The Paranoyds

When The Paranoyds landed their tinfoil-wrapped sonic-spacecraft atop the roof of 529 in East Atlanta Village, attending ATLiens were lightyears past ready for whatever mind-probing miasma those broken-glowstick girls...
The Paranoyds : Q&A
The Paranoyds : Q&A

Even for the most avid sky-scrutators, most of one’s better alien abduction experiences in life will be largely unplanned affairs. Those of us born weirdos who do try and schedule them usually do not have the bravado to imagine that they will be conducted under the masterfully professional hands of three femme-bot beauties and a badass boy-drummer with more hit options than your local dope dealer. Hailing from the xeric exoplanet known as Greater Los Angeles, wearing blacklight makeup and bearing brain-sawing songs with their own galactic geography, The Paranoyds do not care what you dreamt or expected. They specialize in retro-rock realia set in roseate gauze-garage tones that represent the tumbledown funhouse mirror version of The Go Go’s meets L7 – The Stooges’ Fun House, that is. You will submit to the flocculent fun of having your headspace hosted by their star-cruising sounds and be thankful for the opportunity.

The Paranoyds have been intergalactic pied pipers pushing a portable buzz since preschool. Where they go, the right kind of mayhem always skips along behind, and their songs are vivid, antic, and picaresque – like their personalities and friendships both on and off the stage. The Paranoyds are not technically related by blood, but they are undeniably and observably a family band. There are no competing vectors here; everybody is as cool and accomplished as the next body and what happens when Lexi Funston (guitar, vocals), Laila Hashemi (keys, vocals), Staz Lindes (bass, vocals), and David Ruiz (drums) pal up to play music is the creation of a phosphorescent planet of pedal points and passing tones that they all then perambulate equally, pairing off as needed from song to song and from moment to moment in whatever way best serves the sonic sentence they are writing together.

It all comes out like welcome, amicable skullduggery full of all the tricky pith that can only come when you have been partners a very long time. With all three girls sharing the singing workload, The Paranoyds produce a collective vocal sound that is nearly malic in texture and Titian in tone – you feel like you can taste apples when you hear them sing together live. Not for The Paranoyds the soft furnishes or rote sound-slogans of lesser fusion-farceurs. In an age of post-punk punditry, they have demonstrated a proclivity for looking away from themselves (like the best of the original punks always did) instead of damagingly inward like most everybody else who has tried to be simultaneously winsome and wry within this genre since we lost Joe Strummer.

From 2016’s After You EP through Eat Their Own the next year and straight on to Hungry Sam in 2019, theirs has been an outward-gazing artistic practice as their work has consistently commented in a creative way on this auto-opticon of a world we keep brainlessly building, this situation of surveillance and selfie stupidity that we all find ourselves inhabiting and inhabited by whether we willfully choose it like the Tweet Twits do, passively select it by choosing nothing better, or choose it not at all. The Paranoyds’ first full-length album title says it all for their attitudes toward the age of technological agitation as well as our shared fate in it: Carnage Bargain.

The Paranoyds

Besides being atemporal aliens, The Paranoyds are promising revivalists of acidulous rock contradistinctions too, showcasing in their every outfit and video that you can, in fact, be pretty, gross, conventional, alternative, insightful, bored, and actively thinking all at the same time – and that your music, as well as your life, will be infinitely more amusing and efficacious if you will only just admit and embrace that fact at every turn. They chamber their reach-rifle with something decidedly less chambré than predictably of-the-times ruminations on their own cuteness or crazy days: challenge. Their visual aesthetic encompasses the classic garden charms of born street urchins and a tousled insouciance befitting the likes of Blondie, but carries a dayglo of their own design. From their Hurley Recordings to their latest album Talk Talk Talk, out now via Jack White’s Third Man Records, the experience of both the sound and the sight of The Paranoyds has been like “if your mind and heart was a broken glow stick,” as Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood so expertly once described a song motivation of her own.

When The Paranoyds landed their tinfoil-wrapped sonic-spacecraft atop the roof of 529 in East Atlanta Village on Saturday, October 22nd, attending ATLiens were lightyears past ready for whatever mind-probing miasma those broken-glowstick girls and that one meteoric meter-man had in store for them. From the same second that Lexi Funston formally intro-signals the commencement of the Atlanta invasion in an intentionally Rosie-the-Robot voice (“Paranoyds…deploy!”), PAs lining the front of the stage began knocking about in a threatening manner against maniacal moshers who could not have cared a farthing less for falling objects as there were falling stars on the stage. Who knew extraterrestrials, beings of air and space, put on such an earthy, substantial, physical show that would incite such instant belly-sloshes, like negative G-force.

Freak Out” made everybody do just that, and at a pell-mell pace with a surf rock swagger. “BWP” might just as well have stood for “Blackout, With Pleasure” as the group-sway it produced made a unified bliss-fainting body of the entire crowd. The Paranoyds’ in-person delivery of “Girlfriend Degree” could make the most independent woman in the world want to get one if the band were handing out the diplomas themselves, and every pair of vocal cords in the room had something to sing back to the universe about dear, lissome “Lizzie”.

