Vibrating tones in all listener bones, Leyna Noel resonates her sounds as Psychic Reality with her newest album Chassis. Having uprooted herself from the West Coast to pursue her Pilate’d-out dreams in New York (her native land) — after releasing an LA Vampires split, the album Vibrant New Age, and a 7-inch, all on Not Not Fun — Noel took life by the horns by building up a healthy amount of real-world experiences and writing again. As a Pilates studio owner, she found the time to write Chassis while living in Brooklyn and eventually recorded it with her good pal (and TMT fav) M. Geddes Gengras in L.A.
And while she’s planning a European tour this summer, Noel let me stop by her apartment to jam on some Q&A, and TMT couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Read on below and get the giggles going, because Noel goes into zones that are just as memorable as Chassis, which is out now on Intercoastal Artists.
But before we get to the interview proper, TMT has the honor of premiering the video for “90 Regina,” which was directed by Michael Bucuzzo and Christina Kolozsvary. Ironically, the night I interviewed her in Brooklyn, I went up north to Sunnyside, Queens and exactly what is shown in this video is what I experienced leaving her apartment. But also part of this premiere-privilege is knowing “90 Regina” was the inception song for Chassis’ creation! So enjoy the video grain (reflective of Psychic Reality’s fuzzy singing) and its embodying feel, then check out the interview below.
So, you’re from San Francisco?
Not exactly, but I spent a crucial decade there, from age 18. I spent most my kid years in New Jersey. And what that place will do to you! It’s a magic place to come up, but you have to make a point to leave. Both sides of my family are from Queens, and I was born there. My parents drilled me, so I never got a Jersey accent. They were like, you are a New Yorker, the word bowl has a “w” in it.
Where were y’all located in Queens? My mom is from Floral Park.
The Polish side of my family lived in Floral Park! My dad grew up in the projects in Long Island City, and my mom lived in Jamaica, Queens. She went to the same high school as 50 Cent. She has the craziest stories… kids hanging teachers out of the window by their ankles, pulling floaters out of the river to check their pockets, riding the bus sitting where the bullet holes already were. I had a multifarious upbringing, let’s say. Awesome parents who were essentially raised by wolves kept it interesting always. My dad was a race car driver, so I toured around the country with him from a young age.
Whoa, so touring comes naturally for you!
Yeah, I have good associations with the road. Nothing is more calming to me than a car ride, especially at night, windows open, and heat on the feet. I love driving, and Ged will attest, I’m a good driver. Although the only speeding ticket of my life I got driving his Volvo going 95. Some impulse has been built-in.
So, San Francisco when you were 18….
I went to Mills College to study writing and en route to a lit degree got closer to one in Women’s Studies sooner. Which freed me up to delve into other departments. Namely the Center for Contemporary Music, which was life-bending. I had my first practice space, took up the cello, and studied recording techniques with Maggi Payne. She taught me to edit magnetic tape with a razor. It made me a good listener and a conscionable member of the digital age. All my first loops were strung around the room on 1/4-inch tape. In terms of my major, I was a bit of a class renegade and switched around a lot. It did get me Phi Beta Kappa though, bitches.
[Laughs] Yeah! And there in college, I began performing music.
Was it more synthetic stuff or vibrated sounds (stings, brass, voice box, wood-wind, etc.)?
It was au naturale. The place was littered with pianos. I counted them, obsessed over them — more than 200 pianos in one little place! I’d go to the basement to do laundry, and there’d be a piano. I did a project composing and recording on as many pianos as I could, letting their respective states of repair guide me.
I never wrote a song until these pianos. It was a complicated scenario, my first song — like, I had to build a fort but didn’t know how, so I strung things up with feathers and tape and twigs to get it to stand. Not knowing that a dovetail joint and some wood would be nice. As for my song forts, I’ve gotten more into building things out of wood.
But I’ve been playing piano since I was tiny, so I’ve been on the vibration contingent for awhile. It’s all about the vibration, Cliff! Resonant bodies.
I’m cosmic to a fault, so I’m hard at work on the realness these days
[Laughs] Ahh, though! Sorta like Chassis?
Yes! Exactly like that. Basically Chassis is the music I can make with piano and lungs, but inside an electronic album. It has that two-ness for the first time. And the voice is my main instrument. Yeah, fun!
Absolutely… did people feel this angle at the release party?
Oh, I hope so! For me, the Chassis release party was a dream. It was so… Have you been to Elvis Guesthouse? It’s new and their baby and they painted it pink, and Zack and Billy — who also do Pilates with me! — let me show up early and decorate for Children’s Day that day. Children’s day is a Japanese holiday that celebrates children’s personalities and wishes for their happiness. One of my favorite Pilates teachers Yuka hipped me to it when she saw what day my release show was on. In Japan, they mark the day by hanging up fish kites, so that’s what I hung around the club.
