In the middle of talking about what inspires the lyrics she writes, AJ Haynes gets sidetracked.
“I really love metered poetry and formal verse,” she says, as her band, The Seratones, drive from Niagara Falls to that night’s gig at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland. “I … really … like to pay attention to the cadences of the worlds. I mean the words, sorry.
“They keep talking about donuts. We’re riding in the van and they keep talking about donuts and now I want a donut. I’m going to write a song about a donut.”
Good journalists know how to identify topics that are important to their interview subjects: What’s your favorite donut?
“My favorite donut is …” she can’t finish the answer. Haynes lets out a loud, infectious burst of laughter that cracks up her bandmates. Soon, we’re all laughing, but she eventually answers the question. “My favorite donut is Southern Maid from home in Shreveport, Louisiana. It’s the only donut I’ll eat; everything else just ain’t it.
“That’s what we have in Shreveport: donuts, gambling and really awesome creative talent. You know, that’s not a bad lineup.”
It was in that creative, talent-filled music scene where Haynes — who worked as a high school teacher until the Seratones released their debut album, Get Gone, earlier this year — met guitarist Connor Davis, bassist Adam Davis and drummer Jesse Gabriel. She grew up with a love of music and began singing at age 6 in the Brownsville Baptist Church in Columbia, La. As a teen, she got into jazz vocals and, since she also wanted to play guitar, her then-boss recommended she go see Shreveport blues legend Buddy Flett. Flett, a Grammy nominee who wrote songs for artists like Percy Sledge, gave Haynes guitar lessons as well as insights on the music business.
“Buddy’s advice was to take your vitamins, don’t let money come between you and your friendships, and just be nice to people,” she says. “So far, so good — although there’s not really a shit-ton of money so far, but I don’t ever see that as an issue. We’ve got a pretty good crew.” Some may see that as naiveté, but for Haynes, feeling safe and trusting those around her is a high priority. And that’s something she learned from spending years in Shreveport’s DIY punk scene.
Thanks to some friends who were into punk, Haynes found herself getting into bands like the Sex Pistols. She started going to shows alone and quickly found a place where she felt welcome.
“I didn’t know anyone when I first showed up at these punk shows,” Haynes says. “It was loud, sweaty, brash and stinky, and I didn’t look like anyone else in there and I never felt more comfortable. I felt taken care of. I know in a lot of different punk scenes, there’s this big machismo, anti-feminine, anti-woman pussy-fear, and we didn’t have that. We had this inviting, welcoming space, and it definitely left a lasting impression on me. We have friends all over the world now. We formed our own tribe. We’d lose ourselves, find ourselves and do all the shit we weren’t supposed to be doing.
“We weren’t straight-edge kids, that’s for damn sure. I love Minor Threat, but we’re fucking from Louisiana and we drank, but so be it.”
Listening to the Seratones, it’s easy to hear all of those influences mixing together, both in the instrumentation and in Haynes’ powerful voice. Jazz vocals, punk, soul and Southern rock meld into a unique sound.
And one of the more glorious examples of this is on “Kingdom Come.” The song has a steady but building beat paced by a combination of Gabriel’s drums, Davis’ driving bass lines and Haynes’ vibrato which creates a sound that dances a fine line between controlled and frenzied. It’s the kind of song that hits the ear and makes the heart beat faster with every note.
It’s also the kind of sound that will compel music writers and audiophiles to try and slap a new name on it. And while it may stretch the limits of what many of us are used to hearing, at its core, it’s rock ’n’ roll.
“Rock ’n’ roll is elastic,” Haynes says, pausing to order a large black coffee during a roadside stop. “Go back and listen to Some Girls [by the Rolling Stones] and you hear all kinds of influences in there, but still, it’s a rock album.”
“People try to lump us into other categories because … you know, I don’t know why the hell people do that. I’ve never given a shit about that; it’s all about marketing and that’s fine,” she says. “As long as I know what it is, I don’t give a goddamn what they call it. I just want people to hear it, so I can keep on doing what I love for a really long time.”