Watching Lexi and Staz effortlessly switch instruments and Laila jump out from behind her keyboards to prance her tiny-but-ferocious pas seule through the wheeling Milky Way of a manic mob I was sure would devour-destroy her as she sang (but that she instead completely commanded) reconfirmed what anyone paying attention could already tell about The Paranoyds’ lack of a “Single Origin Experience” when it comes to musicianship and performance. Every one of them can play or sing or do anything that needs playing, sung, or done. With both “Hotel Celebrity” and “Pet Cemetery”, they presented the audience with what they do best: solar-hot foxy rock. A broader, more inclusive elision of the word and the spirit of vulpine. Long may they succeed at what they are forcibly making popular music realize about the sexes, for there is truly no succedaneum for this sort of celestial change or the sidereal style with which The Paranoyds are seizing it.

Having a chinwag about a chiliad of astral subjects with The Paranoyds at 529 just ahead of their Atlanta show was a chat clapped by Martian joy all the way around. Here’s what those interstellar imps found worth keeping when they captured the cerebral cortex of QRO’s cookie-addled correspondent, with my total consent and energetic encouragement, might I add.

QRO: Thanks for allowing the glitter into your green room space, Paranoyd people! I could not have designed or designated a more punk rock parlor for our meeting if I had come in with no other aim.

Lexi Funston: We’re so glad you could come out – and thanks for bringing us these amazing strawberry and cream cookies! That is so kind of you.

QRO: You’re so beyond welcome – those came from Yaaas Cookies, a Black-owned belter of a local business that can never get too much of my own or anyone else’s money! It’s an honor to be here to watch you melt the faces of East Atlanta. As everyone knows about me, I am forever questing for the raw, visceral, feral energy in modern music so I myself have been screaming on the sidelines with you guys since Hungry Sam, but for our readers who may meet you for the first time in this article, please tell me about the inception of the Paranoyd planet.

LF: Sure! So, Laila and I met in preschool and then we met Staz in freshman year of high school. We met David in our early 20s and we’ve just been making all kinds of noise together ever since.

QRO: The innocence and longevity of that messes up my electric-blue eyeliner, I will have you know. You guys are literally a family band!

LF: Oh, I love that, yes! A family band.

QRO: If you start doing any kind of digging on what allows some bands to stay together and keep having fun for decades, it always comes back to the fact that they see each other as irrefutable almost-siblings, and it comes out in the music for certain. Are you guys able to hear your long-deep connection from the inside of the actual sounds you make like we on the outside can?

Staz Lindes: Definitely. We’ve seen a lot of bands come and go in situations where they were having huge success, totally killing it, and then they’re not. We would always prioritize our relationships with one another and are not going to let that go.

QRO: I see it every day and, almost without exception, the “go” part is because a band did not have this kind of interior connection that you guy are founded on, and the relationships can and will be crinkled by the smallest things, even something like too much press attention. Which brings me to the other symbolic thing that first drew me to your band: the way you address across both graphics and lyrics, as well as your band’s name itself, the concept of being watched in our “lovely” current culture of oversharing.

SL: Yes! One of the first graphics I did for the band was a bunch of shifty eyes.

We would always prioritize our relationships with one another and are not going to let that go.

QRO: So fitting! You all are some of the few in music talking boldly about the price of being looked at all the time in the internet world, the emotional and spiritual costs of the “Look At Me” life, as I call it. I see your opposition to that extend all the way to your band’s visual aesthetic. Hell, the fact you even have one! What social media has done is encourage people to place a bizarrely codependent value on how much one person can look like another. Homogeneity is the king of “likes.”

Laila Hashemi: Yeah, no doubt! I went to a thing in Malibu a little bit ago and all the teens were in baggy pants and corsets. I was like, “Where’s the individualism?” There was not an alternative look.

QRO: Oh, I know exactly what you mean. It’s the first time in recorded human history that the youngest generation does not have the power to instruct the older one about newfangled cool. I should not be teaching a 19-year-old about what’s breaking in music, art, film, television, or anything else. They should be telling me. I should also not be the one to direct their gaze backward because their own interests should be organically doing that, but instead…too much Netflix, too much chill! When you guys are getting ready to make a video that the world is going to see, do you think about things like that? Does it have any bearing on how you might present yourselves as artists, visually or otherwise?

LF: Always, yes! All of us together come up with the ideas and then find a director that would like to execute our vision. We’ve worked a lot with a friend called Aurora De Leon and her partner and always been able to feel like we made something cool, and something that reflects what we think the song should look like out in the world.

QRO: Never change because whatever you’re doing is working like grease cutter. I also deeply respect how mondo-DIY you guys have always been. You’ve done every bit of what you have achieved all by yourselves.

SL: Still doing it by ourselves!

QRO: For people who might be reading this that may not have a firm grasp on the different challenges faced by an independent artist, can you give a picture of what that is like?

LF: For us it’s all about retaining creative control.

