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. Their Ty Segall-produced LP is out now on Castle Face, and they perform with Drive Like Jehu at the Echoplex on Sun., Feb. 28. This interview by Kristina Benson." /> L.A. Record


February 26th, 2016 | Interviews

Shannon Lay: I grew up in Redondo Beach and there was this musical instrument store on PCH, and it had a little music school in the back and I signed up for lessons. I would bring in songs that I wanted to learn and he’d teach them to me. I started on an old acoustic and then I got an electric. It wasn’t til a few years ago that I was like, ‘Man I’ve been playing guitar for like ten years now, and I suck!’ For the last few years I’ve been really playing guitar every day and been really trying to understand it. I’ve never been good at reading music but I have a pretty good ear. I’ve been trying to learn how to shred harder!
Laena, you’ve played in so many bands—Swahili Blonde, the Like, Dante vs Zombies—and so many different kinds of bands. What’s different now about Feels?
Laena Geronimo: All the bands that you mentioned before were other people’s projects that I was playing an instrument in. This band comes from the opposite perspective. This is the evolution from Raw Geronimo—I controlled every aspect of that band, essentially. Even with Raw Geronimo, I wanted to find the right people for it to become a real band cuz that’s always been what I’ve wanted. Otherwise, I would just tour alone, but that sounds miserable to me. I’d rather be in a band with my best friends and travel around the world that way. And this band is becoming that, actually. Me and Amy have been best friends since high school. Mike and Amy and I played in a band together when we were teenagers, and I’ve known Mike peripherally over the years, and he was in Raw Geronimo, too. And Shannon was in Raw Geronimo from the very beginning. At this point, we all just love and respect and care for each other so much—and also play together. I started Raw Geronimo having been in other people’s bands—so many others bands for a very, very long time, and never really being in a band that was very collaborative. ‘This is the part that you play. If you want to add a little bit of your personality to it, maybe that’s cool.’ Very much filling a role. When the the Like came to an end, the levels in me had been slowly rising for years where I wanted my own project. ‘Alright! Now’s the time!’ It took me a while to get to that point. I’m naturally very, very shy and I really didn’t feel confident enough with my own music to even ask other people if they wanted to play it. But when I got back from touring with the Like, we’d been gone so much that I didn’t really have that many super close friends that were musicians. I wasn’t really part of the L.A. scene anymore. So it was me making a list of different people I knew who played different instruments really well that I could ask if they would be interested? I made a CD with all these songs that were fully fleshed out and I handed it to them like, ‘Listen to it! Let me know if you want to play it! Thanks!’ It took a while where we had different people kind of coming and going—it ended up I had to kind of do everything. But once we boiled it down to just the four-piece and Amy started playing bass, it really solidified—it became this real band where we all really respected and cared for each other, and really wanted to spend twenty-four hours stuck in a metal box together. ‘Alright! We did it! Let’s change the name now because this is the new thing!’ I don’t know the short answer to how it’s different, but it’s very different. And it’s my dream come true, to be honest.
Amy Allen: When we first started playing shows we were playing a lot of Raw Geronimo songs. It got to the point where Shannon and I were both like ‘We need to retire these songs because they’re just not what the band is anymore.’
Shannon Lay: Oh my God—everything changed! There was the six of us and we went through three or four bass players, two guitarists, and it became … we were always teaching the songs to somebody. This last guitar player we had, Vug—he quit to pursue his solo thing and he’s kicking ass and taking names, and our bass player Lance who we loved moved to New York, and our percussionist ended up leaving. We were like … what do we do? We asked Amy if she’d play bass and Laena decided she’d play guitar and sing, and it became this perfect thing. Feels is so much more down to earth than Raw Geronimo was. It could go anywhere. There’s no corner untouched.
Laena Geronimo: Like I said, I’m not great with describing things—or with words, really. But we called it ‘Feels’ because we kept talking about how the songs felt. ‘This feels right’ or ‘this doesn’t.’ It became clear to all of us that the most important thing was how the songs felt and not who was playing the coolest shreddy guitar solo. ‘No egos allowed’ vibe. Let’s serve the song. Let’s play in a way where we’re all connecting energetically. It was a real process. Me and Shannon and Mike were all in Raw Geronimo for three years together along with a bunch of other people too, and then our bass player moved to New York. My best friend Amy plays bass, but she didn’t want to be in a band. I tricked her into it. ‘We just have these shows booked and maybe you wanted to fill in until we find someone who can commit? It’ll be really fun!’‘Yeah!’ And then she was just like, ‘Alright, this is too fun.’
Amy Allen: She had asked me to play bass for her band Raw Geronimo a couple of times because I come from a more heavy metal background. I used to have a band called Indian Giver and we were a doom metal band, so for me to move into an indie pop vibe wasn’t necessarily where my heart was but finally she was like, ‘Amy I know you’re going to say no but I need to ask you anyway. We need a bass player—do you want to play?’ It was great because that’s when it completely changed from being Raw Geronimo to being Feels.
