Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists

Storytelling and Sacred Geometry: An Interview with Seratones AJ Haynes

May 19, 2016
Written by
Jamie Ludwig
Text by
Jamie Ludwig

It’s the night after the release of Get Gone, the debut album from Shreveport, Louisiana’s Seratones but the band’s reputation has preceded its stop at Chicago’s beloved venue The Hideout, and the room is packed for the show. “Do my ladies run this mutha?” guitarist / vocalist  AJ Haynes asks the crowd while swigging from a plastic bottle of honey. “Hell, yeah!” is the enthusiastic response before the four-piece – which also includes guitarist Conor Davis, bassist Adam Davis, and drummer Jesse Gabriel – barrels into its stomping album single, “Chandeliers.” As a newer band on the scene, Seratones only has so much material, so even with a couple of covers filtered into their set (including Hayes’ solo tribute to Prince with “Beautiful Ones”) they’ve run out of original songs by the end of their set, and when the crowd demands an encore, they oblige with a rousing rendition of the MC5’s, “Kick Out the Jams.” It’s a fitting choice for a band whose own work echoes the energy and vitality of rock eras past without falling into “retro” trappings.

As Seratones’ frontwoman, Haynes embodies these qualities to a T as she tears up the stage with a magnetic mix of punk grit, bluesy swagger, and playful sensuality (not to mention an impressive set of pipes!). Taken together with the steady groove of her bandmates, it seemed all the more evident that despite the buzz status surrounding them, Seratones are no flavor of the month and with any luck we’ll be hearing from them for many years to come.

She Shreds recently interviewed Haynes about Get Gone, which is available now through Fat Possum Records, how playing guitar has impacted her songwriting, and the power of flipping the script on traditional narratives to open minds to alternate perspectives.

She Shreds: Seratones blends so many different musical influences together. How do you strike a balance between classic, roots-driven sounds and modern styles? Has doing so affected your choice of instrument or other equipment?

Our songwriting process is driven primarily by intuition and influence. There was never an intent to be a neo-anything band. We just make music we want to hear. Connor’s Hagstrom is a strange beast that made its way to him by way of our friend Shannon O’Rear. I chose a Jazzmaster because of Thurston Moore. Jesse’s Gretch kit was given to him by his stepmom Adrian. It belonged to her father and was played on by Gene Krupa…who took care of Anita O’Day, one of my favorite jazz singers. Adam chose his Rickenbacker because of Lemmy.

What is the climate like for independent musicians in Shreveport? Does the DIY scene spill into the more traditional music cultures and vice versa, or are things pretty separate? Also, you’ve noted Shreveport’s “weirdness” in previous interviews. How is that weirdness totally unique to the city?

In Shreveport, there really aren’t enough artists to warrant a division in groups. We all go out to support each other, regardless of genre. I believe Shreveport’s “weirdness” is an inherent part of its lineage. The city was never really supposed to be there.

You have been singing since the age of six. At what point did you add guitar or other instruments? How have you developed your voice over time, especially once you began writing and playing your own music?

I started playing guitar around age 18. My close friend Chris James gave me my first guitar and my first record. Buddy Flett taught me a thing or two and it’s been a fun time ever since. I’ve always written songs like poems, using formal devices and how they work with melody and such to guide the song. Playing guitar helped ground my songwriting. I’m largely self-taught and have very limited music theory knowledge, so most creative choices I make are intuitive.

A lot of my favorite artists (in many genres) are high school teachers, so it was cool to hear that you are one as well. Has your line of work impacted your songwriting or attitude towards music?  

I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to teach before things really started taking off with Seratones. I learned that touring, much like teaching, is just treading water. Sometimes you exhaust your body to get to where you need to go, sometimes you just give in and float. The road is demanding and forgiving in that way. I also know what it is to get out of bed and do things I don’t like to do, but know it’s necessary for the benefit of people I love. I loved my students and I love my band.

Regarding the songwriting craft, teaching helped me make connections with texts I hadn’t before. For example, I kept coming back to The Rolling Stones when I was teaching Puritan literature and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Who knew that “Sympathy for The Devil” would help me teach “Young Goodman Brown?” There are few things more rewarding than hearing students singing the “woo-woo” refrain in the halls and getting excited about rock ‘n’ roll.

The cover art for Get Gone is pretty wild. The eye, the missing digit, the geometrical patterns! What’s it all about and how did it end up on the cover of your album?

Nate Treme is our designer. He’s beyond amazing. He knows us so well, so we didn’t give him anything but the link to the record and he conjured up those images. The Hamsa has a special place in my heart because it reminds me of my best friend. Keep in mind—I never told Nate about that…he just instinctively picked up what we were drawn to and put it into the visual medium. Nate’s use of sacred geometry, the way he juxtaposes new and old technology, and his incredible use of color has always struck a chord with me. We’re so lucky to have him as a friend and as a creative collaborator.

One of your trademarks is storytelling and often flipping the script on traditional narratives or power roles. What is the power for you in using song to convey stories or sharing a different perspective? Who are some storytellers that have influenced you in the past or present?

The power of history is in the voices represented—both the didactic yelling and the sacred whispers. If history is our anecdotal evidence used to justify how we treat others, how we make laws, isn’t it important to make certain we’re listening to all of the voices? And won’t that make for a way more interesting future? Some of my favorite storytellers are Octavia Butler, Hunter S. Thompson, my great grandmother Lottie Haynes, Nikki Giovanni, Jello Biafra, John Jacob Niles, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and Fiona Apple.

Although Get Gone is Seratones’ debut album, you’ve had a great response so far. What’s next for you after this current round of touring?

I can’t wait to get back to writing more songs! Of course, there will be more dates of touring for the remainder of the year, including our first European tour.

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