INTERVIEW

With friends Cassie Ramone, Ali Koehler, Fiona Campbell and Frankie Rose, “Kickball Katy” Goodman did more than her fair share for the last 00s DIY pop revival. With Tom Fenwick she discusses life after Vivian Girls

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Katy Goodman and I are having communication issues. “Wait, what did you sa… ” The phone line briefly crackles, only to cut out completely. It buzzes again and Goodman’s warm, convivial tones return in semi-clarity; “Okay, you’re going to have to repeat everything you just said.”

Goodman and I have been trying to meet in person for a few days now, but after a gig falls through at the last minute it becomes apparent that we’re going to miss one another by a distance of almost 1000 miles. She is in the middle of a whistle-stop, two week European tour to promote her latest album, ‘Hour Of The Dawn’, a record that has seen her return in reinvigorated form under the guise of La Sera. I finally manage to catch her early on a Sunday morning, during what must be quite a jarring cultural shift, as she makes her way from Leeds to Paris, for the next date on the tour.

She’s just woken from a brief nap – “Y’know, sleeping in the bus!” – and, putting our concerns about temperamental phone lines to one side, our conversation immediately turns to the experience of life on the road. “I love it,” she says. “England has been especially phenomenal and I’m super stoked about our live performance. I mean, that was a big focus when we were writing our album – that the songs would be fun to play live. And everyone who’s seen the show so far is telling us they love hearing the new stuff, so I think we accomplished our goal.

“We’re on our way to Barcelona right now which is super exciting because I love the city with all its crazy, gorgeous Gaudi design. Plus I love the big festival experience; it’s just so cool to hang out with people you might never normally meet and the huge crossover of fans makes for a really fun experience. But I don’t get to go out as much these days as I used to, so maybe that’s what makes the whole tour more fun,” she says. “Of course, it helps that we have a really awesome group of people with us. The guys in La Sera right now are just great and when everyone gets along well it makes life so much easier.”

Life wasn’t always like this. La Sera started out back in 2011 as every bit the solo project, Goodman’s outlet from her day job as ‘Kickball Katy’, bassist for Vivian Girls, a group she formed alongside Cassie Ramone and Frankie Rose back in 2007. The trio’s career spanned three albums of freewheeling punk and infectious melodies that deftly drew together elements of ’60s girl groups with driving power pop. But after a number of years of inactivity ­– a period in which they all explored separate musical ventures – occasionally hinting at the possibility of a fourth collaboration, Vivian Girls finally confirmed their split earlier this year. It was an announcement that at the time seemed wholly amicable, a decision that Goodman approaches philosophically.

“With the Vivian Girls we accomplished everything we set out to do and we all felt that if you don’t feel you can produce music with the same energy anymore, then everyone should move on and do different things; because there is something very important in drawing energy out of music”

It was a move that forcibly upgraded La Sera from side project to main concern for Goodman, although the shift in responsibility didn’t come as easily as you might assume for someone who was already used to the limelight. She says: “It is quite different and it was kinda hard going from being one of three to being the front person, but I feel like I’m finally happy with it now. It’s all about time – like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I mean, it definitely took me a while to figure it all out, but now I’m comfortable having La Sera as my main project. While it might have started differently, that was four years ago, so it hasn’t been a sudden change; it’s just slowly transitioned into being my main thing.”

This gradual evolution is evident just by listening to La Sera’s records; from Goodman’s self-titled debut, which held a dreamy, sun flecked, folk-pop charm, to its 2012 follow-up, ‘Sees The Light’, that built on what had come before, while adding new, angular musical sensibilities. Yet you only need to hear her latest single, ‘Losing To The Dark’, (a tale of drink- and drug-addled boyfriends set to muscular guitar solos and big rock arrangements) and it’s clear that for her third LP Goodman’s slate has almost been wiped completely clean.

‘Hour Of The Dawn’ holds a thrilling clarity and vigour that has the feel of a highly assured debut. It retains the influence of Goodman’s adopted home of California (she relocated in between albums) while returning in part to the sweat and hustle of Vivian Girls’ Brooklyn roots.

