Photography Casey Rearick
The best feeling in the world is turning off all the lights, getting comfortable, putting on headphones, and fading away into a masterpiece of an album.
Automatic Weapons’ full length debut Young Lovers/Dystopian Future is that masterpiece. The album was released in December of 2017 and quickly caught the ear of the city, making Automatic Weapons and their cinematic and precise sound a household name for anyone plugged into the Cleveland music scene.
The band has been semi-elusive in their popularity, playing only a handful of shows and focusing mostly on writing. 2018 is currently dedicated to releasing their second full-length album as well as a national tour. No free time, only Automatic Weapons.
“There’s no waking moment where I am not thinking about this band,” says Vinny DiFranco, lead singer and 50 percent of Automatic Weapons. “There’s a madness to this, there is a crack in my brain somewhere that makes me need this.”
Somewhere in a western suburb of Cleveland, there is an unassuming building behind an extremely normal looking house on a main road. The small building with vinyl siding is Spider Studios, the product of Producer and Engineer Ben Schigel’s hard work and determination. As of this publication, Automatic Weapons is conducting biweekly collaborative recording sessions at the studio for their upcoming album, which is still without a set release date.
At one particular session, Vinny and Mike Bashur, the other 50 percent of the band, are pleased with the days work. This is obvious from the duo’s body language, as Vinny bounced around the room with a smile locked on his face. Meanwhile, Mike pulled his best James Dean, crossing his arms behind his head in an air of total relaxation.
There was also the excitement of getting to put individual ideas together in the same location. Automatic Weapons works in a modern age of songwriting which is email heavy and somewhat isolated from one another during the writing process. This way of conducting business is not accidental.
As veterans of the music scene for close to 20 years, Vinny and Mike want to blaze a new path outside of the democratic rehearsal space archetype that they have lived in for the last decade, which includes their former project Ohio Sky. Automatic Weapons is the anti-band.
“The original thought was, let’s treat the studio like a blank canvas and do the work here versus in a practice spot with four other dudes,” Vinny proclaims. Both of them nod their heads at this statement before Mike adds, “With the studio being your canvas, you can get as lush and expansive as you want.”
The expanse grows exponentially as the band breaks the walls of its chrysalis until the day it will evolve into its true form. Maybe this is due to the lack of friction between Mike and Vinny. They both work out of separate studio spaces everyday after getting home from their day jobs. This cycle continues, as they’ll send each other the day’s work and ponder for a while before reuniting at Spider Studios again for a few days to really bring that sucker home.
“Shit just comes together so quick because of our process,” Mike says with a laugh, probably thinking about his days grinding away five nights a week in Los Angeles clubs with a previous project.
“I don’t listen to anything as much as I listen to my own music,” Vinny says unapologetically as he leans back in a comfortable-looking office chair with zero shame. Mike agrees in a show of wonderful confidence in the project. The two musicians have been there and they sure as hell have done that, and now they’re in a deep love affair with the art that they’re making together.
A key value of Automatic Weapons is the respect toward the merit of the artistic process and the love of the product released at the end of it. So what about the paycheck, fame, and private jets? “Making it?” Vinny asks as he leans forward. “I don’t even know what the fuck that means anymore. You have to be doing this for an absolutely pure reason or else you’ll be behind the curve forever.”
There is a maturity in the sound of Automatic Weapons, unachievable by younger men concerned with immediate success. Each track is crafted under a microscope, with delicate consideration paid to the relationship between tone, melody, rhythm, and lyrics. There are few standout singles due to every song being meticulously developed and perfected. This patience comes with age.
“I think that’s the hardest part, just how much you get judged as you get older, there’s such a perception with people that this is all just a phase,” Mike admits as he looks at the floor with his hands behind his head. “If I had a check saying this song made ‘x’ amount of money, the idea would be validated in their minds. There’s zero understanding of the joy that comes from making the music that you love without a monetary value put on it.”
The long, hard road out of Cleveland is not too far in the future for Automatic Weapons. A national tour with Mr. Gnome was all but certain until unfortunate life events on Mr. Gnome’s end threw a wrench in the gears of those plans. Not that it won’t happen, it’s just up in the air right now.
“I think we’re on the cusp of discovering something sonically that I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d achieve,” Vinny explains. “That’s what I would consider making it right now, sharing my music with someone new every night.”
“You can go to any city on any night and see some dime-a-dozen performance, but leaving strangers in awe every night is my idea of making it these days,” Mike adds.
Automatic Weapons does not slack on the live show, but as we all know, there’s only one way to know that. But don’t expect them to compromise their values.
“I sat there in disgust and contempt,” Vinny reminisces about a conversation he had with a label rep regarding the prospects of Vinny buying his way onto a tour recently. Numbers were thrown around, which roughly equaled a brand new Honda Accord in order to open on a national tour. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s complete vile assholes preying on the simple childhood dream of being on stage,” Vinny continues.
Mike talks about his days trying to make it in LA and paying $800 to play 30 minutes at Whisky a Go Go. Meanwhile some high school kids from the beach suburbs would play later in the night because their parents bought all of their tickets, plus more.
“It ruined it for me,” Mike says, shaking his head. “You eventually realize your own worth, and that is a beautiful moment.”
The second half of Automatic Weapons’ 2017 album Young Lovers/Dystopian Future deals with these feelings directly, along with the fervor that followed the 2016 election.
“I tried to stay out of politics and world news when writing this album, and then this fucking election happened and there was no ignoring it anymore,” Vinny says as he throws his hands up and slaps his knees. Mike shrugs and agrees, adding “It’s impossible to turn a blind eye to what’s going on right now, no one’s sure if we’re going to be alive tomorrow.”
Hopefully we’re all alive long enough for Automatic Weapons upcoming release. Judging by the palpable joy radiating off of them as they talk about the new songs, it has the potential to be one of the best albums to come out of the city in a long time. The love of music and attention to detail that Vinny and Mike ooze is not only contagious, but also very motivating. This city is volcanically creative in nature but Automatic Weapons sticks out as something unique and promising. The future holds very big things for these gentlemen.