Seratones' A.J. Haynes On Playing Riot Fest, Creating 'Medicine Music' & Advocating for a Better Tomorrow

Seratones perform at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2021.

“Riot Fest what’s good,” said vocalist A.J. Haynes early in the Seratones’ Riot Fest set on Sept. 17. “This is so f*cking fun. I’m so happy to be here.”

She and her bandmates – Jesse Gabriel (drums), Henry Westmoreland (keys), Alexander Holeman (bass), Travis Stewart (guitar) – opened the Radical Stage with their blistering, infectious, punk-infused soul sounds, setting the performance bar high for the day’s packed schedule that also included sets from legends such as Fishbone and Living Colour.

“It felt awesome,” Haynes said of the performance backstage later that afternoon. “I’m like half here right now because I’m running on three hours of sleep, but I think that’s the beautiful mania of festivals. You kind of hover outside of your skin for most of the time you’re here, so it’s good.”

She explained that she was first drawn to punk music because it felt like something akin to church. Now, her intention is the create and share medicine music that feels good. Following in the footsteps of artists like Fishbone and Living Colour – and finding inspiration in contemporary acts like Radkey and Meet Me @ the Altar – the music of Seratones taps into personal stories that capture universal experiences.

“If I didn’t have the stories of Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin and all of my queer Black lineage then I wouldn’t know who I was. I hope that ultimately I become a really good ancestor,” said Haynes of writing. “I think it’s so important. This is the beautiful thing about being an artist that is queer, that is Black, that is coming from the deep south, I feel like we tap into what is needed in a lot of ways. It might not always be what’s popular. It might not always be what makes the most money, but it’s what is necessary, and so that is something that I hope to continue to do. It sounds theoretically heavy, but it’s really just about abundance of liberation. It’s gotta look fun. It’s gotta be funky. I’m thinking about Fishbone here. I’m thinking about Living Colour – and Meet Me @ the Altar and Radkey – and how important Fishbone and Living Colour are as protectors and curators in our lineage of American music.”

Seratones perform at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2021.

Seratones perform at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2021.

Get Gone, Seratones’ debut album, was colored with Luciferian imagery and influenced by rock and roll roots, while 2019’s Power found Haynes telling a more personal story. For the group’s upcoming 2022 album, Haynes explained that the band is building upon their multi-faceted sound to create something in the stratosphere of “space disco.”

“I’m obsessed with Octavia Butler, so there’s a lot of Octavia Butler themes woven throughout it. I’m obsessed with Audre Lorde, and I’m obsessed with Sylvester, so it’s very space disco,” said Haynes, adding with a laugh. “You have to make nourishing stuff because there’s so much bullshit in the world. There’s so much bullshit and I’m just like, ‘Why are you doing this. Just don’t do that.’”

On top of fighting the bullshit of the world through her music, Haynes has also spent the past decade working in a variety of capacities as an advocate for abortion care and currently works with the New Orleans Abortion Fund. Though our present times are “real f*cked up,” she hopes more people will engage in the process without fear.

“The current climate is a reflection of the violence that has happened against Brown and Black bodies for centuries, and it is now more visible to a lot of people,” said Haynes. “All we can do is destigmatize abortion, that’s step one. Fund abortion and connect abortion to the greater health needs of everyone. That includes hormone replacement therapy for trans folks. That includes gynecological exams of all sorts. That includes paternal leave. That includes providing good maternal healthcare. Because abortion care gets shoved to the side in a lot of these conversations about how we build a just future, it is isolated and not understood within the greater context of what humans need to survive. Abortion care has been around for as long as we’ve had access to herbs, as long as we’ve had access to our own autonomy and how we want to grow our families. Seventy-five percent of Americans are pro-choice. We are not the minority, it’s just that so much of the language around abortion care has been dominated by predominately white feminism, which is very narrow in its vision, so we don’t as a culture and as a society actively participate in the language of expansion and the language of inclusivity. All of these things are tied together in how we understand what we need to survive.”

She continued, “The Combahee River Collective says that if I am free as a queer Black woman it would necessitate the destruction of all things that restrict our survival. Abortion care is part of that. Abortion care is reproductive justice. Ultimately, as artists, Nina Simone says that it’s our job to talk about the times. The times are real f*cked up, but don’t despair. Engage and be OK with getting things wrong.”

Haynes hopes that everyone will become inspired to do one little thing and what follows will lead to “our collective power building something that we deserve.”

“What frustrates me about a lot of progressive folks and especially white progressive people is that they are so scared to get things wrong. We’re all burdening a lot of really awful shit. We’re gonna f*ck it up sometimes. We should lead with grace and understanding and call people in to generative spaces,” she said.

Seratones perform at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2021.

Seratones perform at Riot Fest in Chicago on Sept. 17, 2021.

With their thoughtful, and thought-provoking lyrics, and utterly danceable sounds, Seratones are creating music that feeds the soul, inspires change, and provides the perfect soundtrack for our times.

“I think we just show up at the altar that is Black music because punk did come from Black folks. It’s honestly part of my DNA,” said Haynes. “I don’t understand not wanting to make something that doesn’t exist so I make music that I feel like needs to happen. I make music that I want to listen to. Sometimes I’m feeling a little thrashy and sometimes I’m feeling a little dancey. There’s a lot of people that have advised me against having a multi-faceted sound and I’ve disregarded what they say because I have to make music that feels good to me, ultimately.”

If you missed Seratones’ Riot Fest show, you still have three more chances to see them perform live in Chicago this fall as they are playing with the Black Pumas on Oct. 17 at Thalia Hall and Oct. 18-19 at House of Blues.

“I love Black Pumas so much,” said Haynes. “I started following them whenever they had a handful of listens and I immediately reached out to my manager and I was like, ‘These guys are in Austin. I need them to be my friends because I love them.’ From there, when I forced myself upon them, I did some tours with them as a background vocalist and they are like family. They’ve always treated us really well. I can’t think of a better group of humans to achieve and continue to achieve a f*ck ton of success because they are worth it. They are amazing all around people and out of this world performers.”

Click here to pick up tickets to see Seratones perform live and head over to Seratones.band for more information. New Orleans Abortion Fund can be found at Neworleansabortionfund.org and you can find ways to support Hurricane Ida Relief efforts in Seratones’ home state of Louisiana by visiting Imaginewaterworks.org.

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more.When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.