Geri is the lead singer for the band Supreme Beings of Leisure. She writes all their lyrics. She and her husband Miles Lightwood are also the parents of Ava Soriano-Lightwood.
They're cool, laid back and terribly groovy. Mike Gee talks with Geri Soriano-Lightwood of Supreme Beings Of Leisure.
Geri Soriano-Lightwood says the weirdest thing about one minute into the interview. She says that she grew up in Chicago but is wasn't until she moved to Los Angeles that she felt she could breathe. In 26 years of such natters it's the first time anybody has said something vaguely complimentary about the City of Angels. Mostly, you are there because you have to be there - unless you're an urban cowboy who only sniffs the raw scent of life when you're living on the edge. Like Andy Prieboy. But that's another story.
What LA offers the singer/lyricist of the marvellous Supreme Beings Of Leisure - arguably the best electronic band to emerge from the US in the past five years, and easily the most worldly and eclectic - is peace of mind.
"The racial climate was just amazing out here compared to where I was from," she says. "Chicago is pretty segregated. I left 10 years ago and I was in the alternative scene out there. I wasn't in the 'house' scene where you see a woman of colour. It confused a lot of people. They didn't really know what to do with me. It was kind of like this weird black chick singing like a white girl. Once I got to LA it wasn't an issue."
Geri's pedigree bears repeating. Heavily involved in that Chicago scene she played with some extraordinary talent including a spell as an early member of the excellent low-fi outfit, The Aluminium Group [their guests on this year's moody, atmospheric, Pedals include Jim O'Rourke, Sean O'Hagan, Doug McCombs, Edith Frost], and used to "hang out' with Billy Corgan before he became famous.
But the real pay off was to come when she made it to LA where she eventually met Rick Torres, Kiran Shahani and Ramin Sakurai. When they came to record a rap demo fate or gut instinct took a heavy hand. Ramin had the chance to submit a song for a James Bond film so he said 'maybe we can some of these tracks have Geri sing over them and see what happens'. The first song they wrote together was Nothing Like Tomorrow (a spooky post-Portishead chillout with distinct James Barry undertones) in 1995 with the Bond movie in mind (they didn't get the nod). That was the piece that created the SBOL sound. The chemistry was obvious. The trio's smart programming and seductive grooves beautifully showcased Geri's distinctive voice and her astonishing lyrics - searching tales of longing and disillusionment. That sound - which can be heard so perfectly cut into the grooves of their self-titled debut - was almost at once: sexy, seductive, glamorous, whimsical, soulful and haunting - a global sound with an American perspective. What else could they be but the Supreme Beings Of Leisure.
That sound also mirrored their collective identity. The bloodlines running through the group stretch from India to the Dominican Republic, Iran to Japan, Puerto Rico to Ireland. The guys all grew up in LA having immigrated to the US with their families at early ages, so it's all filtered through a distinctly western view of the world. "Our sound has a lot to do with who we are and where we come from," Geri says. "We were all raised 'white, upper-middle class,' but we weren't white. We didn't fit into our respective situations and that's what has become the bond between us. We were raised with a broader cultural mindset. We come from other cultures. That mindset is what created the sponge that is the Supreme Beings Of Leisure."
That sponge has dripped perhaps the most un-American record made by an American band. Geri laughs, says that they get many similar comments. In otherwords, SBOL are confusing the hell of out of things. Excellent. It's time geography, race colour and creed stopped influencing what kind of music people listen to.
The actual record was also finished two years ago and since then the band has worked and reworked the material. Geri says the record you are listening to now is a lot richer, a lot fuller, the orchestrations and arrangements a lot tighter. "But we weren't afraid to throw in everything but the kitchen sink," she laughs.
However, don't expect to see the big band SBOL on tour. These are smart people. If you wig into their excellent website - just stunning design and ideas - you'll find details of the SBOL's first virtual tour whereby you can catch the band live from a couple of venues such as the Viper Room, check out video interviews. It's a smart move. In fact, SBOL are using the Net as their main marketing tool. There are small SBOL image ads everywhere. Little square beasts that promote the record and link you to their web site.
"Being a new baby band we can't afford to go on tour with a huge band," she says. "We're definitely concentrating on working the multimedia aspect of it. We're working with a filmmaker Matt Amado who's creating a DVD which we'll be playing along with and showing at the same time. The imagery definitely has that Italian design element to it. The net site was designed by my web company, Pixel World, which I run with my husband and brother-in-law who just happens to be a Cleo Award-winning web designer.
"Using the Net has worked to our advantage. It's still a wild frontier out there. The record companies haven't managed to tame it, they haven't figured it out. So we're able to come in from out of nowhere and create a presence. You can get such wonderful word of mouth on the Net. And it's a viral thing that happens worldwide and internationally. We have an email list and we're already getting people from all over the world. In a short space of time, more than 2000 have already joined.
"The whole look from the aesthetically stunning album cover outwards is cosmopolitan. It's their own world. And it's expanding. Much like the compositional process. They all write together; the guys all program and are multi-instrumentalists so they hash out the rough arrangement of a track, give it to Geri and she writes the melody and lyrics. Then they come together to round out the song.
Geri even enjoys songwriting. No angst and suffering in the dark here. She admits to being a crafter of songs who writes in bursts and doesn't lack inspiration: it's all around her in the world of Los Angeles. "I love the multi-cultural aspects of it," she says. "I love the fact I can walk down the street and nobody is going to look at me funny, like 'who is that? what is she?'. It's an exciting town of lots of hope. It's inspiring.
"You know, it's strange, you do hear about areas of LA that you should avoid, but when I first came here I actually got lost in Compton [the infamous black neighbourhood celebrated by gangsta rappers from Compton's Finest and the Ghetto Boys onwards]. I had no problem. I didn't even know it was a bad neighbourhood because everybody had homes. Everybody had a front lawn. Everybody had a backyard. In Chicago people live in tenements and everybody is caged. For me to think that somebody living in poverty had their own backyard and own house was a strange concept. I didn't even know it was Compton! However, in that situation my skin colour did work for me. I didn't stick out."
What does stick out to Geri is her dream tour: if she could grab a support spot it would be for Beck because "he shares that same sort of pastiche element to his music and he's very brave as a musician; he's an explorer which I like."
Hardly surprising given the diverse natures that make up Supreme Beings Of Leisure. Their influences are as long as they are tasteful: Massive Attack, Bjork, Pink Floyd, Ravi Shankar, Mozart, ABC, Sly and the Family Stone, and A Tribe Called Quest to name the proverbial few.
Geri's bandmate Rick Torres summed up the end result better than anybody a while ago when he said, "We really hate to pin our sound down. Basically, anybody who has an orgasm likes our music." Geri laughs, "There you go then. What more could I possibly say."
Absolutely nothing. Then again you don't have to when you are good as the Supreme Beings Of Leisure. Me, I'm off for another orgasm. Play it again
Geri's Design Company is Pixelwurld