean, I can write a song with a guitar part that I can't actually play, and I have to rely on Mic being able to play it. And if Mic isn't there, we're sunk!
Charlie: Do you do any recording in here?
Mark: Oh yeah! This is where we do most of our stuff.
Protag: Thing is, when we do a record we can't quite get the quality. But the sound always changes when you get into an 8-track studio - it gets a lot more sterile, and not as much fun really.
Mark: We've done demos for a lot of tracks in here that have sounded almost as good as the studio.
Protag: We're thinking about doing an album, when we're doing enough gigs to actually sell albums at gigs. What we'd like to do is one side here and the other side somewhere else to give people an idea of what we sound like on cassette.
Charlie: Do you ever want to make a living out of making records?
Protag: I don't know…this is one of the things I've been thinking about a lot. I'm gonna be made redundant soon, so I've been thinking about what I can do. There's three things I could do - I could try and run a little studio here, but the problem is that I couldn't have a drummer in the house - I'd have to build a shed outside. Number two is to hire out the PA gear we've got, but the problem with that is I've never done it before and there'd be a few months of breakdowns while I was teaching myself the job. Number three is cassette duplicating cos I think there is a market for duplicating cassettes cheaply. Most people go into business with the idea of making more money than they're already making, whereas I'd be going in with the idea of making more than £22 a week. But I'd rather make my money doing one of those three things than making money selling Instant Automatons records, or by playing gigs, or selling records on this record label. I think our records would have been different if we'd had gone in with the idea of selling lots of them. Cos it doesn't matter what you do, you end up doing things you don't want to, like as far as cassette copying goes I'll probably end up copying cassettes for schools or whatever. Like Colin Potter, who's got a 4-track studio in York, he had a bloke coming in every evening for a few weeks - he was making music for TV documentaries, boring unoriginal crap. But he wanted the money for the studio and he had to sit there and operate the equipment for this guy. No matter what you do, if you do it for money, you'll end up not wanting to do it. So I'd rather do something for money other than music, cos music is the most enjoyable thing I do and I don't want to pollute it with commercial interests. If it's the best thing you've got you don't want to spoil it, do you?
Charlie: So you think it's a bad thing to get a job in the music business?
Mark: Well, we don't want to preach to other people!
Protag: Well...if The Gang Of Four are happy with their contract with EMI, which they seem to be, then fair enough!
Mark: If I was offered their contract I'd probably freak out. I'd be offered a big advance, because EMI are incapable of offering small advances, but on the other hand I wouldn't want to do it.
Charlie: Would you ever do anything for people like Rough Trade? If they offered to release a single for you, would you do it?
Protag: Like the Young Marble Giants? They recorded the album and Rough Trade released it.
Mark: Yes, I'd do that but I wouldn't want us to sacrifice Deleted Records for the sake of doing something for Rough Trade.
Protag: If someone offered you the opportunity to release something which wouldn't cost you money when at the moment everything you release does cost you money...I suppose you'd have to have a contract to ensure that Rough Trade would sell it as cheaply as it would if you were selling it. But I think you could trust Rough Trade to advertise it in a way you'd approve. But in a broad sense I disapprove of advertising, full stop. I mean, what would you do, if the Daily Express asked you if you'd write an article about independent record shops?
Charlie: I wouldn't do it, full stop.
(Last 10 minutes of interview totally inaudible, so I'll stop here. Go out and get Peter Paints His Fence!)