Leave it to Head Automatica front man Daryl Palumbo to laugh off the unintentionally sinister release date of his bands new record. “Popaganda comes out 6-6-06. It’s just a coincidence, but I think it’s funny.” Some might think that would spell certain doom for the highly anticipated follow up to 2004’s Decadence, but Palumbo is confident that Popaganda won’t disappoint. “It’s not the same as Decadence. It’s more of a power-art-pop sound, and the songs are stronger. I love it.” It’s been two years between releases and the band have a lot of hype to live up to. The curse of the sophomore slump is hanging over their heads, but fear not, for Head Automatica is about to drop one of the best and most unexpectedly different albums of the decade.
If this is the first time you’ve heard or read the name Head Automatica, then it’s about time for a history lesson: Daryl Palumbo fronted the Grammy-nominated New York based band called Glassjaw and put out three records until 2003, when he put the group on hiatus and began working on a project called Head Automatica with Dan The Automator (Gorillaz). They put together the debut album, Decadence, and released it in 2004 to incredible reviews. Critics fell in love with the original sound and soulful vocals, and many praised the record as one of the best of 2004, although some say it was slightly overlooked. Touring ensued, touring stopped, and touring continued throughout the next two years. Flash forward to today: Head Automatica is back and gearing up for the release of their sophomore album (sans Dan The Automator), a string of sold-out headlining dates on both coasts, and a much-hyped tour with Avenged Sevenfold, an unlikely pairing that just might turn a few metalheads into pop-rock fanatics.
The band’s sound has changed a bit since their last outing; the break-beats have been traded for louder guitars, there is hardly any programming, and the songwriting has improved fantastically. Palumbo cites old-school pop and rock and roll acts like Elvis Costello and The Attractions as a major influence on Popaganda. “He’s one of my favorites in the world. I just love that sound and I really respect him.” That sound comes out most notably in the opening track and lead single, “Graduation Day”, a hooky and well-crafted song that recalls that late 70’s Costello sound with Palumbo’s unique vocal twist. The band recorded Popaganda with producer Howard Benson, the man behind the controls of My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, in Hollywood. “I worked with Howard on a couple of songs for the last record, and he has a really good knack for arrangements and vocals, so I brought him in for Popaganda and it turned out great,” says Palumbo. This time around, the group consists of Glassjaw drummer Larry Gorman, guitarist Craig Bonich, bassist Jarvis Morgan Holden, and keyboard player Jessie Nelson. You can hear the difference between Decadence and Popaganda in the sonic presence of the band; the former had less of a rock vibe, whereas the sophomore record brings the band to the forefront. Bonich’s guitars are ballsier and more stylistic, which really gives Popaganda its punch. Howard Benson has done a fantastic job of shaping the band’s sound on this record; it sounds like a live band is playing through your speakers. And that’s a good thing.
The refreshing sounds that Benson and Head Automatica have created on Popaganda are nothing like that of their MTV2 contemporaries. While most of the world is salivating over the scores of emo-pop bands that all seem to be best friends with Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz (go figure), Head Automatica opt for a different, more focused style; one that Palumbo has no problem defining for those who are a bit out of the loop: “We’re a rock and roll band with an electronic edge…I guess you could call it an electronic garage band,” says Palumbo. So just what exactly is Head Automatica doing on tour with heavy-hitters Avenged Sevenfold? Turning heads, that’s what. They stick out like a sore thumb on this spring’s biggest tour, wedged in between nerd-rockers Coheed And Cambria and the aforementioned A7X. And if you think your favorite Avenged song gets stuck in your head a lot, you’re in for a treat with Popaganda. The band explores slow-jam territory on the song “Scandalous”, an ode to that girl you hate to love. “Lying Through Your Teeth” (a song that really ought to be the second single from Popaganda) is a catchy rock and roll anthem that makes you want to shake it and sing along, whether you can emulate that one-of-a-kind Palumbo style or not. There’s fourteen tracks of pure pop-rock magic that will not only get stuck in your noodle, but stay there until the next Head Automatica record comes out.
The band definitely has a unique sound that you won’t find in any other band these days, and Palumbo’s voice is largely responsible for that. He’s often regarded as one of the most unique vocalists in rock music, but he’s also one of the most versatile. Anybody who has heard the guy sing can tell right away when Palumbo’s parts start on any of a number guest performances on his buddies’ records. “I did some vocals on the new This Is Hell record, they’re a hardcore band from New York. I’m also working with a band called We Are The Fury, producing and probably doing some vocals on their record too.” He’s also done guest vocals on Everytime I Die’s Gutter Phenomenon and Finch’s What It Is To Burn, and did his fair share of screaming on all three of Glassjaw’s releases. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also some side projects in the works: Immaculate Conceptions, Shoot Frank, and House Of Blow (w/Hatebreed’s Sean Martin). That’s quite a resume for the singer, who has suffered from Crohn’s disease, an intestinal disorder, for the better part of his career. His health has sidelined several tours, but Daryl is optimistic and motivated to make the best music possible regardless of his health. “I don’t care how people remember me as a person. I want to be remembered for my work and my music.” And so he will; Glassjaw’s 2002 release Worship and Tribute was nominated for a Grammy, and Head Automatica is shaping up to be a long-standing player in rock music. Whether he’s singing, screaming, or producing, there is no denying that he’s the MVP of modern rock.
Fans won’t get to hear Popaganda until June, but Palumbo urges everyone to check out the band’s myspace for a taste of what’s to come. “It’s myspace.com/headautomatica. Go there and listen to some new songs, be our friend, and tell all your friends. You can also get free shit at our myspace, so please check it out.” It’s hard not to see Head Automatica on the net these days; Google the band and you’re sure to find tons of live videos and two different music videos for “Beating Heart Baby”, the infectious single from 2004’s Decadence. The new songs on the Head Automatica myspace page should hold you over until the new record’s release, but everybody is still asking: will Glassjaw ever reunite? Fans are dying for a new album and tour, and recent rumblings may point to the resurrection that every emo/hardcore kid has been waiting for. “It’s happening very slowly. Me and Beck are writing songs for a new record, but it’s hard to say when it will actually happen. It’s all a matter of when I’m not on tour.” It doesn’t look like Head Automatica will slow down anytime soon, but cross your fingers, kids. Daryl has to get pissed off sooner or later.