Interview: Daryl Palumbo of Head Automatica

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Head Automatica is not Glassjaw. If you’re looking for a Glassjaw sound, then just keep on walking as Head Automatica is not for you. It’s way different then anything you’ve heard recently, that’s assured, as vocalist Daryl Palumbo spends most of his time singing. It’s dance-bass heavy, and the samples mix well with the rock.

When I interviewed Glassjaw in 2003, at the San Diego stop of the Warped tour at the Coors arena, we discussed the band and video games, but Head Automatica came up a few times. The brainchild of Daryl Palumbo, at his side is Dan Nakamura, also known as Dan the Automator, who you may recognize from his famous work on Dr. Octagon or, more recently, his technical skills inside the commercial success band Gorillaz.

Tonight, I’m here to see Head Automatica as they tour with IMA Robot at their stop at San Diego’s SOMA. I recognize (Glassjaw drummer) Larry Gorman and Daryl helping set up the equipment, lots of gear, enough for two bands. With Daryl on guitar, the first ‘song’ is a two minute heavy instrumental bit ala Mars Volta until song two, Brooklyn is Burning, the only song the crowd seemed to know. It’s tough to please an audience when nobody knows your songs, but 35 minutes fly by. Upstairs, we chat for a few minutes while Daryl is busy changing shirts. He’s on his third so far.

Dan doesn’t tour?
Daryl: He plays major cities. Dan makes his living making records, and if he doesn’t do that, he doesn’t make it. It’s a lot of money to fly someone in and out. We would love to have him on the whole tour, but I guess that’s the way it is. So who’re you listening to?

Fuck, I don’t know. Today I finally got around to Aceyalone’s new album.
Yeah? What’d you think?

It’s cool… comes on very strong in the beginning. What’re you into these days?
Are you recording?

Yeah.
(sighs) Okay. Man, I keep giving people a chance in hip hop, because I feel that hip hop is the one scene in the world where people get washed up the quickest. I really try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Man, I spend fuckin’, oh, a couple hundred dollars each month on hip hop, and it’s like, now I’m at the point where if I don’t love the record, I’m not even going to fuck with it. [some comments that he ask remain off-record] I’ll be like, “it’s cool!” and then listen to three songs and throw it away.

You into Big Sty?
Who is that?

Rapper, he’s been on a few mix tapes and gets a lot of play on XM Radio. He’s going the 50 Cent route and talking shit on the whole industry, Clear Channel…
Hey, I don’t care nothing about that! That’s cool; I’m a fan of shit talking.

… and at end, what has people all excited about his track, he says “and I was thinking about digging up Biggie and [Tu]Pac and saying, ‘fuck them too!'”. And that’s freaking people out.
Yeah I bet! See that’s the problem. Biggie is the greatest, ever, I mean ever, but Pac, I just didn’t get it. Oh, I have one piece of gum left, you want to split it?

He was a flygirl for Digital Underground.
(laughs) I think he was a west coast thing, and I’m not from the west coast, so I didn’t get it. He was good looking, and I think that had a lot to do with it. I’m just saying [trails off] Right now, I’m doing a project with Cage, El P, Larry from Head Automatica, a graffiti writer and tattoo artist from New York named Clue, and a boy of ours named Anthony. It’s called Shoot Frank. It’s rock, psychedelic as fuck. It’s really psychedelic and alternative rock.

How would you define psychedelic?
Uh… If you heard it, you would say, “this sounds psychedelic”. It’s got a garagy punk feel.

What the hell is psychedelic though? Grateful Dead, [the movie] Dazed and Confused
No, no, no! (laughs) No way, but it makes you wanna smoke dust, it makes you wanna do liquid acid.

There’s a kid at your show that I think is on acid.
Yo, I’ve done acid, and the last place I would wanna be while on acid would be at a show with a bunch of people. Crowded, 400 people touching you…

Oh hey I bought that [Weathermen] mix tape [a ‘compilation’ put out by a half a dozen up and comers of the hip hop underground] a while back. It’s cool, though I wish it wasn’t a just a mix tape.
It’s cool, you know it’s… no, fuck it, it’s fucking dope. Dope as fuck! I don’t give a fuck. Yack Ballz [member of Weathermen] new record coming out on Eastern Conference. El P’s got a bunch of new shit coming, like that jazz shit…

(El P recently with an experimental jazz album on Thirsty Ear records) I think that jazz album is pretty cool, actually. Fresh meat for sure.
It’s hot! Everything that El does is hot. We’re doing another project, and I’ll tell you right now, it’s going to change everything. It’s like… like Hendrix’s first album. [We stray off-record for a bit]

So who is on the current touring roster?
Dan the Automator, Daryl Palumbo singing and guitar, Craig Bonich on guitar, Jim Grier keyboard/vocals, Larry Gorman percussion/drums/vocals, Brandon Arnivic guitar.

