Autamata’s Ken McHugh

Ireland’s Autamata is sometimes electronica, sometimes rock, sometimes acoustic, and always worth checking out. Fortunately you’ll have a chance to when they come back for SXSW.


AUSTIN DAZE: How did you get started in music?

KEN MCHUGH: I was born into a musical family. I started playing traditional Irish music with 4 of my sisters around the west of Ireland from a very early age.

I then sold my soul to the devil and started playing rock music.

Later I learned how to work a studio and this introduced me to electronic and abstract sounds. I now combine all these things into the Autamata sound.

AD: You wear several hats: Composer, musician, and producer. Do they require different personalities? Which is the most challenging? Which is the easiest?

KM: I guess so. I don’t really think about it too much. I just like making music, sometimes my own as Autamata and sometimes for other people. I just like the whole process of making records. Playing live is the most exciting though as I normally rock it out a lot more and jump around “and stuff”. Making a happy album from scratch locked away in a house in the wilds of Ireland during a bleak winter is probably the most challenging.

AD: Did you have a back up plan or alternative to the “When I grow up” question?

KH: It weird I just knew I was going to be doing this. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I do believe you make your own luck in life.

AD: Tell me about the Autamata sound.

KH: Myself just using various instruments at my studio writing instrumental tracks first made the last three albums. For some of these I write lyrics myself and sing and otherwise I get Carol Keogh or Cathy Davey to come hang out and they write the lyrics and sing. So there are some songs and some instrumentals. I don’t get too caught up in what box Autamata is in and just let each track build naturally into whatever it wants to be. I get some mates in then to replace certain parts on instruments I cant play very well and I mix the tracks.

AD: Tell me about the “revolving door” band. How does it work? What’s it like to team up with different musicians? Is this by choice or circumstance?

KH: Well it all just started with me giving albums I made around to friends and then they started to convince me to release them. I put the first album out and it was well received so people started to ask me to play it live. I then got some of my mates together and we set up an Autamata live band to tour the albums.

I really like the current live band though and reckon I will keep this crew together now for a while. There was no plan really. It has all just grown naturally.

AD: I read about your success with advertising and Hollywood. Were you afraid of that at all? Does it mean anything as a musician to go that route? Is there a fear of losing authenticity?

KH: Well I run my own label and publishing company. It’s a little cottage industry. So if someone rings me up offering me some money to use my tunes in a film or an advert that I am not morally against I say yes. I take it as a compliment that people want to use my music to soundtrack their visuals. It enables me to tour and make more albums. Some bands are against this but they are usually on major record companies and have kind of sold themselves to big corporations anyway.

It gets my music to a wider audience without having some An n’ R guy telling me what socks I should be wearing.


AD: How does the music culture differ in Ireland and the UK in comparison to here?

KH: It pretty similar. There is pop, there is indie and then there is shit!

UK is very haircut driven at the moment. It seems to matter more about what shoes you are wearing than the music with most bands just completely ripping off older bands. Ireland has a really big independent scene where a lot of artists just set up their own labels and release their own albums. The scene is seriously fresh at the moment. After being in Austin though I have to agree that it is the “music capital of the world.” You don’t have bands playing as much in restaurants and Whole Foods stores in Ireland. We don’t have many original Hip hop/RNB acts though.

AD: How was your response been in the states?

KH: Our first gig at the ACL festival was amazing. People seemed to really like our set. Lots of love! We rock it out a lot more live which surprises a lot of people.

We would like to come back lots more and play around the states.


AD: America is…

KH: Hot, friendly, big on breakfast, confident.

AD: Ireland is…

KH: Cold, not as friendly as we think, big on drinking, greener, more clannish and a little easier going.

AD: Tell me about your musical influences.

KH: The Beach boys, Bork, Massive attack, Daft Punk, The Cure, The future sound of London, My bloody Valentine, Kate Bush.

AD: The world seems to be coming to an end these days. Are you creatively affected by that? Is there a sense of responsibility to provide relief; a voice; anything?

KH: Well there is a song we wrote for our first album called “out of this” that is a good soundtrack to the times we are living in and giving hope. It’s up on our myspace page www.myspace.com/autamata.

Otherwise I am writing an album under a different name “spectator” at the moment. It’s all instrumental and a lot darker than most of the autamata stuff so I guess the world-ending syndrome is affecting me a little.

AD: Have you ever experienced a time of “no inspiration”?

KH: Yes. When this happens I just work on other people’s records, make s a video or just do a lot of cooking. If all this fails I just go to the pub.

AD: Do you think it’s possible to run out of material?

KH: Nah, never. There is always new music to root up that will influence me into getting back into the studio and making more of my own tracks. I do believe I will be doing this until I am 90 or something. I doubt I will be promoting albums then but ill be making music just for my kids and hopefully, myself.

AD: Do you consider yourself an optimistic person?

KH: It’s my middle name.

AD: What’s next?

We just recorded a live radio session for 2fm here in Ireland. It’s actually being played on air now as I type. Ill post the tracks on my space for people to hear more what we sound like live. I’m going to finish off this spectator album I spoke about.

Then I plan to get the current autamata live band into the studio and write a killer album together in the studio rather than just by myself as we have a really good energy as a “band”. So maybe Autamata is turning into a band! Always evolving!

We are booking in more gigs and plan to head back to Austin for SXSW.

AD: Anything else?

KH: New album is now available in Waterloo records y’all.

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