Manual Labor of Love 

Automated talks about their EP, a big theft and what's next

The framework within which pop music functions has become as protean as the arrangements of notes and melodies that make up its sounds. Labeling a song used to be a much simpler process because songs usually belonged in just one category. That's just no longer the case. Musicians have expanded their paradigms to include tools and processes for instrumentation that previously would have been unheard of, and we music listeners have accepted that shift and gone happily along for the ride.

Automated is 24-year-old drummer Jon Basabe, 25-year-old guitarist/vocalist/sample master Bryant Syme and 30-year-old bassist Nate Smith. While their sound is a kind of indie/rock/electronica, ask them what they play and they'll say "electronic polka." It's not that they don't take their music seriously, it's just difficult for them to pinpoint what genre their music falls into, because in it are so many different sounds due in part to the copious amounts of samples they use. After hearing their self-titled EP and seeing them perform during the Boise Weekly Music Festival, I was interested to learn more about this local trio who play clever catchy songs, full of different sounds, all floating and bouncing under the voice of one of the best male vocalists I've heard in a long time.

How long have you guys been together?

Basabe: With Nate, about a year and a half.

Syme: Jon and I have played in bands together since '99.

So besides the EP, have you guys released anything else?

Basabe: We did a contest once with one song.

Syme: We gave our rights away to that song. It was really cheeseball, but we ended up getting $500 from it.

Smith: I don't like that song anyway.

Syme: Yeah, it didn't translate live. But a lot of people really like that song.

Smith: I know, and that's weird because that's the one song ...

Syme: I want to play it again because ...

Smith: ... I just don't like.

Syme: I think you just need to do the bass line differently.

Basabe: I don't think so.

Can you rearrange it?

Syme: I don't want to. It's harder to do that than just make new songs ... I have a tendency to get stuck in old songs. Like right now, [with] the EP. It's been a year-long process trying to get this EP out. We had this theft in Miami when Jon and I were out there.

Basabe: Tell her the story.

Basabe and Syme were in Miami on business. On their way to return their rental car, they stopped to do some last-minute shopping. When then got to the rental agency, Syme opened the trunk and found it empty. He was dismayed, because it was in the trunk that he had put everything: a month's worth of clothes, his laptop--which included all the samples and all the tracks for the EP--a company laptop, an iPod video, a sound card, his favorite microphone and an expensive pair of headphones that he'd just purchased.

Fortunately, Syme had earlier premixed tracks for all the songs on the EP. They weren't quite done, and they weren't really what the band wanted to put out, but after the theft, they weren't left with many choices. They did what they could and took the lower-quality mp3s of the songs to Tonic Room studios to get the tracks mastered.

Syme: It doesn't sound bad though. We self-produced the album, and I've been doing engineering stuff forever. OK, seven years. Not forever.

Basabe: You should give her one of our old recordings.

Syme: Oh god no!

Basabe: Our first one [laughs]?

Syme: No way. All the drum tracks were on one track so I didn't mix [them] individually like you're supposed to. I tried to mix it the night of a show and just figured I'd burn copies. I was like, "Wait. This mixing thing takes a lot longer than I thought." I was late to the show. But we packed Moxie Java with like 120 people. [Smith] was in [the band] Fly 2 Void at that time. They played on the X.

Have you guys tried to get radio airplay?

Syme: Not really. We have a radio version of "Read Inbetween the Lines," but we want to wait until after we release [the EP] to try for radio. And, we're excited to get [the EP] out the door so we can start working on new stuff.

Who writes the music?

Basabe: It's a kind of spontaneous collaboration.

Syme: I've always loved what Jon does and I'm able to play back and forth.

And something comes out of it that you like?

Syme: Oh, yeah.

Basabe: Like that first song that we did [at the BW Music Festival], we worked on for like, what, a day or two?

Syme: Nate's kind of the one that keeps us a little grounded. He's like, "You know guys, we only practiced that a day. Are you sure it's a good idea if we just throw that in a show?" I'm kind of in between. Jon's always the one where we'll work on something for like three seconds and he'll say, "I love that! Let's play it at a show!" You don't even know how many songs I fake words on.

It may be true that Syme has to make things up because Basabe is ready to hit the stage after a three-minute practice, and Smith is just trying to keep everyone's heads out of the clouds. But it's also true that as funny and silly as these three may be together, they are also creating some great music. The lyrics in the songs are the words of a lovelorn 25-year-old, but the vocals are those of a much older soul. With their arrangements, Automated makes as much use of the white space in the songs as they do the multi-layered, sample-over-sample parts. The break right before the chorus on "Read Inbetween the Lines" is just Syme's voice, and it's one of the most powerful segments of the EP. When he sings the chorus: "I tried to read inbetween the lines / but I don't think it'll work out like I want it to," it evokes a memory of that feeling in the moments right before, during and after a first kiss.

Automated's freshman effort is a gallant one. But I'm left hanging at the end: It's only five songs long. Can Automated make as moving a statement with twice or three times as many tunes on a full-length CD? I'm absolutely willing to find out.

Automated's EP CD release party is May 11, 7 p.m., $8, with The Scarlet Theory, Oxen, The Universal and Colorblind. The Venue, 521 Broad St. They also play with The Scarlet Theory and Little Did You Know May 4, at 9 p.m.,. $3. The Bouquet, 1010 W. Main St., 208-345-6605.

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