Well before the 2016 election, the L.A. punk band Feels had a song about the man who would become the 45th president. The title is unprintable here, but if you know the unabbreviated version of “FDT” from rapper YG, you’ll get the idea.
The act wrote it then in response what they saw as the absurdity of Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. But after the election, the band didn’t quite know what to do with it.
“Once he got elected,” singer-guitarist Laena Geronimo said, “we just didn't want to play that song anymore, because it was too…”
“Too basic,” bassist Amy Allen chimed in, noting “the level of frustration” exceeded the song’s middle-finger tone.
So they wrote another one, “Car,” that tried to take a longer view. “All smiles, DJT’s / war dogs on the street,” they sing. “The land of the free / one nation under fraud.”
It’s the lead track of their second album “Post Earth,” a righteously angry yet uncommonly encouraging record about the world falling apart. Though it’s — very loosely — based around the idea of future billionaires fleeing the very planet they’ve desiccated, Feels tries to make sense of their own fear and anger at the present.
As a band of mostly young women in the L.A. music industry, they’re also documenting a scene in a deep re-assessment about its values.
“That really is probably the purpose of the record, because the only way we can really make a big change is if we do it together and we all get super responsive and make things happen,” Geronimo said. “There’s a lot at stake right now.”
The members of Feels — Geronimo, Allen, singer-guitarist Shannon Lay and drummer Michael Perry Rudes — have played together in various Eastside combos for years, and released their debut LP in 2016, produced by garage-rock savant Ty Segall. So when they took the stage at Echo on Tuesday night for their album release show, the band had a well-honed but still-hungry rapport.
Geronimo and Lay are standout guitarists, with wide genre interests (Geronimo, daughter of Devo drummer Alan Myers, plays violin with Lay on her own transfixing folk project) and a combustible, captivating stage presence. Rudes and Allen lock into assertive rhythms that nod to the Stooges and Black Sabbath, with detours into dreamier Cure terrain and, occasionally, pure grinding noise.
But the songs on “Post Earth” stand out for their earnestness in depicting all the bad turns life has taken since 2016. There’s a bit of teenage bile on “Find A Way:” “Burn all the money, all the flags, all this stupid pride.”
But there was something potent in reconnecting with those old sentiments, the kind that the Dead Kennedys and Hole and Bikini Kill stirred up in their formative years.
“Kathleen Hanna made me feel like being angry isn't something you should be ashamed of when there's something to be angry about,” Geronimo said. “I think that, especially when you're a teenager, it's not going to change your mind, but it could be the spark that ignites.”
That’s true for their young fans who are just getting into independent punk music. But it’s also true for their peers, who are going through their own reckoning about what to demand from a music scene in 2019. For all the long-overdue dredging up of creepy dudes and misogynistic and condescending behavior, Feels generally thinks this is becoming an excellent time to be in indie band in L.A.
The old structures and expectations about paths forward have pretty much fallen apart. Today’s community of artists — driven by ambitious, progressive young women with roots in DIY culture — has realized that no one needs to be a gatekeeper anymore. Artists such as Mitski and the members of the supergroup Boygenius are driving indie rock music into its most interesting terrain in a generation.
“I think that it's slowly getting better,” Lay said. “Even working with labels, artists have so much freedom. I think that this time, right now, specifically in L.A. — I think people will talk about this for a long time.”
“It's not competitive in the scene because everyone really is trying to just do their own authentic thing that isn't mimicking something else,” Geronimo added. “It's not like you compare yourselves, because everyone's just being themselves.”
Of course, they’re all familiar with the stories of bad treatment even in their corner of the music world. Feels has a mixed relationship with its status as one of the loudest, most politically outspoken bands in the L.A. rock scene. On one hand, they take their cause seriously and live it out in who they work with.
“I go out of my way to work with women if I can,” Lay said. “My booking agent’s a woman. If I can get my photo taken, I want it to be by a woman. A woman just mastered my record, which I was super stoked on.”
But at the same time, Geronimo never wants to let identity get out in front of the music.
“Our band bio doesn't say, like, ‘female-fronted’ or anything. When people say ‘you're my favorite girl band,’ it's so offensive to me. Being female on stage, it’s a feminist act. But it’s like, [someone] saying, ‘Oh, you're my favorite guy band?’ No one would say that ever.”
Their scene, Allen said, is “a thriving ecosystem because of the diversity. They’re like two million different butterflies, and they're all cool. They all have a job and they all help.”