Even though the Vivian Girls only recently played their farewell shows, for singer/guitarist Katy Goodman—as Kramer once said about moving to California—in her head, she’s already gone. Goodman moved to Los Angeles nearly three years ago now, and her band La Sera is about to release Hour Of The Dawn (Hardly Art), its third album, as many as Vivian Girls had. But if the shadow of that Brooklyn band still looms over the uber-reverbed, indie garage-pop world, the clarity of her latest La Sera slab carves away what fat might be left, leaving the liveliest guitar pop record of the year so far. We caught up with Goodman as she chilled at home right before leaving for a three-week European tour.
So does this finally feel like a whole new band for you? Who’s in the lineup now?
Actually the main guy that I added to the band that shaped this record is still in the band—Todd Wisenbaker. He’s the guitar player that’s playing on the whole thing, and he’s like, “We should do it like this.” And that’s why we made a kind of ’80s power-pop record. That was definitely his influence. However, the second guitarist and drummer are different than when we recorded the album. My friend Greta is playing second guitar and it’s the first time I’ve had a girl in the band in years. I’m so excited about it because she has the most wonderful singing voice, so we can do like lots of harmonies. Her band, Springtime Carnivore, is opening for us. Todd and Nate are also on her band for the tour. So Springtime Carnivore will play, and then I’ll just get on stage and it’ll become La Sera.
So what are some of the reasons you moved from Brooklyn? And how do you think being in L.A. has changed you, if at all?
I always thought I was born to live in L.A., but I just happened to live in the NJ/NY area. I was always kind of out of sync with New York, it never suited me particularly. I’m trying to be the chilled-out, wanting to hang out at home kind of person. I feel like New York has the attitude that you have to be out doing stuff all the time otherwise you’re wasting that rent money, you’re not taking advantage of the town. There’s this pressure to leave your house all the time.
But also, it’s like you know that for a solid four months of the year it’s probably to suck outside, so you tend to really feel like you need to soak up every bit of warm weather because it’s going to start snowing again soon enough. In L.A. I think you have a little bit more of that, “Well if I don’t go out in the sun today, it’ll probably be sunny for the next few months.”
Ha, yeah, there’s definitely less pressure to do things you don’t want to do here. I remember that horrible winter four years ago in New York, and when I told all my friends after that that I was moving to L.A., they were like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds great!”
It’s funny when you say that you’re more chill now, because I feel like this latest record sounds a little more “New York” or East Coast-y, as the guitars are kind of trickier and spazzier and the tempos are a little faster. And there’s less of that dreamier end of things that you’ve done before, which is traditionally more of a beach-y vibe, know what I mean? But songwriting-wise, I guess that probably has more to do with your personal situation or where you wanted to go musically.
Yeah, that’s the thing people always want to know: “How does your city affect your music?” And I don’t know, I feel like they’re pretty separate in my mind. I’ve been happy and sad in both L.A. and New York. I’ve felt a full range of emotions in both places, so I don’t know if that has much to do with what my music sounds like. It’s more my personal situation.
Lyrically, I think it’s fair to say that Hour Of The Dawn is still kind of about lost love, heartbreak, things like that, though the music is more upbeat.
I think the lyrics on this record are way better from my first two records. It’s more thought out and I feel like some of the songs are more clever.
The general word is this is a “post-break-up record,” with you getting out of the doldrums. But there’s definitely still some sadness in there though. Are you feeling more settled and upbeat? I mean sonically, no doubt though, this album sounds like a great drive around with the windows down summer record.
Well in comparison, Sees The Light was definitely more sad, and this one was more like I am going to feel differently. So in I’m Losing To The Dark, I’m really angry. I think I’m feeling more strong on this record. I think on Sees The Light, I was more apathetic about things. That was a break-up record too, but it was like “la di da di da, I’m sad that this is over, but life goes on.” Whereas this one is more like, “I’m happy! Let’s go!”
Okay, I have to ask, you use the word “baby” a lot. I feel the word “baby” is in a lot of rock lyrics. I’ve written lyrics, and I’ve used “baby” a lot too. But I find in my real, everyday life, I don’t use it that much. It’s one of those rock words that everyone puts in their lyrics, and you almost can’t stop yourself. Maybe it has something to do with how easy it rhymes? But then you’re like, does that sound hackneyed or arcane? But dammit, you just can’t help it!
Ha, yeah well I think it’s just kind of a throwback to ’60s songwriting where they used the word “baby” constantly. The word “baby” in a rock context just sort of refers to the person you’re singing to or singing about. Your “baby” could be your lover, it could be someone you like, it’s not like THE love of my life. It’s just a nice way to address someone without being specific about your relationship. It could be about your friend, it could be about your lover, it could be about a family member, it could be about anybody really. It’s a pretty vague term of endearment.
So okay, the music. I think the guitar on Hour is great. Some of the noisier leads are like J Mascis-style. Who has Todd played with before?
Todd is so good on this record. My favorite part of this record is definitely the guitars. I met Todd because he was playing lead guitar with Jenny Lewis for a couple years, and that’s how I met him.
But he’s pretty committed to La Sera now?
Yeah, well, we’re dating and live together and have pets.
So he’s really committed in more ways than one?
Ha, yeah. Us playing music together was pretty natural. I think Todd’s true nature is playing guitar like this. He just sits up in his music room and just shreds for eight hours at a time. So when we sat down and thought about what this La Sera record should sound like, both of us were like, “Let’s just do what we want to.” And so what that means for me is that I missed playing aggressively, and also putting lots of harmonies on everything. And for him it was just, “I’m just gonna shred.” It definitely felt like this was the most natural record that I’ve been on, where it was like, “Let’s just fucking do what we want to do and are good at doing and have fun doing it.” And that’s what we did.
