by Josh “Saint” White
A few years ago I stumbled into a couple of live performance videos from a really rad band by the name of Seratones while surfing some suggested content. I remember really diggin’ their soulful, rockin’, and carefree sonics. Something about the tunes allowed me to relax a little bit in my skin, and I liked that. They’ve got an infectious quality of their own.
Fast forward to the year 2021 and I have the pleasure of chopping it up with AJ, the fronthuman of the very same band for a special Punk Black exclusive. As Seratones gears up for the next leg of their tour featuring a few stops with Black Pumas and Rebirth Brass Band, AJ and I kicked off the convo with a deep dive into the group’s roots and auditory taste.
SAINT – “OK, so I know y’all are from Shreveport. But how did the band come together and get its start?”
AJ – “So the original members and I met at punk shows in Shreveport, we all used to get together and put on DIY shows.
I started writing my own music and I was like, hey, I’d like to bring you guys into the fold, and that’s when I made the decision to shift from just AJ Haynes to Ceratones. The name came from the idea of the mother wax print on records. So ‘cera’ means ‘wax’ in Spanish. And then whenever I was like, that could be the name, the guys were like, ‘change it to an S, because people aren’t going to understand’ *laughs*. Like Michael Cera.
When the band first started, I was really interested in the lineage of rock and roll, specifically how it ties into Yoruba myth. I was really obsessed with rock and roll mythology and like Luciferian imagery. And so between that and just wanting to be Iggy Pop, that’s where the band came from *laughs*.”
SAINT – “Very dope. Now, if you could describe the flavor of Seratones’ sound in non music terms, I’m looking for food ingredients and cuisine. How would that hit?”
AJ – “Yeah. So it depends on the song, really. We just finished an album that’s coming out next year, so that’s what’s at the top of my head right now.
Well, if we were to stick with Power. You know, a lot of turmeric. Because I believe our strive is to be medicine music. Turmeric is one of those plants that’s anti-inflammatory. We’re definitely in the curry realm *laughs*. Yeah, a lot of ginger. I’m drawing on the food that I consume a lot of – spicy stuff. But also a lot of levels of flavors. I’m half Filipina. So I draw from a lot of that kind of cooking.”
SAINT – “I’m into it and I get that, too. Especially when listening to Power. I like to cook a lot. And I put the album on a few times in the kitchen, just trying to get my head in a good space. And I felt my spirit kind of riding high.”
AJ – “Yay that’s the goal!”
SAINT – “In Seratones’ inception, was “medicine music” more or less the intention with everyone in the band collectively?”
AJ – “Yeah. So it shifted from the first album to the second album. The songwriting shifted with the second album because I did all the songwriting. With the first album it was more like collaborative songwriting, where my goal as a songwriter was to be like a thread of light in this fucking gnarlyness, you know. And then with the second album, there is a shift to like dealing with myself. And that’s part of the reason that we chose a photo of me as the album cover, because it’s like, just a way to examine myself. Myself is my set of experiences, but also the necessity and healing that comes from centering black women. Because we’re often, especially when we think about rock and roll lineage, we’re written as an afterthought or a parenthetical reference. So it was important for me to center my experiences in the context of the band.
We know in creating the society that we deserve, a just and equitable space, whenever black women, and black trans folx, and non gender expansive people are centered and uplifted, everyone wins. And so it was a struggle to find my voice. Not a struggle. Well everything is a struggle. Not necessarily in a bad way. Like saying no, I actually do get to be centered here. And these are my experiences. Like I’ve worked in abortion care and I’ve been a teacher. I think of myself in my fullness.”
SAINT – “I respect that so much *raises fist*. So, I guess the next big topic is, you know, obviously with this next phase of Covid, how does it feel like getting back to things, hitting the road, touring, playing shows again?”
AJ – “I really don’t know how to feel. Whenever the pandemic first hit, we were just finishing a crazy fucking tour and the Supreme Court case that my clinic was in was happening at the same time. So I was doing advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, literally flying from coast to coast. And then I flew like L.A. to D.C., DC, back to L.A. and we continued our West Coast tour and got home.
And then, you know, that’s when we found out that everything shifted. My bassist left the band to start a family, which is really exciting! And my keyboard player, Tyran, shifted gears and he joined the military.
So it was like me and my drummer and my guitarist. But we weren’t getting together because we were locking it down like we are not putting anyone’s life in jeopardy. And I was also working full time at the clinic as a patient advocate.
So I was up in it and I reached a level of burnout that I didn’t know was possible. And from that, like how the old people say, ‘whenever everything gets really hectic, you just get real still and you just listen’.
And I think that’s where I am. I don’t know how to feel about all this because people are fucking dying. I’m excited, and I think that we can still have our joy and our celebration, but we can’t behave as if people aren’t dying in mass at this time.
So I am affected by that, and I don’t know how to feel about it. I’m just trying to be as cautious as I can, and I think that we’re all in this in-between space.
