La Sera: On My Own | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

La Sera

On My Own

Mar 09, 2011 Web Exclusive
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It's Friday night in Philadelphia, and La Sera's Katy Goodman is suffering with a bit of a cold. The Vivian Girls bassist/vocalist has been on tour with her solo project, La Sera, just getting back from a stint overseas, and tonight she will play opener to a sold out show with husband-and-wife outfit Tennis. Despite being visibly tired and her pipes in need of rest, Goodman sat down with Frank Valish pre-show to discuss her auspicious debut as La Sera, getting onstage for the first time to perform her own songs, and the difficulties of having an ex-boyfriend in the audience when you're performing the song about him.

Frank Valish: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what kind of music was around when you were growing up?

Katy Goodman: I grew up in New Jersey, and the kind of music I was going to see when I was in high school were local high school bands, who would later reform and start bands such as Real Estate and Titus Andronicus and Ducktails. I used to go see those guys play in their awesome high school bands. That's basically how I got into music, just going to those shows and high school talent shows and things.

What kind of music was playing around the house when you were young?

Oldies. It was primarily oldies. I only ever listened to the oldies station. I really attached myself to old music. When I was growing up, my number one favorite song was The Mamas & the Papas' "Dream a Little Dream of Me." And I would run around telling everyone that too, because I was really into it.

Probably the only person in your grade school or whatever...

I remember very distinctly that when Green Day got popular, I was like, "I hate Green Day." I only like Iris Dement. And Iris Dement was like a '90s country singer. I was always like a little jerk about it. Now I like Green Day.

When did the idea of the solo album come about?

It came about around a year ago. I wrote all the songs without any intentions. I had two weeks off of tour. I was stuck in my parents' house in New Jersey in the winter. I didn't really have any friends around or anything, so I was just kind of locked away. I had nothing to do. The first day I got home from tour, I bought a guitar, a $100 Squier, and I bought one of those tiny orange amps, and I just went back to my parents' house, the first night I was there, and I wrote a song. And I was hooked. So I wrote a song every day for two weeks. About a month later was when I realized that it could be an album, that the songs I wrote did have a theme and it was kind of a concept.

Did you have the songs pretty much written when you bought the guitar?

No, no. The first time I got the guitar was the first song that I'd written. In Vivian Girls, I'd written parts. I always write my bass lines and I always write harmonies and stuff, but the first time I really wrote a song from scratch, like all by myself, was for La Sera.

Was it easier or more difficult than you anticipated?

It was easier. Because I didn't think anyone would ever hear it. So it didn't matter. I didn't have to edit myself. I didn't have to care about it. It's not like I didn't care about it, but I didn't have any sort of devil sitting on my shoulder telling me that people would hate it. So it's easier to express yourself when you don't have an audience, I think.

Did that come later, that devil on your shoulder?

Um, it's creeping up there.

Well, not anymore.

I knew that I would never write music again in the same exact way once people start reviewing my album. Once you get reviews, once people critique you, you're not the same anymore. I believe that. You can't really operate in free space anymore, because now you're under judgment. People have pointed out your flaws. They've pointed them out to you.

So you read the reviews?

Oh yeah, I read reviews. I do want to learn from them, but I was kind of sad that I'd only written a couple songs for this experience that would change me forever. So I wrote half my new album already. I made sure to finish half of it before the reviews came out, so that they'd be untainted by criticism. I'll probably change some of them now. I think it's good, because I'm more conscious about songwriting now than I was then.

Had you thought about writing on your own before this, or did this just come about when you were alone that winter?

It just kind of came. It felt like the right thing to do. I really had nothing to do for two weeks. I didn't want to sit around and eat and watch TV. I decided I'm going to do something. And I wasn't exercising, so I was like, 'I might as well write music and I'm going to give it my all for like two weeks.' Every night I would sit down and I would start a new song and I would finish it by morning time.

So it wasn't that there was something that you were dying to express outside of the band.

In Vivian Girls, I'm not the main songwriter. I mostly help out. I didn't think that I'd ever have a solo album come out. At the time, I was just like, 'Well I'm going to give a go at this, and see how it goes.' And apparently it went pretty well, because people seem to like it.

Brady Hall did the instrumentation on the album. You sent him your demos. How did you express to him how you wanted the album to sound? Did you want to conjure this classic songwriting sense?