Who is writing for HA?
Me. This is what I was doing all those times that we hung out, and I was like, “trust me” [about his future project]. And now you’ve heard the record.

Was that the record?
Most of it. It’s leaked [on the internet] evidently… some people are getting unfinished copies, songs with the wrong track titles… totally not the finished versions at all. It’s not even finished now!

Do you care that it’s leaked?
No. I mean, if you want the real thing, then buy it, it’s not even close to the real versions.

How many songs on the record?
Dunno, I don’t even remember. I think we’ll add a song at the last minute. The record will be out in abou two months on Warner Brothers.

How’s the tour?
We’ve been on tour with IMA Robot and Maxeen for a bit, and then some Thursday dates and our boys in fucking Piebald. I don’t think I can name two bands I’m closer with then Thursday and Piebald, so it should be good. Hey! Jarvis, come here!
Jarvis: Hi
Daryl: This is Jarvis. He’s in American Nightmare. Oh yeah, and he’s the bass player [for Head Automatica].

The song on the website [headautomatica.com]…
That’s Brooklyn is Burning, go to [the site] and download that. It’s, I don’t know if it’s the single or whatever, but it giving you a rounded idea of what the band is about.

What’s up with Geometry?
Geometry’s not off, it’s just to the side, you know? It’s just not happening right now. We’ve got a record done…

Yeah, I remember that. Where’s it at?
We wanted to release it, but a lot of my attention went to Glassjaw, and then after that to Head Automatic, and then I started getting into hip hop production and DJ dates on the road. It went from hip hop production, to Geometry and now to Head Automatica, especially now that Glassjaw’s on hiatus.

Permanently?
Glassjaw is NOT breaking up. That’s out of Daryl Palumbo’s mouth and into Modern Fix’s pages. [Glassjaw guitarist Justin] Beck and I have a lot of shit – we’ve written a bunch of songs and Beck has tracked his own shit. He’ll drop a CD off to me, I’ll do one… We’re both really busy. He has his own company, and I’ve been working with all this other shit.

So the band is on vacation?
Yes, Glassjaw’s just on vacation. It’s pretty hard for Beck and I NOT to play together, no matter how comfortable I’ll feel anywhere else, no matter what, nothing can envelop my head like Glassjaw did. We started the band when I was 12 and started playing shows when I was 13. Some things are going to last thru anything. Even if I didn’t want to play Glassjaw anymore, there is unfinished business to attend to, shit we need to play and shit we need to say.

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How serious is Head Automatica?
Completely serious. I mean, right now, it’sa full time band, all I’m doing.

What do you think of the indie hip hop labels? Def Jux, etc?
Jux is cool because El is a warrior, he helped build indie hip hop, five years ago there wasn’t five times as much indie and white rappers coming out. The Weathermen are like the class of ’95, you know. I wasn’t down with them at that point, but I didn’t know them.

Why don’t they pull like Wu?
They don’t have the pull, but they also don’t have any weak links. It’s prominently Cage getting that crew. RJD2 is down, Shoot Frank. When those cats play shows, there will be non-Weathermen on stage.

Do you have an opinion on the whole, ‘The Source calling Eminem racist’ thing?
Jarvis: Later man.
Daryl: Jarvis, you’re leaving? (hugs) (to me) Listen. If hip hop ever gets to the point where the essence of your part in hip hop is about race, and not about hip hop, then you’re a hater. I never followed the shit with the whole Source thing, or Em, but I also would never say, ‘Don’t date black bitches, they trouble.’ I would never make a comment, ‘Don’t date white bitches, they trouble’. If it ever gets to the point of, ‘yo that nigga’s infiltrating hip hop because he’s white’. If it ever gets to that, it’s just hating. Or, like ‘Yo there’s too many black people in hip hop, lets get white motherfuckers in’… no you don’t, you just need to be hip hop. I consider myself a part of it, besides growing up being a punk rock kid, being a metal kid, being a hardcore kid, no matter what I was in, I was always active in whatever culture that I was a part of. And I consider myself, very much, a part of hip hop. I’m a hip hop kid. Making records with Automator, I learned even more about the culture and I’ve been integrated even more into the mindset. I’m not any less hip hop then a black kid who got into hip hop a year or two ago, that doesn’t make him more legitimately into hip hop then me… I’ve been into this since 1989. I’m a hip hop junkie to the bone grizzle!

