The Autodramatics Return for a Second Round: Reaction LP drops in October

Andy Caffrey (left) and Joe Derderian killing at the Mill during the 2013 Firecracker 500 Festival
Andy Caffrey (left) and Joe Derderian killing at the Mill during the 2013 Firecracker 500 Festival

Photos by Bronson Karaff

If you were around southeast Iowa in the late ’90s, you may have seen the Horrors tearing up a local stage with their savage rock and roll. The Cedar Rapids trio put out two burning records on the Los Angeles label, In the Red (known for releases albums by King Khan, Thee Oh Sees, Jay Reatard, etc.) and broke up soon after.

Andy Caffrey, one of the two guitarists and singers in the Horrors, formed the Autodramatics in the wake of the Horrors. The Autodramatics transcended Caffrey’s old band in terms of size and scope, retaining the blasted-out fuzz of the Horrors, but adding female vocals with a classic Ike & Tina, rhythm and blues sensibility.

The Autodramatics sat on a number of songs for several years, eeking out a Find the Gun 7″ on Goodbye Boozy Records in 2007. Finally, earlier this year, they released their collection of songs on vinyl as the Emotional Static LP on Caffrey’s own Obsolete Records.

Now, just a few months later, the Autodramatics are releasing their second full-length record on October 7. Titled Reaction, the record will be limited to 250 copies and will be available via Obsolete Records. Joining Caffrey on guitar, vocals and keys is his wife Daniela Caffrey aka Danni DeKille, Latisha Lee Knight (Liberty Leg) and Sarah Cram Driscoll on vocals, Mike Martinez (Liberty Leg) on drums and Joe Derderian (Thee Almighty Handclaps) on “fuzzy bass.”

Recently, we had the opportunity to trade words with Caffrey on the current state of the Autodramatics, their upcoming release and rock and roll in general.

Little Village: Where did you record Reaction? When and where were the songs written and how was the process?

Andy Caffrey: We recorded the record at home, here in Fairfax in our ’70s style, split level house. The landing between the levels by the front door had the highest ceiling, so we crammed Mike and his two-piece drum kit in there. [We] isolated one guitar amp in the shower downstairs, and the other amp in the separate half of the bathroom. Mr. Fuzzy Britches, Joe D., got a whole room to himself for the bass tracks. We recorded all the rhythm tracks in a day and brought the girls in afterwards when they had time to do vocals.

A couple of the songs were old ones I had laying around. But for the most part they were created as a product of the situation. ‘Hey, we’re making a record!’

Our idea was to work on it awhile, then record a version. We recorded a couple different versions of all the songs. Then I edited them in mixdowns to make it all work.

Everything was done piece by piece. It was like making a drawing. Light sketches here and there. As you get into and you start to see where your vision is going you start to press a little harder on the pencil. You make your lines darker and more prominent. At the end you don’t really notice all the light strokes of the pencil. Just the drawing as a whole.

LV: When is Reaction coming out and where can we get it?

AC: We have a release date set for October 7. We are playing a record release show at a place that hasn’t been determined yet [update: Trumpet Blossom Cafe, Monday 10/7 with Buck Biloxi & The Fucks / Rusty Buckets – ed.]. But, you can pre-order the album through Facebook.

People will receive their copies mid-October, right after (our show at) Gonerfest. If you really want a copy sooner the only place to get it is Gonerfest 10. Also, after October 7 people will be able to order the record from the In the Red, Goner and Slovenly Records websites.
It’s a DIY release, kinda. I put Obsolete Records on the label hoping our record label will take off some day. This would be the 4th release under the name Obsolete Records. We are pressing 250 copies.

LV: Are you psyched about this new record? Tell me about it!

AC: Of course, we are all psyched about the new record. More than psyched.

Danni DeKille, my wife, never did anything like this before so that even made it more exciting. Just having her around made everything so fresh. I remembered, and I think we all remembered, what it was like to make a record for the first time. Danni’s raw. She added a lot of “virgin” energy that only goes onto a record once.

