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Automatic Widens Their Scope to Confront Corporate Chaos

As the post-punk lashings continue through Automatic's sophomore effort Excess, the Los Angeles trio synthesize a new strain of retrofuturist motorik avant-pop with a doomy edge. We caught up with the trio to dive deeper into their cinematic sheen of apocalyptic grooves, the visual aesthetics of their recent music videos, and taking aim at today's grim reality.

Photo by Dana Trippe

Automatic — the L.A. trio of Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals) and Halle Saxon-Gaines (bass, vocals), returned last summer with their cinematic second album Excess. Following 2019's debut LP Signal, which showed the band absorbing bass-heavy post-punk minimalism, Excess displays the trio expanding their tonality and cutting further into the angular world of brooding art-punk and adventurous avant-pop while distilling the social realities of the pandemic, corporate culture, and climate change. Released through the celebrated L.A. label Stones Throw, the ultra-rich and brasher coolness across Excess sounds like a natural progression from where Automatic was four years ago with producer Joo-Joo Ashworth (Froth, Sasami, The Paranoyds). On the opening track "New Beginning," the band turn their deadpan critiques into cold wave hooks and handclap percussion. The robotic etchings of Kraftwerk, Suicide, and Tubeway Army are all over "Automaton," a track about having to deprogram yourself from a capitalist approach to life. The hypnotic synth lines and pulsating motorik groove tightens the tension on "Teen Beat," while "NRG" creates a massive sense of urgency with its semi-sweet vocal melody and tightly wound rhythms bouncing between synthesized and human touches. While they've shared bills recently with Osees, Parquet Courts, and Omni, Automatic reaffirms themselves as one of the West Coast's most promising bands right now.


Ahead of their tour this spring with Brooklyn psych-rockers Crumb, we caught up with the trio to dive deeper into their cinematic sheen of apocalyptic grooves, the visual aesthetics of their recent music videos, and taking aim at today's grim reality.

Paperface Zine: Tell us about how Automatic formed in 2017 and the journey you've shared together to get to this point. What brought you three together?


Izzy Glaudini: We didn't know each other very well before starting this band, but we would go to the same shows. I would say music brought us together, and we've been able to discover so much about making music and see so much of the world through music, we all feel really lucky. None of us come from "pro" music backgrounds, we all started with very limited skills. Creativity is free for anyone to access regardless of "chops," that’s sort of our philosophy.

PZ: What's something that you admire about Lola's and Halle's playing?


IG: I really admire Halle's bass playing it’s very melodic and is often what we build our songs around. It's really unique too and it makes up a large part of our sound. I also really like collaborating with vocal melodies with Lola, because she comes up with lines that are very infectious and fun.


PZ: What's been the evolution like for you as a trio since releasing your debut LP Signals back in 2019?


IG: The pandemic sucked for obvious reasons…but it did allow us to take our time writing this second record. We've seen our fanbase grow a lot which is so trippy and cool. We'll always be a scrappy little DIY band in our hearts.

PZ: Back in October of 2020, you also released a demo tape in correlation with Bandcamp Friday. Can you give us a bit of insight on that and did it set the blueprint for your sound?


Halle Saxon-Gaines: Yes that was the demo that started it all. We developed our ethos by recording that tape, which pronounced to the world that we were not masculine guitar music, that our writing process was based on instinct and feeling, and that we were an analogue band. That tape was the first thing Automatic ever recorded, and the first thing Joo-Joo [Ashworth] ever recorded along with a bloke named Rick James from Manchester, before we were on Stones Throw. We had our friend Cole print a small batch of tapes for us under the name "Suicide Tapes." Those had one side that was long and blank and some were completely blank on accident [laughing]. But Matthew David of Leaving Records, (he also used to work for Stones Throw) encouraged us to re-release it for Bandcamp Friday during the pandemic.


