Omni and Automatic Are Good Communicators

The former tourmates— and now collaborators—catch up about their songwriting processes, recording “Plastic Pyramid,” and more.

Halle Saxon and Izzy Glaudini are the bassist and synth-player of the LA-based band Automatic; Philip Frobos, Chris Yonker, and Frankie Boyles are the bassist, drummer, and guitarist, respectively, of the Atlanta-based band Omni. The bands toured together in 2022, and Izzy recently contributed vocals on Omni’s new song “Plastic Pyramid” — from their forthcoming record, Souvenir, which is out February 16 via Sub Pop. To celebrate it all, everyone got on a Zoom call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Halle Saxon: Oh, it’s so good to see you! 

Philip Frobos: You too!

Halle: Where are you? 

Philip: We’re at my house. Chris just flew in from New York.

Halle: Oh, right, you’re living in New York now.

Chris Yonker: Yeah, that’s right. I’m bummed we missed each other last time I was in LA — you were gone out of town, in Australia or some shit.

Halle: Yeah, something like that. Can’t keep track of my memories anymore. How’s the baby?

Philip: He’s good. I just put him down for a nap. I was telling Chris, just before he got here — we’ve been talking about how we need to encourage him to crawl and stuff like that, so I took this little antique teether with a bell on it and I held it just out of reach and was ringing it. He was trying to move his legs and wiggling around—

Halle: He’s like, “How does all this stuff work?”

Philip: [Laughs.] Yeah. And then he kind of inched his way towards me, and then his face just went down — [Philip mimics the fall] — and then he rolled over and reached up and grabbed the thing.

Halle: Oh, my god. Cute.

Philip: He made it the tiny distance.

[Izzy joins the chat.]

Izzy Glaudini: Was that Virgil?

Philip: Yeah, Virgil.

Halle: No, that was just a story about Frankie.

Izzy: [Laughs.] That was my first thought.

Chris: Frankie’s getting around and stuff.

Frankie Broyles: Yeah, I’m crawling. 

Philip: [Laughs.] So, this is recording. I texted Izzy earlier that we could talk about the tour we did, and how we know each other, and then something about the song that we’re doing together. And then it’s all jazz.

Izzy: When does the song come out? The song called “Plastic Pyramid” by Omni, on their upcoming record…

Frankie: I think in January.

Halle: Do you have a show around that time?

Chris: No, I think our [first] show is in February.

Philip: It’s at the Earl [in Atlanta].

Izzy: Nice. We were just talking about this today, how we prefer to play smaller venues that feel authentic and cool regardless of size or clout. It just always feels better. Do you guys agree?

Chris: I agree, yeah.

Philip: Yeah. Somebody the other day was talking about the same thing, and they were like, “Yeah, I think we’re just going to be one of those bands that just keeps playing the small rooms, and the ticket prices just go up, and that’s just going to be OK.” And I was like, “Well, I never thought about that path…” But that’s a good path, right?

Halle: Yeah, or adding a day if you sell out. I like how people do that. Do you guys feel like you have to — I came up with some questions.

Chris: Woah!

Halle: Do you guys feel like you have to play songs that you’re sick of playing, but since ticket prices are getting more expensive, you feel like you owe it to your audience?

Frankie: There are definitely songs that I don’t like playing. [Laughs.] But mainly that’s because I can barely play them sometimes, or it’s just hard.

Halle: Sure. 

Izzy: So you find you’re getting lazier with age?

Frankie: Yeah, and worse at the guitar.

Izzy: I don’t buy that. [Laughs.] But I get it.

Chris: Yeah, I feel like the ones that Frankie doesn’t want to play are not necessarily old ones that we’re sick of playing, as much as the ones where he wrote four guitar parts that he has to play at the same time. But I’m having a breeze in the back. [Laughs.] 

Izzy: It looks fun to be a drummer. I kind of I want to learn…

Philip: I do think on the last tour, we were incorporating more deep cuts, and I think that helped a lot with the playing-the-same-ol’-stuff-again, you know? Not just repeating the same set list every night for a long time. 

Izzy: That’s what we do.

Halle: Yeah. I don’t mind repeating the same set list, but there’s some of our early, early songs that I don’t like playing.

Izzy: You’re just sick of ‘em.

Halle: It’s the opposite of Frankie — they’re just too simple. So it’s like it feels embarrassing to play at this point.

Chris: Can I ask which song is the one that you dislike playing the most?

Izzy: I know the answer.

Halle: “Electrocution,” probably. I mean, I like that song in a way. I just don’t like playing it. But I like it, I like what it’s about.

Izzy: It feels boring, I get it.

