Every time I see something like Selena Gomez’s flat, tuneless, speak/sung SNL performance and think to myself, “seriously, THIS is the crap the kids are listening to these days!”, someone else comes along, kicks my ass, and makes me believe that the children are indeed the future… well, if we don’t fuck it up for them by electing some douchebag like Trump or Cruz.
It shouldn’t matter that singer/songwriter/guitarist Serena Miller and her band, Legends of Et cetera, are still in high school, their music is pure, and it rocks. Their story, high school plot line and all, is truly worth telling, so here goes. They crushed their set at WTMD’s Baltimore Band Block Party and their song, ‘Give Up The Ghost’ is on regular rotation at the station. The station recently set them up with a gig at the airport of all places (see it on their facebook page). ‘Ghost’ deserves to be a national hit, the guitar line hooked me first and it’s been thundering out of my stereo ever since.
When I picked up, Coyote, their full length debut, I was expecting the band to sound like Echosmith, one of my personal favorite teenage bands behind the multi-platinum smash, ‘Cool Kids’. Instead, the opening also, ‘Volcano’ sounded like a lost Queens of the Stone Age track and before I knew it, I was crushed by song after amazing song.
Coyote is far from polished, and that’s part of its charm. With big hooks, blistering guitar lines, a tight rhythm section and intelligent and emotionally vulnerable lyrics, it’s not too dissimilar in sonic ambition from Pocketwatch, the album Dave Grohl released under the moniker, Late, in between his tenures in Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Whereas Late leaned punk, The Legends lean towards desert stoner rock on some tracks and 90’s English indie guitar pop on others.
Right now, Serena’s mom, Leslie, is handling publicity for the band. I was so enthralled by the complexity of the band’s sound and the wide range of classic rock, guitar pop, psychedelic and prog rock influences, I just had to know what kind of Kool Aid these kids were drinking.
Leslie revealed that everyone in the band, except for the keyboard player, were School of Rock students, so they were exposed to lots of classic rock. Serena grew up listening to Billy Bragg, the Furs, Peter Gabriel, Dave Matthews, U2, Bob Schneider, and Ani Difranco. Her favorite guitarist is David Gilmour (second his Hendrix). Pink Floyd is her favorite band.
Jakob Coburn, the drummer, grew up listening to Fugazi, Tool, Radiohead, This Town Needs Guns, etc. He doesn’t have a favorite drummer. Bassist Graham vonBriesen was raised on The Police, Weezer, Nirvana, Rush, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, and U2. His favorite bassist is Jaco Pastorius. Mack Watson, the keyboard player, was raised on the Beatles but says he didn’t really grow up with any bands that influenced him, just early 2000s pop music. His favorite keyboardist is Simon Mavin from Hiatus Kaiyote.
So when the opportunity arose, POPDOSE connected with Serena Miller to further discuss how the Legends came to be and if they will survive their college years.
POPDOSE: I’ve been enjoying Coyote for a good month now and ‘Give Up The Ghost’ just might be my favorite song in the past few years. How do the songs snowball from the spark in your head to a fully arranged band jam caught on tape?
SERENA MILLER: Wow, thank you! It was written before the “math rock” started pouring out. I usually write the music first, then I send a voice memo to Jakob and Mack so I can get their opinions. Graham is usually on board with most things. I don’t dictate anyone else’s part, so they are free to write whatever they want, but I sometimes have suggestions. While they’re working on parts, I try to find inspiration for the lyrics in books or movies. I had an idea for lyrics for Coyote, and they just happened to match up with the plot of a movie of the same title.
I wanted ‘Give Up the Ghost’ to sound like a breakup song, so I wrote typical lyrics like “I won’t see you” and “you’ll be in the pictures” and whatever, but, plot twist, it’s about breaking up with God. Fast forward: we never got back together.
I love a good origin story. How did the Legends come together?
Well, Graham is my cousin, and Mack is my best friend—since age three. Graham, Mack, and I were in our first band The Oxi-Morons from the time I was 11 until I was about 13 (Graham was 9, and Mack was 10 when we started). We broke up because some of us weren’t as committed as others. I had seen Jakob at School of Rock but hadn’t ever talked to him. He heard a recording I’d done of Young the Giant’s ‘Cough Syrup’ and asked if he could play drums to it. We formed Riot!, a two-piece cover band, and we played together for about two years before adding Mack and Graham back. We were called Them for a short period between band names. Mack sent me a recording of a piece he’d composed called, ‘Legends of Et cetera,’ and I somewhat jokingly suggested it be our band name, and it stuck.