PZ: Last summer, you released your anticipated sophomore album Excess through Stones Throw Records. While you're still exercising in the post-punk and no wave realm, you widen your scope and synthesize a new strain of retro-futurist avant-pop. Talk to us about how this record came together and what the recording sessions were like with Joo-Joo?


Lola Dompé: I appreciate this because we don't really like being labeled post-punk exclusively and we're trying to move away from that in general. I think a big part of our growth was because we got more comfortable playing our respective instruments by the time we wrote the second album. We also had a lot of time to work on it because it was during the height of quarantine. It was also very inspiring working with Joo-Joo because he's very fun to be in the studio with and he really understands and expands our sound.

PZ: Across the album, you touch upon '70s and '80s corporate excess, dystopian sci-fi, climate change, and alienation into ten new songs. How did you approach the songwriting and aim to communicate these concepts?


HSG: We started writing the album in the throes of 2020 quarantine. For a couple months we had all been stewing alone at home on all of these topics like many people had been. In the beginning, to synthesize our thoughts, we made a Venn diagram about the past, present, and future of our world as we saw it. We took those themes to the lyrics and as inspiration for the sound while we were jamming as well.

PZ: How does the cover art correlate with the album's themes?


LD: We shot the album cover at the Salton Sea, which went from a popular vacation destination to a desolate toxic landscape sometime in the '80s. It’s an endorheic lake, causing it to become increasingly more salty over time. Pesticides and other chemicals ran off from agricultural channels into the area resulting in a minor scale apocalypse. So on a much smaller scale, this location represents our delicate planet and what could happen to our world if we don't live within our means. Also the chrome boobs can be considered a representation of excess and the pressures we feel to be "perfect."


PZ: This record feels like it was heavily inspired by classic sci-fi films especially with the music videos for "New Beginning" and "Skyscraper." Were there any that helped develop the concept here?


IG: We're day-dreamers by nature so our songs are like little movies to us. We find the moods of certain films very inspiring. To rattle off a few influences: Tarkovsky, Greg Araki, Fritz Lang, American Psycho, Sorry to Bother You, After Hours, Metropolis, the list could go on and on... I guess they all have to have a tinge of darkness!


PZ: The motorik art pop runs high on the track "Teen Beat. How did this track come about and what did you envision when initially composing it?


IG: I think it was in the thick of lockdown and so we were feeling pretty freakish by the time we wrote "Teen Beat," who knows if that comes across. Halle showed up to practice with a bassline, and we just kind of added layers.

PZ: What's the main thing you'd want listeners to take away from this album?


IG: It can be very serious and sad to think about, but the natural world has hit a breaking point. We don't have the luxury of tuning out and letting the world get run off a cliff by psychopaths. A lot of our music feels inspired by this anxiety… but we also want to spread hope and action. The first step to change is awareness!


PZ: Back in October, you headlined your first ever national tour. What was that experience like and do you have any favorite memories from it? I saw that you played some shows with Atlanta post-punks Omni.


HSG: That tour was very fun and felt very successful. We have such a great and supportive team and the shows filled out great. We had been talking about touring with Omni for a while and finally doing it was so fun. We became fast friends and love those guys even besides the music!


PZ: What was the experience like playing last year's Desert Daze? How important is it to you to play music festivals post-pandemic?

LD: I loved this festival. It's still relatively new and has that DIY feeling, but it always has a great lineup and attracts real music lovers. This was the first festival we ever played too, so it was nice to be invited back again. I grew up going to a lot of music festivals and I think they can have a big impact on people's lives. I saw my favorite shows at festivals.

PZ: What were the shows like in Australia and New Zealand back in January?


LD: It felt amazing to go that far away from home for the first time and play to sold out rooms. I still can't believe we did it. We also loved exploring Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobbiton.

PZ: Moving forward, what's next for Automatic in 2023?


IG: We want to keep traveling the whole damn world! We've just started to write new material for the next record…so hopefully that should be finished by the end of the year.


Excess is out now through Stones Throw Records.


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