No Cure fanzine (issue 3)
Instant Automatons talk to a tape recorder
The Instant Automatons are a band who are doing something new; they’re moving away from the stringent bounds of money-orientated rock. Anyway, to find more about them I sent a tape and some questions up to Humberside. The interview they sent back showed more about the group than an ordinary interview situation. In fact, the tape was more of a discussion than an interview, which makes it murder to write up, but interesting to read:
People present were:Protag: bass, guitar, tape effects, vocals
Mark: vocals, guitar, harmonica, echo effects
Mike Holmes: vocals, percussion, drums
How did you start?
Protag: We used to play around with audio-generators in the physics lab, to simulate the sound of spaceships taking off. That was in ’74 or ’75…
Mike: Electric Mouth Tapes was in ’74, which was about the earliest recordings.
Protag: What actually happened was that we – and I’m not too sure who "we" were – decided to do a spontaneous composition in the physics lab. [These tapes by Brian Damage and the Caffeine Kids are shortly to be released by Deleted Records] The Instant Automatons started when we left school and had nothing to do until we found jobs.
How did you pick the name?
Mark: We picked the components of the name out of a hat coz we knew what kind of name we wanted; names like "abstract", "instant", "automaton", and we picked out "instant" and "automaton".
Deleted Records came about, they told me, because Mark and Protag wanted to release their ’78 recordings (they record all their practices), which they did earlier this year.
Next I asked them about their favourite bands. This question threw them into total confusion to the point of causing Protag’s chair to collapse. Bands mentioned, though, included Joy Division, ATV, The Fall and The Velvet Underground, although they stress that they have never tried to copy anyone.
Why did you decide to give your debut album, Radio Silence, away?
Mark: Coz it was in our manifesto, if you like.
Protag: To do otherwise would have meant making money, and that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re doing it for the music.
Are there plans to release a single?
Protag: Yes there are. What’s it gonna be called? I’ve forgotten.
Mike: We haven’t got a title yet.
Protag: We’ve got an idea for a couple of tracks, and we’ve got a picture for the cover.
Mark: It’s gonna be an EP and it’s got a picture of us sitting in The Angel in our lunch hour, so I thought about calling it The Instant Automatons – A Legend In Their Own Lunchtime [assorted groans]. Well, I happen to like that title – it sort of puts across out part-time amateur attitude. Taking time out in our lunchtime to be legends.
What makes you write songs?
Mark [to Protag]: You gonna quote that bloke from Wire?
Protag: Yeah, Colin Newman.
Mark: You can quote him for me as well.
Protag: Yeah; Colin Newman, he said "Writing a song is like having a shit, it’s a biological function, you just do it." Sometimes you have half a shit and get constipated and you have to bash the rest out [laughter] and that’s very nearly true.
Mike: Certainly sounds like songs from this band.
What about politics?
Protag: In a general sense, and it’s not bound to be political, if something upsets me it makes me write a song.
Mark: But it’s not just politics.
Protag: No, but a lot of things are politically related like ecology. It’s not a party political thing…
Mark: More social politics. Like I was saying to someone; politics are about people, not just politicians, and if you’re about people, you’re about politics.
Protag: Yeah, but you couldn’t easily put us either side of the left/right boundary, could you?
Mark: I think you’re wrong there, if you consider we support such organisations as Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. I can see your jacket from here and it’s got an ANL and RAR badge on it, and my jacket’s got an Amnesty International badge on it…
Protag: Yeah, but that’s not a left/right thing. I’m a prisoner of conscience same as the next bloke and I think Nazis are a load of…well, says it all really, likewise racists. Does it mean I’m left wing? All it means is I hate those people. That’s why I said you couldn’t put us on left or right. If you put right and left on a compass – left is east and right is west – then we’re heading north.
Most of the songs on Radio Silence are quite old – how do you think you’ve developed since it was released?
Mike: We’re technically more perfect, but nevertheless the germs of the songs are still the same.
Mark: Germs? I’m not too sure I like that.
Mike: What I mean is the ideas implanted behind them are similar ideas to those which generated the earlier songs. I don’t think we’ve made any progression regarding attitudes or outlook, because we’d already decided what we wanted to do.
Would you ever consider signing to a major label?
Mark: No. If we signed to a major label then we’d more than likely have to become professional. It would mean that we’d have to make a living out of our music, and if we did that we couldn’t sort of experiment with non-commercial products, coz it wouldn’t sell and we wouldn’t make any money and we’d die of starvation or something. If we did sign to a major label they would be at us all the time saying, "Look, this isn’t commercial enough…"
Protag: I read an interview with Swell Maps who said the same thing. In fact, they do the same sort of stuff as us – a mixture of semi-normal songs and really loony stuff – and they were saying that if they were signed up to a major they’d say: "Look, drop this loony stuff and put in the rock songs and you’ll sell lots of records, and we’re not gonna give you studio time if you don’t."
Mark: There are a few labels I wouldn’t mind signing to; independents like Fast, Rough Trade, Factory etc.
I asked them if there were any plans to tour.
Protag: It depends on us building up our PA and getting a van or something.
But they did explain how they’d like to do a series of pedestrian subway gigs, busking.
What are your ambitions?
Mark: Hopefully our ambition is to achieve some degree of fame without gaining any riches or corruption which normally goes with it. It would be nice to be famous.
Protag: I like to think that people who are interested in music could know that we exist, so they could decide whether they liked us or not.
Like I said I reckon the Automatons are f’ing good, but don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself…