2018 Artist Spotlight: Automatic Weapons
By Rachel Hunt
There are two sides of the same coin, a way of looking at a glass as half empty or full, a duality to our every day lives that we admire, but with a grain of salt. It’s that tension between opposing viewpoints, the balance between positive and negative that presents itself within Automatic Weapons’ music, an exciting dream-rock duo whose name you can either interpret as an ode to destruction or as a metaphor for something a little more inspiring: our own minds.
Vinny DiFranco and Michael Bashur’s approach to creating has changed since the break up of their four-piece alt-rock group Ohio Sky in 2016. “Throughout that [8 years], Vinny and I were both making other music. We were making music for that band, but we were also at home doing recordings in different genres,” the laid-back, shaggy-haired Bashur says. “Stuff that we liked to listen to, that we could do on our own.”
“When we first decided to start working towards this sound, this electronically driven stuff, in the past we […] didn’t want to record electronics. We wanted everything to be real nasty, gnarly, and organic: that big rock sound,” admits DiFranco. “We took a lot of pride in that. Once we got to the point where we really decided we were going to start digging in with this stuff, we put that mindset aside.”
Instead of recording music straight to tape, DiFranco and Bashur have been using all the layers they can, adding up synth melodies with looping guitars, analog drum machines, ambient sounds and ethereal atmospherics. The outcome of this new work resulted in a four-song EP, released just shy of two years ago. Those songs represented a turning point. “The reaction we got from friends and other bands that we had known for a long time…” Bashur trails off.
“It was just so much more than anything else that we had ever done,” DiFranco completes his band-mate’s thought.
It was a sound that they were getting close to at the dissolution of Ohio Sky. Their song “Changing Earth” shows off some of the layering techniques and intricate melodies that they would continue to build upon without the concern of how they were going to perform them live. However, 2017 had yet to happen, a year that would end up shaping the music they were making into a deeper and darker realm of synth-rock.
“If you think about this time last year, what was going on with our personal lives, socially, politically; everything just seemed to flip,” DiFranco says, studying his hands from behind square, black-framed glasses. “I don’t think we really wanted to have a darker side to this music, but you can’t control what you’re feeling. It seeped in to what we were doing. The next thing you know, you have this two-sided monster.”
One of the uniting factors of Young Lovers/ Dystopian Futures, their first full-length, is that it illustrates duality throughout. On one hand, you have their earlier songs from the EP that capture a mood of youthful optimism, hope, nostalgia and even naivety. The second half of the album has a much more meditative feel, introspective and reverent of what has been learned from the past. “When you get towards the end of the darker side [of the album], there’s a glimmer of light still,” reflects DiFranco. “Like ‘The Mess You Made’; it’s a sad love song but it’s got this beautiful sweetness to it.”
“The thing I focused on the most were the vocals,” DiFranco continues, “being a better singer, and the lyrics, making sure every song could resonate with people. I wasn’t very interested in that in Ohio Sky. With this I really wanted to try and let people in.” There is humanness to Automatic Weapon’s tracks, something that comes from messages of perseverance you can find written into them or the tenderness of DiFranco’s voice amidst the calculated drum machines and Mellotron beats. There’s an epic, atmospheric swell of sound on so many of the album’s eleven tracks that it could be the soundtrack to accompany whatever Dystopian Future we do end up finding ourselves in.
Their single “Antenna” is accompanied by a music video from Don Tyler that layers double exposures, digitalized and delayed video of the two performing under explosive colored lights and a female form that slowly becomes human, striking an undeniable visual parallel to their own reverb drenched tunes. “We are trying to match visually what we have done sonically harder than we ever have before. In my head, what I see for us as we proceed is a very vibrant, colorful, electric look that matches the sound,” DiFranco paints a picture of what to expect in their following videos; three are currently being edited.
Maybe the “automatic” in Automatic Weapons also could refer to a natural fit. Both of the guys comment on how things keep falling into place for the band, whether it’s working with Spanish artist Fran Rodríguez for their album cover or producer Ben Schigel of Spider Studios to put their mixes together. “It’s those kinds of things that happen enough that keep you going. ‘I’m in the right place at the right time, doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now,’” says Bashur hopefully. They are planning a tour following the recent release of Young Lovers/ Dystopian Futures on the recommendation of their friends in the nationally celebrated group, Mr. Gnome.
“I think for as long as we’ve been making music, no matter if it’s been in LA or in Cleveland, music has always existed in this local mindset,” DiFranco leans in. “I think this music transcends that. It can be perceived in many different ways.”