Lady God are masters of disguise. The group could be identified as harbingers of the next psychedelic wave in the Richmond music scene.
Lady God are masters of disguise. The group could be identified as harbingers of the next psychedelic wave in the Richmond music scene. Lady God could also be seen as one of the most fully realized rock outfits to come out of this city in recent years. One thing is for the certain–the creative forces at play behind this project operate in an endless cycle of trippy dialogues, rhythmic diatribes, eclectic influences, and volatile emotions. This is Lady God.
This article was featured in RVAMag #24: Spring 2016. You can read all of issue #24 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.
Everyone in the band has a unique relationship with the city of Richmond, all having resided elsewhere before deciding on this area to make a home. This is especially true for guitarist Skye Handler. “My grandma is from Richmond and so is my uncle,” he says. “I’ve been coming through my entire life, but I guess around 2009 or 2010, I started playing music with Adrian Olsen in a band called The Razorektors.” Olsen, now guitarist for Avers, performed drums for that project, accompanied by fellow Avers member Alexandra Spalding on bass. On the Razorektors song “My Cigarette” (still viewable on Vimeo), you can see early impressions of the songwriting style that would take full form in Lady God. Despite modest success, the Razorektors were quick to split. “I think it’s tough to make rock’n’roll. It takes so much out of you. And I get it. You can be a willing executioner of rock’n’roll, or you can try to just do something different,” Handler explains. After the group’s break-up, Avers later recorded and performed “Hangman,” a song co-written by Handler.
Several years later, after Handler had re-located to Maryland, he got a call from an old friend. “Russell Lacy rang me up and told me that I needed to start putting my songs together again. Things were happening in Richmond and I needed to be a part of it,” Handler relates. Granting the request, Handler ventured to Lacy’s home studios, The Virginia Moonwalker, to begin demoing and writing. There, he met bassist Chrissie Lozano. “I had a few projects I felt pretty fired up [about], but I couldn’t shake this feeling of just not being sure about it,” Lozano says. “In those initial sessions with Russell, I just found myself noticing that this was the thing that you strive for in making music. And at that point, I just decided to not leave Skye alone.” The trio, rounded out by drummer Trip Hill, began writing and recording material in preparation for a debut performance at 2014’s Instant Pleasure Psych Fest at The Broadberry, alongside The Young Sinclairs, Avers, The Diamond Center, and several others.
The band’s first release came together during this time. A 7 inch vinyl EP, Lady God Presents: The Pebbles includes the songs “Nervous Talk” and “Roll Tennessee.” Both display the instantaneous, natural interplay between Handler and Lozano. Their adjoined vocals on “Roll Tennessee” are a particular highlight of the release. There is an immediate distinction drawn from the snarled flair of Handler’s call being met by Lozano’s response at the song’s finale. It draws in new listeners only to stop them in their tracks. “Nervous Talk” spins the group’s approach and injects a lounge vibe, with its steady but patient rhythm driving throughout and the spotlight focusing on Lozano’s vocals.
To commemorate the release of Pebbles, a special show was set up at the Virginia Moonwalker. Taking place in November of 2014, the show featured a number of unique performances. It was inspired by an event that happened a year prior. “I remember going to see my friend Jordan Tarrant do a similar show at Russell’s,” Lozano explains. “When we were considering how to celebrate this Lady God release, that triggered my excitement. It felt like it would be all ours and we could make it a truly special night for all parties involved.”Fans met up outside the Camel for the ride to the show, and on the bus ride to Virginia Moonwalker, Cardboard Poncho entertained a PBR-swilling audience. Upon arrival, The Milkstains began an energetic outdoor set on and warmed up the cold evening. Fire dancers swirled around the Mechanicsville landscape as Lady God ended the evening by performing for an eager audience.
Within a few months, Lady God had begun playing out regularly and taking their first trips out of town. Soon, though, drummer Trip Hill had to depart, leaving the band without a permanent drummer. “It’s natural selection. I’ve been on the other side of it as well, but sometimes things change, and you have to move forward,” Handler says. The band soon found a replacement in drummer-about-town Tim Falen. “Diamond Center had just wrapped up,” Falen explains. “I was down a band, and I like to stay pretty chalked up. Chrissie hit me up about playing with Lady God; it seemed weird at first. Then the first time we played, I got it, and felt like this was an idea that hadn’t been pushed really hard yet.”
