Interview with AJ Haynes (Seratones): Animating a Space

When Seratones were announced as part of this year’s Newport Folk Festival lineup, I went to Daytrotter to see if there was a session. There is and it’s incredible. Seratones bowled me over with their energy, confidence, and urgency to their sound. They are magnetic. It was a great pleasure to chat with AJ Haynes, the lead singer. Be sure to catch their set at the Fort this year; they’ll be your new favorite band.  

RLR: Can you talk about how The Seratones got together and how the past year or so has been since Get Gone came out?

AJH: I’ve known these guys for over 10 years now. I met them at local punk shows down in Shreveport. Adam and I used to put together multimedia art events, definitely on the weird, experimental side, to keep ourselves entertained. From there, we’ve all played in different projects together and this is the one that’s here now, and it sticks.

As for the past year, we’re coasting along. And it’s been a lot of fun. There have been lots of times when you feel like your stomach’s about to go through your mouth, but it’s totally worth it. Prior to making Get Gone, we’d all done at home recordings, but it was the first time in all of our experiences as musicians that we’d had time to really set up our vision in our studio, so it’s really fun to get a second time at that.

RLR: Can you talk about that studio experience as a band?

AJH: Yeah, it’s a crucible; it’s definitely a very heated, the time is crunched…I don’t know, I’m a weirdo, and I love really insane deadlines. One of my favorite quotes is in this interview with Jack White. He was asked, “What inspires you?” and he said: “Deadlines.” And if I know I have to get something done by a specific time, it’s like, OK, I’m just not going to eat or sleep for a while, but it will get done.

RLR: I’ve talked to some people who have said they need to book studio time to finish their songs; they need that pressure.

AJH: We’re not putting that on ourselves, because, you know, there’s just money involved with that. We can’t be doing that.

RLR: Most of your songs have very spare lyrics – it seems like you cut out all the fat on a song and leave that core essence. Where do you think that comes from and how does your songwriting process work?

AJH: I was an English major and spent a good solid year focused on formal poetry. So that definitely ties into things like counting syllables. One of my favorite poets is Emily Dickinson, and there’s a lot of erotic energy in her restraint; her poems have such meaning but it’s something so short and concise. So I appreciate that about writing lyrics and I also love the mysticism of it. You know, with like, Mick Jagger: who knows half of what he’s talking about. And when you read the lyrics, you’re like: this is really cryptic, but there’s also a stream of consciousness about it. It’s fun to read, it’s fun to guess.

When I’m writing, I’ll make a sort of thought map, and I’ll just move from thought to thought try to refine it from there, depending of what syllables and what sounds seem to work. I keep it sparse for a reason. You know, I know the story, but I’m more interested in how other people engage, so I’m leaving a lot of room for could bes.

 


 
RLR: You’ve talked in the past about playing intuitively. How does that impact your songwriting and your performance as a band?

AJH: Obviously, you rehearse because you need to know the songs. But [a] performance should be unique to each show, and you’re just simply animating a space. It’s more important to be in tune with what’s needed and to communicate with your audience. It’s gotta be real and you have to be present.

RLR: So you’re responding to your audience. I’ve talked to people who will tear up the set list halfway through based on their read of the audience, or who don’t use a set list at all.

AJH: Oh, hell no. You have to have a set list. Even when we used to put together our art events there’d be a roadmap and we can make decisions on the fly, but there was an agenda, you know? But [during a concert], I’m literally running around on the stage, and running on adrenaline as well, so I have to know what’s next.

RLR: I recently heard an interview with Jason Isbell, and he claimed that genre is less important now than it was 10-15 years ago. As the frontwoman for a band that often gets hyphenated across genres, how does that strike you?

AJH: The reality is it depends on where you’re at. It depends on how much backing you have, because it takes money to do this shit. Genres are a marketing tool. It’s a way to say, “Hey people, this is what this sounds like, this is what to expect.”

In some sense, sure, genre is less important to musicians, because we’re just writing music and making what sounds good. But it’s still extremely important to people who are marketing because they have to have some way to spin it. I don’t give a shit about genre or the indication of a value of a song – a good song is a good song. As far as that’s concerned, I’ve always said, and will continue to say: Seratones is a Rock N’ Roll band. But I don’t think of Rock N’ Roll as a genre, I think of it as a space, or something more than that, kind of like an oral history. I think Jason Isbell’s brilliant though, and he knows how to get conversations going.

But like, thinking about Newport and what Bob Dylan did. I don’t think he was bucking at anything, I think it was like, hey I’m tired of playing these songs and I want to try something different. It wasn’t Bob Dylan himself, it was more the reaction of people around him to what are deemed genres. I think [genres] are more like alliances, right…they can be political in that way.

RLR: Well, yeah, they do act politically in a way, especially in terms of who even has access to the stage.

AJH: I just got finished reading Just Around Midnight: Rock N’ Roll and The Racial Imagination. It takes people writing about music and their perspective, and these people were crafting how people should take in music and how they should participate. And I think the musician’s role is to keep doing what they want and people can figure it out.

If you won’t be at Newport, check out tour dates for Seratones here. Go see this band live. Buy their music. That is all.

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