SL: We don’t let a lot of people in and that can make things harder for us, but it does mean we get to do what we want to do all the time.

LF: That’s the trade-off.

QRO: Well, if you asked me, you guys are making the most of that trade-off because here you are with your second full-length, a world of intriguing EPs and singles in between, and you have honed this vision that I call “Jetsons Punk” down to a molecular science!

David Ruiz: Jetsons punk! That’s so awesome!

LF: That may be the coolest thing we’ve ever been called… [laughs]

QRO: It’s just true! If there was a rad space-band that Judy Jetson was sneaking out of the house to go see, it would absolutely be you guys.

DR: Judy Jetson is pretty damn fly.

QRO: She’s a Saturnian babe of the first order, my friend! You know who else from the ‘80s needs to make an appearance in some way in your band’s visual universe, I think? The Noid from Domino’s Pizza, the villain-bandit in red wrestler gear! [laughs] Remember Avoid the Noid?

DR: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! The little guy in red!

LF: I remember him, with his little antennae ears! [laughs]

QRO: Yes, and he’s an alien! So, you guys just need to make your own interpretations of that costume in your signature vivid hipness, change the spelling to Noyd with a ‘y’, and run down the highway with it because that would be the collab of the century! [laughs]

SL: That’s such a great idea; we’re stealing it! [laughs]

We don’t let a lot of people in and that can make things harder for us, but it does mean we get to do what we want to do all the time.

QRO: Totally my gift to you, Staz, and with proud pleasure. Speaking of galactic get-togethers, whom would you guys like to work with in a dream collaboration setting?

LF: I think it would be great just to stay in Jack’s network, honestly! He’s so incredible, and meeting all the musicians he works with is just such a level-up for us. They all work together and will lend you guitars or help out; it’s a great place to be. We just want to keep being part of that kind of excellence and around all the cool people in the Third Man world.

QRO: I feel that on every level. Jack is in my Top Three of inspirational artistic heroes of all time, and I have drawn worlds of guidance from him for exactly the reasons you listed. I have so much respect for him I can barely stand up under it. There’s just nobody better and he also looks after his artists in a way that no one else in this industry does, so it makes me both relaxed and elated to know what strong, immensely capable hands you guys are in working with him!

DR: Yes, he came to our show last night in Nashville! That was amazing. We feel really honored and lucky to be in his circle. He’s just so supportive and welcoming.

QRO: He is, and he has the most discerning eye in music today by about a million miles, as I see it. I do know that he would be nowhere near you if you were not any good, and I know that he will give you proper artistic momentum in this otherwise fake and flimsy world of measuring music by TikTok streams.

LF: That is crazy, isn’t it? It’s so silly.

QRO: It’s beyond insane, and I have to thank you girls also for bringing forward once again what, in my day, was considered the holy grail of womanhood: Riot Grrrl status. Thank you for writing “Girlfriend Degree” because I know plenty of young women who unfortunately think that what we call down here the “MRS Degree” is still a thing to aspire to.

DR: Oh wow… “MRS Degree,” that is good!

We just want to keep being part of that kind of excellence and around all the cool people in the Third Man [Records] world.

QRO: That’s what they call it, and I know 21st Century girls who absolutely went to school for one and did not even have the courtesy to be ironic about it. It’s another place where we are going rapidly backward in society because I should not, at 45, be more Babes In Toyland than any 20-year-old girl – but I am. You guys are pretty alone as a band in the presentation to the public of the Poly Styrene kind of pathos-pretty. How do you protect all this truth-magic you invent together from less original outside influences that would inevitably corrode it?

DR: We do have a band bubble for sure, but the big thing is we all have to do a lot of really hard, normal human being things all the time. Things to remind us we are not glamorous! [laughs] We have a lot of victories and we are so thankful for those, but the amount of things we wade through to get them, by the time they come we do feel like we earned them – and that makes you take yourself less seriously maybe than some might.

LF: And it makes it so that you are actually staying more authentic rather than just talking about being authentic.

QRO: I can certainly see that reflected all over the work itself. Through that, you guys are recontextualizing a great many difficult subjects that need it in this realm of art: women outside the male gaze, what it means to be a working and independent band, how dramatically polished DIY can actually be, and on and on. Thank you so much for letting me lend my DIY pen-gaze to your wonderful work and spending this time with me tonight. I know you are pre-show busy and had plenty else to do. It’s been mega.

DR: I have really enjoyed this interview; this was fun.

LF: Thank you so much for taking the time and being so kind to us.

SL: This was awesome and thought-provoking; I feel like we should have been interviewing you! [laughs]

QRO: Oh my lord, about what? Neon liquid liner, grunge boys, and glitter? Those and books are probably my only areas of expertise! [laughs]

LH: [laughs] Thank you, Dana. Hope you enjoy the show tonight and hope to see you again soon.

The Paranoyds are crashing their startrawler into both Ramsgate Music Hall in the U.K. as well as Supersonic in Paris, France this week. Keep up with their shows or they will steal your soul while you sleep.