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Interview: Teaching the new rock and roll revival with Seratones singer A.J. Haynes

 

Ever since their debut album Get Gone hit shelves both plastic and digital this past May, Seratones have been causing a noisy ruckus. The Louisiana band’s energetic blend of garage rock and Motown soul is infectious, and since forming in 2013, the quartet has been able to channel their sound into rave reviews and a palpable buzz. Frontwoman A.J. Haynes exudes powerful charisma, while guitarist Connor Davis shreds raw and scorching riffs. The rhythm section of Davis’ brother Adam on bass and drummer Jesse Gabriel is seismic, and they’ll be bringing their energetic and electrifying performance to Brighton Music Hall in Allston this Saturday (October 15) for a bill with Boston’s own Dirty Bangs.

Before the upcoming festivities, Vanyaland had a conversation with Haynes about her previous career as a high school teacher, her musical lineage, the experience of making a debut album for Fat Possum Records, the flooding that took place in Louisiana this past August, and what the band’s plans are for the future.

Rob Duguay: Before you became the lead singer of Seratones full-time, you were a high school teacher. What made you want to initially go into the field and how did you balance the life of a teacher with the life of a musician during the band’s beginnings?

 

A.J. Haynes: I’ve always thought that the performance space and the teaching space were pretty parallel. You have to hold people’s attention for a set amount of time and keep them engaged. My favorite teachers growing up were also good performers as well. I hustled my ass off, when I literally got the call from Fat Possum Records that they were interested I was taking the call during my planning period. I didn’t have any time, I would be grading papers, sending emails and then getting calls from different agents that we were interested in literally in between classes.

Taking press calls on my lunch break, I just didn’t stop. I wouldn’t say it was a balance as much as it was a juggle. It was an intense time period but it felt right, I didn’t question it. Joining Fat Possum was a no-brainer, I’ve been a huge fan of their label for years and it seemed like a perfect fit. So why did I want to start teaching? I’ve always loved teaching.

I tutored when I was going for my undergraduate degree prior to that. I think it’s really grounding for me to be around and work with young minds because they teach you more than you teach them I think. It’s really easy, especially in this heightened sociopolitical climate given the recent events, to feel really down and feel completely screwed. For me, working with kids gives me faith that we’re all going to be OK. We just have to make sure that we’re putting forth the right effort in the right places and make sure that kids have access to the things that they need so they can help build the world that we want to live in.

One of the courses you taught was broadcast journalism. Did you have any college radio experience before you taught the course or did you have any radio experience growing up?

I did perform in and was a part of a few theatre productions. I have friends that are filmmakers and I also was a DJ at my college radio station for a while on and off. I also worked with kids on making music videos so I kind of know how to keep a project on track. It’s really cool watching a vision happen between the kids and I just think it’s one of the coolest things. Whenever I’m back home during the summer I help with a film camp.

The Renzi Center is this non-profit that I work with whenever I have time. They have a camp program and the vision behind it is really cool so I just help with that. I’ve had a bunch of prior experience mostly through community work and general project management. I think that you have to make your own fun and so I would put together media events and happenings based on the ideas of the ’20s and of the ’60s. Getting a lot of people in a room and putting a bunch of art up, have dancing with whatever type of experimental film. If I can work with artists, I can work with kids.

It sounds like you have a very diverse background when it comes to creativity and teaching. Along with you being a singer, your mom was a singer in Japan before your family moved to the United States. How much of an impact did she have on your vocal abilities when you were growing up?

We didn’t really sing together, it was mostly her instructing me on breathing and a lot of exercises. We didn’t really harmonize or anything but we would dance around the kitchen singing.

So it was just a natural thing.

Yeah. There was no pressure, there was no like “Hey, you’re going to be a singer” it was more of “Oh you like it too? Good!”

That’s the best way to get involved. It’s better to be comfortable doing it rather than being forced to do it. The Seratones’ debut Get Gone has gotten a lot of acclaim with the band’s garage rock sound and your stunning voice. What was the experience like making the album and are there things that you did in the studio during the process that you’ll probably do differently when it comes time to record the follow up?

It was a learning experience. It was a great challenge, I’m very comfortable on a performance space but I haven’t had a lot of time to experience the recording side of it. Working with Bruce Watson was really helpful for my vocal arrangements, that was something that I really appreciated him taking the time to really dig in with me on. I have a pretty whimsical nature, which also translates to my singing [laughs]. I like doing things on a whim but sometimes you really need to bunker down and have a set melody.

It’s kind of an obvious thing but that’s just not how my brain works so learning how to craft a melody in that way was really helpful. It’s definitely something that I’ll be taking cues from for the next record. Overall, I think you see this trend in bands that with the sophomore album you want kind of like a running theme or a vision. So we’ll see where the next step in when we get back into the studio.

I think with what the debut has you guys are on the right track.

Thank you!

This past August in Louisiana the state suffered a heavy amount of flooding. Being from Shreveport, how has your area been doing with the floods? Is there anything people can do to help out? Are there any websites they can log on to or any non-profits they can contact to help?

Sure. There’s a coalition of 40 religious congregations and community-based organizations called Together Baton Rouge that people can check out and donate to help assist people affected by the floods. We’re in north Louisiana so we didn’t have as much flooding, we’re pretty close to east Texas actually. It’s historic flooding, it’s the worst natural disaster to hit the east coast since Hurricane Sandy a few years ago. It didn’t really get a lot of coverage and people just think that it’s random heavy flooding and it’s not the case. A lot of people are displaced and lives have been lost. Our area is fine, we’re up north but that’s not the case for a lot of other people in the state.

It’s definitely a shame that it didn’t get a lot of coverage on a national scale, it’s awfully strange as well. After the show at Brighton Music Hall on Saturday, what do the Seratones have planned next? Does the band have any plans for Halloween?

We’re playing the Voodoo Music & Arts Experience so we’ll be in New Orleans for the Halloween Hullabaloo. So I’m very excited about that. Then we’re home for three days and then we’re heading out for a European Tour which will be starting at the Iceland Airwaves Festival in Reykjavik on November 2 and then we’ll be in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After that it’ll be time to buckle down and write a new record.

You got anything in mind for a Halloween costume?

I either want to be Apollonia or Prince.

SERATONES + DIRTY BANGS :: Saturday, October 15 at Brighton Music Hall, 158 Brighton Ave. in Allston, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, $12 in advance :: Facebook event page :: Advance tickets