Self Help: A Manual by The Paranoyds
In an age of paranoia, everyday anxiety and inescapable depression, self-help has become such an integral part of people’s lives, flying in the face of a broken health system which fails to recognise and effectively aid those who need it most.
Some find pills help, some turn to therapy, but those for whom both have failed, find the things that mean the most to them and use this sanctity of personal improvement to combat their inner foes. And no, I’m not talking about The Power of Now or anything Dale Carnegie wrote, I am talking about going for that much-maligned weekly jog around Victoria Park, limiting your phone usage to two hours per day, listening to a new album every week or not taking shit from the hack who pays you.
Although the phrase self-help seems to reference a solo journey, it doesn’t always mean going it alone. Self-help groups have been a thing for some time now, allowing people with similar issues in life to come together and work through them collectively. While LA punk stalwarts The Paranoyds don’t consider themselves a self-help group, with the release of their debut album they have readily accepted the advantages of not going it alone.
“With EPs, you can do everything on your own now, it’s so easy. Like Chance the Rapper, for instance, I think he’s still not signed to anything and has just been massively successful entirely on his own. It’s really easy to release EPs and 7 inches on your own, but an album and the whole lead up that goes into it is really, unless all you’re doing 24/7 is your album and nothing else, no distractions, it’s really hard,” says co-vocalist, part guitar player and part bass player Lexi Funston.
As hard as releasing an album has been for the four-piece over their four year lifespan, Lexi and Staz Lindes share vocal, guitar and bass duties, Laila Hashemi plays keys and David Ruiz plays drums, and as easy as they have found self-releasing EPs, one thing they have never needed to improve is their commitment to taking their time with what they release. Having released six records, not including the two singles released in anticipation of the upcoming Carnage Bargain, their meticulous craft of not wanting to just bash anything out seems to have paid off.
“It is a very collaborative process but we all work on it for months, most songs take like four to five months of development before we’re like 'Okay, should we play this one live maybe just to see?’ ” Funston admits.
“We played a lot more live than we did recordings because we didn’t want to put things up that we weren’t sure about”, something that is often forgotten when a band is made by internet dwellers and those that want their fix now. “I don’t know if it’s still happening, but a lot of bands just throw, not to talk shit about other bands, but a lot of bands just throw a lot of shit up online when they’re first starting out and it’s like 'Woah are you sure about that? Do you wanna wait and see or record it properly?”
"A lot of bands just throw a lot of shit up online when they’re first starting out and it’s like 'Woah are you sure about that? Do you wanna wait and see or record it properly?”
“It’s so easy to just record something on your phone and throw it up on Bandcamp. We could record something together, you and me and then throw it up online and then it would be up for everyone to hear. It is really easy which is great, it’s so easy to do things yourself but it just moves so fast,” Funston says. “We’re just making sure we’re doing things the way we want them to be heard as best as possible.”
This feeds into a sense of self-doubt the band once had. “On the other hand, we’re like ‘Oh my god, this band has released three albums in the last four years! How do they do this?’ But then the trade-off is maybe not as much time has gone into it or into recording, or it could be better than it already is. We take things slow I guess. The one nice thing about taking forever to release your album is you've had a really long amount of time to practice these songs and get them perfect.”
For a band that takes their time with everything, this record sure speeds by at full throttle. The songs are fast and the drums don’t stop pounding. It beats your blood faster than you knew it could be beaten. Oh, how empowering it can be when the bullet whizzes by in the other direction.
“I think that’s another thing, why it takes us so long, because we have a lot of “this sounds too much like another song we’ve done” or “this sounds too much like this song by this band”, so we try really hard which can be a good thing because it leads to unique variations on things that are maybe a bit unexpected that kind of keep us on our toes when we’re playing live or are fun to see live.”
Eponymous track “Carnage Bargain” begins with a grouchy bassline straight from Kim Deal’s basement before we’re met with that thing Parquet Courts do so well with their guitars. It’s hard to explain but it’s almost as if a lead used to end a song or bar actually starts it and piques interest that no other guitar line could. Combine this with well-controlled, lush amp feedback and you can believe again.