You know, we’re still a very small operation (5 band members) and we juggle stuff and split duties. So we have fewer variables.
But we’re opening for the Black Plumas in St. Louis and I love them. And they got like lighting crew, sound crew, they got a whole village. And I’m like, now that shit. Oh, man *laughs*.“
SAINT – “Is that something that you kind of see as a goal in the future as far as larger production?”
AJ – “Absolutely. I’m really trying to build a spaceship *laughs*. That’s really what I want is a spaceship. I want a spaceship. I want my space crew. The goal for this next record was like, I want to be the band that plays for the Galactic Federation whenever they actually come out and say they exist. I’ve been waiting on y’all.”
SAINT – “That’s awesome you totally need the red emergency phone that you punch out of the glass case just for when they call *laughs*.
OK, so next leg of the tour, y’all hitting ATL. It looks like two back to back shows at Smith’s Olde Bar on 9/10 & 9/11.”
AJ – “Yes, we’re playing with Rebirth Brass Band! I’m excited to actually get to spend some time in Atlanta too. I have family there, so I’ll get to see some family. I love being able to spend consecutive days in a city because you actually get to see it. With touring, I get to town for soundcheck around two or three. Soundcheck. Eat dinner, play a show, load your shit up, get out of town. But I mean, Atlanta is just such a cool spot. And I get to see some friends.”
SAINT – “Yes! Replenish a bit. That’s so important. OK, so Atlanta next. And then how long is the rest of the tour?”
AJ – “It’s like a two week tour. Then we end at Riot Fest. Fishbone is playing live, Living Colour, Meet Me @ The Altar. They’re so fun. I’m usually not into punk pop as much. They’re amazing. They’re so good. Gravity is going to be playing there. I mean, honestly, the day that we’re playing is pretty Black as fuck!”
SAINT – “So while on tour, do you have any like Seratones’ dos, don’ts, and essentials for thriving and surviving?”
AJ – “Oh yeah. Make sure that you keep a bottle of oregano oil capsules, because that cures everything. Make sure that you carve out whatever your practices for your physical, spiritual, mental alignment, because this shit is hard. It’s so hard on every part of you. Like I practice yoga every day on tour.
I don’t really do it as much when I’m home. But I’ll keep my jump rope around. So whatever little activity, whether it’s just it’s like you sit and you stare at the wall and meditate, something that doesn’t involve your phone, preferably like some way for you to disconnect.
I think boundaries are really important too. Whenever you’re touring with people. Just having either understood or like you state what your boundaries are.
And watch out for drinking. It’s way too easy on tour. I don’t have anything more than like a little tequila every night. Maybe a silver tequila. But watch out for drinking . . . don’t drink too much. And call things what they are. But whenever you’re confined to a space and a really tight schedule, it makes these practices even more important.
Don’t hold on to resentment. Hash it out. I’m really quick to say like, oh, I fucked up. I could have handled that better. Like, let me know how I can address this. What do you need? Space or whatever. Or if someone said something that’s made me uncomfortable, I just say what it is, because you’re going to be trapped in a van with these motherfuckers and the energy, just stews.
Always clear the air right there, have a path forward, you know, reconciliation, because there is going to be conflict. Life is a conflict. So whatever your community agreement is, these are important things to say out loud.
I think I learned that from being in a lot of social justice spaces that are led by black women, and that’s how those spaces operate. You know, there’s none of this weird tension or niceties for the sake of niceties. It’s like let’s call things what they are. Let’s get some shit done and let’s celebrate how awesome we are.”
SAINT – “I’ve been noticing as the years progressed, you’ve got these subcultures that are really celebrating the different nuances that people have and the different walks of life and quirks.
Do you have any interests or proud self-proclaimed nerd habits that you celebrate personally?”
AJ – “I read hella books *laughs*. I am a huge, huge nerd, obsessed with Octavia Butler. I read all of Octavia Butler’s books and I’m rereading them all the time.
Reading a lot of Adrienne Maree Brown’s curation and Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Jemisin, I’ve been reading some of her stuff, but I really got pulled into this science fiction through Octavia Butler.”
SAINT – “Do you have a working title for the new record?”
AJ – “Yeah. It’s called Love and Algorithms. The next record is definitely Afro surrealist. Black futurism, that’s where my head’s at because like I need it, you know, like I needed to live and to process all this crazy shit that’s going on. But definitely into a lot of disco and dance music, and a lot of synthesizers lately, actually. Just thinking about Black Quantum Futurism . . . and the concept of bending time, outside of this linear thing, and how Black art moves in that way”
SAINT – “Well, this is so lovely. I really, really enjoyed speaking with you today AJ. Before I let you go, when can we expect the new album?”
AJ – “Tentatively Summer next year, early summer next year. Just in time for festival season.”
SAINT – “Can’t wait! And best of luck on tour. Y’all rock out and stay safe!”