And Geddes was there?
Geddes was there. He had to be!
You two met on the West Coast? …Both East Coast transplants.
Yes, we became buds for life on the road in Pocahaunted. Well, before that we met playing some Cali shows together when he was in Robedoor. One show was on an abandoned side of a cliff. My earliest Ged memory is him helping me carry my sub down the steep-ass dirt hill that night. It all coulda ended right there. But we persisted! And we will do anything to preserve the low end. For this reason alone, I’ll never not wanna collaborate with him.
What a guy! Was it he who sort of calmed Chassis down, more so than Vibrant New Age, or does that deal more with finding your center during Pilates training, as you were telling me this was your day-job, previously in our emails?
Chassis is way more deliberate than my last record. And that has everything to do with the million hours I’ve spent learning, teaching, crawling inside the Pilates method. It’s essentially magic, physical magic. This way of moving the body from the core first changes everything. It makes you solid physically, streamlines your movement and focus and your mental control. A friend left me a valentine in the form of a Facebook comment recently, “Are you the most balanced person I know?” And I was like whoa. I dunno but I’ve been working very diligently on my core! So considering Chassis literally, it’s something I try put into place physically, deliberately, metaphorically, metaphysically. Calm is an interesting word though… it’s still wild and not very neat…
Welllllll… in comparison…
They’re pretty feral, especially the split with LA Vampires.
And your songs now are way shorter and “balanced…”
…And pop. I don’t know if I make pop music, actually. [Taps fingers on table] But I think I realized it’s what I do. I just finished the first song for my next record and thought “Oh, Beyonce would sing this song!” If she does, it’ll be really weird. Overground is underground, man.
Did you take classes for Pilates? I’m totally unfamiliar and imagine you’re just like “Welp, NY… and I’m not a Pilates consultant.”
Yes! Last show I went to the week of Zebulon’s closing, Paul Schaffer was there with his squad of classy-dressed senior dudes, and he’s trying to order like a dozen espresso from a bartender that had just found an old espresso maker…
The last week of Zebulon, man. That was a starting point for sure…
Was pop your starting point for Chassis?
The first song I made for Chassis was “90 Regina,” and it’s pretty between-the-sheets. With the lyrics “up all night” and I mean… it’s mid-tempo. [Laughs]
Was that the catalyst for the album?
Yup with Regina under my belt, I knew I could do it; the record would come. I started demoing the fall of 2013, then went to L.A. on January 1 to record it all, so it took about a year to turn around. I took a fast from Pilates. I’d log on in the morning for an hour to coordinate the business back home, but then would close it up and get to work.
I actually went through the most extensive Pilates classes the world has to offer. It was two years of my life! It was through an old-school apprentice position where I’d learn by observing teachers (masters, although I don’t like the word; some of these people actually worked with Joe Pilates himself). So, it was like learning a hands-on trade, where I learned how to speak a language that’s nonverbal, and it’s the language of my hands and someone’s body. Like, if I touched you on your shoulder, I could feel if you’re engaging where I need you to. It’s some psychic shit.
So you touch a lot of people during the day?
Shoot, I’ve become so desensitized about touching people all day that I can put my hand between a client’s legs and ask them to squeeze it and not realize that it’s technically odd. To a perfect stranger. But for their highest good. Or at least the engagement of their inner thighs.
The first sound on the record is actually a leap of faith because it’s sooooo shitty sounding. But I LOVE it.
Okay, but here’s the dreaded: Why did it take you so long between Vibrant New Age and Chassis for new music to transpire?
You know, for that whole period of time I was asking myself the same question, “Where the fuck is the music?” It was dark. Cognitively, I understood that when you make choices and transitions in life not every aspect of your life can ride shotgun. Some things take a back seat. Or some things might be dead in the trunk. That’s how it felt to me, going so hard for Pilates and not making any music. That I’d willingly committed manslaughter to my musical self. To enter the health industry?! At times I was pissed.
But now it’s all come into focus; I see how everything fits.
Really what it was, was changing gears. I was in a very intensive program to become a Pilates instructor. But things got pretty snagged. My friend, who got me into Pilates instruction, passed away, and I was going to work at her studio in Brooklyn. Instead I took over the studio, so I was the owner of this studio before I could even teach Pilates. I was grieving and studying and life as I knew it dissolved. Just all this lifey stuff, making it impossible to set aside time to create music; I was accepting a lot of synapses, and now I can express them.
And then you went for the entire Chassis.
Yes! Thank you for understanding.
But it’s not because of where you live and was totally circumstantial. Because I’d say the delay would be 100% geographic, considering there are more PC apartment dwellers, and less space to “practice.”