When I was in Vivian Girls, that was very aggressive and fast and fun, so when I made the first La Sera record, that was kind of a reaction against that because I was like, “I already do that, so what else can I do?” So I made slower songs, and made them more, “la la la,” more sweet and soft. And then with Sees The Light, I kind of sped up, but in general I was still going for dreamier stuff. And then Vivian Girls broke up, so I was like, “All right, I’m going back to what I know best. I know fast, fun, aggressive punk, that’s what I want to do.” It’s like my favorite thing. Also, on this record I definitely set out to make music that I would want to play live. Because there’re a lot of songs on the first two La Sera records that I loved writing and I love if I hear it. But playing it live, it’s kind of boring only playing slow or sad songs. So I set out on this record to make songs that are just super fun with lots of shredding where you can just jump around and have fun. That was the main goal.
That said, since that latter 2000s new garage thing, that whole sort of echo-saturated sound, doo-wop melodies with guitar fuzz caked on, dreamy vocals, etc. That all worked really well, but now it seems like it’s a crutch for so many bands to kind of throw tons of reverb over sugary, early ’60s girl group melodies and dump out lyrics about cute boys and girls. And I’m wondering if with this new record, maybe you wanted to separate from that? It’s brighter, clearer. Was that something you consciously aimed for?
Well, we spent so much time working on these songs, editing these songs, making them the best they could possibly be. And in the end we just wanted people to actually be able to hear it. We were like, “We spent so much fucking time doing this, why would we want to cover it up with a ton of weird effects? Let’s make it as clean as we can!” That’s the thing though, also, this is as clean as we could make it with not having so much money, it’s not like we were in a huge studio. I feel like we completely hit the nail on the head with what we were going for though. And it’s not like we made it sound shittier on purpose. We were like, “Let’s make the fucking best record we can,” and we went and made it.
Where did you make it?
We recorded with Joel Jerome, which was amazing, and Joel is one of our good friends now. We had the best time. I mean, there was no air conditioning in the studio, so literally we were recording these songs in 100 degree heat. We were all sitting around in front of fans, sweating. But when it would be time to hit record, we’d have to turn all the fans off. And I think you can feel that sense of urgency in the recording, like, “Let’s fucking get this done because it’s very uncomfortable in here.” That definitely helped the sound I think because a lot of the takes, especially Todd’s guitar takes, were first takes. So a lot of the shredding was him coming up with stuff right on the spot.
So the Vivian Girls are done, but how do you think the last shows went? Did it already feel over for you by then?
The shows were really fun and I feel like they were important for us to have closure. Do I wish that we had done the goodbye shows earlier on? Probably, yes, because it took us like a year to figure out that we should break up. It was like years of waiting to see if we’d be re-inspired to do more. And then we were like, actually no, let’s close this door. And I also feel like we were all doing different projects for a while now, but as long as Vivian Girls was around, people wouldn’t truly believe that we were doing other things seriously. So sometimes you have to close the door on something to open the door on the next thing, and I feel like we were all feeling that way.
I’ve seen this with a lot of bands over the years. If you’re all still basically friends and nobody has become a horrible drug addict or some serious fuck up, then you could happily go on and on. But then you wake up one day and it’s four years later. Most bands need something cataclysmic, like the label drops them and there’s a fight, or someone dies—those kind of major things that happen on a big, emotional scale. Otherwise, physically, you could keep on doing Vivian Girls’ style of music for a long time.
Yeah, totally. But I feel like we all wanted to concentrate other stuff. Me and Ali both live in L.A. and Cassie lives in New York, she loves New York. She was doing things with other bands there, and we were doing other things here, and it just made sense. So finally we were just like, let’s break up so we can focus on our new things and not have to always answer questions like, “When are Vivian Girls coming back?” That was the main question I would always get, and it was like, I don’t know.
And even then it feels like you’re lying or covering something up. It’s like, “I’m focused more on La Sera now,” but it’s hard to say that to a fan.
True. And we are all still friends, which is the most important part. And who knows, maybe me and Cassie are going to start a new band at some point. There’re no rules for us. We’ve been best friends since high school. We shut the door on Vivian Girls, but that doesn’t mean we’re not friends anymore, so I would not be surprised if we were playing together at some point. Maybe not under the Vivian Girls name, but there’s obviously no guarantees on that either.
Do you ever miss that gang mentality now that you’re solo?
Oh yeah! I think that’s what we learned from Black Lips actually, the “gang,” because they would always say that. And it’s true. There was definitely a gang mentality with Vivian Girls. We definitely felt like we went through a war together. We experienced all of the same things together for so many years that it’s like you’re bonded for life. And it’s nice, it’s a fun experience. I think everyone should be in a band at a certain point just to feel that bond and go on tour and go through crazy shit with other people. I don’t think I’d ever want to be a “solo artist” in the classic sense of being by yourself up there playing guitar, because having bandmates is such a unique experience.
Plus I totally believe in that whole thing of having band members who will tell you, “Uh, I think that part kind of sucks.” You have other people around you to check you, and vice versa.
Oh yeah. This record would not have sounded like this with any other band members. That was something that Rob Barbato told me—he played guitar and recorded the second La Sera record. He told me once that songs can wear a lot of different clothing. So my songs are my songs, for sure, but they wear different clothes depending on who’s playing them, who’s collaborating. They could sound a million different ways. This record was definitely a testament to that.