In Conversation With Automatic

Prior to their gig at Belgrave Music Hall (you can read the review here) I had the chance to talk with the three people who’ve created such a minimalist, atmospheric sound.

There’s plenty who think that bands like this are just moody and pouty, but truth be told with Automatic, they’re actually really humble, talkative, a good laugh and have a geeky love for carefully selected music gear to keep hold of their authentic sound.

After they had browsed a few impromptu shots of tonight’s Pins promo shoot on my phone, I asked them about tonight’s gig as part of their UK and Europe tour. “We want to immerse ourselves in their (Pins) live show tonight, as we’ve heard a lot of excitement leading up to the gig from fans knowing we’re playing together.” Halle and Lola echoed Izzy’s sentiment “We’re excited! Haha!”

I asked them what we should expect from their set, the launch tour for their latest album Signal “We’ll be playing all the tracks; we’ll vary it a little, keep it interesting.  We’re actually wiped out right now; our energy is low!”.  I remind Izzy that her Prophet synth has the filthy gritty power to carry her through tonight.  It turns out that following their Glasgow gig, twenty four hours ago, they’ve had just one hour’s sleep.  I’m thinking these people just need a snuggly blanket each and a hot chocolate, but no, they will battle on, soundcheck done, good to go.

We got talking about physical music gear to create the true sounds that artists are after, rather than the infinite world of software plug-ins.  “I’m really into music gear, the classic models, modular synths.”  Izzy is resolute when it comes to the sounds they create.  Definitely no guitar, no unnecessary overly-effected  ‘clutter’; just the stark beauty of what Izzy, Halle and Lola come up with.

I asked her when she decided to start writing music and what first steps she took in doing so “I started when I was about twenty two…”, this really surprised me.  I anticipated Izzy being nine or ten maybe, playing a little Casio VL Tone in her bedroom, dressed in a minature Kraftwerk style pants, shirt & tie.  But no, a full grown twenty two year old, embarking on writing music, on guitar.  “I dated a few musicians, got into the guitar, kinda wanted to start a band but nothing worked out.  I worked on a few projects but they weren’t very good haha!” “I disagree!” Halle declared with solidarity in her voice. Lola also corrected Izzy “Yeah, some of them were good”.  Izzy continued “Anyway, yeah, I kept writing songs on guitar and it became addictive.  I played ‘baby leads’ and rhythm on guitar.”

Being a pedals geek as well as a synth geek, I asked her if she’s built up a decent collection of floor pedals “Yeah, But Halle’s stolen a lot of them!”, “Hehehe!” Halle laughed with no sign of remorse! “Yeah, it’s pretty much all my amps and pedal Izzy ‘gave me’…”.

Izzy continued “I’ve built up quite a few, nothing crazy, about ten pedals.  My favourites…Memory Toy, Memory Boy, Memory Man…a few tremolos, but I’ve never found the right one for me,  Big Muff is cool…I was getting addicted to them so had to stop!”   

While we were in the geeky gear zone and thinking about the truly organic sound Automatic create, I asked if they’ve ever used the legendary Roland RE-201 “No, is it one of those vintage tape delays?”.  Oh it is!  What it would do to your live sound would be awesome.  They cost around £800-£900 for a decent one – what it would do to your Prophet…”Okay, I’ll just go get a thousand bucks!!!” Izzy was convinced.

We got back onto Automatic forming “Lola wanted to start a band”…

(In post-interview research I found out that Lola’s dad is none other than Kevin Haskins, founder of the totally iconic post-punk Bauhaus.  Look up albums ‘The Sky’s Gone Out’ and ‘Mask’, both of which are class, and listen to Lola’s dad’s drumming in ‘Muscle In Plastic’.  Serious workout on the sticks, that one.)

Lola’s musical pedigree definitely gave her the determination.

Then Izzy continued “I was the last one to join”.  Previous to Izzy joining the band, Halle said “I had moved from Texas to L.A.  We met, were all drunk at a party, we were in the bathroom line, I’d lost my phone, Izzy helped me find it.”  You knew then you had a loyal friend “Haha oh yeah!  But we didn’t exchange numbers then.  It was right after that, someone was shooting a music video for Izzy, I knew the guy shooting and I said I’d do Izzy’s make-up for free.  I really liked her music and helped her book some shows, recommended Izzy to some of my other friends in bands who needed a support.”

So Automatic were musically taking shape and experimenting “Lola liked Halle, I said to Halle I wanna start a band too, and she said I’m playing a gig with Lola, so maybe you can squeeze in, but there’s no guitar in it!  So I said ok, that’s cool, I’ll just get a synth.” Izzy was in.  A bit like that moment when Murphy of Bauhaus left the printing factory and decided for the first time ever to write lyrics and music, just for a change. Sometimes determined leaps of faith really pay off in music.

I started thinking about the very first time they all got together in the rehearsal room and asked how that went.  All three of them spoke at once, very animated.  The gist of it, having deciphered the voice memo chaos, is as follows “It was a bit awkward, we were very drunk, we were very polite, no you talk first, n-n-no YOU talk fir-no YOU please YOU!”  I’m now thinking this first rehearsal was more like some kind of musical group session etiquette theatre.  “Now we just scream at each other haha!” Izzy was just messing.  Lola put things right “We were all very polite, so nervous, so yeah we got drunk!  But now, we’ve gotten less nervous, more sober hehehe! We’re faster at writing now; it used to take us ages.”

