Lexi Funston & Laila Hashemi of The Paranoyds On Combining Horror And LA Life For Their ‘Pet Cemetery’ EP (INTERVIEW)

The Paranoyds are one of the reigning Garage bands of LA, specializing in high-energy performance more than interesting lyrics with a wide range of genre influences. In 2019, they released the LP Carnage Bargain, which took on the veneer of society and the realities that lurk beneath, but often with their trademark humor and witty commentary. On November 27th, they released their new EP, Pet Cemetery, via Suicide Squeeze Records, which leans into their favorite horror themes for the title track and delves into truly terrifying territory with the B-side “Hotel Celebrity”. As the title suggests, the song looks at superficial conformity and how people receive that information these days; their recent video for that track is a pastel counterpoint to those themes. 

I recently spoke with Lexi Funston and Laila Hashemi of The Paranoyds on the Pet Cemetery EP’s release day, which also happened to be Black Friday. It was impossible not to discuss people setting up tailgate chairs with plastic around them to get bargains in LA, something which might otherwise be “peak 2020”, but there’s just so much to choose from. “Nothing surprises me anymore”, Lexi Funston commented. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: It’s great timing to release Pet Cemetery because it’s around the anniversary of your LP’s release, Carnage Bargain. I saw that you had shared some video from that release show on Instagram, which must be a little bittersweet to look back on. What were some of your goals for that launch party?

Lexi Funston: We played the whole record front to back and also played other songs. That we just wanted to have a fun, epic, rowdy, loud night, which I think we ended up doing. It feels like a lifetime away. 

Laila Hashemi: It was a big party. We had all of these amazing female-fronted bands open for us. It was a night to remember.

 

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I’ve actually only managed to go to a performance once where all the bands were female-fronted, but it had a massive impact on me. It was fairly life-changing for me, actually, and I wished I had managed that earlier, since it was only a couple of years ago. I’m still chasing that high! 

Lexi: It was actually really easy to put together a show like that at that spot in time, whereas a couple of years prior, it wouldn’t have been. I think we’re in a good spot to see more of those in the future. We chose the bands that we thought would go well with us, and they were all female-fronted. We have a lot of options to choose from, so to speak.

That’s amazing and I am so happy to hear that. There’s a real rise in newer artists now, and many of them are female, possibly due to the increase in technology where you can make music at home on your own.

Laila: Totally. I also heard instrument sales are on the rise, and it’s a good time to learn to play. I saw the Grammy nominations just came out and the category for “Best Rock Album” is all women, so it’s a good indication of things changing and more representation, I guess. 

I understand that the songs on the Pet Cemetery EP are connected to many of the songs on Carnage Bargain. Were they all written or recorded together?

Laila: We recorded the song “Pet Cemetery” while we were recording Carnage Bargain. When it came time to put the tracklist together, they didn’t really fit. But we have always been planning on releasing that song, “Pet Cemetery”. 

I heard that you had been performing it! Did you play it at your Halloween show?

Lexi: Yes, we did.

Laila: It’s one of our earlier songs. We’ve been performing it a lot. 

Do the songs on Pet Cemetery hint at future directions for the band? If so, does that mean there is some connection to the past, too, since “Pet Cemetery” is an older song?

Lexi: Oh, interesting. I think maybe the B-side song, “Hotel Celebrity”, might be more of a bridge to the future. It still sounds like it’s in the pantheon of The Paranoyds. But expect more schizoid releases from us. We always think like that, for instance if you look at Carnage Bargain, though I don’t know how it’s perceived. Carnage Bargain flips through different genres, and if you look at the A-side and the B-side of what we just put out, those are also kind of in line with that. Down the line, when we release new things, I think each song will also be its own genre or nod to genre.

That’s really cool. I kind of thought that, so thanks for confirming that. I could see multiple genres in Carnage Bargain, and then when I looked at Pet Cemetery, I saw the two strongest poles of difference in those two songs. I think “Hotel Celebrity” is another song that really needed to be released. How long was that one brewing for you?

Lexi: I started writing that song when we were recording Carnage Bargain, but we were on such a roll with what we were recording that we put it on the back-burner for a second. Then with the lockdown, we found ourselves in a spot, like a lot of people, where we had time to revisit things. Luckily, we were able to spend some time in the studio Tiny Telephone over the summer and record a few songs, and “Hotel Celebrity” was one of those songs. It’s pretty cool that we have something we recorded in 2020, it’s like a time capsule from this weird year.

Was “Hotel Celebrity” one that you had played live before?

Lexi: No, we hadn’t, and that’s definitely really interesting recording stuff that we had never played live before.

Laila: We’re not used to that. Usually we play them live and refine them.

That seems like it’s becoming rarer now, that it’s a smaller proportion of bands who have the moxie to go perform a lot of new material live before recording. Now it seems like the other way around and bands have to worry about how to adapt songs live.