You guys seem almost like different pieces of the same person.
Laena Geronimo: It’s funny, I honestly do feel like we’re different parts of the same organism and that’s what I’ve always wanted a band to be. And it should be! I think, if it’s going to be a real band, not just ‘Me and the Somethings.’ That’s why we decided to change the name — to recognize that it had evolved into a creature that was all of its own. Cuz there are so many aspects of being in a band and everyone pulls together and makes it possible.
But Laena just said that she kind of had to trick you into being in the band, Amy?
Amy Allen: Yeah but I’m not no fuckin sheep! I knew what was going on. But subconsciously you know what’s good for you and you’re like ‘This is going to be great!’ and it has been great!
Shannon Lay: My only real want from any kind of music—or things I’m experiencing—is that it makes me feel something, whether it’s good or bad. That it evokes some kind of emotion in me. I think feelings are so important and the amount of variation that one can go through during a set is really cool and if you steer it in this way … it’s like a movie. The same thing isn’t happening the whole time—there are all these different things that happen. That’s how life is too. I love the idea of approaching a song and focusing on an emotion and taking it to its maximum capacity, and that’s why I love in a fast song to stop it all of a sudden—it creates that friction that you need!
That’s what you do all over ‘Play It Cool.’ And you even do the reverse—you start it with that super-heavy riff … for a second.
Shannon Lay: We all really love a lot of different kinds of music—especially me and Amy, we really love stoner metal, like Sleep and stuff like that. We wanted to nod to that facet of our musical imagination, but then turn it into this super aggressive punk song.
What about the lyrics? ‘I swim like a fish in the ocean, enjoying my life until— ’
Shannon Lay: ‘Enjoying my life until everything’s dead.’ It’s when you first fall in love, everything is so beautiful and you enjoy that fuzzy feeling until you’re back on the ground again.
No hidden meaning? About how the oceans are acidifying and dying?
Shannon Lay: I honestly didn’t think about that! The progression of that song is that I used to sing it pretty and we’d like harmonize the whole time and it was nice and sweet … and then as that moment I wrote that song about ended and my feelings changed about it, I started screaming the lyrics. You get to a point where you stop caring about what other people think and now I sing it like … so sarcastic. It’s about a specific situation that was like one of those love affairs that overhauled my being and made me think about how I feel about things and react to things. It was an eye-opening experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world cuz it allowed me to zoom out and get ahold of my emotions and how I react to stuff.
Amy Allen: That song changed a lot—it used to be a sweet song about like liking a guy and not knowing what to do and having butterflies but then it became mutilated into this other song: ‘Fuck that feeling! I don’t want to have that feeling anymore.’
I’ve had experiences like that. Part of me looks back and wonders what I was thinking but the other part is like well, if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am now. So I really see it as anything other than a blessing.
Shannon Lay: Yes! The biggest thing is to learn from it and not repeat the same pattern. You get so wrapped up in the idea that love is so painful and horrifying but so good—but it doesn’t have to be that way! You just have to change your perspective on things.
That line ‘What have I run from ? Only what’s good for me / What have I run towards? Only what’s bad for me.’ What prompted those lyrics?
Laena Geronimo: Everything has negative and positive attributes no matter what. It’s about life. You can look back on the choices you made and see them as negative or positive and there’s a peace that comes with that. You’re not questioning your choices. You’re recognizing that there’s a good and a bad side to everything and you follow your heart and move forward.
What’s something you know now that you wish someone had told you the first day you ever were in a band?
Laena Geronimo: I’ve poured years into getting the experience to feel like I could start my own band and there are so many things! But I honestly don’t think I could have gotten to the place I am now without going through hell. All the experiences I’ve had have culminated into how I operate now and it’s all invaluable. It’s all invaluable! I believe in earning shit the hard way. Maybe just like ‘Try not to be so incredibly socially shut off.’ As much as you may want to think that it’s not, nepotism is a strong force. I tried to just operate out of a hermit’s cave. But probably around SXSW—last year, I think—we met a lot of other bands and Lolipop played a big part in us meeting a lot of people. I had been so shut off for awhile that I wasn’t really going to shows unless I was playing them and I was jaded. And for some reason in Austin at SXSW, I saw all these bands that happen to be from L.A. and were really awesome and it was the first time I really felt like I was a part of something. I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s just the social climate in the music world, but I feel like people were really competitive and not supportive of each other before—but now it’s like the opposite. People are so supportive of each other and down to play shows together and wear each other’s tee-shirts and support each other. I feel like Burger spearheaded that but they’re all the way down in Fullerton. Lolipop’s just up the street and I can go there and see a bunch of other bands that are not even joking around, and like really good. It’s really awesome to not feel like you’re alone.


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