I catch Katy Goodman as her van pulls into a gas station in rural Oklahoma. She’s been on the road all morning, and her back is killing her. Not that this is all that surprising: Touring is a slog, and driving through the extensive Midwestern farmlands that separate major cities is especially brutal. And gas station yoga sessions only do so much against the grueling eight-hour trek from Dallas to Kansas City.
Goodman assures me, however, that despite the bouts of back pain, she and her bandmates are surviving. They’re only about one week into La Sera’s fall tour, meaning they’re still relatively fresh. Plus there’s the rather revitalizing perk of getting to play a show every night, which, for Goodman, more than justifies piling into a van and trekking across the continent in the first place.
None of this – the van, the back pain, the thrill of playing to a crowd – is unfamiliar to Goodman, who rose to prominence in the late 2000s Brooklyn scene as the bassist for Vivian Girls. She started La Sera as a solo project in 2010, and shifted her entire focus to the project following the dissolution of Vivian Girls in 2014.
Her original plan, however, involved neither Vivian Girls nor La Sera. She wanted to be a physics teacher like her father, and earned her master's in education in physics from Rutgers. In a twist of peculiar timing, she received her degree right at the moment that Vivian Girls started garnering serious press and winning over fans, and ultimately decided to table science and pursue music – at least for the time being. It took her father by surprise. “At first my dad was like, ‘What?! But we spent all this time and energy on physics!’” she says.
Mr. Goodman eventually came around. “I think the moment he was like, ‘That’s cool, do whatever you want’ was when we were in the New York Times for the first time,” she says with a laugh. “He was like, ‘That’s a legitimate publication, so this must be real.’”
Prior to any Times accolades, Goodman was a New Jersey teenager with a penchant for the Smiths (whom she discovered through the soundtrack for The Wedding Singer), the Pixies, Black Flag, Modern Lovers, and the Riot Grrrl movement. Inspired by the Julie Ruin, she picked up bass at twenty, thanks to finding a Squire Bronco in a friend’s basement. “There was this shitty bass in the corner that had duct tape on it. I was like, ‘Do you think anyone would mind if I used that bass?’ Everyone was like, ‘No, it’s been there forever,’” she recalls. She replaced the rusty strings, joined Vivian Girls, conquered Brooklyn, and eventually upgraded to a Fender Musicmaster from the '70s.
She still plays bass when performing as La Sera, which she expanded from her solo project to a “power trio” featuring drummer Brendan McCusker and guitarist-slash-husband Todd Wisenbaker. Their take on indie rock is bright, dreamy and irrepressibly jangly, indebted to '90s alternative, the psychedelic '60s, the Smiths and the Stone Roses. Every album is marked by Goodman’s intricate, sunny-side-up guitar playing, though she has no plans to switch her performance instrument any time soon. “I played guitar on one song during one show,” she says. “Bass is my instrument.”
Though bass may be a constant, Goodman didn’t start singing lead and writing her own songs until 2010, the year she moved to Los Angeles and started pouring serious energy into La Sera. Goodman as La Sera caught important ears early, landing her support slots with Father John Misty, Jenny Lewis, Kate Nash, her teenage heroes the Julie Ruin (who unfortunately did not play “The Punk Singer” – Goodman’s favorite Julie Ruin song – during the tour), and Titus Andronicus. “I essentially grew up with the dudes from Titus Andronicus,” she says. “But before the tour, I was like, ‘I wonder if this is going to mesh well.’ And then it totally did. We were high-fiving the whole time.”
But just because La Sera has shared stages with a roster this impressive doesn’t mean the trio can’t hold its own as a headliner. La Sera’s most common labels – dream pop, indie rock, etc. – belie the wild nature of its live show, and Goodman gets a kick out of surprising her audience. “We go crazy,” she says. “People are like, ‘Wow, that was way crazier than I thought it would be.’”
Said craziness is working out just fine. The trio is playing bigger shows, touring internationally, and likely won’t see much of a break from the road before the holiday season – which Goodman confesses she hasn’t gotten around to planning. “We haven’t figured it out yet,” she says. “We probably should. It’s already October.”
La Sera performs with Springtime Carnivore and TV Party at Lost Lake Lounge on Tuesday, November 1, 303-291-1007.
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