L.A. Exes Take Flight: Let’s not call it a “supergroup.” That tag is generally reserved for overblown rock beasts such as Asia. However, it is fair to look at the resumes of the individual members of L.A. Exes and offer a hearty nod of respect.
Singer and bassist Sam Barbera has previously written, recorded and performed as electropop act BEGINNERS. The 2016 album Pleasers is a genre masterpiece – gorgeous melodies and caustic, honest and cynical lyrics sitting comfortably alongside each other. Singer and guitarist Jenny Owen Youngs has seen her music featured on shows such as Bojack Horseman and Weeds, and she’s written with the likes of Panic! At the Disco and Pitbull. Guitarist Rachel White has engineered for Panic! At the Disco and Weezer, and drummer Steph Barker has toured with Kate Nash, Love Fame Tragedy and more.
That’s quite the collective CV. The idea of getting them all together can be credited to Grammy-winning producer Jake Sinclair (another who has worked with Panic! At the Disco and Weezer). Barbera and Owen Youngs met for the first time at a party, and the former remembers having an instant crush on the latter.
Sinclair convinced them that a band project was a good idea, and so that’s what they did. Debut single “Temporary Goodbye” displays their vibe like a peacock’s tail – ‘60s, Beatles-esque melodies with a contemporary indie-pop edge. The video, which sees them horsing around, has a Monkees feel.
“The video is very Monkees but we didn’t go in wanting to do that,” says Barbera during a Zoom call. “Also, we did it during the lockdown, when only the four of us could be in the room.”
The chemistry between the two is tangible as we talk. Owen Youngs describes Barbera as “my sounding board for not taking myself too seriously.” She adds that, during their first day working together, Barbera was going through the breakup of a relationship.
“The very first day, we were all excited and knew we were going to do this band,” Barbera says. “Our very first day of writing, my girlfriend had dumped me the night before. I walked in, and I didn’t know Jenny that well. My only experience was having a crush on her at a party. I walk in and I just start sobbing the minute I walk into our writing session. I’m crying and I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry.’ That was our first writing day – me crying on and off all day. That’s when we wrote ‘West Keys,’ which is the first song we ever wrote.”
You’ll have to wait to hear “West Keys,” though they describe it as an aspirational break-up song. A triumphant spin, heralding where they want to be as opposed to where they actually are during a difficult time. It all points towards an exciting larger body of work.
“There is definitely more music on route,” says Owen Youngs. “The precise details of exactly what’s going to happen and when are still cloaked but there’s definitely more music on the way.”
It’ll be worth the wait, especially when considering how long we’ve had to wait already. The four band members have had the challenge of getting this thing going during a global pandemic.
“It’s definitely been challenging,” says Owen Youngs. “We were lucky enough to wrap up the final backing vocals that were the last detail of the record about two weeks before shelter in place was instituted in Los Angeles. So the record was done, and we’ve been working remotely trying to figure it out. We finished in February and we thought we’d put it out in the summer, which was of course last summer at this point. We’ve just been scheming remotely trying to navigate the weird world that we’ve been living in for the last 14 months. Figuring out how to put the music out and have the stuff to support it like the video and what not.”
They haven’t been able to perform live as a band yet, though they’ve rehearsed in a hot studio, masked and socially distanced. They assure us that they’re up to the task, and Owen Youngs chuckles when we suggest that they’re like a coiled spring.
“When somebody takes the lid off the Pringles can, we’re going to shoot out of it so hard and fast,” she says with a laugh.
“We did get to play together a little bit at a certain point, because we were planning on putting together some live performance footage that we were gonna shoot,” adds Barbera. “We actually did get to play together for a little bit, rehearsing and getting that ready. Even just starting that process of rehearsing in a rehearsal room and figuring out how it would work live was so fun. So we’re dying to do it.”
Owen Youngs claims that, in fact, the challenges will make them a better live proposition when the world eventually opens up.
“I think that when things can get serious and full time, and we can play shows and stuff, it’s gonna be pretty good,” she says. “You know how athletes will go to Denver where the altitude is very high to train, because then when they’re back at sea level they’re just like superheroes? We rehearsed standing 20 feet away from each other, all of us singing through masks, in a 100 degree rehearsal room. We definitely have done the boot camp. Sam and I can perfectly synchronize our strumming and then scooting the mask back up on our nose as it slips down because you’re moving your mouth while you sing and everything. We’re ready for the real thing.”
Looking ahead, Owen Youngs says that there’s another single on the horizon. Beyond that, plans remain up in the air.
“I think we’re all watching and waiting to see how venues start opening up and see what’s going to be going on for the balance of this year,” she says. “Jumping in when it feels safe and responsible. Sam hates when things are safe and responsible.”
“Oh Jenny,” says Barbera with a wonderfully exaggerated roll of the eyes. “What a drag.”
L.A. Exes Take Flight: The “Temporary Goodbye” single is out now.