FEELS: WHY COMPLICATE A SIMPLE CREATURE?
photography by alex the brown
Feels is the band that grew out of—or grew up from—Raw Geronimo, which was born directly from the mind of its polyinstrumental founder Laena Geronimo, who spent plenty of hectic years playing in other people’s bands before she finally assembled one of her own. But Feels has a new name for a reason: it feels different than Raw Geronimo. Well, actually it feels like a dream come true—a rejuvenated foursome of best friends that matches the art punk (and punk punk!) of the 80s to the overfuzzed grunge of the 90s, like if Kim Gordon took over Sonic Youth and led them on a tour of wild house shows. Their Ty Segall-produced LP is out now on Castle Face, and it’s pretty much unstoppable. Feels speak now about sheep, Sleep and Lisa Simpson. This interview by Kristina Benson.
Is it true you did this record in one day?
Laena Geronimo (guitar/vocals): We did record the entire album in one day. And then we mixed all of it in one day—on a separate day—and it’s all live mixed. Straight from the board to, like, one track in ProTools. It’s definitely Ty, you know? He’s a maniac, in the best way possible! We actually had planned for three days. But we got in there and the ball was rolling and then it was just done. We’d been playing those songs live for about a year, so we’ve had ‘em very down and we’d worked out all the kinks. It was just like playing a show, you know? And really, that’s what we wanted, too. Especially for our first record.
I know Laena planned out almost everything for Raw Geronimo, but Feels is a group effort—and this album feels somehow even more focused than Raw Geronimo, even with more people working and writing.
Shannon Lay (guitar/vocals): Laena and I have a lot of cohesiveness—we’re both Virgos. I’ll never forget the first time we hung out. I got in the car and we both at the same time said, ‘Hey, how are you?’ We said the same phrase right as we sat down! We’re very similar in our poetic minds. One song that’s always resonated with me is ‘Running’s Fun’—I think cuz we sing the entire thing together. I’ve always thought about the lyrics, and know them really well and I love that line It’s a good origin story—a retrospective thing where you’re analyzing the good and the bad and how they need each other in a way. Laena writes the coolest lyrics!
A lot of songs on here seem to be about communication, and frustration with communication—or just frustration, like maybe ‘Running’s Fun.’
Laena Geronimo: I wrote all the lyrics on those songs, and … it’s just something that I just needed to get off my chest. I guess communication is something I think is really important, and that lack thereof causes a lot of problems in the modern world. Especially with technology and everything. The barrier of the internet. It’s this infinite expansive world of information, but at the same time, there’s an equal loss in this human interaction and empathy. ‘Small Talk’ definitely is my own personal … I’m not sure if it’s a good quality or not, but I’m just very impatient with … gossip magazines exist, you know? I feel like it’s really easy for people to focus on things that ultimately don’t matter and to disregard things that are incredibly important but maybe not as fun to think about. Like McDonald’s versus eating a real meal or something. [laughs]
How literally can I take the line, ‘the world is coming to an end, and you don’t even care, you’re talking about nothing.’
Laena Geronimo: We’re literally destroying our environment, you know? It blows my mind. Not that everyone should just sit around talking about how everything’s fucked or anything—
We love doing that here at L.A. RECORD. All the time. Everything’s fucked!
Laena Geronimo: [laughs] Unless everyone starts talking about that, it’s definitely fucked, you know? I really hope it doesn’t come to some horrible cataclysmic—I’m sorry—catastrophic event for everyone to just kind of wake up and realize that we really need to take this seriously. There’s so many different issues that people can focus on like ‘Save the Whales’ or the drought, et cetera, but it all boils down ultimately to this concept of this is our world and we’re all on it together, and it’s dying because of us. Industrialization and technology and all of these great advancements we’ve created were very short-sighted. We really need to consider the repercussions of our actions. Maybe there’s a chance for us to turn it around if we actually, like, really try right now. But people don’t want to think about that, and it’s a shame.
That’s what I thought. I mean—thought it was probably about social media and people sharing pictures of baby otters and cute animals, not that I don’t do that. But part of the reason I do that is because I used to share really depressing stuff and I’d get so much shit about it.
Laena Geronimo: I don’t even share depressing stuff, and I definitely enjoy pictures of cute animals. Sometimes it can pull me out of being in a terrible mood and, you know what I mean? If looking at a picture of a cute animal makes you feel like you’re in a better mood, then you’re probably more willing to do something positive. I’m not good at explaining my music, really. It’s like when you just run into someone and they’re talking about things that have nothing to do with you, and that you’ll never care about. I’m not a very social person, I suppose. [laughs]
What about that little speech at the end of ‘Unicorn’? It sounds really important but I can’t understand it all.
Laena Geronimo: ‘I don’t know anything about that, but if you wait ‘til the clock strikes the hour, you’ll be just involved as I am. Why complicate a simple creature? You walked around the clock, now gimme.’ I wrote that song in about fifteen minutes. I’ve been working on these really heavy songs that have a lot of parts and dynamics. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself with song writing. The working title of the song was ‘Fuck It.’ I walked into my roommate’s room and plugged into a little amp she had and hit record, and just played guitar for two minutes or however long the song is. Then I grabbed a book off of her table, and it happened to be The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. And I read random passages and mixed it with random things that just came out of my mouth. That’s probably the most nonsensical song I’ve ever written—and to be entirely honest—I should credit Peter S. Beagle for some of those lyrics. They’re all taken out of context and none of them are from the same paragraph. I was opening pages and landing on something. Just chance.
