Music Springs Nocturnal: Katy Goodman’s La Sera
Published March 1, 2011
Katy Goodman is singing to me. Though she’s at soundcheck in downtown Los Angeles with her primary band, Vivian Girls, she isn’t singing one of their songs. Nor is she testing a tune from her other band, La Sera, whose lush album of Brill Building-inspired songs has just come out.
Instead, she’s singing the hook to a rap song that was popular ten years ago, into her cell phone. Later, while transcribing our call’s tape, I’ll hear in the background the other Vivians—Cassie Ramone and Fiona Campbell—pleading with her to stop. But never mind those details. The important thing is, right now, Katy Goodman is singing to me and I feel like the Ione Skye of noise pop. When she finally complies with her bandmates’ request, our interview begins in earnest.
ANDREW STOUT: That was amazing, Katy. Thanks. Now, we’re going to get into big trouble if we don’t talk about your awesome new album. La Sera came out a few weeks ago. You’re touring it, you’re talking to me now to promote it. Tell me what you set out to do musically with these songs.
KATY GOODMAN: I really had nothing in mind. I bought a guitar and a tiny practice amp at Main Drag Music in Brooklyn. I went back to my parents’ house and just wrote songs. And I did that every day for two weeks with no real goals in mind. At the end of it, I realized I had sort of written an album by accident.STOUT: What were those days like—the days you spent writing and demo-ing these songs?
GOODMAN: I led a very strange schedule for those two weeks. Basically, Vivian Girls was off for two weeks, and I was stuck at my parents’ house in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I’d wake up around 6pm every day. Then I would watch TV or something until 11. Then I’d go to my room and write a song until the sun rose. And that’s how the album was written—all at nighttime.
STOUT: Was it fun writing the album this way, in semi-isolation?
GOODMAN: It was pretty fun, because I had never written songs before. In Vivian Girls, I help with songwriting and harmonies and song structures, and things like that. But I never just sat down and tried to write a song before. So I was kind of hooked when I did it. What I’ve found to this day is when I write songs I have to be alone. I can’t have any distractions.
STOUT: How far have you had to go out of your way to block out distractions to be able to do that?
GOODMAN: It’s very hard these days. Obviously, the two weeks I spent writing the album, it was easy because I was stuck at my parents’ house in the winter. But these days, I live in L.A. and I like to visit my friends. And it’s very hard to get time away. So I wrote one song a month since I finished the album. I get about one day a month where I get to sit around by myself and do it.
STOUT: With the kind of crash course you took in writing the La Sera album, I wonder if you came out of it with any revelations regarding songcraft—stuff that will make it easier from here on out.
GOODMAN: It’s definitely been an eye-opening experience. When I was writing the album, I was letting lyrics come to me by accident. I wasn’t overthinking them. I was playing the chords and singing “la-la-la’s” until words formed. Whereas I feel like now when I write songs, I think more about what the song will be about. I’ve been paying more attention to lyrics.
STOUT: How did Brady Hall get involved in the recording? He’s directed videos for Vivian Girls, right?
GOODMAN: I’ve been friends with Brady for over ten years, and he’s often on Gchat really late at night when I am. And while I was recording the songs—I’d finish one, and I’d be like, “Hey, Brady, what’s up?” And I asked him what he thought of these songs I was making. He really liked the songs, but he asked if it was cool for him to re-record them. So he re-recorded all the demos and I loved how it sounded.
STOUT: How has the process of making the La Sera album impacted your input on the upcoming Vivian Girls album?
GOODMAN: I think the Vivian Girls process hasn’t changed much, because Vivian Girls has been a working band for four years now. We kind of have a system of operating and it’s going to stay that way—forever, probably. [laughs] And it works this way. But I do have this other outlet where I have more control. So it’s cool to do both.
STOUT: Tomorrow you head off to Miami, where you will set sail for the Bruise Cruise fest. How excited are you about the cruise?
GOODMAN: Oh my god! So excited! I cannot wait! There are yoga classes on the boat.
GOODMAN: It’s like a Carnival Cruise. It’s huge!
STOUT: [laughs] Do you do yoga generally?
GOODMAN: I love yoga. It’s my favorite thing to do. I don’t do as much as I’d like because I’m always on tour. But when I’m home I go to yoga classes.
STOUT: Hey! I can hear some people calling you back to soundcheck. But before you go, I have one quick question. Someone told me you’re a physics major and you’ve read a lot of Richard Dawkins’ books. Are there any you’d recommend?
GOODMAN: My favorite book of his is The Greatest Show on Earth, which is the book about evolution. His approach can be kind of snarky. And I know a lot of people are turned off by it, but I love it—the way he pokes fun at people who don’t believe in evolution. I also like The God Delusion, but then again, people can be kind of turned off by him. Some people I know are like, “Uh, whatever.” But I like that there’s somebody out there saying those things. Because evolution isn’t a belief—it’s science and truth. There are a lot of people who don’t want to offend other people’s beliefs. But there are also beliefs that are misinformed.
LA SERA WILL PLAY BOWERY BALLROOM TOMORROW NIGHT AND BELL HOUSE IN BROOKLYN ON THURSDAY. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT GOODMAN’S MYSPACE.