Seratones have a long relationship with Birmingham, as one of their first ventures out of Louisiana was as an opener for Birmingham’s own St. Paul & the Broken Bones. The relationship that lead singer AJ Haynes has maintained with the band has been an important one to her as she has navigated the past three years between albums. During that time, she spent a lot of time working on the craft of songwriting and on ensuring that she had surrounded herself with the musicians that she needed for the sophomore record.Power is the 2019 release, and the first on New West Records. Before returning to the Magic City, Haynes spoke about the time between records, her relationship with Alabama and its music and the artists that inspire her to tell her truth.
Early on, St. Paul & the Broken Bones took you guys out on the road. How important was that for you in your earlier days?
Any time you tour with great acts, you’re going to reach more people. That’s the point. But what’s bigger and more important to me were the relationships that I developed and that we developed. Jesse [Phillips] is someone that I can reach out to, and he’s become a mentor in a lot of ways. He’s been there for me through some really weird and tough times. All the guys are really amazing and wonderful people. It’s exciting to see good people succeed. They’re really down to earth. It’s awesome to see people from our region celebrated on a national and international scale.
Those relationships are important and meaningful. Watching them perform; they’re amazing showmen. Paul Janeway has an ease that I love to watch. He’s got an intensity that’s entrancing.
I would assume that because of that, Birmingham became one of the first important markets for you guys outside of Shreveport and Louisiana.
It’s kind of weird for me to think in clinical, ticket terms. I don’t know if that’s always where the value is; I think there’s a bigger value in feeling like part of a community. And I definitely feel a community in Birmingham; connected with a lot of people there. I genuinely feel like it’s a second home in a lot of ways. I always feel good in Birmingham.
Dylan LeBlanc is another Alabama boy, and he’s split much of his life between Shreveport and Muscle Shoals. What’s your relationship like with him?
Yeah dude! Dylan and I used to hang out all the time. We’d hang out and play songs together at bars or in a dorm room. We used to drink a lot of whiskey together, and now we don’t drink a lot of whiskey together [laughs], which is good for both of us. We’ve always had a connection. We’d hang out and write little ditties together.
It’s been about three years between these records. What’s been going on in the meantime? Have you been on the road the whole time? Did you take any time off?
There were pretty dramatic changes with the band. We have a new guitarist, who is really wonderful, and a new keyboard player, who is really wonderful. Folks changed and got a little older. There was not as much time spent on the road. There was a lot more time spent just trying to figure things out and realigning ourselves; working with different songwriters and really digging into the craft of songwriting and the unsexy work of having to sit down and not wait for a muse and just make it happen. I think that’s a lot of really interesting stuff can come from; when you just can’t run from it.
How do you force yourself to make the muse happen?
You don’t. There’s a craft in showing up. The biggest part of anything is just showing up. Right? It’s doing the work. I think I’m way more interested in that process than a mythical and vacuous idea. Really good art comes work, and being open to change and being open to being pushed out of your comfort zone and seeing what you come up with.
I feel like that kind of implies that you wrote a lot for this record and a lot of it didn’t work. How much would you say that you scrapped along the way for this record?
I don’t think it really works like that. Our process isn’t necessarily scrapping; songs find their right life in the right time. Just because a song doesn’t make it on the record doesn’t mean that it’s dead. It’s not a machine, although it is a good bit like a sausage factory. But it’s not as clinical as, “Well, that didn’t make it! That song goes in the trash can!” never to be heard again. Maybe that wasn’t the right fit for this collection of ideas. Now just isn’t the right time.
This process maybe feels a little more deliberate that last time?
No, the first record was absolutely deliberate. On that record, I wanted raw power. When I look at what our intention was, it was, “What did the Stooges do?” [laughs] And that’s what we did! When I look at that record and I cross reference it with raw power, that’s there. For me. That framework is there, and obviously I’m coming from a different perspective, but it was definitely deliberate in that way. This album is deliberate in a different way.
Maybe side-by-side, this collection is a bit gentler than that raw power? How do they fit beside each other live?
I’d actually say that this isn’t gentle because I’m dealing with things that are really tough like gun violence, police brutality and especially violence against black bodies. That’s not necessarily gentle at all.
I think with the first record there’s definitely a brashness, and this one isn’t subdued as much as it is channeled. The intensity is still there, which is why I like this band. There’s an intensity and there’s an immediacy. You don’t have to shake your fist in everyone’s face to get them to listen. Sometimes, it’s a seduction. It’s a beckoning.
How much of an obligation do you feel toward addressing that type of subject matter?
I’m just talking about my real experience, so it’s not an obligation so much as it’s what’s happening in real life and in real time. That’s what interesting art draws from, and I’m just talking about what my real life experience is. It’s not any more inflammatory than that. This is what I see. These are the daily struggles. These are the realities and they just need to be talked about. The fact that more people aren’t talking about their experiences is troubling. We need to amplify those narratives that come from a lot of different walks of life. It’s not an obligation to talk about things that are in the news as much as just talking about what is happening right now in front of my face. Before it’s thrown into a headline. Before it’s thrown against a white background. “What is it in this intimate space?” and how do we animate that with music? How do we recreate that in a way that is welcoming? How do I welcome someone to the conversation?
What have you found that answer to be?
Just tell the [expletive] truth! [laughs] The answer is speak your [expletive] truth and you don’t have to sugarcoat things and you don’t have to shift it. Through your own specificity and your way of viewing it, you connect with people; not trying to cast a wide net, but let’s look at something that’s really particular, something that’s really an intimate detail. People love this record. I’ve had people tell me how a certain song has helped them through a day or how they really had a connection with it. That wasn’t my intention. My intention was to just tell my story. Through that, my intentions were good, and people get that.
Also, kids love our record! All my friends with two and three-year-olds [expletive] love our album! [laughs] Which is awesome because kids don’t know about heavy topics; they just get that someone believes in something and this sounds good. This sounds good and this person sings like they believe in it.
What artists are telling their own truth and making it easier for other people to do so?
Oh my God, Lizzo. Everything now, I’m so excited to see her come up. I love Kam Franklin from The Suffers, she’s near and dear to my heart. Nikki Hill is another regional artist that I love and I’m excited to see grow. There’s so many! Nick Hakim, I love his last album. That felt like a really intimate album. Those are current artists that I’m listening to. I love psych bands, like The Oh Sees. I think that’s really cool. Jennah Bell is an artist I love. She has a gorgeous album. And I really love Tank and the Bangas.
I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from visual artists. Titus Kaphar. Kevin Beasley. Kehinde Wiley has been a big influence. He did President Obama’s portrait, and Michelle’s, as well. Just thinking about, “How do we see ourselves?” Looking at artists helped me see myself.
Seratones come to The Nick on Friday, September 20. Dree Lear and Royal and Toulouse will open the show. Doors are at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15