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Those who have seen Classic Automatic perform live would probably be surprised to learn that they came from quiet and humble folk origins. The band members themselves know they’ve come a long way from their first acoustic shows more than a year ago at coffee shops like the Peace Frog. The first show was only 20 minutes long and was witnessed by about five people. Fast forward to this year’s Battle of the Bands X season where they rocked out in front of a significantly larger crowd that received them warmly and achieved high scores from the judges. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for Classic Automatic, their flirtations with folk got them to realize that their modest, but fun-loving, boisterous personalities needed to be reflected in their music. Since ditching their folk roots, Classic Automatic have been brewing their own brand of garage/alternative music that offers the older crowds hard rock and metal reminiscent of Led Zeppelin and still attracts the college crowd with bluesy tinges of Black Keys and White Stripes. Originating through friendship and a shared interest in music, the seeds of Classic Automatic were sown about five years ago when brothers Mike (guitar) and Brian Newsome (bass) were joined by Kyle Hettinger who was just learning drums after playing trumpet throughout middle school.Jesse Yoder joined later as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. The largely self-taught players have utilized a highly collaborative approach to songwriting: a member approaches the band with an idea for a riff or lyrics set to a melody; the song is then built off that component and diligently rehearsed and fine-tuned for a live performance.
Not long after the group decided to travel on the alternative rock path, the songs became more fun, and as a result, the band was having more fun as well. However, as rehearsals became more focused and intense, the band did have to learn to be more laid back. “In the beginning we would take it super-serious, and get pissed off at each other whenever someone made a mistake,” Yoder said. “We also play better when we’re having fun. Whenever someone makes a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.” Classic Automatic have since taught each other to achieve the delicate balance between having fun during rehearsals while still maintaining a strong work ethic.
The collaborative efforts and work ethic proved themselves on September 20 when patrons at O’Sullivan’s in Fort Wayne learned that you can’t pin down this band as exclusively playing alternative rock. Throughout the band’s 90-minute set, those in the audience were treated to some country songs that had never before played for an audience, followed by an R&B set with a friend, Pamela Shue, adding soulful vocals. This is a band that is open to trying a variety of ideas that will potentially resonate with new listeners. Judging by the number of nodding heads and visible smiles during these sets, Classic Automatic’s audacious approach toward blending hard rock with conflicting music genres seems to be paying off.
Classic Automatic have put together a catalog of 23 original songs along with a few covers, and new material is added to their set every so often. They have recorded three rough demos with a simple 4-track recorder and posted the results on their ReverbNation. Last February they performed an hour-long set on NIPR’s Meet the Music program.
“It was fun because we had never been in a studio place like that, and it was cool to see how much they cared about local music,” said Mike Newsome. “It was our thing. We got to play altogether, and it was neat knowing people were going to hear it. It was like a live show and that’s how we handled it.” Kyle said.
This past spring, with those experiences under their belts, band members felt it was time to really push themselves and enroll in whatzup/Wooden Nickel Battle of the Bands X. The experience gave them the opportunity to meet and be on the same bill with older, more experienced bands and to reach out to the crowds those bands brought along with them. Classic Automatic played three total Battle of the Bands sets, including one in the semifinals round. They rehearsed intensively to make sure that no one set would be the same. They closed every set, however, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” which seemed to generate the most positive crowd response.
“Even though it’s a cover song, we were reluctant to take it out of the set because we spent so much time working on it,” Hettinger said. “No regrets. People seemed to like the song.”
Classic Automatic’s progress as a band hasn’t come without some bumps along the way. Recently, Brian Newsome left the band to be with his fiancée who is attending law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Leaving the band was hard because not only were they my bandmates, but they were my family and friends,” he said. “Everyone knew that I was moving away when we formed the band, so we made the most of it. But every now and then I would hear a ‘dang, I wish you didn’t have to leave!’ or ‘how are we supposed to replace you?’ But anytime someone in the band would fret, no pun intended, it would make me feel good because I knew they cared so much.”
Fortunately, a friend of the band, Taylor Williams, was able to join them as the new bassist immediately after Brian Newsome’s departure. Williams had a lot of catching up to do, but he was able to accomplish the extraordinary feat of learning 20 songs within two weeks.
“I’ve had a blast for the past month, but it was hectic for the first two weeks learning as many songs as I could,” he said. Since Williams shared a lot of the same musical tastes and styles as the rest of the band, the transition went smoothly.
While Classic Automatic consider themselves loners in the local music scene, they have made friends with other bands along the way. They don’t necessarily concern themselves with what they contribute to the local music scene, but one of their goals is to be recognized and liked by other bands. That’s a goal they have largely accomplished since participating in the Battle of the Bands. With a new bassist in tow, new ideas in development and prospective opportunities to record and release more material, Classic Automatic’s ongoing tale is likely to have new chapters on the horizon.