Are you still [straight] edge?
No, I’m not. (pauses) You can ask me about it, if you want.

The general rule for straight edge is to not smoke, drink or do drugs. Because of the shared lifestyle, straight edge kids tend to knit together. There are straight edge shows where straight edge bands play straight edge songs to straight edge kids. Straight edge was never something I subscribed to, but I have straight edge friends and like me some straight edge bands. I knew not all of Glassjaw were edge, but Daryl was, and it tended to sneak out in his lyrics. Needless to say, this blows me away

Wow
It’s just… you grow up with ideals. It’s parallel to hippies in the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone had this communist mindset….

(I start laughing) I am fucking blown away that you’re not straight edge. Dude.
(laughs) I know! Being 16, having these ideals, being in those settings, and now those same people are sixty years old, and they’re dads, and they’re republicans. I’m not going to look at them and go, “You sold out! You fucking sold out your ideals!” Times change. I think, with straight edge, part of that is having to commit that way forever. Yeah, I felt, even six months ago, I thought I wanted to be straight edge forever, but in my heart, after a while, I didn’t want to be straight edge forever. There are things I needed to see, and things I want to feel, and things I want to experience. I’m not straight edge; I’m never going to claim straight edge again.

You remember our conversation last year? (older interview with Daryl)
Yeah. I don’t regret being straight edge. I just wish it wasn’t something you decide when you’re twelve, and you have to stand by it for the rest of your life. I also grew up in the public eye, where I was doing interviews when I was fifteen, and saying like, “I am edge, I will be forever!” It’s like, I can’t honestly go back to being fifteen and saying I’d be doing ANYTHING forever. I said I was going to be straight edge forever. The last time I did something was a few days before the first day of school, when I was going into 8th grade.

When did you stop?
A month ago. I woke up, knowing that (pauses) today was the day I would not be straight edge anymore. I think straight edge is a great thing…

… it’s healthy…
It’s very healthy! You can’t argue it. It’s also limiting. It’s a philosophy that’s limiting, that once you commit, you are committed for the rest of your life. I back straight edge. If you are, I am totally psyched for you. And I claimed, you know, true till death, but the bottom line, is that committing to something when you’re 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 or even 18 is… nobody I have ever in my life, was a solid enough human being, psychologically, emotionally and physically, to say something like, ” I am 14 and I am edge forever, and I will die for it”. So no, I’m not straight edge anymore, and if offends anyone who is reading this, tough shit. It’s me. It’s me. If heads are gonna hate, hate all you want. I think I would definitely be a sellout if I didn’t want to be straight edge, but stayed. I don’t think I’m a sellout right now.

Or if you said you were but werent.
Oh yeah, of course. To lie about that would be… (trails off) Fuck it. I’m being true to what I want. (laughs) Hey you have an ‘X’ on your arm!

It’s a broken X (I have a broken ‘X’ straight edge tattoo).
(laughs) Ha! I have three XXX’s on my lip! (he curls his lip to reveal his ‘XXX’ tattoo) Well, they’re not really broken, but technically…

Alright, enough about straight edge. Hey, I grabbed a few things off my desk for you that I thought you guys might be able to use on tour. First, a DVD+R copy of Fubar.

Fubar? What is it? A movie? Who’s in it?
Yeah. I’m not even going to say. It’s kind of the sequel to Strange Brew and Beavis and Butthead rolled into one. I’m not going to say anything else, just watch it. Are you a fan of Jay-Z?
Hell yeah. He’s got to be – oh fuck is this the Beatles thing?? (he starts jumping up and down on the sofa)

Yes, this is The Grey Alb-(Daryl tackles me)-um by Danger Mouse.
Dude, I’ve been trying to get this!

I figured you would have it already, but brought it just in case.
Everybody in New York has it, but I’ve been trying to get my hands on it for a while.

Anything else I’m missing? Is the cover done [for the new album]?
Uh, I think they’re working on it right now… we just shot the photos the other day.

Any particular artist doing the work?
It’s a woman named Jane… she’s one of my favorite album graphic design artists. I looked thru a lot of portfolios and her’s was dope.

Final question: will there be vinyl?
Yes, definitely. Probably do a split from Cardboard City, my label, and Dan’s label, Polk.

Afterwords, Daryl and I smoked a few ‘after interview’ joints inside the tour van. Just kidding. Maybe. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the Head Automatica album and believe it’s pretty fucking good, but only time will tell if Daryl can leverage from the rest of his Glassjaw audience. I did recognize Rancid front man Tim Armstrong voice on one of the songs, very similar to his appearance on the Bad Religion song “Television”. Head Automatica’s album is coming out in May (possibly June) on Warner Brothers.