Once Falen had joined, Lady God wasted no time before returning to the studio. This session occurred at Sound of Music Recording Studios, and the group had two songs in mind immediately. “East vs. West vs. Future” is an adventurous jaunt, with Handler recording parts of his vocals through a modified telephone and using the natural lo-fi tone to capture his unique sound. The song itself slightly elevates itself with spiraling notes and a stellar presence throughout. Meanwhile, “More Bang for Your Buck” might be Lady God at their most lucid and grimy, a song hailing back from The Razorektors days and co-written by Olsen. These two songs were combined for the band’s second 7 inch EP, Lady God #2.
Despite constituting their second release, these songs actually predate the tunes that appeared on Pebbles. “I am always trying to think of what songs fit together better,” Handler says. “Especially with working on seven-inches, you get the freedom to toy around with all of that shit.” When asked how such attention to detail would that affect the tracklisting of a full-length, he’s quick to voice his uncertainty. “I have no fucking clue, man. We have enough songs to work towards that, but I have no fucking idea where to even begin with figuring something like that out,” Handler says. “We’ll just probably have to go with our gut on that one.”
As the Lady God energy continued to build, Lozano found herself inspired to a surprising extent. “As things kept going and it felt like writing was getting under my skin, I just started absorbing as much as I could,” she says. “I was reading poetry every day and I was giving in to writing every day. And–surprise! If you start writing every day, you have more stuff to sift through–and that’s really helped with songwriting.” Not everything created is perfect, but Lozano finds an upside to this aspect as well. “You end up with a lot of garbage, but you can make your way through all of that to find the good stuff,” she reflects. “I enjoy the idea of finding the poetry in rock music. Patti Smith immediately comes to mind as someone I’ve been drawn to.”. Handler, meanwhile, cites old R&B, particularly Smokey Robinson, as a style he has been drawn to when approaching lyrics for the group. He also admires certain kinds of big dumb rock energy. “There’s something to be said about guys like Iggy Pop or bands like AC/DC writing these really awful lyrics, but just owning them and selling them hard,” he says. “It’s kind of what makes rock music the best. When you take stupid shit and juxtapose it, it’s the best.”
Considering the wealth of as-yet-unreleased material the band has accumulated, you never can tell what you’ll hear at a Lady God show. They could take any of several different approaches to a particular performance. “It might seem like Chrissie and I share this idealized take on things,” Handler says. “We try to look at rock’n’roll and write to this logic of not just standing still while we’re playing. We write what we want to write and thankfully that leads to us trying to translate how we want them to be performed, too.”
Handler’s impression of Richmond’s music scene since his return is largely positive. “There’s just a lot more places to play,” he explains. “Everyone seems like they are dusting off their four-tracks.” He’s also quick to mention the fascination he finds in the resurrected appeal for vinyl. “It’s tactile. It’s something you can hang on your wall,” he says. “I like the feeling of even getting a poster with a record, and feeling a different sensory reaction to this thing. The other cool thing about records is that the sound is trapped–it’s like a bug in amber.”
Where the band’s future is concerned, Handler doesn’t feel too pressed to jump into the label game. “I run into these people all the time that mention that they are starting a label and this or that, and I can’t help but wonder–what’s the difference between [labels and] what we might do by ourselves? Would they still want to get reimbursed for the cost of making [records]?”” Creative control, and making records that exist as works of art and not just products, are also appealing elements of continuing to release their own records. “I figure it’ll just take record labels being able to look at records as more than just business cards” before the band will consider signing with one, Handler says.
Right now, the band hopes to spend more time on the road. With the recent addition of yet another Diamond Center alumni, keyboardist Lindsay Phillips, to the fold, upcoming performances should prove to be exciting. “Adding Lindsay has been so awesome because there is just an even greater opportunity for getting weird with any of our songs,” Lozano gushes. “[We can] add harmonies, or anything that we can imagine. It’s so cool.”
Lady God fits solidly into the recent history of psychedelic rock music in Richmond. Their unique approach, as well as a certain loose nature, help set them apart from those that came before. Along with groups like Manzara and Peace Beast, they help set the pace for further sonic exploration. “I think things have changed with psychedelic music,” Falen explains. “No one wants to hear The Black Angels with a different name, 45 different times. There was a point where people were reflecting on the things of the past, [but] now, I think people want to engage with the concepts even more.”. “I think people find their own way to be psychedelic. You hone in on things that might freak you out and try to play with those ideas,” Lozano adds. But Handler distills the matter down to a strong, simple core. “I don’t think it’s so much what our take is on psych music,” he says. “It’s more how it brushed against us. And we take it for a spin, but beyond that, I think we are just, through and through, a rock band.”