I wanted to find out first hand how Automatic’s status in the UK and Europe absolutely sky-rocketed after Paris Fashion Week last September.  Their blissfully fashionista track ‘Calling It’ was requested to be used for the Celine SS20 Show by the artistically gifted and highly respected fashion director Hedi Slimane.  Suddenly, Automatic were on the UK/Europe map of musical art, and now fashion.  Suddenly they were wearing clothes by Suki, L’Agence and Paige.

I asked them how on earth they could comprehend this powerful moment, a sudden rush of stardom, and essentially keep it together.  “It was surreal, really exciting.  The same time as the record coming out” Halle was right back there, a huge smile on her face.

Izzy was quite candid “Honestly, there was so much sh@t going on, it’s hard to process. It was a really busy period, but it was and is so cool”.

Halle continued “We felt a bit disassociated from it.  There were so many amazing things happening all at once it took a long time for it all to sink in afterwards.”

“I’d just wanna be on my phone all day!”  Lola smirked.  Essentially, after the release of ‘Calling It’ in September 2019, Automatic went viral in the music and fashion industry, so all their phones were going crazy for weeks.  They all loved it, and why not?cc

What Automatic have done reminds me of Sleater-Kinney, Dum-Dum Girls and Kleenex, to name a few.  Clear determination.  Lola made the point a little clearer as regards their avant-garde direction. “I think it was just the initial idea of not having guitar that really influenced us.  It made it limited…what we wanted.  Like Joy Division, clear and simple”.

I mentioned talking to Faith (Pins vocals) earlier in the evening about Pins recording some tracks in RAK Studios Manchester, in a converted mill, just a couples of minutes away from another mill, where Joy Division shot their ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ video.  We all cooed and had a minute over that.  Over four decades of post-punk class has continued to surface from this dank, mill-ridden neighbourhood.

Automatic genuinely show a lot of respect and admiration for this movement, and they’re deservedly a part of it, even if they are from a place where the winter temperatures ‘plummet’ to a very snuggly 18 centigrade.  I say again, they’re playing their Leeds gig 24 hours after playing Glasgow and travelling back down to Leeds, on just one hour’s sleep.  If it was me, I think mid-set there’d be a 12 key horror chord as my narcoleptic head slumped onto the keyboard.

I asked them about other artists they’re listening to right now.  In particular, Aldous (Hannah) Harding, pure class from New Zealand.  ‘Zoo Eyes’ is one of those touching tracks that sticks with you , so beautifully written.  “We’re obsessed with her,” confessed Halle.  I’m really into her at the minute, too.  So we chatted for a while about how ethically beautiful she is, wanting to go to Japan to teach the lower classes English, wanting to be a vet, too; that she feels so guilty for not doing.  Lola fired up “She still can if she’s reading this!  But there’s probably something inside her pulling her towards making music, I think that’s something she had to do probably.”

Izzy said “She’s really shy/humble, and never wanted to be a musician as it reminded her of her parents on the road all the time as musicians.”

“It’s a compulsion; that’s how I feel” Halle was getting quite philosophical.  “It’s like I don’t want to…but I also need to.  I can relate to Aldous a lot.” Lola was getting philosophical.

“Lola realises that A LOT!  Lola abandoned her science dreams to be in the band!” Halle sounded very impressed with Lola, choosing musical art over a career in science following her Bachelors degree in cell and molecular biology. Yeah, it turns out Lola is a very bright scientist.  Bands these days have very highly educated sleepers in them!

I asked Automatic about their influences, and quickly they collectively reel off their favourite bands: Suicide, Kraftwerk, Gina X, Neu, Suburban Lawns, Kleenex, New Order, Joy Division, Can, Nice As Fluff (censored).

We finally got round to discussing their captivating album, Signal, and I asked a little about production and the time it took to get everything down for mixing.  “It was off and on in the studio, I’d say in total of about two months, three weeks recording, rest of the time mixing.  We didn’t have Stones Throw (record company) until the record was almost done.”  Izzy, Lola and Halle all politely chorused this and disagreed on timings, but you get the idea!

Lola mentioned “We had three songs we sent out to labels, that was like a week maybe.”

As Automatic weren’t actually signed before recording Signal, I asked if they built themselves up through Bandcamp to get signed.  Surprisingly, Halle said “We had a tape with five or six songs  on it.  They’re all on Signal, but we re-recorded them professionally, using our own band money.  While we were sending three of our songs to various labels, Stones Throw Records picked us up and funded the rest of the songs.”

All their faces are lit talking about this special moment, a real turning point in their artistic lives “We sat down with Stones Throw Records.  It was super exciting, cool – we loved having those meetings!  Seeing somebody else believe in what we’ve made was great and they’re a really cool label we respect.  They’re really supportive.”

I was curious who else was on Stones Throw Records roster. Halle listed a few “Sudan Archives, Miles High Club, Dâm Funk, J Dilla, Snoop Dog, Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf.

Lola mentioned that “Stones Throw are predominantly a hip-hop label, but they’re expanding; they put out a Bauhaus record recently.”

It was time to wrap up.  We had rambled all over the place and I loved picking the brains of Izzy, Lola and Halle.  A very relaxing chat, and I hope they invest in a Roland RE-201 tape delay one day!

Before we ended I remembered that Automatic all really love 90s hip-hop, so I thought I’d show them something a little different from Italian hip-hop artists ‘9 Lazy 9’.  They loved it.  Have a look yourself if you’ve not heard them.  They’ve created some awesome and seriously funky dance hip-hop tracks that are timeless.

So we said our goodbyes.

It’ll be another mesmerising treat when Automatic return to Leeds once again.  Their natural stage charisma will always lead the crowd.

All photographs by Mark Wheelwright.

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