What iconic cartoon character would do the best job at delivering that speech?
Michael Perry Rudes (drums): I’ve been thinking about Adventure Time all day but … I’m racking my brain. Speedy Gonzalez?
Laena Geronimo: I feel like some kind of small Peter Pan.
Like Peter Pan but … small?
Shannon Lay: Lisa Simpson! She would totally quote that—she’s a badass! You gotta watch the first episode of the first season—the Christmas episode. She gives the most amazing speech to Patty and Selma when they start badmouthing Homer cuz he’s not home.
‘Slippin’: is that a party that’s gone really well, or a party that’s gone really bad?
Laena Geronimo: I guess I’m political without realizing it. That’s another sort of critique on the state of the world right now. It’s probably a party gone bad, you know? It’s not like it’s gone bad, it’s just more of a concern.
So it’s a party that’s gone in a concerning direction?
Laena Geronimo: [laughs] ‘We’re slippin’, everyone’s slippin’ / We’re trippin’, everyone’s trippin’ / ‘It’s broken, everything’s broken.’ It’s looking around like, ‘Damn, we’re fucked.’ The bridge in that song is an escapism-thing, I guess. And then reality hits again. [laughs]
Michael Perry Rudes: To me, it’s about a journey. We’re all going together somewhere. It’s not a drug reference as much as it’s all of us together on our little adventures. And we gotta do it together, and we unite to have our experiences, and keep chugging along.
But then it says ‘it’s broken, everything’s broken.’
Michael Perry Rudes: Yeah—cuz bad shit happens, but you just gotta maintain. Keep going.
Laena, you’re a classically trained violinist with serious training—is there something about Feels that all of this training didn’t help with? Something that even with all your knowledge, you had to start at zero?
Laena Geronimo: Coming from a classical background at first hindered me with writing pop music. I could see all of the options laid out in front of me and it was really overwhelming. It’s been a real process turning off that part of my brain and letting something be simple. But at the same time, I come up with weird guitar parts … I was playing bass in a band, and this old amazing musician guy came up to me afterward like, ‘You’re a violinist, aren’t you?’ He could tell by the way that I was playing. So I approach every instrument from that background without thinking about it. I don’t really think about much when I’m writing songs—it’s kind of about getting lost in a tunnel and coming out the other side like, ‘What happened?’ [laughs]
Michael Perry Rudes: Laena’s really good—she has ideas of drum things here and there and she’s not a drummer so I have to learn how to speak a different language with her to learn what she wants to do and still make it my own. I do write my own shit, and I always want to do something a little bit different. Sometimes the girls will have ideas but I’ll translate it into my specific [part]. And it takes time. A lot of times I walk in too complicated cause my brain works in a drum way, and I have to pull it back and simplify and cut the fat away. That’s kind of the way we’ve been going for the past four or five years.
Amy Allen (bass): It takes time until you’re like ‘Song, I own you!’
Laena, why did you pick up the violin? Of all the instruments you could have played …
Laena Geronimo: The short answer is that when I started fifth grade, there was an option of playing in an orchestra for half an hour every day or having free time for half an hour every day and I chose orchestra. The long answer is probably that my childhood was very—what’s the word I’m looking for—not normal? Like, I’m sure everyone would say that—
Laena Geronimo: Unconventional, thank you. My childhood was very unconventional. My parents were bohemian punks for the most part, and I craved normalcy and structure because there wasn’t really any of that. So I studied classical violin and ballet and got straight As. My parents never pushed me to do any of those things. I dreamed of white picket fences and I wanted to be a lawyer that either protected battered women or the environment when I was little. Obviously that didn’t happen, and I ended up falling closer to the tree that I thought I would. But I just craved structure, and I manifested it in every way that I could as a kid.
Michael Perry Rudes: My dad was a jazz drummer, like a big band guy. He was the hired gun type who like, whoever paid him the most he would play with. He played with a band called Eddie and the Cadillacs for a long time, and was a lounge guy—played at clubs and stuff. I learned from him pretty early, and got super obsessed with the drums. In middle school I played the snare drum and I didn’t get really obsessed until I was like sixteen or seventeen, and I started studying jazz and blues. I took a lot of lessons, and I was in a jazz band in junior college but I was always like a punk rocker—but I went from being in a super punk rocker in a lot of punk bands to getting into psychedelic shit. And my favorite drummers were always jazz drummers that played rock ’n’ roll—the Ginger Bakers and the John Bonhams and the Mitch Mitchells. I was a music major in college for a year at Cal State Northridge but it started to really piss me off because it was in the box—like the theory—and I was really obsessed with being experimental. So I was like, ‘My foundations are strong, I have the tools physically and mentally …’ I quit and ended up getting a history degree. But I still study. I can read, I’m really into rudiments, and I’m really obsessed with the drums still.
Shannon, do you have a musical theory background?
Shannon Lay: Not at all. A man named Dan taught me how to play guitar when I was thirteen.
Who was this man named Dan?