Daryl Palumbo - lead vocals, guitars, and programming
Jarvis Morgan Holden - bass
Larry Gorman - drums, drums, drums and backing vocals
Craig Bonich - guitars
Jessie Nelson - organ, piano, and keys
When most people hear the word "pop" they think of the latest karaoke singer to win American Idol. Most people, that is, besides Daryl Palumbo. "Contemporary American pop is so tasteless and phony," says the 27-year-old frontman for New York quintet Head Automatica. "That's why no one in America wants to say they're in a pop band. So many kids who start pop-punk bands insist they're not pop. To them I say, You don't even know what pop is. You've grown up with fucking Blink-182 forced down your throat.' Whereas I want to be in a pop band."
To Palumbo, true pop music is the unbridled melodic craftsmanship and punk energy of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Squeeze, Nick Lowe and Rockpile, and Graham Parker and the Rumour - British smartypants who set off the power-pop mod revival in the late '70s with their highly literate and impassioned songwriting.
That backbeat-influenced sound is the thematic touchstone for Head Automatica's new album Popaganda - a flat out tour-de-force of big, thick singalongs, with in-your-ear guitars and superpunchy drums. But while the band tip their hat to their favorite music; they have also created something very modern. Popaganda is a product of its influences without being derivative - a huge achievement at a time when it seems like every young band wants to sound like its heroes.
"We went into recording this album with a sound that we wanted, but knew not to get too close to what we were aiming for," Palumbo says. "Because if you do, you just become a novelty act. I don't like being bound by any stylistic restriction. There was a flavor I wanted to integrate into the music, but I knew we needed to put a contemporary spin on it."
From the opening three-chord backbeat blast of the lead-off single "Graduation Day," to the '70s riffage on "Laughing At You," to the '50s-style doo-wop balladeering on "Scandalous," to the garage-rock girl song "Curious," Popaganda captures the genre-bending sardonic wit that goes to the very fiber of this band's being. Palumbo sings in a fervent croon, drawing the listener in with every phrase.
The dark, trance-like "Egyptian Musk" and the disco-fied "Nowhere Fast" are the only tracks that might sound at home on Head Automatica's 2004 beat-laden dance-rock debut Decadence. "That's a part of this band no matter what," Palumbo says. "We love pop music that integrates some sort of electronic medium - so we had to touch back to that, but we definitely touched back to it way less. I was just on a tear writing rock songs on guitar this time around."
To help Head Automatica reinvent themselves and achieve the crisp, bright sound they were looking for, the band turned to producer Howard Benson, who has worked with My Chemical Romance and All American Rejects. "Howard prides himself on vocals and song arrangements," Palumbo says. "For this record, the vocals had to hit and the arrangements had to be perfect. Every part had to be a perfectly sculpted hook. We didn't want any six-minute-long songs. We didn't want any jazz odysseys. We wanted to be focused and Howard knew how to do that."
It also helps that the five members of Head Automatica have a vital chemistry both in and out of the recording studio. "I think how close we are as people really adds to how tight we are as a band," Palumbo says. "There's a really good dynamic from player to player. Each of these guys is solid. Jarvis has the capacity to memorize large amounts of material at once; Jessie grew up trained and is just a really musical cat; Larry grew up listening to the Beatles and knows the backbeat pop feel as good as anyone can know it; and Craig has always managed to take up the space of two guitars by himself. The best part of this lineup is that we're able to adapt to whatever style we need from song to song. We're able to find the pocket within different genres."
In the end, Palumbo - who will happily call out anyone and anything he considers pretentious, fake, and or just plain crapulous - says that Head Automatica simply wanted to make an honest record. "There was nothing contrived about it. All these other bands are on that screamo shit. They're like, Let's act like we're 18, scream about girls, get a studded belt, and wear our black hair over one eye.' It's like, Man, I'm too over it.' Some people aren't buying my records these days because they want to hear me be upset," says the former frontman of angsty alt-hardcore band Glassjaw. "I think the people who grew up with Glassjaw should embrace the fact that they don't have to listen to me whine as much!
"We didn't want to make a record about pain," he continues. "We didn't want to make a record about crying. We didn't want to make a record about being hurt. We just wanted to make a brilliant power-pop record."
Consider it done.
--- from the official Head Automatica website