You stuck with the band even when your producer proposed producing you solo, are you in it together for the long haul?
Our producer, Mark Towles, heard one of my songs —solo, before the band started working on it— on Facebook and contacted my mom. He asked a couple times if I would record it without the band, and I said I wasn’t interested. Then he heard the band do it and said, “OK, I’ll record the whole band.” They won him over.
I would like to think we will stay together. Mack and I are going to college next year, so it will be difficult to keep the band going, but I hope to schedule some gigs during our breaks when we’re all home. And I’d like to record another record this summer, before Mack and I leave. And Mark got a whole new studio, so he is eager to start recording again, like now.
If you’ve ever caught VH1’s Behind The Music or any good rock doc, you know creative differences eventually drive some bands apart. The rest of the Foo Fighters readily admit, the band is Dave’s vision. The Pretenders are essentially just Chrissie Hynde and a rotating cast of musicians. Is Legends, and in turn Coyote, your vision or a democratic affair?
We make most decisions together. I write the songs, so I have some amount of control in how I play them at least. But everyone has creative freedom, and if we don’t like something that someone’s doing, there’s normally a way to remedy the situation. But we’re playing music that we like, that we’d listen to even if we weren’t the ones making it. There aren’t a whole lot of terrible disagreements.
So what happens when the (future) Label says, lose the band, hire some back-up dancers and put out a dance pop record?
“Fuck off.” Not you, the label.
If you could spend the summer touring with any artist or band, who would it be?
I would say Hippo Campus. That’s just my personal choice. I think they’re a really catchy band, they’re young, the bass player’s cute, and I kind of want to show them up a little bit—not in a mean way, but in an “I’m a girl and I can play like the guys” kind of way. Jakob might say Explosions in the Sky and Mack might say tUnE-yArDs. Graham is pretty easy going, so he’d be down for anyone, I think.
What current artists/records are you excited about right now?
I like Young the Giant, Kid Bloom, and Hippo Campus a lot. And I love Silversun Pickups. Their new album is killer. I try to emulate their dynamics, their explosive sound followed by their eerie quiet. But my favorite band is still Pink Floyd.
You’re interested in film scoring as well. What would be your dream project? What are your favorite TV or film scores?
My dream project would be writing a film score for an Oscar-winning director like Alejandro Iñárritu. My favorite film scores are the Star Wars score, obviously, and Harry Potter, because you can’t go wrong with John Williams (he only did the first two, but they’re all really good). Another one of my favorites is Thomas Newman’s score for A Series of Unfortunate Events. And Elliot Goldenthal, who did Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus, is a genius.
But all of these people are men. There are few women scoring films (the score for The Shining was written by two women, and it’s brilliant). It’s such a male-dominated field, and I would like to help change that.
‘Aftermath’ sounds like a rally against the LGBT behavior modification camps and conversion therapy like we saw in the movie Saved? What inspired you to write it?
The song is mostly about gay marriage and the right to love whomever you want, but it tackles the role of religion in love. There was no specific event that inspired it, but I and friends of mine are members of the LGBT community, and I am committed to fighting overzealous religious nuts.
On MTV (shows like Faking It) and Glee, the LGBT kids are now the most popular ones; is that true in real high school today or is it still dangerous to come out or stand out from the crowd?
In my school, I believe it’s fairly easy to be who you are. We are artists, and we accept everyone—or we’re supposed to, anyway. But every school is different. It’s hip on TV, but in the real world, kids are tormented and ruthlessly bullied for not fitting into one specific category.
How does our current political climate make you feel? It is your future everyone is messing around with!
I wrote a song over the summer called ‘2016.’ It goes a little something like this: “They drive around in cars made of gold / They hurt the people they rely on the most / Everyone can see / They sleep in beds made of the finest human souls / They suck the life out of the young and the old / Wouldn’t you agree? / And one of them is gonna win in 2016.” The possibility that Donald Trump could win ANY election EVER is a frightening reality, and I would be ashamed to live in a country where he is any kind of leader.
Finally, you win one day in a studio with any musician on Earth to collaborate on one song; who would it be?
David Gilmour. His style of soloing has influenced everything I write.