“What we were going for was sort of a power pop vibe,” she says. “The Pretenders or The Cars – even The Smiths were a huge influence, because we wanted to make a classic eighties sounding rock album. We recorded as much of it live as we could, so it could still have that energy and hopefully that translates into the new sound. Y’know, warm but very energetic.”

Much of this sonic bombast in La Sera’s sound has come about from working with new collaborators – in particular guitarist/producer Tod Wisenbaker – and it’s the companionship of these fellow songwriters and musicians that is something she’s sorely missed during the recording of her previous two albums alone. Unsurprisingly for a musician once of such a tight band as Vivian Girls, it seems that Goodman exists best in a group.

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“I much prefer writing and recording as a band,” she confirms. “I think that a lot of people’s input usually helps and makes it better. Of course, sometimes I guess it doesn’t always work out, but you just have to work with wonderful people.

“Tod has obviously really influenced our sound, but everyone brought something to the music, so I guess it’s the first time that I’ve fully collaborated on a La Sera album. The first two records were just me writing the songs and then having a different producer come and record them with me. But this album has been totally different. I would come to practices with less finished things – just parts of songs – then the band would add their own input. In fact, two of the songs started with ideas from other people, so generally something good would always come out of it”.

Underneath all of the guitar shredding and West Coast warmth lies a darker lyrical intent on ‘Hour of The Dawn’. There are bittersweet anthems to summers past (‘Summer Of Love’), the transience of youth (‘Kiss This Town Away’) and desperate longing (‘All My Love Is For You’). “My heart is yours to throw away,” Goodman sings on the latter track. While on the raucous ‘Running Wild’, which holds clarity and amped up Rockabilly reminiscent of ‘Rusholme Ruffians’, Goodman sings “There’s no use in crying/If you’re drowning in the sea”. It’s an interesting dichotomy, which Goodman has toyed with before, but never with quite such direct force or upbeat musical accompaniment.

“Yeah, I’ve always liked that idea,” she says. “|If it’s a happy sounding song then it’s far more interesting to have really sad lyrics and occasionally vice versa. Although at its core I’d say this is actually a kind of hopeful album. It’s all about change and things getting better. The lyrics are all from my personal experiences with all of the songs based on people I know, or myself, or like things that have happened in my life.”

With the idea of change on the table, it’s hard not to speculate how much the breakup of Vivian Girls – who formed such a large part of her youth – had on the themes of an album that – with its vibrant and cacophonous sound paired with themes of loss, longing and belonging – seems like a blast of light after a period of darkness. It seems almost too coincidental, but it’s a suggestion that Goodman quickly dismisses.

“Well, we recorded our album almost a year ago,” she explains, “which was a while before Vivian Girls broke up, so it didn’t really affect ‘Hour Of The Dawn’ or its sound because, y’know, it was already done.” She laughs. Then pauses.

“Okay, well I guess until recently La Sera had always just been where I played soft, dreamy music because I could play loud, fast music elsewhere. The Vivian Girls had been the channel for my aggressive musical side for so long that when we started to wind that band down, I realised that I really still wanted to keep playing fast, high energy punk. So, since we played together less and less over the last few years I was definitely writing more punk sounding songs, simply because I love playing that kind of music live.”

So, with a breakout new album that sounds fresher than anything she’s done since Vivian Girls, and a collective of musicians surrounding her that has finally made La Sera a tangible group, Goodman seems to be in her most natural habitat. But with her knack for changing sounds and styles over La Sera’s past few records, you have to wonder if she’ll stick with this style, now she finally seems comfortable.

“I do feel super comfortable up on stage playing fast, aggressive music,” she says, “so now that most of our songs are that way I find the whole thing easier. So yeah, I think that we are going to continue along the same path of this album.

“I mean, of course our next record won’t sound exactly like this one, but we’ll definitely be the same band. I think that we’ve found a sound that we are all into and comfortable with and like playing, so we will continue in this way for a while. Of course, I don’t know what is going to come next, but it’s that sense of freedom, of being able to do anything that we want to and not feeling like we have to be the same. I don’t know…” The line crackles again “…it just feels like a new day.”

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