Name: Automatic
Members: Halle Saxon, Izzy Glaudini, Lola Dompe
Interviewees: Izzy Glaudini, Lola Dompe

Nationality: American

Occupations: Bassist, vocalist, songwriter (Halle Saxon), drummer, vocalist, songwriter (Lola Dompé), synthesizist, vocalist, songwriter (Izzy Glaudini)
Current Release: Automatic's Excess, the follow-up to their widely acclaimed debut Signal, is out via Stones Throw.

If you enjoyed this interview with Automatic and would like to keep up to date with their work, visit their official website. The band are also on Instagram, and Facebook.

Your new album Excess is not a concept album per se, but it does have a sort of an overarching theme. What's your view of lyrics with “messages”?

Lola: I’ve always been more affected by the way a lyric makes me feel. Maybe on a more subconscious level I’ve experienced a sense of action from song lyrics or a spark of inspiration or a mood shift that made me feel empowered, for example.

Izzy: Punk music wears its intentions pretty blatantly on its sleeve. So when writing overtly political songs I guess it’s most effective to be straightforward. On the other hand, some of my favourite lyricists are very ambiguous with language, more stream of consciousness. I don’t think there are rules. Like Lola said, it’s really the end result that matters.

Over the years, several lyrics did make me think, a few even make concrete changes to my life (just like many others, I became a vegetarian after hearing and thinking about “Meat is Murder”).

Do you think that music still today has the power to really make people change their minds about something or to take concrete action?

Lola: I don’t know! I think the music world is very saturated at the moment and songs might not mean as much as they used to. But if anything I think music can offer a comforting sense of community or simply a momentary fun release from society’s dark side.

Izzy: I think the right music can definitely solidify a feeling of defiance, activism, and a strong resistance of authority. I’ll never get sick of watching kids blast NWA’s “fuck the police” a foot away from stupid looking cops.

I wanna discover more music that has that spirit … when it works, it really works.

In terms of the creative process, when did it become clear that Excess would be based around a theme – and why do you think that these topics presented themselves precisely at this point in time?

Izzy: Unfortunately,  it’s not really an option to ignore the horrors of America right now - climate change, racism, and right wing extremism - things seem to be ramping up.We had to think about it everyday living in LA - between the forest fires, abusive cops, and creepy anti-maskeres running around, we’re basically living in a comic book.

Case in point: our record came out the day Roe V Wade was overturned. It was a really shitty day, and the image on our album cover took on a new meaning.

Lola: It would have felt disingenuous to me to not write about what is going on in the world today. The pandemic made it so that you couldn't escape certain thoughts and feelings that reflected the state of the current world. So in that sense, it felt natural to write about topics of extreme excess and greed and what it does to society.

The press release states that there was a concerted effort to “conditioned us for certain values”. The interesting thing is that this seminal shift you describe, from the late 70s to the early 80s, was not just a commercial one, it was also directly reflected in the music of that time. What attracts you about it?

Lola: Maybe it’s the combination of media having such a strong hold on society, mixed with there being more mainstream artists rebelling against consumer and capitalist values in a playful and approachable way.

Izzy: I know the late 70s gets romanticised to death for its “authenticity”, and we’re definitely guilty of that. But it's not surprising. Capitalist brainwashing and neoliberalism really took a hold of people’s psyches since the punk / weirdo 70s. People are walking around in 2022 and they want to literally be brands. (laughs) The 80s was the obvious turning point, it's the origin story!

Did the lyrical concept and the music grow together?

Lola: We usually write the music together in a room and then, based on the mood of the song or the concepts we want to convey, the lyrics follow. It was definitely harder to physically get together to write this album. It was also such an overwhelming time which made it hard to feel inspired creatively for me.

Izzy: We hadn’t played these songs live, so we did a lot of the writing in the studio. Honestly, we’re so minimal that I don’t think it made much of a difference!

It was more the atmosphere of the world around us that felt urgent, and different. 2020 was an interesting year to be a writer.

Of course, at their peak, the 60s and 70s, which some of your current videos also reference, were about trying to escape the corporate treadmill. You once mentioned one goal for you was to try and be successful enough to quit your day jobs. Is music quite literally an alternative reality for you?

Lola: Music is as much a part of the corporate treadmill reality as any other career but it’s something I like doing, something I know how to do, and it’s one way I can try to add something positive to the world.