What follows could have been repetition, lyrics about the streets or the police or whatever, pirouette, downtrodden chorus, jazz hands back into repetition, one more even more downturn chorus, somersault into noise section or bow out centre stage; we’ve seen post-punk before. But no, in a strange turn of events we have this meld of pop and punk that doesn’t resemble Blink-182 or MCR but is down to earth and real. When Staz shouts ‘I want to pick up garbage’ in the chorus it’s almost as if Lady Gaga sacked off the EDM and the sad stuff to join Miley Cyrus in a rock band.
Well, taking its time and doing things different seem to help, but what makes The Paranoyds paranoid in the first place? A lot apparently.
Still on “Carnage Bargain”, Funston says: “It’s actually quite a smart song, it’s about how easy it is to be distracted by all the garbage that’s going on your cell phone and then meanwhile we’re literally polluting the planet. That’s in the chorus, ‘I want to pick up garbage’ because I’m so sick of it.”
"[Carnage Bargain] is about how easy it is to be distracted by all the garbage that’s going on your cell phone and then meanwhile we’re literally polluting the planet".
Although the music formed around the current face of Yves Saint Laurent’s fragrance and makeup range Linde’s lyrics, it wasn’t until after hearing the vocal tracks in the studio that the message she was trying to get across really hit home for the rest of the band. When it did, the band all knew they were on to something.
“Amazon is a great example of where you are like ‘Sick, two/three day shipping that’s so fast’ and then you hear the horror stories of what’s actually going on in the backend to get the shitty things that you can get at the store instead of walking to your doorstep in two days. Why don’t we know this?” Funston asks. She continues: “It’s so easy for these corporations to just bury the lead and be like ‘Oh, we have this thing’ but you don’t think about the waste that goes into it. I mean, all the packaging that shit comes in. We’ve all ordered something and you think why is this wrapped in plastic with packing peanuts and then bubble wrap and a box that’s massive?”
As far from out of touch as can be, Funston believes pop music is currently her biggest inspiration. In a way, The Paranoyds symbolise so much what is right about being transparent with your influences. Take the Arctic Monkeys for instance. Or the Kings of Leon. Yeah, we all knew they enjoyed the temptation of commercial buoyancy in the beginning but who could have ever guessed what happened later was going to occur. For those who bought AM or Only by the Night without listening to the singles, as hard as both of those things were, I can imagine shudders stemmed from how ineffectively a band could turn in on all of its previous inspirations and produce such chart-topping drivel. This cannot happen to The Paranoyds as they have come out and out before their debut to say how much they love pop.
“I’ve been going through a major pop phase for the last two years or something,” Funston is not afraid to say. “Pop is important. We’re playing perhaps a, quote, out-of-fashion genre, which is rock. Rock had its heyday, what like 20 years ago, or whatever let’s just call it that. We still have to figure out how to make these songs catchy, you know what I mean? I think pop music is important for that. There’s a reason all those dumb songs they play on the radio get stuck in your head and it’s not because they play them 5000 times in a row in a day. There’s something there, at least with some of them, some of them are just trash.”
Enjoying and being influenced by pop music isn’t something Funston just wants to admit, it is something she wants to embrace and cherish as she gets older. Where music consumption is concerned, a lot of people do become more tolerant as they grow. Branching out and enjoying something you never thought you previously would is part of living in this world. Those who fail to embrace this notion quickly get left behind.
“I like pop music a lot, more than I used to, that’s something with getting old,” Funston says. “That’s the thing, you want the 18 and 19-year-olds to say ‘This is the band, they’re so cool’ but you want to disguise the poppiness. That’s what we’ll try with the weird time change or like a weird thing where you’re like ‘that guitar came out of nowhere’ to shake it up. In saying that, I think we are always going to like what we like at the root of the band. We like Devo and B-52s.”
These unexpected time changes can be experienced in a good number of the band’s songs. Take “Egg Salad”. Now this is one of those racers. After the drum intro, we shoot straight into a band really going for it at lightning speed. It’s punk, almost hardcore, but it does that stop/start garage thing at the end of each bar Coachwhips did so well, and here I am wondering how I haven’t heard anyone do those two things before. It’s simple, Christ so simple. By the time Lindes has hollered ‘walk down Cherokeeeeee’ (a part of LA) a couple of times permanently lodging it into my brain, that garage bit transforms seamlessly into slow, powerful doomy goodness. So god-damn simple.
