No Labels: Talking Music, Gender and Sexuality with Kera Armendariz

‘I have a tendency to act manically in my decisions at times. Musically speaking I run hot, or cold and never in the middle,’ says Kera Armendariz, lead singer of Los Angeles-based group Kera & the Lesbians. ‘I feel a lot of my song writing is simple, but it’s the dynamics that really embellish the tunes.’

Armendariz is referring to ‘bipolar folk’, a witty little calling card that has become synonymous with the band’s style of music. The band have released two records thus far: the 3-track EP Year 23 and their eponymous LP Kera & the Lesbians. The band’s sound flirts with a number of genres as you journey through their two respective releases; folk, psych, rock, surf, jazz, even a dash of pop and the blues that swirl together to form this embellishing dynamic. Altogether, there’s an air of liberation floating around The Lesbians’ headspace that’s so enticing.

But despite the positive reaction to the music the band has released so far, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Kera & the Lesbians. ‘We’ve had to go through a cycle of different players throughout the process, and all being so wonderful to collaborate with. At the end of the day I was just so tired of feeling like I was waiting for others to be able tour and what not. The band now is just Michael and myself, but we do have a few session players play with us as well.’

‘I’ve never considered myself female or male, but just a person. I don’t like the idea of being put into bubbles or categories’

The beauty in The Lesbians’ musical journey is the feeling of spontaneity, of peaks and troughs. Kera herself is a resolute figure. When she came out to her family at 19, she was met by confusion and even rejection but she didn’t compromise on her identity- an extremely admirable notion that bleeds into the music and psychology of the band. Gender has informed so much of the thematic content in the band’s songs, with Armendariz rebelling against the labels of gender. ‘Gender has been the theme throughout my entire existence, and still is,’ reveals Kera, ‘Ever since a very young age I’ve been mis-gendered and was ridiculed by young kids for it, and even in High School some of the students called me Paul. With that being said, it taught me to ask myself challenging questions regarding my gender/sexuality and etc. I’ve never considered myself female or male, but just a person. I don’t like the idea of being put into bubbles or categories.’

Photos by: Emily Alban

But to move past unexpected, disheartening moments in Kera’s timeline, the spontaneous performance with cult Californian folk figure Devendra Banhart is a huge highlight in her musical voyage. ‘He is a dream, and will always be a mentor of mine,’ gushes Kera, ‘The evening I shared the stage with D was never intended to happen. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time when he asked someone from the audience to come up and play a tune.’

One surprising revelation about the new album is that it has been completed for four years, with Armendariz waiting for the right moment to release it- an instance of control in a seemingly arbitrary story. ‘We recorded the full length four years ago at Electric Orange in San Diego, and have been holding onto it ever since. Late last year I came to the conclusion that we needed to release it on our own, and what better year than a leap year. It makes me happy that it’s finally out and that people seem to be enjoying it!’ And as for actually recording the tracks, it seems like quite a lengthy process. ‘We do all the instrumentation live, along with vocals, and record it onto tape. From there I take the tracks and work on the embellishments on my own. I’ve always enjoyed listening to records all the way through, and so that was the approach I wanted to take with it.  Overall, I am really happy with our result, and look forward to the next release! I love recording live because it keeps the music organic, and full of life.’

Kera reveals that the band is already working on new material so soon after the official release of their debut LP. As well as her group work, Kera also looks to strike out on her own with some individual projects across the globe and outside of music. ‘We’re working on the next record, which delves into the differences of loneliness and coming to terms with being alone. Currently working with an arranger/producer of this next one. I will also be going to Europe to act in a feature film, which I am really excited about! I had the chance to tour with BØRNS last October and November, and it pushed me to pursue that with my own project. The stage is the only place that I’ve ever felt free and felt complete joy, and can’t wait for the opportunity to share that along with our music all over the globe.’

‘I am consistently reminded that I am exactly where I need to be in life. My hope is to inspire not only myself, but others to wish to create’

The final question falls on where it all started. Why did Kera Armendariz want to be a musician? ‘Since I was a wee little child I’ve always been a performer, and knew music was the path I was going to take. I am consistently reminded that I am exactly where I need to be in life. My hope is to inspire not only myself, but others to wish to create.’

Photos by: Emily Alban

Inspired by the magnetism of Elvis Presley, recalling the tortured growl of Janis Joplin, and an indefinable grasp of gender akin to David Bowie, Kera Armendariz is a mixture of everything music embodies which makes her impossible to label and pin down. The band’s name is solid and striking in its assertion. But the music Kera writes, is a reflection of her as a human being and everything that she has experienced. Spontaneous and unexpected, but always in control no matter what comes her way.

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