La Sera: Sweating the Small Stuff

Music Features La Sera
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For most musicians, there’s a jagged split between the role of artist and fan. Jonny Greenwood’s love for reggae probably never informed a Radiohead song, and Paul Banks’ budding rap career never took off on any Interpol LP. And while Katy Goodman, the musician, takes over when La Sera hits the stage, that overwhelming fan instinct pleads: maybe this isn’t the best time to show off brand new songs. But as fellow Los Angeles resident Walter Sobchak might advise…

“Fuck it,” Goodman laughs.

You’ll see why after a listen; Goodman’s latest, Hour of the Dawn, explains itself nicely, quickly, forcefully. While Goodman’s back catalog recalls the lush, wiry backdrop of the ‘60s, she’s jumped a few decades forward and moved into a gnarlier garage this year. Hour of the Dawn is beastly, ferocious, it shreds (thanks to guitarist Todd Wisenbaker) and begs to be played at a breakneck pace live. And as Goodman would learn on a tour with Kate Nash, Hour of the Dawn’s 10 songs were pretty damn immediate, too.

“As a music fan, I kind of hate it when bands play new songs,” Goodman says from Los Angeles. “You’re standing there not knowing the new song. But as a musician, I only like playing new songs. There’s an internal battle every night of every tour. We were playing so many new songs on the Kate Nash tour, but people would come up to me at the merch stand. They would be asking about certain songs, and they’d all be the new songs.”

The amped-up turn for the former Vivian Girl wasn’t a fluke, either. After her full-time band dissolved this year (“we were pretty inactive for a while,” she clarifies), she shifted her full focus to La Sera, a project that was fleshed out between Vivian Girls tours and recording.

“Those first two records [La Sera’s self-titled debut and Sees the Light] were written between Vivian Girls tours,” she says. “It was when I could fit in time to do La Sera, whereas in the last year La Sera has been my main band. Finally, I have time in my life to treat La Sera with the same effort and time that I used to treat Vivian Girls.”

That effort started by assembling a new band to record the album, and the two took a vision by Wisenbaker and ran with it: “He was like, we should go for ‘80s power pop, with a Pretenders, Cars, Talking Heads sort of sound.” And so, La Sera’s vision of the ‘80s started to form from Goodman’s songs. They’d add Danny Gomez, who’s memorized the Smiths’ songbook on bass, and Mike Gleason, “just an excellent punk drummer.” Between the four, they’d flesh out Goodman’s songs as a four-headed democracy, a definite change for La Sera.

“In the past I’ve written songs, demoed them out, and then with a producer I rerecorded those demos almost exactly the way I recorded them,” she says. “This time I finished less of the song before I brought it to the band. The members had the parts, and we changed the parts a lot more from my demos to the finished project. I’d say these songs were less spontaneous and more worked on and edited. Usually the song took on a life of its own and we took each song to where it should be rather than accepting the demo form.”

This change filled out more songs than Goodman could have expected.

“My friend once told me that songs can wear a lot of different clothes,” Goodman says. “So you can take a song and it can sound a million different ways depending on what tempo you put it at, or what instruments are used on it. These songs are way different than they ever were before as well as the clothes they’re wearing—the production and everything.”

A result of long-winded jams and edits, the album’s title track (and gorgeous centerpiece) was one of the most-affected. “That song started out as a 30-second demo with some chords and maybe the chorus, and that song really changed a lot with the band. We wrote all the parts, the whole second part, the last three minutes. They were all jammed out at practice, and we made it this epic centerpiece to the album. I’m so glad that we followed through with those ideas to the point that we did. I feel like that’s my favorite song on the whole album.”

But a fiery live spirit can be stomped out as quick as you can hit “record” in the studio, and the duo of Goodman and Wisenbaker saw that the songs wouldn’t be tamed with studio gloss. Hour of the Dawn was recorded in once-a-week sessions in a sweltering studio over a few months in Los Angeles—La Sera’s members had dayjobs to hold down, after all. “It was almost 100 degrees in the studio every day,” Goodman says, before Wisenbaker jumps in: “It was like Bikram recording.”

And while the Bikram method in yoga might bring its devotees some peace of mind, some calm, these sweaty sessions did the opposite. “That’s why there’s a sense of urgency. We’re sweating and going ‘Let’s fucking do this’ and play as hard and fast as we can,’” Goodman says. “It’s not like we were in this fancy studio nitpicking everything we were doing, it was more like, let’s get that energy on the recording.” Wisenbaker nabs the phone to chime in: “A lot of the parts on the record were initially intended to be the scratch take. But everything kind of blended together to our liking, and that’s what the album has.”

Now, with months of touring ahead of La Sera, Goodman and Wisenbaker wouldn’t have done it any other way. In fact, Goodman’s quick to point out that this is her favorite album she’s been a part of.

“When it comes to my personal music career, I’ve been learning by doing,” she says. ?“Vivian Girls was essentially the first time I played bass, and now I feel like I know so much more now than I do then. But in a year, I feel like I’ll know so much more in a year than I do now. For me, music is keep doing it, keep writing songs, keep releasing albums and keep growing. If I sit around waiting for me to become a perfect musician, I wouldn’t release anything, and I’m okay with growing in public. I’m on my sixth album with Vivian Girls and La Sera combined, and I learn so much more every single time. I can conclusively say this is my favorite thing I’ve ever recorded. I am as proud of this album as anything I’ve ever recorded, and that’s hard to say because I’ve loved everything, I’m super proud of everything I’ve ever done.”

But more importantly, this stuff still shreds live. “Once you record an album and you have to tour on it for a long time, you’re like, what do we want to be playing live? These styles. Fast, aggressive songs are so fun to play on tour.”