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La Sera Hit the High Notes

For her fourth record the ex-Vivian Girls bassist adds her husband to the lineup, while Ryan Adams hops on production, and the results rule.

On the Los Angeles-based band’s fourth album, La Sera has become a family affair. This time around, the (now) duo’s visionary Katy Goodman is joined by her guitarist/co-writer/husband Todd Wisenbaker for longplayer Music for Listening to Music to. While Goodman—the former bassist of hazy indie pop band Vivian Girls—has functioned as the creative lead since the project’s inception back in 2010, with Wisenbaker producing every record, her partner in crime now shines as an integral part of the music-making process right down to the lyrics. Not mention a musical nous strengthened by his time spent in Ryan Adams’ backing band. No coincidence then that the moody crooner also produced the pair’s latest album. “We recorded everything live to tape, so it’s really warm-sounding,” says Goodman of the band’s latest release. “I think the album is really cohesive, and we’re really proud of it.”


Sonically, La Sera take their cues from surf rock and 60s girl groups, equally enamoured with a complementary, sunkissed-faded visual aesthetic, particularly evident in their video for “High Notes,” below. It feels like an ep from a kitschy old TV show, but most pertinently, Music For Listening to Music to shows the couple honing in on the power of a matrimonial and musical relationship. Their romantic (or less romantic) experiences inform the songwriting and sometimes hard to listen to lyrics of songs like “I Need An Angel” and “Take My Heart.” Lyrics like “Can you do better by my side these days?” and “But I can not take / No more none of this heartache / So I'm running away” capture experiences of self-doubt and longing, because, as we all know by now, marriage doesn’t eradicate all niggling doubts. Marital bliss is a fallacy because humans are flawed and ever-evolving, coming together and pulling apart and imprinting each other as they do. La Sera show that some of your best work is done with your other half.

We caught up with the duo about collaborating with Ryan Adams, the future of La Sera and the possibility of a Vivian Girls reunion.

Noisey: La Sera was a solo project for the first three records. Why did you decide to make it into a band?
Katy Goodman: La Sera was definitely a solo project from Vivian Girls, so I had a main band and then I was making music on the side. But Vivian Girls broke up, so this became my real band—not just a side project. I wouldn’t want to have my main band be a solo project—I like working with people. I like having bandmates.


Noisey: How was working with Ryan Adams different than producing yourself?
Katy: This was the first time I worked with a producer. Vivian Girls didn’t have a producer, but we worked with an engineer.

Todd Wisenbaker: Well, I produced the [La Sera] records before, so from my perspective that was like not having a producer. That was more of a collaborative effort with other band members. With this record, Katy and I made demos for most of the songs. We had a template for what we were going to do. Whether or not there was a producer, there was the fact that we were limited to a no-computer situation. Everything had to be executed well and nothing could be manipulated, so that was pretty much the main difference. Ryan was like a coach within takes—he’d pump you up for doing your part. I played all of the music, aside from the drums, so he really focused on Katy’s vocals with Katy. Before she played bass and was concerned with harmonies, so that whole aspect was removed, so he had her focused on singing.

What’s the message behind this record?
Todd: Well there’s two sides to it. One would be the musical message, which is definitely not a modern-sounding record—it’s not throwback 60s, but kind of an 80s vibe with some rockabilly and country. That’s the music side, but as far as a message within the lyrics, every song is kind of different. Katy and I are married, so maybe that informs some of the lyrics with sentiment or how we say things, but there isn’t that, “You bastard! You broke my heart” vibe. Her lyrics are different than my lyrics: I try to write lyrics that sound good with the song so that the overall experience has a message, but she probably has a little bit more of a literal meaning to her lyrics.


Katy: I would say that all of the songs are about different things. “Take My Heart” is about Todd. It’s about our relationship, that’s the one that’s about us. “High Notes” is about singing and my feelings of being a singer. “Time To Go” is a fictionalized story I wrote about a nonexistent encounter with a friend. They’re all different.

What drives you to be creative throughout your life?
Katy: We just never stop making music: ever. I’m always making music. It’s what I’ve done throughout the past decade of my life.

Who were some of your biggest influences on this record?
Todd: I would say The Smiths, Dwight Yoakam, rockabilly guitar in general, Chet Atkins. There’s a lot of early country guitar styles on it and I think that pretty much covers it with the musical influences.

What’s inspiring you guys to make music these days?
Katy: I love being a three-piece. I like being a guitar, bass, drums band. It’s the same format as Vivian Girls was. I think you can play a lot better as a three-piece in comparison to a four-piece or five-piece. It’s just a lot tighter. It’s a lot of fun being a three-piece—it’s really inspiring.

What were you doing during time between your last album and this one?
Katy: For the past year I was software engineering for CASH Music. I wrote code. I did that for a while.

Do you like coding more than making music?
Katy: No, I like making music. Coding was something to do while we were waiting for our record to come out. It was something to do while there was nothing going on.


What’s the biggest lesson you learned from the first album to this one?
Todd: I think we’ve learned how Katy and I can work together well and how to work with each other. I think we felt like we can continue to do this for a long time. You can only kind of get there by doing it for a while and realizing it’s working. I think that’s the biggest lesson we learned.

Do you think Vivian Girls will ever reunite?
Katy: Yeah. I could see it happening at some point. I still talk to all the girls—we’re all friends. Not soon, but I could see it happening one day.

What’s your advice for making a good record, if you had to give any?
Todd: First, it’s practice your instruments because it helps you with your recording. If you’re just the singer, sing a lot. I know that’s super obvious and what your parents say, but I practiced all the time before the record and we recorded in four days. It was because we practiced. I think the musicianship gets lost in indie music or whatever kind of music we are and the fact that people just record on their computers. So, you can suck and make it sound good. So, practice and make it sound good with your band, and hopefully you’ll have good songs.

What’s your favorite Ryan Adams-produced record?
Todd: Right now, at the moment, I really love his last record, Ryan Adams.

You worked on Ryan Adams’ 1989 cover album. How’d that happen?
Todd: Basically, we did the La Sera record. He went on tour and was like, “We’re gonna record something.” We started working on our record, and he was like, “Let’s record the Taylor Swift record.” So, it came out of the La Sera record. The same band that played on the Taylor Swift record is La Sera.

What was your favorite song to make on the La Sera record?
Todd: Well, they were all done pretty much in the same fashion where the drummer and I would play guitar and drums. That was the first thing we did and then Katy would sing over. I like “Take My Heart” a lot. Overall, all the recording was pretty much the same, song by song.

What does the future of La Sera look like for you?
Todd: We have a little bit of touring coming up, some random things and I’m probably going to be touring in Ryan’s band in the summer. We both also do other musical ventures. We’ll see how this one does and then in a year or so, record another record.

Ilana Kaplan is a writer living in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.