"Pop is important. We’re playing a, quote, out-of-fashion genre. Rock had its heyday, what like 20 years ago? We still have to figure out how to make these songs catchy".
This mix up of tempo forms an important part of Funston's writing process. She can’t avoid it, it’s natural and a part of her.
“The weird time signatures I think come from my lack of understanding drums and loops on garage band which is how I write demos. So I’m like 'Fuck it, we don’t need the metronome. I’m just gonna record and when you’re recording by yourself you lose track of what’s weird,” Funston believes. “Usually sometimes I’ll just be like 'Whatever, I just wanna get this out. I don’t have time to fuss with figuring out drums so I’ll just record it without the metronome not realising that I’m doing something weird or that something weird has happened.”
She continues: “When you’re playing guitar by yourself, you don’t have other band members to be like 'Oh, this is supposed to happen next which is kind of freeing but also a little crazy if you don’t have your friends being like this is a little too nuts.”
Embracing these quirks in your abilities often defines a band. Look at The Raincoats. They forged an innovative step in what can be done with a band based around the fact they hardly knew how to play the instruments they would ironically make a career out of.
First track off the album and second single, “Face First” is the embodiment of this. The guitars sound more like alarms than they do Stratocasters. Don’t snooze this one, you’ll feel it later like the ache of skipping breakfast.
“Girls can be stalkers too you know. I thought about the idea of a girl stalker, stalking a guy so that’s kind of where the song came from. But the ‘I check my phone, I’m waiting for a sign’, I think we can all relate to that when you’re a teenager and you’re waiting for a text or whatever,” Funston says. “Maybe with the older generation you’re waiting for a letter or a phone call or something. But now the phone has taken on a new meaning besides making a call or sending a text.”
Aside from the bittersweet event of flipping something on its head, a talent the band pride themselves on, "Face First" is as groovy as they come. You can see a gang of spotty Los Angelians sliding their white sneakers across a basketball court turned horror movie set to this one. The main guitar line sits somewhere between a Peter Hook bassline and a J Mascis riff. The drums never stop, the bass bellows. It’s got everything, only further perfectly complimented with Funston's vocals and her sardonic tale.
Something the band is equally passionate about is the scene that birthed them. With each spending the majority of their waking lives in LA, they couldn’t help but admire the DIY garage rock sounds that emanated from the City of Angels as they grew up.
“We would just go to see these shows and we were like, you know, singing along to every word, we had a whole gang in the mosh pit- not the mosh pit but you know- and then all of a sudden we were like 'Wait, we can do this too,” Funston reminisces about the birth of the band.
This is a scene that seems to never die. It began with The Seeds and The Music Machine in the 60s, created Weezer and The Lords of Altamont in the 90s, then Deap Vally and FIDLAR. Now it includes bands such as Staz’s brother’s SadGirl and Isaac Rother & the Phantoms. Even still, Funston adds, “you could spend every different day of the week going to a different show and they would all be good.” This can be a blessing and a curse. “It’s hard to keep up with it and then you’re always like “Ah, that was last night!?” And then you feel like a jerk, no matter if you go or don’t go. You went to one show, you missed the wrong one. It’s a lot.”
Regardless, as great as it seems to be a part of this lineage, a lot of the bands previously mentioned are, much to my embarrassment, all men. Perhaps it’s down to the way I have accessed this trove of influential music, or perhaps it’s symptomatic of a consistently male-orientated industry that only a handful of those highlighted do not identify as male. As Funston and first single off the album, “Girlfriend Degree” explain, it was in part this male hogging of the spotlight, and the relegation of fellow females to loyal audience members, that stirred The Paranoyds themselves into vital fruition.
“The song kind of came out of me seeing lots of girls going to their boyfriends’ shows and I’m like 'Wait a second, this is wrong we can make music too right.”
“The song kind of came out of me seeing lots of girls going to their boyfriends’ shows and I’m like 'Wait, a second, this is wrong we can make music too right.” It doesn’t stop there.
