When I was a boy just beginning to understand the powerful appeal of music, there were only two obstacles between me and the fruits of the few bands that I decided were my favorites: my mom and that parental advisory sticker that started showing up on CDs in the 1990s.
A similar predicament was found in the early years of Gelu Sulugiuc, lead singer and guitarist of the band Automatic Slim which will be coming to UC Irvine on Feb. 24 after playing several West Coast dates and showcasing for labels in Los Angeles. But instead of an over-protective mother, Sulugiuc had to answer to the Communist government of Romania, which banned rock music in the country until 1989.
Fortunately for once-deprived Eastern-European teenagers everywhere, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix posters were raised onto bedroom walls as the Iron Curtain fell. Sulugiuc turned out to be one of those lucky individuals who benefited from the government change, not only by being able to listen to rock music, but by discovering that he could contribute to the genre.
Sulugiuc’s road to success began when he moved to the United States from Romania to attend Ithaca College in New York. In 2002 he moved to New York City, formed a band, and called it Automatic Slim.
‘I like the blues a lot. I like Howlin’ Wolf and in this song that he’s got called ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ he’s calling all his friends downtown for a party and they all have nicknames and one of the nicknames is Automatic Slim,’ Sulugiuc said. ‘I was like, ‘Hey that sounds good.’ I should just call [my band] Automatic Slim.’
Soon after, the band’s lineup underwent some adjustments and was not solidified until 2003 when bassist Greta Brinkman and drummer Nelson Pla joined Sulugiuc. Before joining Automatic Slim, Brinkman had established herself as a serious rock bassist, touring with Moby in support of his albums ’18’ and ‘Play.’ Like Sulugiuc, Brinkman and Pla both have international influences in their background in addition to their talents as musicians.
‘Greta was born in South Africa but she has American parents,’ Sulugiue said. ‘Nelson, even though he comes from a Cuban family, was born and raised in New Jersey.’
This lineup has been touring in support of its first LP entitled ‘Daisy Cutter,’ mostly on East Coast college campuses. The CD displays the band’s blues-influenced version of harder rock, likened on its Web site to bands ranging from Queens of the Stone Age to Neil Young.
‘We produced it ourselves,’ Sulugiuc said. ‘It was fun, going in there and just getting ideas from the recording process. You think the song is ready and it’s finished and then stuff comes up at the last minute.’
In addition to fronting the band, Sulugiuc is the primary songwriter and explained that he usually writes the instrumentals first, then the melody and finally the lyrics.
‘I always have a melody in my head but I am always afraid that I am going to forget it.’ Sulugiuc said. ‘So I record the guitar on the recorder and then I also hum a melody along. In order to remember it, I’ll just use some lyrics from a song that already exists from some band that I like. Later, I have to go back and write the lyrics.’
Though the album was recorded in Manhattan without a producer, the band decided to complete the record with some professional assistance.
‘We had it mastered at the Hit Factory, which was kind of weird because we were on this really low budget and then all of a sudden we are in this big studio with platinum records on the wall. I was like, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t be here,” Sulugiuc said.
More platinum records will be attempted by Automatic Slim this month when they come to the West Coast to showcase for labels that became interested in the band after their song ‘Never the Same’ became popular on College Radio.
‘I don’t know all the labels because our lawyer is dealing with that, but Epic and Columbia are two of them,’ Sulugiuc said. ‘It’s mostly majors but I always say bring some independents in there. I don’t really care who it is as long as they pay for me to make a record.’
This seems to have been the case with ‘Daisy Cutter’ on the East Coast, though the band is not well known out West. Sulugiuc stated that he found the East Coast’s response to the band’s music to be strong, though mostly outside of the city.
‘It’s always better to go outside New York City. In NYC there are so many bands and people are kinda jaded,’ Sulugiuc said. ‘If you just go to Jersey, a small town, where the only thing that happens [on a given] weekend is that a club has a band on, they go crazy. The band plays better because you feed off that energy.’
Despite this description of Manhattan, which sounds pretty similar to the way shows go around Los Angles, Sulugiuc’s most memorable show was in New York City.
‘This one particular night everything was running late. There were all these people there who had come to see a particular band but ended up seeing completely different bands,’ Sulugiuc said. ‘Everybody was drunk and the club was packed. There were these strangers there in the front row going crazy while all my friends were in the back. I knew that they really meant it because you know my friends might fake it.’
Automatic Slim will play at UC Irvine on Feb. 24 at the Student Center Terrace.
Filed Under: A & E