Wednesday, September 26, 2012

AP Interview: Kera and The Lesbians Want to Lay Their Hands On You

by Robb Donker
Live Performance photography by  Sarah Norman
Interview photography by Tiffany Luong

Music, good music, can flood your senses to such a degree that it can wash away your troubles, take away your pain and even, for a moment, make you forget where you are. Really good music can even make you forget who you are. This is the case with the music that Kera and the Lesbians make. They conjure up a bootlegged brew of porch blues infused garage rock that transforms you to another time when rock and roll was evolving from swing jazz, boogie woogie and Southern ragtime. When you hear the spring reverb of "Black Like Coal" with it's dancing tom tom beat and the tough as nails "come hither" vocals by Kera you can't help but purse your lips and feel the sway in your hips. Even a square knot like me feels cool.

There are a lot of bands that adopt this kind of retro feel but a lot of them over reach until the performance feels campy. When you hear Kera and the Lesbians there is not even a hint of poseur. They embody the music fully, especially Kera. If you get a chance to see them live it is tantamount to witnessing the Holy Spirit (of rock and roll) take over her body. I sat inches away from her as they played in a small art gallery and she attacked each song like a girl possessed. It was an absolutely electric performanc that left her soaked in sweat. Anyone seeing them live is surely part of the converted after Kera and the Lesbians lay their hands on you. I met up with them at a rehearsal space in Los Angeles where they were recording a 7 inch split record which is a precursor to their new album.

When you formally meet Kera Armendariz you immediately get a sense that she is a straight shooter. She focuses in on what you say, looks you in the eye and converses intently all the while making you feel at home. At 24 years old, she has had a love affair with the guitar for about 20 years if not more and also began playing drums in her early teen years. Before Kera and the Lesbians (which she started at around 18 years old) she dabbled in some other bands but none of those fellow musicians shared her focus.

"I got really sick of waiting for people" Kera said  "(so) I did my own recordings (playing drums and guitar) and he (Phil) would stand in on bass and, I dunno, it just kind of worked out really well and he hasn't gotten sick of me yet."  Kera cites some of her influences as The Kinks, David Bowie, Gong, Comus, Sandie Shaw, Ria Bartok, The Ronettes, The Shangrilas and Screamin Jay Hawkins but no one other than The King himself is the one who set her on her path. "I knew I wanted to be a entertainer when I first heard Elvis Presley sing. He was a huge part of the reason I wanted to play guitar and be a well rounded musician."

The rest of the band is made up of Phil MacNitt on bass guitar, Micahel Delaney on drums and Eamon McGinniss on guitar. The fifth Beatle, so to speak, and unofficial member is Brandon Burns who superbly plays horns and percussion. They are tight knit as Kera says, "These guys are like family. I have so much in common with these guys. When we hang out it's a blast." Phil adding, "It's like a mini vacation when we get together."

As I looked at this family I got the impression that Phil was Kera's main partner in crime. As an avid music collector (or as Phil put's it "record hoarder") his eclectic taste in music (from Parliament-Funkadelic to Charles Mingus to Patsy Cline to The Temptations to Todd Rundgren to Prince and beyond) has provided part of the fuel for Kera's musical fire. "I've got a lot of records these days" he said, "which always sucks when it comes time to move. I don't know... maybe a little over 2,000 at this point. I worked at a few record stores when I was younger which gave me a jump start into crate digging and since then I've always just ran to the records in any thrift store or swap meet."

This looking back to move forward is part of what makes Kera and the Lesbian's music so rooted in musical history itself and ultimately makes the songs feel timeless. In a previous live review I described the songs like 1940's porch blues colliding with post punk. The explosiveness of Kera's individual performances does have the wild abandon of a punk rock show or as Phil MacNitt says, the music has "the agression of punk rock."

Drummer Michael Delaney who also does cool artwork for their album covers (and his kick drum) recalled the music that would play in his household. "My mom was super int R&B like Mariah Carey, Boys II Men, Sade, Toni Braxton. She was dating this guy for a while and he always played stuff like King Crimson, Genesis, Kate Bush and weird chanting." His drumming style, incredibly loose and adept plays off Kera's energy and, of course, Phil's bass work. Rounding out the core sound is guitarist Eamon McGinniss who is up to the task of marrying his expressive lead work to Kera's potent rhythms. The dude can also play some incredible slide guitar even with a bic lighter. Some of his musical loves are The Beatles, Sam and Dave and Dave Brubeck. He clearly sees his guitar work as foundational to the sound. "I add additional harmonic texture and support Kera's melodies by doubling them or adding a harmony beneath, above or around what she sings."

As we shot pictures of the band, we all got a chance to clown around, drink and playfully talk shit. In the midst of trying to figure out who was the smart one, who was the poet, who was the cute one and who was the passive aggressive bitch, I realized that this band is in it for all the right reasons. They play passionately whether it is in a parking lot trading barbs or strapping on their respective instruments at a club or house show. Back in the rehearsal space, they listened to some of the tracks they had recorded and the discussion turned to the band's creative process.

Kera: "I will have a few ideas of what I want the song to sound like, bring lyrics. These guys will help to mold it like a beautiful piece of clay. They shape it in a really nice way and we work off each other really well."

Phil: "We flush it all out. Kera is very expressive and I feel like all the lyrics come from her experiences."

Kera: "And also, he (Phil) is such a mastermind."

Michael: "Yea, basically Kera comes in with a cool idea and we all add our spices to it. It's like a pizza pie. She comes with the dough, we just put the toppings on and put it in the oven."

Kera: "That's beautiful Michael."

NOTE: Kera and The Lesbians will be playing a month long residency at The Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles for the Month of October.

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