Latisha Lee laid it down like nothing I have ever heard her do before. Her lead vocal on “Valvetrain” is so confident. She amazed me. Her attitude about the whole project was so positive. It gave us life like a fitness world.

LV: OK, so let’s talk about the recent history of the band. You took a break of some sort and then started playing again relatively recently. How long of a gap was that? When did you start playing again and what prompted that?

AC: I think our break was for around seven or eight years. It doesn’t seem like it. But, that is reality. Everything just came to an end. We all tried so hard to make something great happen and it seemed like nobody was listening, A lot of promises were made to us about putting our record out from various companies and they all bailed.

At that point I felt like I had lied to everyone about our potential. In retrospect I guess it wasn’t my fault, Some people told me something and I told the group. We all got excited and worked as hard as we could to make a great record. Then nobody called back. I felt like I wasted everybody’s time and effort. I stopped believing in myself and our band. It was silly. I should have never let it get to me that much. Plus, Mike stopped giving horsey rides.

LV: Actually, can you briefly explain the time between the Horrors and Autodramatics? What was the initial spark for the Autodramatics?

AC: I don’t remember exactly what happened and when with that shit. I can tell you this. The Horrors breaking up didn’t stop me. The spark for Autodramatics was a product of what was around me. Mike was a great friend and drummer. Latisha and Sarah were great singers. I listened to a lot of Ike and Tina at the time.

If Sarah, Latisha and Mike weren’t around, there would be no Autodramatics. I didn’t wake up and think of the idea of the group. They were friends and we all got along. We started making music. Isn’t that a real band anyway? Friends first, music second?

Latisha Lee Knight of the Dirty Dishes (Autodramatics back-up) from the same show.
Latisha Lee Knight of the Dirty Dishes (Autodramatics back-up singers) from the same show

LV: Can you tell me a bit about getting together with Greg Cartwright (Oblivians, Reigning Sound, Compulsive Gamblers) to record the second Horrors album and what that was like?

AC: Being with Greg in a recording atmosphere is something I wish everyone playing rock or whatever really could experience. He has no ego. He could get a three-year-old to make a good album. He could also give Tom Waits some ideas. The guy is incredible. He likes things a little cleaner than I do. But we get along and meet each other halfway.

LV: What is it about recording to tape that you really love? Can you explain your ‘in the red’ philosophy, just the appeal of raw, loud rock and roll recordings — or even if that’s not totally accurate, can you explain it in your thoughts?

AC: First, I believe that recording to tape is the only true way to respect any musical artist. When they are done and have given the world their songs you can hand them the tape and they can hold all their hard work in their hands. That’s real. Nothing digital is real. Nothing actually exists.

This is a fact. Whatever you are creating right now might not be appreciated for years. If, as an artist you recorded digitally, the likelihood of there being a copy of what you did on some hard drive somewhere is pretty fucking slim.

Because, it’s hard to get somebody to respect something they can’t see or hold in their hands. Nobody recording music deserves that cheat. Think about how worthless music actually became when the internet became the hub of the industry. It’s simple really. If you want something to last, the computer isn’t the place for it.

Second, There is nothing organic about making a digital recording. Recording digitally interprets sound through exact science. I don’t know about you, but when someone told me music was math I told them to fuck off. It’s about Soul. Rhythm, Heart, Feelings, Crying, Screaming. If they wanna call it math it’s because they don’t understand it.

Music is something you feel, not interpret. All these people in music theory classes need to know this. Bach didn’t think about what he was doing. Neither did Robert Johnson. They did what they did because their heart and soul took them there — along with some homemade whatever.

College wants to sell you what they think it is. Experience walks, College talks, mang! If you really wanna do something, you are going to do it. If you think you wanna do something college is gonna be there to charge you for it. Recording to tape is organic. When the sound hits the tape, it absorbs it. When you kiss a woman do you interpret it? Or do you absorb it?

LV: Can you explain the modus operandi, the vibe or the feeling of the Autodramatics’ live show? What do you enjoy about playing live?

