When music really started getting cool around here, the San Francisco- and Brooklyn-scene transplant Shana Falana was at the head of it, alternating between a visceral punkish and poppy trio (but still strangely euphonious, always euphonious) and the early iterations of what has become her “thing”: a duo with drums; loop-driven and layered to the legal limit; stacked voices and creamy distorted guitars woven in complex melodic drones, riffs and massive, ecstatic hooks; loosely synched to do-it-yourself video projections, turning any dive bar you can name into a psychedelic portal, but a timeless and therapeutic psychedelia – nothing paisley or retro-stylized about it.
You could start in the back, with folded arms and a tart, hoppy craft brew, the skeptic stance: Loops, you say, and projections? Yawn, right? That old new 2000s thing? But no. Soon enough you would just fall into the masterfully architected swirl, unless your heart was as hard and small as a dry acorn. Because the music. Falana didn’t perform so much as get whole-self involved in her busywork, her thing: an organically consistent feel for layering sound and for the arc of a modern song, her own harmonic language and sonic toolset. And that – the music and its making – was the part that that made the lightly theatrical presentation so arresting and cool.
What do I mean by “cool”? What does anyone ever mean by it? It is among the most problematic of words, and it gets my vote for the most tyrannical and emotionally vexing. Ah, the paradoxes of cool: You can’t say what it is, but you know it when you see it. It is ubiquitous, but never exactly where and what you think it will be. It draws attention and perishes under the weight of it: As soon as you know you’re cool, you’re probably not so very cool anymore. It is entirely subjective, and yet most people can agree on it. We are the willing victims of cool. We probably should give it up for our health, but we can’t.
On Falana’s stunning, heavy voyage of a new record Here Comes the Wave, she hurls herself into the paradoxes and traumas of cool in the signature song “Cool Kids,” a series of broad-stroke and didactic assurances and koans for young people, set to a clean and memorable melody and Falana’s trademark euphonious drive.
Hey, Shana, it seems to me that the “cool kids” you are addressing are not the socially authenticated ones, secure in their validated identities, but almost the opposite: searchers, geeks and outsiders hungering for community – very much your sense of yourself at a younger age. Your message for them is as slippery and paradoxical as the word “cool” itself, but it seems to be about self-love and honoring your passion and finding your tribe, wherever it may be. In it, you quote Joseph Campbell’s famous directive, “Follow your bliss.”
First off, I love you that you referenced Joseph Campbell. He’s a huge part of my spiritual growth in my youth. My intentions are really to acknowledge what I already see happening: kids coming out of their shells, people letting themselves dream big and follow a more creative career path. There’s more room now for everyone to be weird, be a nerd, struggle with social awkwardness but still get out to shows. I’m inspired by the courage people have to expose their true selves and not want to fit in, not want to look the same as their friends, to feel like they will be safe dressing in drag at a straight bar.
I was the kid at school with bright ‘80s clothes and side ponytails, and I really got made fun of. I have always been uncool, afraid of the pretty, skinny, tan, straight-looking cool kids. I really had to go out and find “my people,” and it took a while. But if you know what I’m talking about, and if you’ve finally found “your people,” then you know how special it is – that instant love and connection. You feel like you’re part of a team, and together we can go do anything; and we did.
We ran DIY scenes in San Francisco in the early-to-late ‘90s. My group was filled with every type of person: Burning Man types, jocks, punks, skateboarders, nerdy girls, people that were straight-edge, people that weren’t…everyone. We created a huge family called the “Castle Kids” [the title of another standout track on Here Comes the Wave]. It was in that world that I learned what a supportive community was.
You’ve spoken a lot about the duality of this record, how it was really written by two of you. About half of the songs were written in New York City a number of years ago, when you were battling serious addiction and in lots of trouble. A horrific workplace accident cost you half a finger, and on that very day you had driven to work with cassettes by two finger-compromised guitarists – Django Reinhardt and Jerry Garcia – on the car seat next to you. You received some settlement money for the accident, and even though your demons were in full force at the time, the money allowed to take almost two years to write the songs that comprise half of Here Comes the Wave. The other half – the mature, new songs – look back across the abyss of addiction and recovery with some nice perspectives for your younger self.
Old self is angry, old self is haunted, old self is melancholy, homesick, lovesick, searching for the light. New self is direct, upbeat, self-assured, doesn’t care so much about the drama of life, wants to get on with the damn thing. “Follow your bliss” was my path, which eventually led me to get sober almost seven years ago this December. There’s no right or wrong, good and bad; there’s just experience.
It is pretty and dreamy as ever, but Here Comes the Wave is really, really a rock record: heavy, even punishing at times, streaked with squalls of dissonance and dark magic. The track “Lie 2 Me” is its darkest place, and it dwells there for a long time. You obsess over that single phrase until I start to as well, ha ha. What are you talking about there?
“Lie 2 Me” is sinister. It’s me having a conversation with the “source”: God, or the Muse. I was told that if I moved to New York and pursued music, that I would have a career. I got sober as well for the music. The Muses told me to get sober, told me to move to New York.
It’s the anger that an artist struggles with in their career. You hit walls and it pisses you off, especially if you’ve put everything you have into it: relationships, money, sleepless days, you name it. I’ve felt lost in this pursuit many times, felt led somewhere and then abandoned. It’s tough, especially if you feel like you’re owed something. I’ve moved past this now, but it feels good to sing this one. I love remembering how far I’ve come and that it’s okay to flip off your god sometimes.
Can I tell you that, while I dig the outtake track “Ocean” from the Velvet Underground’s record Loaded, I think your version on this record really defines the song for me? Just absolutely gorgeous. Tell me about that choice, and what role it plays thematically on the record.
Aw, thanks so much! I’ve done this cover for a while. It’s one that I feel like I do better than Lou 🙂 I believed in it, too. I sang it really close to the mic and quiet in the last minute, because the lyrics are so weird to sing that I wanted them to be lighter and less important, rather than singing them heavy and dark, adding to their mood. I also love two- and three-part songs. I love playing that lead guitar part at the end, blowing it out; I love the lushness of it all, I love [drummer Mike Amari’s] simplistic beat and heavy-ride cymbal crashes. I’m really proud of this, and I wish Lou was still alive to hear it. It was added because the lyric “Here Comes the Wave” is so symbolic to me – Album Number Two crashing in: Be a power of example, do your work, keep going. There’s magic on the other side.
Here Comes the Wave, Shana Falana’s second record made in collaboration with drummer Mike Amari and producer D. James Goodwin, is due out on October 21 on the New Paltz-headquartered boutique label Team Love Records. Falana celebrates the release with a show at her home den, BSP in Kingston, on Friday, October 21 at 9 p.m. Her pals Monogold and the Black Ships will be on hand to help her ring in the new record. Admission costs $10. CDs and vinyl will be for sale.
BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston. For more information, visit www.bspkingston.com.