Well, even though I recorded in L.A., I still wrote it here. In this very apartment! [Laughs] But you’re right, I created all of that album with headphones on, yes. It might be the only record made using headphone-on-headphone action. To record demos, I stuck the headphone microphone into my stereo monitors to record what I was hearing onto Voice Notes, and in some cases, that’s on the album. The first sound on the record is actually a leap of faith because it’s sooooo shitty sounding. But I LOVE it. It’s so small. It’s an iPhone recording. The whole first verse. It’s objectively shitty sounding. No judgement.
How do you see the DIY culture you — potentially, subconsciously — promote through your sound/music being taken by heavier people like Vice in Brooklyn and compare it to the recent club underground culture making a comeback?
Wait, what? Is there really that?!
I mean, like, I went to McCarren Park and saw CHVRCHES play, and it was like a cell phone commercial. There was actually a crane camera floating around the entire time. Where do you see Psychic Reality pushing this boundary?
Oh yeah-yeah-yeah. This is nutritious to think about. From my understanding, people have trouble marketing or classifying Psychic Reality, which weirds them out, like “You didn’t make us ONE thing! You made us NINE things!” And there’s a thread, the kids and the heads can find it, but in terms of classification: multifarious. Ged has actually been a really great supporter throughout all this, because he tells me “Your shit doesn’t make sense, categorically, but that’s why I love it.” Players gotta play. And it goes back to what we were saying about the overground is underground. What’s up underground? Maybe the end of Zebulon was a death knell. Underground’s gone overground — gone overgrown, in my opinion. Too much consideration of the internet.
So, as the daily media editor on Tiny Mix Tapes, I find it fascinating when musicians don’t have a home page, SoundCloud, and/or Bandcamp. And you don’t have any of these. I don’t really need to talk about this.
I mean, OK, you have [publicist and label owner] Brian Foote, right? How did y’all meet?
I DJ’d with him in L.A. while we were making Chassis. So through Ged, and then Kip from Intercontinental Artists had the foresight to bring him into the fold.
That’s amazing! This is an interesting insight. Wasn’t expecting that. I was just trying to point out it’s weird having PR and not a home page, SoundCloud or Bandcamp, but I think you just dissolved my reasoning. It’s not important. I just think about it a lot. You probably haven’t thought of any of this, so it’s cornering you in a weird apolitical zone.
Well, okay. Part of it is logistics. Though a lot of the “issue” with massively made musics being shared online is the rate of consumption the internet provides, and I enjoy my music like slow food.
This is definitely not to encourage you in any way to change what you’re already doing. So, you won’t do it?
I might do it. But I doubt it. [Laughs] I put up an outtake on YouTube from Vibrant New Age that I really love. I’ll use YouTube. I have a home video of me booty dancing and singing into a mango that I think could go David After Dentist…
And you had a MySpace.
Yes! I have a MySpace. Oh, shit….
I might be the most psychedelic Pilates teacher on the planet.
This is where I’ll ask a transitional question.
Oh, cool. Perfect.
So, considering Psychic Reality is mostly a vocal project, you seem to focus a lot of lyrical content on heavy metaphor and insinuation. Do you have any influences within this area, both current vocalists and/or older writers?
It’s the writer in me. When I was a teenager I wrote a zine because I really wanted a garage band. The impulse to use words to specifically crack codes of feeling, dreaming, phantasm, longing, fury is primary.
In terms of influences, non-linear. There is a most-perfect vocal sound I’m always after. I’ll hear it in old recordings — 60s Shangri Las rasp, it’s all over 70s lady Reggae, and some early PJ Harvey. It’s in the sound of a vocal pushed through a PA. I love a hysterical vocal — Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, and Lora Logic from Essential Logic get there. Those reaches I’m interested in. When resonance is pushed, and is breaking, but still kept together.
How do you deal in metaphor?
Professionally! I might be the most psychedelic Pilates teacher on the planet. We get into some very deep zones; my clients are down with oblique cues, whatever gets the job done. Like telling them to think the word “gardens” so they’ll relax their neck. We’re complex ecosystems. I always read my clients to see what works for them, using new and different analogies and connections all the time. It’s improvisatory. Metaphor, with an intention behind it, is such currency.
I should’ve looked up what Pilates is before I came here, because I see it more as a cross-fit yoga.
You’re not totally wrong. But you do it with your eyes open, instead of Zen-ing out, you zone in. Pilates teaches core awareness and builds core strength. For example, you’d engage your stomach muscles to send the impulse to move your hand. My teacher says we’re going for “long, loose extremities.” That way you never lose control. It turns you into a ninja. Or an animal. It’s an economy of movement. It’s so hot.
Considering Psychic Reality came before the Pilates phase in your life, how did the name come about?
Ahh, I can almost not remember. At a certain point, you have to keep your band name. There was a place in Oakland once called Psychic Reality, a new age store, but I never went in. And I don’t get down with Freud, so this isn’t his.
