Anxiety, hope, despair, desire—all of these were part of the impetus for Los Angeles trio Automatic’s latest album Excess (Stones Throw), according to vocalist Izzy Glaudini, but far from its end all.
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Produced by Joo Joo Ashworth (Sasami, Froth), Excess gouges the superfluous state of culture and consumerism, and where there’s an escape, there’s a way on the roused opening “New Beginning.” Maybe there’s a new world out there / We can do it all again / In the service of desire / We will travel far away sings Glaudini, pondering another place and time or “that fleeting moment when what was once cool quickly turned and became mainstream, all for the sake of consumerism,” says the band—which includes bassist Halle Saxon and drummer Lola Dompé—when describing one of the overarching narratives of Excess.
Hissing around a buzz of synth and drums, lyrically Excess threads the current state of affairs and questions how far we’ve come and retracted from progression all in the same, from the marching reminder of the many faces one must wear “On the Edge” and gazing “Skyscraper,” with Glaudini’s vocals creeping around the disintegrated and detached society—Up here where the sun has a beautiful shine / To light up perverted American minds / The white hand of luxury, so cool and refined / No trace of the miserable people outside—before urging Change / If you wanna / Or stay the same / There’s no difference in the end.
Throughout, Excess addresses the burdens of the future generation on the darker pop-punk pulsing “Teen Beat”— I looked at you and you looked at me / And we disagree (ha ha ha) / I looked at you and you looked at me / Like fools in a dream. “To us, the name came to be about Gen Z inheriting the world at the eleventh hour,” Saxon says, “before they’re even old enough to drink.” Originally, the band had called the track “Madness,” alluding to the madness around the “state of polarization today,” she added.
Tapping into the underground dance beat of “NRG,” an homage to the late electronic dance pioneer Patrick Cowley (1950-1982) is another dispatch on the monotony of following the masses, the trends, and “the unknowingness that comes with testing boundaries and exploring one’s own values while finding your place in the world as an individual,” says Dompé of the track. Excess closes on more empowered note, countering their “New Beginning” stance on “Turn Away”—There’s a light in the dark / Feel the world open up.
“We want people to feel empowered to do what they can to save the world,” says Saxon of the closing track, “to reject any complacency of watching the world burn.”
Vocalist Izzy Glaudini spoke to American Songwriter about the last-minute, post-pandemic “panic” of writing Excess, the necessary “space” around Automatic’s songs, and the advantages of being a “broke musician” in Los Angeles.
American Songwriter: How did Excess start piecing together from the time of (2019 debut) Signal?
Izzy Glaudini: The majority of the songs were written in lockdown, aside from ‘Turn Away,’ which was written just after the first record. Because of the coronavirus, none of the songs were played for an audience before they were recorded, which felt a bit different for us. And, like the last record, we wrote lyrics in a last-minute panic, just before we had to record them.
AS: Why did you land on Excess as the title?
IG: There are certain advantages to being a broke musician in a city like Los Angeles. It’s easy to mingle with the wildly rich, attend extravagant parties, and have other ridiculous experiences, even if our lives are below the poverty line. It makes the antics of the one percent even more cartoonish. Lola and I were peeing in adjacent bathroom stalls when we came up with it. It was a bit of a joke that stuck.
AS: Did the live element of Automatic inform the songs on the album at all—or vice versa?
IG: We stuck to our original formula, which is very minimal, but added a bit more experimentation in the studio. Because the songs were written before they were ever played live, we were less concerned with sticking to a “live sound.”
AS: Sonically, was there something you wanted to approach differently on this album from Signal?
IG: Space has always been a kind of fourth instrument in our sound, especially because we are such minimalists. We also wanted the songs to be a bit longer on this record than the last, so perhaps it was our way of cheating that.
AS: Sometimes there isn’t a “process” around songwriting, but how do songs come together among the three of you? Have you all fallen into your “designated roles” (melody, lyrics, etc.) or is it a looser, collaborative approach?
IG: It’s usually the case that whoever is playing a part has written it – melody, lyrics, bass, drum, synth. I tend to write the vocals I sing. Halle writes her bass lines and Lola her parts. We do switch it up occasionally, but it tends to be most efficient the original way. We write the core of the groove together in our practice space, then continue to embellish and arrange on a home-demo. We like to stick to the formula.
AS: Has the songwriting shifted at all since Signal?
IG: I think we’ve gotten more confident, but in general it has stayed the same. We haven’t written anything new since the album. Time will tell. It’s not the kind of thing you can predict, especially because the world seems to change so quickly and chaotically these days.
Photo: Dana Trippe / Grandstand Media