Love & Algorhythms and a bit of Astrology with A.J. Haynes from Seratones

Photo of Seratones – three people seated; from left to right: Jesse Gabriel, A.J. Haynes, Travis Stewart; the background is light and each person’s shadow is visible in the photo.

Having been a Seratones fan since hearing their first album, Get Gone, I was excited when I first learned about the forthcoming album late last year. The Seratones sound continues to evolve and that holds true with the release of their latest album, Love & Algorhythms, which was released April 29. The band reimagines a classic disco track, incorporates Afrofuturism, and will make you dance while giving shout-outs to activists like Fannie Lou Hamer. 

About a week before the new album dropped and through the magic of Zoom, I was fortunate to catch up with Seratones’ lead singer A.J. Haynes between touring and doing various promotion gigs. We covered a variety of topics including talking about her influences growing up, navigating the music business, a bit of astrology, intuitive eating, and looking forward to future projects. 

Early influences

Between the songbooks she had from her mother to singing in the church choir, music was always around A.J.

“My mother passed away when I was 10 and so we were raised mostly by my grandmother and great grandmother and the community. So my grandmother is definitely my rock for sure,” she said.

During our chat, A.J. pulled one of her mother’s songbooks down from a shelf and showed me a copy of a Bossa Nova songbook in Japanese. Originally from the Philippines, A.J.’s mother made a living as a musician in a touring band before A.J. was born. She met the man who would become A.J.’s father, originally from Louisiana, while he was in the Navy and stationed in Yokosuka, Japan.

“Yeah, my mother loved Kenny G. Like a lot of really soothing saxophone music. I think that’s probably why I’m really drawn to John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane now. In my home space, I like to listen to a lot of calm instrumental music like Dorothy Ashby or a different kind of vibe like electronic, not techno, but repetitive electronic music. My partner listens to a lot of Kraftwerk type stuff,” she said.

In her grandmother’s home, she grew up listening to the R&B and hip-hop radio stations and has memories of listening to 1950s doo-wop, lots of Donna Summer, The Beatles, John Denver, and Clarence Carter.

Because A.J.’s vocals have a gospel feel, it was no surprise to learn she was in the church choir growing up starting at the Brownsville Baptist Church and then singing in AME and CME church choirs in high school. 

“I feel like I got a really rich learning in all of those spaces. And this rural Baptist community and then in Shreveport, which is a little more of a city, you know, and the CME and AME church spaces … I love AME churches,” she said. “And just the learning that you get in music there is incredible.”

Meditation and the music business

In high school, A.J. became obsessed with Billie Holiday, punk music, and grunge. She formed a band to do something with her friends and started playing guitar while in college.

The past couple of years have been challenging for a lot of independent artists, especially with little to no touring happening. With the return of live shows, many artists are now encountering the increased costs.

“I was just looking at Little Simz, who I’m a huge fan of, and she was like, ‘Yo, I can’t tour the US because I can’t afford to,’” she said. “We would not have been able to support this promo tour had we not had label assistance. There’s no way because of how astronomical gas prices are. In addition to just everything being more heightened, like hotel rooms cost more like Airbnb’s costs more than they used to.”

Before the new album promotion cycle kicked off, A.J. spent time in Chiang Mai, Thailand, receiving her yoga certification thanks to a scholarship seeking to address the lack of diversity in wellness spaces. A.J. is now applying the practices and meditations learned to the frantic life of a touring musician.

“I feel very fortunate to have had some training,” she said. “How I manage … how I adapt is using tools like meditation. I have a practice where I meditate for 10 minutes a day – I don’t get an app, I just get a cushion or whatever and I sit for 10 minutes and focus on my breath. And it just reminds me that healing is available to everyone. We just have to sit still long enough for it to go and you will be rewarded for it,” she said. 

Disco and Stars

One song was key to the creation of Love & Algorhythms – “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. A.J. listened to the song repeatedly and she noted the album is centered around that song. 

With the heavy disco influence of the album, A.J. also acknowledged the responsibility to pay homage. “As a queer person, I have queer elders … that did not exist for a long time, right? Because of colonialization, because of the erasure of queer history, and then also because of the AIDS crisis. So much of our ancestors were just forgotten about or erased. And so now we’re like, actually, we know how this works. And so let’s pay homage to,” she said.

And while A.J. loves Donna Summer, she noted Sylvester as the original disco queen. 

At different times during our chat, we veered into the topic of astrology – discussing our respective placements and how certain traits are expressions and self-reflection rather than assigning positive or negative traits based on a binary, gendered method.

“I love it’s Taurus season now,” she said. “So with the album, each song has an astrological body or has a celestial body that it’s tied to. For example, ’Two of a Kind’ as Earth – so celebrating like humanity and empathy … and also queerness as everyone’s queer, but they just don’t know it. Venus is ‘Pleasure.’ Mars is ‘Good Day,’ because it’s Aries, the first [single] to come out,” she said.

Vibes and Algorhythms

When it was time to create music for the new album, A.J. was intentional on not making an album similar to the band’s previous releases. 

“It’s just I can’t do the same. I mean, and so sometimes to my detriment, right? I look at some artists that I love and they really do the same thing over and over again. And it works for them. It’s good for them. You know, I can’t. I’ll get bored,” she said. 

But, she also realizes that with the use of AI and algorithms focused on finding music that sounds like something else you’d listen to, it can become harder to change it up.

“It’s tough because especially now, so much of the way that we interact with the world is based on algorithms and algorithms are based on previous versions of yourself, right? You know, it’s based on data collected from previous versions of yourself. So what happens to the person that’s always evolving and whose tastes are changing?” she said. “That’s why I love pop music. Like, look at Doja Cat. She started off with ‘Mooo, I’m a cow’ and now she’s doing whatever she wants. It’s possible.”

And that keeps A.J. hopeful for what’s to come. “It’s just like people just cycle between the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I hope we do something else because like, what’s next? We can’t just be retro all the time,” she said. “In a way, everything has been heard before, but how can you put things together in a way that reflects your reality? Nina Simone talks about how the artist needs to reflect the times and I feel like I did that like with this album. I’m very aware of my lineage. I’m very aware of where I sit. I’m very aware of what’s possible. And so how do I use that information? To make something. That creates possibilities.”

Seratones’ latest album, Love & Algorhythms, is out now on New West Records. Follow them on Instagram, check out the album on Bandcamp, or pick it up from your favorite independent music shop!

Want to listen to the full interview with A.J. Haynes? Check it out on Mixcloud.

Written by Random Citizen