Izzy: Second that!

As it so happens, Moog as a synthesizer company was also founded in the 60s … Do you think these synthesizers don't just look and sound great, but also have a philosphy that makes for a good match with yours?

Izzy: Yes I feel a lot of ‘synergy’ with Moog, pardon my French.

Our band is founded a bit more on taste than technique. So when we write we have to explore a lot and do things the “wrong” way. Synths are very approachable to non-musicians, even if they can look all mad-scientist. At the end of the day, anyone can play a synth, anyone can make music, it’s just fun.

Lola: I think Moog and synthesisers in general give people a sense of the future, whether that’s combined with hope or with dread - it's a powerful tool.

What is it about the Moog that keeps you satisfied - whereas other electronic musicians will often develop a compulsive urge to expand their studio?

IZZY: I’ve had a few synths since this band started. My main synth has pretty consistently been a Prophet Rev-2 by Dave Smith (RIP). To be honest I’m starting to get tired of the prophet, so I’m keeping my eye out.

I need something with presets because the idea of dialling in patches live every night on stage seems nightmarish. A lot of vintage synths don’t allow you to save presets, even if they’re much cooler. My second synth used to be a micro Korg, but now I use a Moog sub 25 because it is compact, easy to use, and has that classic Moog sound. Snobs say it’s not as good as other Moogs, but they’re just snobs.

I also don’t have money to buy a new synth / new gear every year. Poor people just have to be more creative!

Lola: We’re either busy working or thinking about this band most days, so I don’t really have time to devote to expanding my studio. It’s a lot of work to be a musician when you have to organize tours, write music, practice, perform, promote yourself, and maintain a side job.

But also, being a drummer, I guess I’m naturally not as much a gear head as others but I do love incorporating electronic samples and triggers into my setup. And as a side note - when I limit myself in some way it’s always helped me to be more inspired and creative.

[Read our feature on the Moog Modular]

Your latest single “Skyscraper” seems to be the thematic centerpiece of the album and it may well be my favourite song you ever wrote – a dark, slow burning anthem. It also has a few interesting things going on musically … How did that song come about – and were there different versions of it?

Lola: That one’s actually my favourite song on the album, because it feels cinematic and gives the sense of a narrative. We rented a very strange airbnb in apple valley, CA which was called the Flying Nun and we wrote this song there, amidst very firey and smoky skies during a crazy pandemic with a lot of social upheaval going on. Then, in Izzy’s apartment in East Hollywood, we wrote the first verse of lyrics together.

Izzy: Sometimes we can learn more inhabiting the point of view of a “villain” than just chastising and being self-righteous.  Devo did this excellently, they’re a great template for a social-critique.

Sonically - I think we recorded this song like three times at different speeds.

What I find exciting about Excess is that you made use of inventive arrangement choices rather than changing up your set up. Tell me about the challenges and joy of exploring new directions with your existing tools.  

Lola: That’s an interesting way to look at it. I think we had a goal to make our songs a little longer, so maybe that encouraged us look more at the arrangement.

Izzy: We try to use space, minimalism, and other limitations to our advantage. I think with this album we were slightly better musicians, the colour palette expanded a little.

We tend to demo songs before we record them, and use that time to think about arrangement … that’s an important step!

Generally speaking, are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

Lola: The world has a lot of stuff in it, if I make anything, I’d like to think I’m adding something new.

Izzy: Yeah there’s so much music released every minute of every day, it's a bit pointless to try to be the new face of the future. I’ll love something that sounds fresh to me, makes me feel excited, but that’s about it. We’re like in the meta, post-blah blah now so anything goes right?

The band is called Automatic, but you're actually playing (almost) all parts yourself … This reminded me of early to mid-Kraftwerk and obviously Joy Division. What changes if you're playing sequences and other typical machine parts by hand?

Izzy: Sequencing is fun for a few songs, because we can add more layers and textures, and maybe move around the stage a bit more. Though we’ll keep including songs like that, in general we like to play things live ourselves.

Lola: I’ve always equated the name automatic to our instinctive and unconditioned nature of song writing. But it’s interesting to think of it in terms of meaning mechanical or pre-programmed.

Izzy: Yes, ‘Automatic’ is more the philosophy behind how we write and exist as a group - if it’s got to have a meaning.