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Posted April 15, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Seratones Find Refuge in Old School Soul Music

Seratones Photo by Dylan Glasgow Guice
Seratones Photo by Dylan Glasgow Guice

Seratones, a Shreveport, LA-based band fronted by gospel-trained singer and activist A.J. Haynes recently released their sophomore album POWER to much acclaim. It’s their first new album in more than three years, and it comes in the wake of a lineup change.

Cage the Elephant’s Bradley Shultz worked as a producer on the release, which has a groovy old-school soul vibe. 

An activist with an ability to address social issues, Haynes writes about topics such as fighting for women’s reproductive rights and serving as a counselor at one of Louisiana’s last remaining abortion providers. 

Earlier this year (before the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down), Haynes spoke about the release during a phone interview. 

You started singing in your church at age 6. What was that like?
I grew up singing in the Brownsville Baptist Church. My mother encouraged me to do that. I wasn’t really allowed not to. I always associated singing with some kind of spiritual work. Singing is something I just do. It’s a noise that just comes out of my body. My grandmother really encouraged me to sing for people. She would ask me to sing for a group of her friends. She would give me a few dollars if there were a lot of people there. She instilled that in me at a very early age. It was like, “If you’re not going to sing in church, then people need to be paying you.” I’m really thankful for that. She built in that workman mentality. 

At some point, you started listening to punk rock. Talk about that. 
I moved to Shreveport, and that’s how I met the founding members of Seratones. In the age of Napster, I came across bands such as Mudhoney and the Stooges. That was my first introduction into punk. The guys in my band took me to shows locally and were part of the punk scene here. That’s how I came to be introduced to punk music. I think there’s a certain thread between that and the church. I came from a very small church, and everyone puts money into the collection plate to take care of the community. It’s the same way in the DIY music community. People take money from their pockets to take care of their own. It’s about giving their voices to something. In punk, that’s rage and indignation, and in church, it’s the same kind of force but perhaps less angry and more ecstatic and more questioning. 

Were you in any bands prior to forming Seratones?
Before that, I had a cover band with [drummer] Jesse [Gabriel]. The best way to make money in Shreveport is to have a cover band. I was a college student and had books to pay for. We didn’t do “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Mustang Sally” and your typical blues band covers. We learned whatever songs we wanted to. We learned deep cuts CCR and Duane Allman and Aretha Franklin and Radiohead and T-Bone Walker and Arthur Crudup and the Cramps and whatever we felt like doing. We did Jefferson Airplane. It was on a whim whatever we thought we could pull off. 

How did the Seratones first come together?
After that band dissolved, I started working on my own songs and from there the Seratones began. 

Was your first album, Get Gone, a difficult album to make?
It was really volatile. We were so comfortable in a live space. Shifting from that to a studio space was difficult. As a new artist or any kind of novice, you tend to approach things with preconceived ideas of how they should be, and that’s the dumbest thing to do. You should walk in with no expectations. You should be informed by sound and history but allow yourself space to create. 

What did you want to do differently with Power?
The first record is exploring different archetypes. At the time, I was obsessed with this esoteric history and lineage of rock n’ roll and interested in ideas of subversion. That’s what drew me to punk music in the first place. It was the idea of the subversive. I got tired of that because I didn’t see myself in what was held up as the ideal. From there, we just had a creative shift with the band, and people changed. Also, I shifted into becoming a grown-ass woman. I don’t feel the same as I did two years ago. There’s so much that changes from your mid-twenties to early thirties. I’m more interested in myself, but not in a way that’s narcissistic. It’s like, “What am I made up and what do I need?” Artists are good at expressing what we want and desire, but I was at a point where it was like, “What do I need right now?” I needed the refuge of soul music. I needed to see myself in a different way. 