For me, the name is literal. An encoded way the world operates that I cannot help but see. To paraphrase Plath, the spasmodic tricks of radiance…
You know how there are all these television shows called girl things: New Girl, Broad City, Girls, Gilmore Girls? I read an interview with Lena Dunham about her excitement that she nailed the meta-title; there’s also TONS of bands like Psychic [this] or Psychic [that], but if you take away the first word, what are you working with? I got Reality. I dunno, maybe I got the meta-title. If you argue with reality you’ll always lose.
The first tape I made had Side A as REAL and Side B as CHIC because their both in the word. So, mostly just using Psychic because it’s has the word chic in it. [Laughs]
Are your songs typically based on reality or dreams/fantasy?
Oh, goodie! Both, but I’m cosmic to a fault, so I’m hard at work on the realness these days.
Then would you consider yourself a lyricist or a vocalist?
Lyrics are just very important and special to me, whether heavily encoded or purposefully bare. Both are opportunities to convey.
Well, considering a lot of your Pilates instruction is on-the-fly, do you incorporate a lot of improvisation into your music making?
When I do vocal overdubs, I don’t ever think about the parts ahead of time. The intervals come out, and I’m able to handle that, because vocally I improv more readily than with instruments. Once written, the instruments are holding down the vibe. I mean, I love to vary a lead-line on the keyboard playing live, and playing live is probably my most improvisatory practice. Because I won’t over-practice. I like to keep it risky!
Writing the music too feels improvisatory, collecting keys and drums and phrasing scraps that I’ll just know fit the vibe of one song. As if they’re this one sound color. That’s the way I identify them, but then it turns into a barrel of bells falling down the stairs. Sometimes it’s all together, and sometimes it’s just not. It’s all in the gut. [LAUGHS]
Underground’s gone overground — gone overgrown, in my opinion. Too much consideration of the internet.
Nice! Pilates humor.
I’m just trying to plug Pilates HARD.
Let’s just put your Pilates studio information here, then [LAUGHS]…
Summer is slow time in the studio…
Well, vibing back to the music here, what do you feel like Psychic Reality music works best on (considering your releases are split between vinyl and cassette formats, thus far)?
I listen to more cassettes than vinyl. But listening to the test pressing of Chassis on vinyl for the first time, I was blown away by how much better it sounds than the digital. Like, WAY more interstellar. There was just more space. I know vinyl is warmer, but since it was my music, I could feel it better.
Did you know it’d be out on vinyl while recording?
I wasn’t going to stop until it was on vinyl.
[MANIACAL LAUGHTER] But I’m erratic in the sense that I don’t like to consume things too often, so…
Do you frequent many local shows?
Just friends’ shows, or when the heavies come through, like Pharaoh Sanders.
Do you have preferences and standards of who you typically bill with during local shows?
I love to play shows with family. Whenever I have control of a bill, I choose each person to coincide, to make it more meaningful. The Chassis record release I was able to choose.
Are you planning a tour?
I am definitely ready to get back on the road, but I have nothing planned yet. It’s hard to kickstart tours having not been musically out there for a minute. What do I do, Clifford?
Fuck-shit, just book the shows. You just dropped a killer album. People been waiting for this!
Yeah, I’ll just book shows everywhere.
You should definitely set up shows with your Not Not Fun label-mates Cankun and High Wolf!
It seems way easier doing shows in Europe than in the States.
I can’t wait to go back, though.
When did you join Pocahaunted again?
Just after Make it Real, I recorded with them for the last 7-inch and played live shows. It was a dream team. Such a fun time, performing in matching kimonos and necklaces on our faces and playing in a pile on the floor. I’d drag my keyboard onto the floor with Diva and Amanda every night; it all swirls together in sequins.
So, I saw a flier that looked like you traveled with the Duppy founders [Ged and Cameron Stallones] to Jamaica. Is this real?
The morning after I finished my Pilates apprenticeship. This was their third trip, but my first. It was nice because they were doing a little work, and after we drove to the north coast for a real vacation. I slept in a room that stuck out over the ocean.
So overall bliss
Geddes was telling me the same last year, but it can get risky if you’re not following someone’s Patois, and then it becomes even more misunderstandable when someone is made, etc.
I do like how uncomfortable Jamaica made me. I really liked it. I think it’s a good exercise to be uncomfortable, especially when it comes to race. Living in the US, I’m always moving in so many white spaces, and it’s easy never to think for a second about that. Good to go somewhere and stick out. Anything that makes me uncomfortable gives me the sense I’m on the right track.
Are you planning on making your next album in a more uncomfortable state?
Ged and I agreed to make it in a state in which neither one of us lives. And definitely make it something fun. We already have waves and perimeters for the record too, but I can’t divulge those yet.