Philip: I think with stuff like that, if you just leave it off the set list for a few months, when it comes back it feels way better. We have an old song called “Plane” that we didn’t play for years, and it was super fun to bring back.

Halle: That’s a cool point, Philip. We’re going to be playing “Electrocution” at our show coming up, so maybe it’ll be fun now.

Chris: When was the last time you played it?

Halle: Probably at least a year ago. But people yell out for this one.

Chris: So it’s like “Wire” for us. If we don’t play it, people are mad at us. They’re like, “It’s the only song I know!” 

Halle: I wouldn’t care about giving the audience what they want except for the fact that tickets cost money, and I respect that people have put money into it. I owe it [to them].

Chris: I feel like I am bummed whenever I go see a show of a band that I really like, and they only play all new stuff that I don’t know. Because I want a little bit of that nostalgia of hearing a song that I really like. It’s kind of funny, I used to work at Symphony Hall in Atlanta — I was a stagehand, so a lot of times I’d be sitting there from behind the stage looking out at the audience, watching all these older folks come see these bands that they loved when they were younger. You know, like Toto and shit. There was a few shows where some of these bands would pick one of their old records that people liked a lot and just play the record from front to back. I feel like people really like that shit sometimes.

Halle: I feel like I would like that. I like that concept. I saw Galaxie 500 play in Joshua Tree a few months ago and they played all of their hits at the first part of the set, and then, like, half of the audience left. And then they played the rest. I thought that was a really interesting vibe, like they didn’t mind that people left and then it was more intimate all of a sudden.

Philip: Just like, “Bring it in, y’all. Let’s go.”

Halle: Like, “We know what you want. Here it is. Later!” [Laughs.] OK, I have another question: how do you guys remain sensitive to each other in the writing process? Because I feel like you don’t really hear discussions like that from male-identifying people as much…

Chris: I think that’s a really good question. I can’t speak for like the demoing process, but I know in the studio, I think one way in which things work really well in this band is if someone dislikes something that’s happening and speaks up about it, no one is really forceful about trying to persuade them into thinking that it’s a good idea. I feel like whenever one of us will be like, “I don’t think I like that,” we all are just like, “Cool, let’s not do that then.”

Philip: Yeah, there’s definitely more of a willingness for compromise. I think one thing that really helps with this band — and I think we all see it this way — there’s not really anyone’s songs. Like, I’ve been in bands before where it’s like, “We’re recording so and so’s song today, get ready for that,” because they’re the sensitive one. With our band, they’re all all of our songs. So there’s not that “me” thing with certain tracks that can really derail stuff. And then I would say that with demoing and in the studio, we’ve done a really good job with just saying how we feel and saying what we mean and using examples of cool music and things that we’re thinking we’re referencing while we’re doing stuff. Or at least, I’ve always felt like we’re good communicators. 

Chris: Yeah, I feel like we do a good job with that. How do y’all remain sensitive to one another?

Izzy: I think we’re all pretty sensitive by nature and aware of each other’s feelings. We’re not afraid of talking about our feelings, and forgiving if there’s a little tiff, you know?

Halle: Yeah. And I feel like there’s kind of an understanding that we’re not judging each other whenever we criticize things.

Chris: It’s like having that art school understanding of, a critique is not— 

Izzy: It’s not a personal attack.

Chris: Yeah, it’s not attacking you as a person or your skills as a musician. It is literally just: music has no right or wrong, there’s just opinions. 

Halle: Yeah. It’s just lining up your tastes, it falling all together and feeling good for everyone. Sometimes we’ll get into moods in the writing process — we’ll go on these writing trips and remove ourselves, and then we’ll get into good moods or sometimes bad moods. I really like how with my band we can just be like, “OK, look, I’m in a mood. It’s not personal.” And then once it’s out there, we’re able to be like, OK, yeah, they’re feeling something. It’s not related to me. And then we can move on.

Chris: Especially with writing sessions, going somewhere removed from your life and having to be like, “OK, time to be creative now” — you don’t always feel inspired at the exact moment that you scheduled two months ago. It’s weird having to make creativity a job. Like for tattooing, sometimes I’m like, I desperately need money, but I don’t know what the fuck to draw right now.

Izzy: I feel like our bands have a similar thing where the songs aren’t necessarily confessional or about our personal feelings. It’s more like a concept or something outside, like a movie — like The Verdict, you have a song [on the new record] called “Verdict.” Is that because it isn’t just a “me”-centric band, or is it because in general you find works of art, or just concepts, more inspiring than your internal emotions? Sometimes I feel like when I’m writing about a concept, it seems like it’s not emotional, but I can still feel emotions about something, even though it’s not about my personal feelings. What is your process with that like?