I made demos. The demos basically only had guitars, guitar solos, tambourine, harmony, and I sent them to him and I let him pretty much do whatever he wanted. And most of the time it was perfect. There were some things that we changed here and there, but he had a really good vision for the final product of what the demos were. The demos I thought were really good, and he was like, "I can do better." He did do better. He did way better.

But there wasn't anything specifically that you wanted to do differently from a Vivian Girls record?

I definitely wanted it to sound clean, and I think I accomplished that. There's no fuzz at all on the record. It's pretty clean. I wanted to make a clean record. I wanted to see if it could be done.

It almost harks back to the classic, oldies stuff you were talking about being in the house when you growing up. Do you think that was conscious when you were writing?

No, not really. I just kind of wrote songs, and that's what came out. I didn't really think about what I wanted them to sound like. They just kind of sounded like how they sounded.

I understand that you went to college for physics and that you have a Master's in education. At what point did you know you weren't going to be in the education field? Or did you want to be a physicist?

At one point, I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but then I got really disheartened with school, and being in a lab all day didn't really agree with me. So I did education, which I liked. I did my student teaching. I taught at college for two years. I really liked teaching, but I felt like I was too young for the job. In May of 2008, I was looking for jobs, and that's exactly when Larry [Hardy, owner of In the Red Records] emailed us and was like, "I want to put out your record," for Vivian Girls. And basically, Cassie [Ramone, Vivian Girls guitarist/vocalist] and I were sitting there and it was like, "Well I guess we're either going to do the band or we're going to get jobs and not do the band." We were like, "Screw it. Let's do it. Let's go for it." So I didn't get a job, and I've been touring ever since, to pay rent.

I wonder also whether you feel the scene has changed since that first Vivian Girls album?

Definitely. I feel that music comes in and out of fashion. Certain websites decide to endorse certain genres of music and those genres of music see success for a certain amount of time and it's all pretty fickle these days, because of the Internet. It's very rapidly changing. It's hard to be a musician these days, I think.

I guess I'm wondering, and maybe this is revisionist history, but it seems that you guys came in right on the front end of this fuzzed out, lo-fi indie-pop stuff that's been the rage lately. I wonder how you've seen that whole scene progress?

It's hard to see it when you're in it. I'm sure you see it more clearly than I do. I think other people could talk about that thing better than I could. I'm not qualified.

 I read that you had stage fright the first time you played as La Sera.

Oh yeah. Oh totally. It was during CMJ. I had no idea what I was doing.

I was surprised by that, because you've been on stage for years.

It's way different, leading a band as opposed to being the bass player in a band. Something I never understood is, I did the harmonies in Vivian Girls, but the lyrics that I'm singing in Vivian Girls, they're not mine, therefore I'm detached from them. I never understood the experience of singing to a group of people things that you've written. It takes so much more strength. And it's harder. And also in Vivian Girls, the emphasis is not on me. It's on all of us together. Whereas in La Sera I definitely do feel that there's more of a pressure on me personally because it's my solo project.

Everyone's looking at you.

Everyone's staring at me. I'm not used to be under that kind of spotlight. But I think I'm getting used to it now. It's only been about six months since I've started playing. But I definitely think I would say that I'm better now than I was then. For sure.

Were you surprised by your reaction getting on stage, being nervous?

Yeah, definitely. Because I thought, 'I can do this. I've been singing and playing bass for a long time.' But it's totally different when it's your own songs.... And it's really terrifying when one of the ex-boyfriends that you wrote a song about is in the crowd watching.

And that happened at CMJ? Not at that first show?

I'm not telling anybody anything. Let's just say that it is scary when someone that you write a song about is watching you.

Did he know that it was about him?

No. No, no.

So you're going on tour again [with Vivian Girls] next month.

I'm on tour nonstop for four months. No days off.

Have you thought about the Vivian Girls tour? You're not thinking about that yet, right?

I try to not think about it, because I'm going to freak out if I do.

So it's been challenging to balance things?

Yes. But it's been fun. I wouldn't do anything else. I'm glad that I get to do this.

(www.iamkatygoodman.com)



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Plukupp
March 9th 2011
10:50pm

Excellent interview!

Eric Chicago
March 9th 2011
11:25pm

Thank you for the interview. I am a HUGE Kickball Katy fan! I love the Vivian Girls! I bought the La Sera single and album and was impressed by both. Great lyrically and musically. Kickball Katy has an angelic voice. I hope there is more to come!

-Eric Chicago