Scattered somewhere throughout the academic corridors of Great Britain, like pieces of a trashed GMTV set, are four very confused admissions tutors. Faced with the choice of spending years getting drunk and in debt as students, or drunk and famous as rockstars, the four boys who would be The Automatic really only ever had one option.
"The plan," says Iwan Griffiths, "was take a year out, see how the band goes and when it came to September, decide whether to go or not."
"I got a form but they said I had to send a written letter," considers Alex Pennie, "and I didn't bother doing that. I guess they've got the gist by now."
To all the people he might have cured in an alternative career as a psychotherapist, Pennie apologies. But it's rock'n'roll's gain. In The Automatic, Pennie plays keyboards, jumps around like a gibbon, shrieks alien backing vocals behind Rob's solid leads and "when in doubt just bangs a cow bell." The first record he ever bought was "probably 'Now 35', but that's not very cool, is it?"
Pennie became the final piece of the puzzle after a Teen Spirit under-18s show in Cardiff a couple of years ago when he saw an early version of a band then called White Rabbit, and he thought they were "pretty cool."
There was Rob Hawkins, the latest in the fine tradition of the singing bass player. Now, he says the best thing about being in The Automatic is "never being bored, ever," but back then was having to contend with choosing his A-Levels, and settling on a second guitarist for the band. "It always turns into a fight."
The first guitarist was always going to be James Frost, a wide-eyed emo-boy and axe hero in waiting who, if we wasn't a hotly-tipped rock guitarist, would be a pro-golfer. He would rather be chased by a Mummy than a Skeleton because it would have poor eyesight. "I'm not a good runner," he says, but I reckon a Mummy would be a lot worse."
Completing the line-up was drummer Iwan Griffiths, who harbors dreams of opening a beach bar in Hawaii, is satisfied in The Automatic because he "gets free beer in exchange for playing with his mates", let alone royalties. He reckons Frankenstein was "a pussy."
Seeing the potential for an elfin keyboard player with onstage Tourettes in the modern punk-pop troop, they ditched the other hopeful guitarists and recruited Pennie, whose limited ability at the time was aided by his KORG-EA1 being "basically a My First Keyboard." And anyway, when he tried vocals on an At The Drive-In cover they saw they had performance gold. Now he's graduated to the far more advanced Alhesis Micron and the "old skool" Roland Juno and The Automatic have patented their own sound.
The boys had bonded over shared loves of Blur, Ash and Radiohead, but cutting their live teeth on the screamo-heavy Cardiff scene saw them grow close to the experimental hardcore bands like Jarcrew, which put them in a unique position.
"It affected us in a good way though," says Frost, "we didn't feel pressure to play the same music as all the other bands. We didn't look at a band and say 'cos they're doing that we're gonna do something totally different. We could absorb the best bits."
And in turn, The Automatic were able to mine a virgin sound, as Rob's pummeling bass wraps itself round Iwan's nuclear, physical drums, Frost and Pennie skate over at speed, creating an urgent, glam hardcore fantasy island of sounds as ambitious, deranged, angry and fun as the sound of the future should be…
Having signed to B-Unique, a stint of intensive recording in Liverpool, Cardiff and Lincoln produced 'Not Accepted Anywhere', the band's Steve Harris and Richard Jackson-produced debut album. It's the most restless, energetic, urgent album you'll hear all year.
First, the burnt-on-your earlobes blast of debut single 'Recover' announced The Automatic's arrival before next single 'Raoul' crashed into the Top 40. Then, in summer 2005, 'Monster' planted its mammoth footprint into the top 10 and things went crazy in Automatic World.
'Monster' became the soundtrack to 2006, being sung from the terraces to the playground, soundtracking Panorama (!) and making The Automatic one of the must see acts over the summer. Each festival appearance was a show stealer – T In The Park, Reading and the Leeds festivals saw thousands of frenzied fans inside The Automatic's tent, with just as many outside trying to get in to catch a glimpse of their new heroes.
Then the band toured trotted the globe, Hasselhoff shrine safely installed in the back of the tour bus, while back in blighty, 'Not Accepted Anywhere' continued to spawn daytime radio-conquering singles, the band won a Vodaphone Live Awrard and were nominated for a Kerrang Award, while Rob, Pennie, Iwan and Frost graced magazine covers across the nation.
Now, having recently completed another sweaty, bouncy, victory lap of a tour, selling out their biggest headline shows to date, The Automatic are now preparing to launch into 2007 with the sublime new single 'Recover'. And with 'Not Accepted Anywhere' now certified gold, having clocked up close to 200,000 sales, The Automatic's joint gap year is starting to look like a very smart idea indeed.