Laila: It’s a really different experience. Things may feel like they flow really well live, and then you go to perform them, and you’re aware that something is not working. For us, it does usually help a lot to workshop a song on stage for several months until we figure out what works. 

Does audience reaction influence you at all in which songs you choose to record, or is it more about how you feel as a band?

Lexi: Audience reaction or “un-reaction”. I think it’s also, “Do we feel awkward doing this?” There are some moments where you ask, “What happened there? Did we just feel naked for 17 seconds of that one song?” [Laughter]

I think people at our shows just want to get some energy up, and sometimes some of our other songs don’t have that vibe like, “It’s moshing time.”

The song “Hotel Celebrity” does have some ideas that remind me of the title track from “Carnage Bargain”, I guess because “Carnage Bargain” seems to take a critical view of society or suggests that things are not shiny and happy and pretty. Whereas “Hotel Celebrity” picks up on that and just goes much further with it in a specific direction.

Laila: Totally. I think both of those songs are set within a sort of capitalistic world whereas “Hotel Celebrity” is more cynical and poking fun at it, whereas “Carnage Bargain” is more critical.

Lexi: I think everywhere is so inundated with information now, and we’re in LA, so we’re at the front of all this nonsense, this white noise. There’s the celebrity stuff, but everyone is also really into the environment here, and is very hyper. It’s very LA, the way we get our information and how we interpret it. It’s its own style, and I think both these songs are a reflection of LA and how we process living here. We both grew up in Santa Monica.

Laila: We’ve seen a lot!

The video for “Hotel Celebrity” is a lot of fun. When and how did you manage to film it?

Lexi: We filmed it in October. I don’t want to make it sound like we’re running around everywhere and being unsafe, but we did it with a smaller crew, which also what we did with recording. We made sure that everyone got Covid tested. That was definitely a weird element on set. We had to remember that we didn’t have to wear a mask, except when we weren’t on camera, we did, and everyone else had to. 

I’ve heard a lot about the weirdness factor of making videos right now, with so many Covid tests, so much heavy machinery in terms of planning and working things out. Did you find that you had to really spell out everything beforehand?

Lexi: Yes, I would say so. A lot more goes into producing due to Covid. All that stuff wasn’t terribly easy anyway. But now, if we even want to do a livestream, thinking, “That sounds like fun”, it turns into a whole production. I’m not an audio engineer and I don’t know how to make things sound good on a cellphone on Instagram Live. Everything is “heavy machinery”.

For “Hotel Celebrity”, the video almost convinced me that it’s the horror song on the EP, not “Pet Cemetery”. 

Laila: I guess it kind of is, right? On the nose and a lot more sinister, Side B.

When everyone is getting their faces drawn on with dotted lines for cosmetic surgery, I want to shout, “No!”, and reach out and save you all. It feels so scary.

Laila: Yes, it is a bit scary.

Talking about livestreaming, what did it take to make your Halloween show happen? First of all, the costumes were wonderful. Second of all, the marionettes! The puppets were so cool.

Laila: Big, big shout out to The Bob Baker Marionette Theater in LA! Everyone’s money should go to them, honestly. It’s a relic and they are awesome to work with.

Lexi: Before all of this, they were putting on live shows also, so this wasn’t too far from what they do, but this was one of the first livestreams they’ve done since the shutdown. We knew that venue would fit really well with our style and silliness. We thought it would be a good fit for Halloween. When they said, “Yes”, it was just so excited. Then we did the whole thing of working with a limited crew, and getting everyone tested, and laying low, and hoping for the best. 

How did you appear on stage with marionettes? Were there people above operating them?

Laila: No, there were people walking around with them, wearing uniforms so they didn’t really stick out too much.

Did you get to pick which marionettes would appear in the show?

Lexi: That was my favorite part. We’d say, “This song kind of has a vacation vibe.” And they’d say, “Oh, yes, we have two pigs on vacation. Let us get them out.” They’d say, “We have flying saucer robots.” They have everything. It was so fun.

Laila: It was so good.

I think you should move there. I think you should perform there from now on.

Lexi: I would love to. 

Was it a good enough experience that you would do more livestreaming in future?

Lexi: I think we have one more in store, though I’m not sure the timing will be before the end of the year. I think we will do a few more of these.

I wanted to ask you about the physical media side of things. I love vinyl and I see that the EP is being released on bottle green vinyl. As a band, are you usually focused on releasing physical media? 

Lexi: Lately, since have the support of Suicide Squeeze, we love the physical releases. Cassettes are kind of hokey, but fun, too. I love buying cassettes and vinyl. There are a lot of audiophiles who love it, especially on the road. It’s like collecting baseball cards except you collect these releases from bands you like.

That’s a great comparison. That’s so true. It does feel like a kind of membership to a tribe. Right now, it’s a thrill to get that stuff in the mail, I have to say. It makes you feel connected. 

Laila: Totally. With other bands, I always go for the fun, tie-dye colored version, or neon. I always splurge and get the weird special edition record over the black one.

Photo credit: Kelsey Hart

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