Success is often a matter of who you know. But sometimes it’s more about who you don’t know. A year ago, Autolux had never crossed paths with Trent Reznor and hadn’t spent much time listening to his band, Nine Inch Nails. But Reznor took an immediate interest in the group, which is based in Los Angeles’ Silverlake neighborhood, and started a crusade to enlighten the uninitiated in early 2005.
“We would play shows and kids would come up to us and say, ‘I heard about you from an interview Trent Reznor did,’ ” drummer, singer and co-songwriter Carla Azar said. “Then we found out he was playing our music before Nine Inch Nails shows as people were coming in, which we never expected. So to be asked by him to open on the Nine Inch Nails tour is really unbelievable.”
Autolux, who have been playing clubs since shortly after forming in 2000, will be the openers on Nine Inch Nails’ arena tour, remaining on the bill from September 16 in San Diego to October 14 in Saint Louis. (Death From Above 1979 will take over on October 16 in San Antonio, Texas, through November 19 in West Valley City, Utah.) Autolux will also play two shows with the White Stripes: August 13 in Berkeley, California, and August 17 in Los Angeles.
While Autolux’s hazy experimental rock is pretty far removed from the rigid beats, angry guitars and cathartic screams of Nine Inch Nails, it’s easy to see what attracted Reznor. The band’s debut album, Future Perfect, is striking and imagistic, combining Sonic Youth’s dissonance, My Bloody Valentine’s wobbly psychedelia, the Pale Saints’ twee vocals, and Garbage’s spiky pop into a sound that’s totally accessible yet unlike anything on commercial radio.
Reznor wasn’t the only veteran rocker taken in by Autolux’s brand of California dreaming. Legendary producer and one-time Bob Dylan sideman T-Bone Burnett signed, produced and nurtured the band from two years after its formation until today. “He’s the most modern-thinking individual I’ve ever met,” Azar said. “He knows what he likes and he doesn’t have to have a pack of A&R people making decisions for him. He saw us when there were only eight people in the audience, and he came right up to us afterward and said, ‘I’m going to start a label and I’m going to sign you guys.’ ”
Prior to Autolux during the late ’90s, Azar played drums in Ednaswap and guitarist Greg Edwards played bass in Failure. They met and became friends while on tour with Local H. After leaving Ednaswap, Azar met former Maids of Gravity singer Eugene Goreshter through a mutual acquaintance; in 1999 the two wrote music for a local theatrical production of “The Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” The project went so well that Goreshter asked Azar to form a band with him.
“He asked me who else I’d want to play with,” Azar recalled, “and I said, ‘The only one would be Greg, but he’s in a band called Failure.’ Within three months, Failure broke up and Greg came knocking on my door. It was fate, literally.”
Autolux started jamming with Goreshter on guitar and Edwards on bass. They immediately felt they had a strong chemistry, but they really knew they were onto something when they switched instruments one day for kicks. “They were both playing really unnatural things and it made everything sound inspiring and original,” Azar said. “That was always the goal. We didn’t really like any of the music coming out of the city, so we wanted to make music we liked.”
The band recorded a five-song demo, Demonstration, before recording its debut with Burnett. Unfortunately, the group’s progress was delayed for almost a year when Azar tripped onstage and broke her elbow. “It was really bad,” she said. “One doctor said I’d probably never play drums again. But I found an orthopedic surgeon who put a bunch of screws in my elbow and fixed me up.”
Once Autolux were up to speed again, they wrote a new batch of material and entered the studio with Burnett in November 2003. While the band was clearly up to the task of recording its debut, the group felt pretty insecure at first.
“It was so bizarre,” Azar said. “T-Bone didn’t feel we needed a producer. But we thought we had to have someone to keep things organized and manage our emotional systems. We’re so hard on ourselves that we’ll talk ourselves out of anything. It’s really helpful to have another person there to say, ‘Yeah, that was a great take.’ Having him there for us was just what we needed, because he’s someone we respect and we trust his judgment. He really helped the album turn out the way it did.”
With Future Perfect selling well and receiving accolades from high places, Autolux have a good chance of rising to heights Failure and Ednaswap never reached. Of course, that probably wouldn’t make Azar feel any more confident.
“Every night I’m just surprised people still want to come see us,” she said. “I feel like we’re lucky to play in front of 200 people, let alone 2,000.”