AC: I really don’t know what we want to accomplish. What I love about playing live personally is getting all my shit out. Cleaning out the closet. Venting. It’s the only time [to vent] and I think the biggest reason a lot of musicians play live. I hate hearing people piss and moan quietly behind each others back because they are frustrated with life. Life is frustrating. I don’t blame people for being frustrated with planet earth. Most just quietly complain about life through text messages. I like bottling it all up and letting it out all at once.

LV: Would you talk about the onstage, musical relationship of guitar, drums and female vocalists and backup singers like the classic girl groups, the Ronettes, rawer gospel stuff, the backup singers on Exile on Main Street, Ike & Tina, etc. What do you really love about the rhythm and blues or rock and roll female vocalists? It’s a strong part of your band, obviously.

Daniela Caffrey (aka Danni DeKille) and Sarah Cram Driscoll of the Dirty Dishes
Daniela Caffrey (aka Danni DeKille) and Sarah Cram Driscoll of the Dirty Dishes

AC: Obviously, I love all the groups and albums you talk about. The biggest influence at first was the Ike and Tina Revue. We just wanted to do something further and different from that.

Louder, harder, and new! The new record I think is more PJ Harvey, Supremes, VU, Pussy Galore. We never wanted to recreate some ’50-60s girl group. The Autodramatics is as much unlike them as it is like them. I take as much influence from the Germs as I do The Ronettes.

LV: What do you think about Iowa City’s current state of music? When was the rock and roll heyday for Iowa City?

AC: I don’t really know if rock and roll ever had a heyday in Iowa City. I guess I never thought of what I was doing to be a trend. I don’t really know a lot about the scene in Iowa City. I only lived there for a little over a year. I know this much. I like living as far away from any scene as possible. For me it’s really hard to express myself in a place with so much hype and peer pressure. I don’t think the Autodramatics could have been born in a scene-based town.

LV: The Autodramatics played a few really cool shows this summer. Would you tell me a bit about the high points. How was playing with the Oblivians?! Their new record is incredible. And, tell me about Gonerfest. How excited are you about that? It’s going to be like a family reunion.

AC: We played at the Mill in Iowa City for the Firecracker 500. We also played at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, opening for the Oblivians. I can’t believe it happened. We worked so hard over the years to get an opportunity like that. That place, The Empty Bottle, is incredible and really treats musicians how they are supposed to treated, just as people. It wasn’t how I remembered playing out of town when The Horrors went out. No attitude from anyone at all. The whole staff from the sound man to doorman was so concerned with us being comfortable. I thought I was playing at a venue in Europe. We played better than we ever played.

As you mentioned, we got invited to Gonerfest 10. One week of old friends and amazing times. All I can say it is a dream come true for all of us. We really can’t believe it’s happening. I got a set list already written for Death Ray (Viva L’American Death Ray Music aka VLADRM).

LV: Thanks, Andy. Lastly, can you tell me about “Find the Gun.” Just explain it all; The theme, the recording, what went into it. That is an absolutely brilliant song and recording. “Need A Man” comes close to. It sounds so big.

AC: Find the Gun was originally written about my dad and morphed into a song about a couple who doesn’t wanna see each other die slowly or get sick and die miserably. It’s about loving and leaving the earth exactly poetic. My father got really sick years back and it was like I was watching him die in a terrible way. I felt that he, nor anyone else, would want that. My dad always told me that if he ever got too bad to find a gun.

The recordings of these songs sound so big and good mainly because of Tucker Burnes, Mike McHugh; and as far as “Don’t Need a Man” goes, Sarah and Latisha Lee. Their background vocals sound big because they belt it out and they sing brilliant.

LV: Just from a musical instrument nerd’s perspective, and I’m sure many folks share my curiosity, what kind of guitar do you play onstage? I remember at the Green Room years ago, it seems like you had this little, beat up, acoustic guitar onstage, but the sound was huge, raw and fuzzed out in the most perfect way. It was also very clear and strong. What was that?

AC: I play a 1965 Fender Duo Sonic II on the new record. I also play a Danelectro baritone onstage. The Guitar I played back then is now retired. An old 1948 Army issue Gibson Acoustic. Combined with an acoustic pickup a company made with a whole lot of output. Played through an old Sears amp. That makes its own sound for sure.