They’re en route to a string of performances up and down West Coast, including their debut appearance at San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore. “I mean, our roots are in the South, and they’re reflected in our work ethic. We’re a working band, and that’s something I’m proud of. But it doesn’t dominate who were are.”
With their debut album, Get Gone, the group has embarked on their courtship with the national music press. They have discovered that music journalists, especially those of us up north, have a habit of spewing regional clichés whenever we cover bands from below the Mason-Dixon line. Grooves are regularly described as “deep fried,” tunes are as tasty as BBQ (or gumbo, when referencing Louisiana outifts like the Seratones), and the invocation of Robert Johnson’s crossroads myth when gushing about any halfway decent six-stringer. It’s as if there exists a secret handbook for music critics that says acts from the South must be reduced to their southernness.At the same time, Haynes admits the punk in her thinks it can be fun messing with people’s (mis)perceptions of that southernness. “It’s interesting because there is this ‘exoticization’ of the South,” the singer and guitarist says, “and it can definitely work in your favor.”
One example is the video for “Necromancer,” the quartet’s first single after signing with Fat Possum last year. Featuring a crew of pseudo zombies dancing around a sinewy fire, a gyrating priestess and shamanic ephemera, it playfully flirts with the voodoo folklore unique to Louisiana culture. Yet in the mischievous spirit of Legba, the trickster deity whose roots reach back to West Africa, the video’s imagery ultimately serves an entrancing slice of obfuscation. Peel it back and the music itself isn’t terribly Southern, instead it’s revved-up torque, like a muscle car that was forged on the assembly lines of mid-’60s Detroit.
Like “Necromancer,” the sonic boundaries of Get Gone reach far beyond the band’s home turf. Coming together in 2013 and working their way through the Deep South’s thriving DIY punk scene, the Seratones have developed a profoundly expansive brand of music, one that draws inspirations from damn near every corner of America, as well as multiple eras, from modern garage and psych-punk to vintage rockabilly and acid rock.
“We definitely have the biggest band crushes on the West Coast artists, Thee Oh Sees, King Tuff, Ty Segall,” Haynes says. “I also know every Doors song front to back, and I really like The Stooges. Raw Power is one of my favorite records.”
But for as rocking as the Seratones can be (“Choking on Your Spit” is blistering and utterly thrilling), it isn’t the entire recipe. Boasting a real finesse, the band likes to infuse their jams with subtle touches of jazz (not unlike The Doors, actually).
“I always felt that there’s a connection between garage punk and jazz, a shared freedom of expression and experimentation,” Haynes points out. “Plus, there’s that same live energy.”
“Kingdom Come” nails this as drummer Jesse Gabriel lays down a deliciously elastic swing while guitarist Connor Davis and bassist Adam Davis weave zigzagging patterns of fuzz-drenched syncopation and Haynes carefully works her own rhythm guitar into the propulsion. Her fabulously dexterous voice, meanwhile, twirls, dips, gnashes, giggles and cries. She perpetually pivots around the groove, at times even bursting into cryptic ecstasy, as though half her being has temporarily stepped into a shadowy realm. Numerous articles have cited Haynes’ gospel background (she grew up singing in the Baptist church) as a key component to her singing style. But while it surely schooled her in mechanics (pitch, breath support, projection), her style is more closely aligned with the jazz vocal tradition.
“One of my favorite jazz records is The Essential Billie Holiday: Carnegie Hall Concert Recorded Live,” she says. “She let a song carry her, a certain relinquishing of control. I think that her approach is closer to what many gospel singers should try to accomplish — being a conduit, a channel. She would let a note trail or sing with a razor’s edge entirely on a whim.”
If there’s one key quality of Holiday’s that echoes through the Seratones’ music, it’s her elegant sense of richness. Indeed, it feels as if entire worlds exist inside the tunes comprising Get Gone. It’s Southern all right, but it’s also so much more.
Seratones on Tour
5/6: St Paul, MN, Turf Club
5/7: Chicago, The Hideout
5/8: Cincinnati, OH, MOTR Pub
5/10: Detroit, Marble Bar
5/11: Columbus, OH, Big Room Bar
5/13, Nashville, The Basement
5/14: Little Rock, AR, White Water Tavern
6/3: Richmond, VA, Brown’s Island
8/28: Reading, PA, Reading and Leeds Festival