The raucous, chanting, halfway Shangri-Las, nearly Bikini Kill melodies of Carnage Bargain are a definite bop. It could be Karen Carpenter in The Ramones with Agnetha Fältskog’s harmonies. Even that fuzzy guitar can give you the confidence to do that thing, walk down the street and not look at the ground but be who you want to be. “It’s about finding time to do your thing and doing your passion and being comfortable with you doing you and not feeling like you have to- cos we’ve all heard it when someone’s like ‘Oh I can’t do this painting class because my boyfriend has a blablabla’ and you have to be there for your partner now and then it’s easy to fall into that trap of just always making your life 100% around theirs. Especially as a woman we’re brought up to be nurturing caretakers which is great but you don’t want to care for someone else and not care for yourself, it’s just kinda sad.”
Now that The Paranoyds have injected themselves into this lineage with their first album, is the tide changing? If their namesakes have anything to do about it that would be a yes.
“We had this happen once, this 15-year-old came to our show, we played with DIIV, this 15-year-old girl came to our show in Ohio like two years ago,” Funston remembers. “We had a photo with her and she posted this photo on Instagram recently and it was like; “Two years ago I met this band and they’re the reason why I started playing guitar”. And it was us, you know what I mean?”
“Especially girls will come up to us and be like “Oh, I’m starting to play bass, but I don’t know” and we’re like ‘No! Just keep at it, just keep doing it!’ We just try to be very encouraging of that because everything’s hard when you start it, are you kidding me? You just gotta stick with it and keep doing it.”
Looking at the almost life-long friendships at the heart of the band, it’s easy to spot this reassuring attitude they so readily offer up to fans. “I guess we’re really lucky in that we’ve all been such good friends before the band. I don’t know what usual band politics are, but it’s just really easy cos we’re always hanging out, we’re always texting each other. I think we’re also lucky in that we have a supportive group around us, that we are not weighed down,” Funston says.
As far-reaching as their friendships may go, however, no friend is capable of fending off the exhausting smog of L.A. summer. In “Laundry”, the mundane tasks of Californians turn torturous in the blistering west coast heat. “It just gets so hot in LA. That song is more about it just being hot and just having to run errands. There’s nothing worse than that. It’s a very LA thing it being very hot and there’s traffic because there are a dumb baseball game and a thousand other events going on right where you live and you just don’t even want to do this thing but you have to because you don’t have underwear or something like that.” Hashemi’s keys are a continuation of those organ lines seen in so many California garage staples, from The Standells (who are actually the first LA garage band) to Coachwhips (who were technically San Fran).
So helping yourself, helping others, inspiring others, doing what you want, the way you want, doing things with your friends, taking your time, have it be fast, have it be current, highlighting the problems, letting everyone know and keeping on doing it help. But what’s next for The Paranoyds? It would seem like they’ve got it all worked out.
"As a woman, we’re brought up to be nurturing caretakers which is great but you don’t want to care for someone else and not care for yourself, it’s just kinda sad.”
“Yeah, I’m not too sure, we haven’t played Europe. I don’t wanna say we win people over when we play shows, but we do really well when we go on tour as a live band,” Funston admits. “I mean these recordings that are coming out on this upcoming album are the closest to us sounding live than any other previous recording. So it is important for us to get over there soon because we do I guess win people over when we play live. You know it's loud, it's energetic, it's sweaty, whatever, we’re definitely a live band.”
“Yeah, we get off on it [playing live], definitely.” But don’t let the music fool you. While absolute blazers and later tracks off the album such as “Hungry Sam” and “Ratboy” could soundtrack a protest, let alone a late-night kiki in a cold basement, The Paranoyds enjoy an early night. “I don’t know so much about party vibes. We like to be in bed by like, I don’t know, when we’re done playing, especially on tour. It’s so hard, we’re like great, we’re done! Count the merch table, get in the van we’re leaving in fifteen minutes, we need to go to bed. We’re really good about sleeping.”
And so is born a new chapter in the LA garage punk rock scene. Later this month, Carnage Bargain will be unleashed and it will quickly become apparent we can help ourselves, we can help each other and we can do this. A new type of band more worried about helping the next one start up than helping themselves to any drug they can find. More interested in highlighting the problem rather than being it. Maybe I’m wrong but as I sit on a chair bought from Ikea, leaning on a pillow bought from Primark, listening to the news on a radio bought from Amazon, at least I have The Paranoyds to make me feel uncomfortable about it.