Philip: Well, I know that Frankie’s a big cinephile as well, so I keep that in mind with some stuff. But at least lyrically — I mean, I can really relate to what you’re saying right now because I’m in the middle of this new novel where every day I’m in different people’s brains, trying to think about what kind of emotions they’re feeling. But with the band, I think it’s just the miniature version of that. And then just, you know, poking fun at everyday life. Because a lot of our favorite bands are so good at being observant and finding the detail that makes something serious funny. Or, it doesn’t have to be funny, it could be whatever. 

Izzy: Do you have a mental log if something strikes you, like, Oh, this film… Do you write it down in your Notes app, or do you just remember it? Or do you cram it all at once at the end, like, Shit, I need to come up with 10 topics, like I do?

Chris: [Laughs.] It used to be like that.

Philip: Frankie recommended The Verdict to me, so that came out of there, at least somewhat. Sometimes I’ll jot down little phrases — actually, in that song, “I left a spare key out for you,” I think that was something I wrote down. But sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t work. I never try to force words into a melody unless it really seems like it can happen.

Chris: Do you try to write vocals at the same writing sessions where y’all are trying to write the music? Or do you do that separately on your own?

Izzy: Mostly I feel like on the spot. Me and Lola [Dompé, Automatic’s drummer] will be just saying nonsense or riffing. Sometimes the words stick, but sometimes it’s an after-the-fact kind of thing. But the lyrics are always like, “OK, it sounds like, nah nah nah. What now?” [Laughs.] To me, the sound is really important. The sound and the flow of a melody.

Philip: When you have Lola jump in, is that usually something that you guys plan on, or are you just kind of passing the ball to her?

Izzy: Pass the ball kind of vibe. Sometimes someone will come up with something really great — it’s whoever feels a sense of inspiration.

Chris: I’m curious if this happens to you — because I approach writing vocals the same way that you do, where I just say a bunch of gibberish nonsense.

Izzy: I mean, that’s a Brian Eno technique. 

Chris: Yeah. I just go, like, melodic gibberish until it starts to sound like something, and then I try to find words that fit that. And I find sometimes I back myself into a corner, because I’ll have a melody, or some sort of phonetic that sounds good with the melody, but then I struggle to find the words that make sense to fit that blueprint I just made.

Izzy: That’s always the prison of it, yeah. But it’s like a puzzle. It’s kind of satisfying. And sometimes you have to shift the melody, you know? That’s kind of my favorite part, even though it’s the most frustrating part, because it’s really satisfying when you get it right.

Frankie: Definitely. Yeah, that’s how I’ve always done it as well. And then when I get stuck, I just do another take of nonsense and see if that helps get me out of it. And then a lot of times, I’m like, “OK, I fit words to this, but it’s still gibberish.” So then I gotta work on it. 

Philip: There’s a good Mick Jagger thing where he’s like, “If I don’t have words, I just do vowels. And if one vowel doesn’t work, I just change to a different vowel, and I just go through them all until I find the right one.”

Izzy: And sometimes he leaves it at that. [Laughs.]

Frankie: There’s footage of Bono from 1984 or something, and he’s singing really dramatic, loud gibberish into this mic. 

Izzy: Blind confidence.

Chris: So, Izzy, last time I saw you, you were saying that y’all were about to do a writing session. Is that right?

Izzy: Yeah, we did one last week at Joshua Tree. Actually, I was just listening to the songs we wrote, Halle. I really dig them.

Halle: Yay!

Philip: I can’t wait to hear the new stuff.

Izzy: Anything you want to say about the video that we shot for “Plastic Pyramid” before [we’re done]?

Philip: Well, I was going to say before the timer runs out that it was so awesome that you decided to join us on such a short whim. Because I remember we were recording in Vienna[, GA] and we were almost done tracking all of the instruments when we were having this talk late at night in the kitchen, and we were texting you. We were like, “Is she going to come? We don’t know!” We recorded the song anyways, it was already going to happen no matter what. So you were like, “I gotta do it. Let’s make this happen.” It was just really exciting for everyone.

Chris: We were all nervous. We were like, “Will Izzy do it?” [Laughs.] 

Izzy: Yeah, I mean, you guys are sick. It’s fun to make a connection with a band. It doesn’t really happen that often where you respect their music and you get along with them as people. So anytime that happens, it’s really cool to collaborate.

Chris: None of us have seen any edits of the music video that you’re in yet.

Izzy: [Laughs.] I’m very excited to see it.

Chris: [Laughs.] We are too. 

Philip Frobos is a member of the Atlanta-based post-punk band Omni and the author of the novel Vague Enough to Satisfy.

(Photo Credit: Hillary Sutton)