Since the beloved Brooklyn rock trio Vivian Girls disbanded back in 2010, bassist Katy Goodman has kept their signature blend of lo-fi guitar and harmony alive with three equally garage-y albums with La Sera, her band with husband Todd Wisenbaker. But on their fourth record, out Friday on Polyvinyl, Goodman’s making it clear she’s moving on, starting with her choice of producer: the unorthodox but brilliant singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, at whom Taylor Swift once tweeted, after he declared he was going to cover all of 1989 as an alt album, “Cool I’m not gonna be able to sleep tonight or ever again and I’m going to celebrate today every year as a holiday.”
Music For Listening To Music To isn’t a total departure from Goodman’s underground roots: the songs were all recorded live on a tape machine after just the first or second take, and usually after midnight. The way the album came about was equally casual, indie star power notwithstanding: the singer Jenny Lewis introduced Wisenbaker to Adams, thinking they’d get along. After a year as “texting buddies” (and before recording Adams’s weirdo version of 1989 together) the two finally met at Adams’s L.A. studio, Pax-Am, where they made Music For Listening To Music To with Goodman in five packed days between two Coachella weekends last year. “That was the only week that Ryan was free, and it was meant to be,” Goodman said.
Once Adams rolled up in his 1959 Cadillac, the group would play live together in the dim of Pax-Am, forgoing the usual recording process. “It definitely wasn’t a kind of brightly lit hospital studio situation with autotune,” said Goodman, recalling how the fluorescence of the 7-11 across the street would hurt their eyes on late snack runs. “Pax-Am is definitely a nighttime place.”
Because the recording equipment was split between floors, Goodman would record vocals alone downstairs, which only emphasized Adams’s primary goal: to put Goodman’s voice first. He also insisted she sing without harmony or back-up vocals, forgoing a safety net dating back to her Vivian Girls days. “That was actually a huge thing for me – it was my style for so long,” Goodman said. There is only one (barely audible) harmony on the record, which Goodman only negotiated after an hourlong discussion with Adams about the meaning of life. “Ryan has a method, and he’s very serious about it,” she said. “And it works.”
The method behind the madness was so that Goodman’s lyrics can shine like Morrissey’s on The Smiths’s Meat Is Murder, which the group cited as the album’s biggest influence, despite Wisenbaker’s rockabilly guitar sounds. But Goodman’s voice, which can be both dreamy and hauntingly clear, keeps everything from veering too country – and serves as reminder that she’s the real force behind the record.
Meanwhile, “Shadow of Your Love,” a sultry love song co-written by Wisenbaker and Goodman, makes it equally hard to ignore that the two got married in October, just a few months after they left Pax-Am. Still, Goodman insisted that that nothing’s changed in the band, even as they’ve started touring again. “It’s normal!” she said, before asking their drummer, Brendan McCusker, to weigh in. She laughed: “Sources from outside of the marriage confirm.”