You‘d expect the reigning queen of the disco revival — Geri Soriano-Lightwood, chanteuse for Supreme Beings of Leisure — to show a little attitude, to work that prima donna mojo into her daily routine whether she’s shopping for shoes, flipping through her Palm Pilot directory, or eyeballing the menu at a Los Feliz eatery as she is now. In fact, the willowy gal with caramel skin and big brown eyes is a bit shy. But Soriano-Lightwood waxes fabulous while discussing ”Strangelove Addiction,“ an SBL track that was slated for but never used on a Nissan commercial. The band still got paid — a win-win situation, I suggest, since corporate co-opting usually reduces musicians to sonic wallpaper. The singer stops chewing. ”It‘s not selling out,“ she snaps, ”it’s buying in.“
Mapping the course of her various phases makes La Lightwood‘s transformation to spellbinding songbird seem inevitable. ”Back in Chicago, I was a total punker. But then there was that whole goth thing, where I was into Joy Division and New Order. Then I was all into acid jazz, and from there I started focusing on electronic music. But when I saw Kate Bush on Saturday Night Live, that was a light-bulb moment. That’s when I said, ‘That’s what I wanna do.‘“ Not long after arriving in L.A., she made a solo album that never saw the light of day. But luckily, Ramin Sakurai was laying down hip-hop tracks in the same building where Soriano-Lightwood was recording. The two discovered mutual tastes, and a demo tape soon landed them a record deal with Palm Pictures.
While Supreme Beings of Leisure’s 2000 debut aimed to decompress the listener, the vibe was effete and blase — comfortably numb stuff you could nod off to whether at home with a lava lamp or in the fog of a shooting gallery. Divine Operating System, on the other hand, is an awakening, a never-never land of champagne bubbles, best friends and endless mirth that demands you celebrate for any old reason. Load in this CD, and for the next 10 tracks you will have a big, fat smile on your face.
”This album is all about letting go,“ says Soriano-Lightwood. ”We did away with any kind of pretense and just had fun with it.“ If Divine Operating System is a piece of studied effortlessness that falls somewhere between the grit of old-school soul and the Ecstasy-fueled rush of a warehouse party, it still exudes a palpable resonance: Is it a long-lost Gloria Gaynor demo? A doctored Chic bootleg? Is that Donna Summer on the smoky ballad ”Calamity Jane“?
”We wanted to make this album an homage to the people we grew up on,“ says Sakurai by phone from Toronto the next day. ”It‘s not that we set out to slavishly imitate, but we did have a very specific sound in mind, and when people tell us it really sounds like the club music from that era, well, I don’t think there‘s a bigger compliment.“
Sakurai resembles a sybaritic Dalai Lama on his own mountaintop. ”I love it up here,“ he tells me. ”I’m sitting here looking out the window, and it‘s so lush and sublime — it’s the sort of thing that allows me to be the being of leisure that I am.“ Funny he should say that, because at two years in the making, Divine Operating System is a painstaking assembly of sounds from many corners of the world. Being half Japanese and half Persian helped, as it afforded Sakurai a direct hookup to exotic music.
”My mom would take me to all these Persian nightclubs in West Los Angeles when I was a kid, and I was completely transfixed with the otherworldly sounds of traditional Iranian instruments. Especially the santur — it‘s similar to a hammer dulcimer, and I made a point of getting one for us. We’re showcasing our heritage and what‘s in our cellular structure,“ he laughs. ”We gotta represent those genes.“
While enjoying a precise division of labor (Soriano-Lightwood writes, sings and plays some vibes; Ramin produces, mixes and engineers), SBL generously spreads studio time to reputable production vets like Suzi Katiyama, who scored most of Divine Operating System’s string arrangements. ”She‘s the shizznits,“ he enthuses. ”She’s worked with everyone from Prince to Incubus, and had just the kind of sensibility I was looking for. I think it‘s healthy to involve other people — they breathe new life into the music. I never know what to expect.“
It’s the perfect sentiment for a band like this — nostalgic but sui generis, controlled but loose as a goose. The Supreme Beings look at life as one big party, and everyone‘s invited.
Supreme Beings of Leisure play at House of Blues, Wednesday, October 16.