How did the current political climate inspire the themes on the record?
I don’t think it’s political as much as it is my day-to-day lived experience. Our experiences become politicized, but I’m just talking about what’s in front of my face. To be affected is a deeply human thing. It’s important to be affected by things that are happening. I’m reticent if not turned off by calling things political. Politics is the language of naming, and it’s imbued with power dynamics. I’m interested in exploring power dynamics instead of wielding power over someone, and it’s about what’s happening in front of my face. We like to think we’re rational and methodic creatures. We’re not. We’re these sensing and overly sensitive and complicated plants. It’s me talking about things that are stigmatized like access to health care, poverty and the kind of fears you live with if you are an “other.” I’m just being honest about. If it’s politicized, whatever. I said what I said.

People can call if whatever they want. I don’t care. 

Where’d you go to record and what was that experience like?
We recorded in Nashville at Battle Tapes with Jeremy Ferguson and Brad Shultz. Jeremy is like a wizard from another planet. I would give him references to LL Cool J songs and without me having to pull it up and show him the record, he would know the reference. To be able to have that humanity while being so adept with the mechanics is just mind blowing. Brad is a powerhouse as well. I co-wrote “Lie to My Face” with him. Before that, we demoed some songs. It was great to have that rapport and have spent time with each other in the studio and have him be one of the producers. The role of producer can be really nebulous and shrouded in mystery and intrigue. To me, a good producer [like Shultz] is just imagination. He knows how to approach things with the wonderment of a child but demands more. He drinks a fuck ton of coffee too. 

“Lie to My Face” is actually one of my favorite songs on the album.
It’s a salt song. It’s spicy. Everyone has been there. Someone is hurting, and they are delusional. In that delusion, they’ve somehow shifted power into your hands.

I also like “Sad Boi,” which is really funky. 
Daniel Taschian, Adam [Davis] and I wrote that together. We worked on one song and then started on another. We were vibing on Santigold and Rick James. What I love about both of them is that there is something really menacing about them even though they sound really playful. There’s something hovering there that’s a little dangerous. I was mumbling and almost speaking in tongues when I came up with “Sad Boi.” In songwriting, you tell on yourself. If you do it right, you’re wildly uncomfortable with what you tell on yourself. I was like, “That’s my type.” I have a history of dating types. I like to look at something face on and turn the thing around. I like to look at how something became that way. It’s “boi” because it’s male performative. Gender binaries are dumb. I wanted to leave it open. With the contemporary “sad boy,” there’s this idea of vulnerability. But sometimes it gets wrapped up in the male performative and enters into the situation where one has to have the upper hand. It’s this interesting thing about looking at masculinity. Ultimately, the song is about how we met at a bar and should just go bang. It’s like, “I don’t know where this is going, but you have depth, and you’re a total human being, and I’m really attracted to you, and that’s great. But in this situation, let’s move along and get past all these heavy feelings.” I know people feel that way. I know women feel that way, but they just don’t say it for fear of appearing as if we have a voracious appetite or operate solely by desire. I think that’s a foolish thing.

You should say what you fucking want. 

The album closes with that beautiful ballad “Crossfire.” Was it your intention to close with something somber?
We didn’t decide to record that song until the last day. Chris Sunday, who is a co-producer as well, is an all-round phenomenal guy. He’s been a friend of mine and someone I can call on really pushed for that song. I started writing it out of a place of not despair but of feeling so hollow and powerless because of gun violence and police brutality and the dangers of living in this world. Chris had a vision for the song and how it needed to blossom and I trusted him. It went somewhere where I never would have imagined. It was a point of healing for me. I played it for my friend Kam [Franklin] from the Suffers. We were hanging out at her apartment and we just cried together. We just needed to let it out. I had no idea it would make it on the record, but the more I perform it, the more I realize it’s necessary to call things out in a way that’s not pejorative. The last time we performed that song when it really hit me was when we were in Paris. The year prior, we had played at the Bataclan at the re-opening of that space after the [shooting] tragedy. We sang the song for us for playing out in these spaces at a time where it is quite dangerous. The simple act of going to a movie theater or a Walmart can be fatal. I was singing it in a way that’s about doing things in the face of those fears instead of ignoring them. I just wept and went out into the crowd and continued to weep and cried with people. It just needed to happen.

Photo: Dylan Glasgow Guice


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.