The string-snapper in-chief of LA punk quartet Feels trades angst for assent and amps for acoustics on her first proper solo effort, 2017’s crystalline Living Water.
She goes again and again to the fount to drink of a wisdom sprung from a humus of sadness and says like a sage that it tastes in its subtleties of joy. Lay invites us first to slake our thirst, under the provisos that no drink can suffice, that soon enough we will thirst again, that we must accept and may keep sipping.
Come, pilgrims, to a mystic making of the Berlin desert an oasis, and see for yourselves if her Kool-aid suits you.
The lore to-date of guitarist Shannon Lay, shredder turned plucker, is somewhat instructive in the assertion that, in the weighing of the meaning laden in art, biography is not destiny. She came of age in one of the suburban havens that line the coast from San Francisco to Baja and claim name-checks on the Beach Boys ‘Surfin’ USA.’
She resisted the malaise of staid wealth and picked up the icons of discontent: first, the skateboard; next, the guitar; third, a high school diploma and Black Flag’s entreaty to beat a trail inland, to Echo Park.
Lay replied to an ad on Craigslist and began moonlighting with a leftfield noise outfit called Facts on File (contemporaneous reviews of the defunct trio triangulate them between David Byrne, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Olympia grunge fronted by David Bowie). She developed a mean Simpsons habit and worked days in a vintage clothing boutique wearing pipe-cutter bangs dyed like burnished copper or an advertisement’s clementine.
Down the years, through to her adolescence, the line on Lay’s life reads like the bildungsroman of an LA punk.
She banded together with Lea Geronimo and, as Feels, released an album under the imprint and aegis of Castle Face Records, which counts in its production catalogue full-lengths from the garage luminaries Ty Segall, White Fence, and the Oh Sees. Down the years, through to her adolescence, the line on Lay’s life reads like the bildungsroman of an LA punk.
Her story, however, has recently taken a sharp turn, and the action of her artistic practice is rising at an angle that her opening scantly suggested. Inspired by a performance from psych-folk savant Jessica Pratt, Lay set to coaxing into the open her private musical ruminations on hippie Brits like Nick Drake and Vashti Bunyan.
Stray fingerings and a roommate’s help became, in February 2015, a homemade demo. Two years on, in early 2017, a minimalist focus on melody and mastery and mixing wizardry begat the sparsely intimate All this life goin down.
Between her singing and the strings, something stuck: Kevin Morby’s heart ‘was broken into a million pieces’ at a scarcely attended pub show
Between her singing and the strings, something stuck: Kevin Morby’s heart ‘was broken into a million pieces’ at a scarcely attended pub show and, set-length phone memo in hand, he offered on the spot to start a sub-label at Woodsist in order to record her follow-up. She accepted and, wrapping a nationwide circuit in support of Morby’s tour, returned to her native California in late September to release Living Water to considerable acclaim.
In the span of a calendar year, Lay has swapped the incite of crunchy riffs and downgazing rebellion for a command that comes from a vocal flutter like a violin swoon and a kind of dried-tears optimism, eyes turned upward and waiting gamely for the pall to break, but accepting anyway and with a hard-won bravery that the grey clouds may remain, that the sun may not shine, that it doesn’t matter so much, in either case.
Listen in to a live take on the title track from her latest EP, last autumn’s Living Water.