Standing in Shannon Lay’s backyard in Pasadena – an upmarket community northeast
of Los Angeles known for grand homes, lush gardens and the annual Rose Parade famously name-checked by Elliott Smith – there is a sense of spiritual ease. “There’s a certain kind of warmth coming off of it,” Lay says, pointing to a giant oak tree, which she estimates to be over 200 years old, whose branches envelop the space like a hug. Before she lived here, the area was a refuge from city life. “I lived in Echo Park and Frogtown for a long time,” she says. “And in that situation, you either go to the Guitar Center in Hollywood or the Guitar Center in Pasadena, and I always went to Pasadena because Hollywood can be really hectic.”
Her small Spanish-style backhouse is decorated with string lights, vintage furniture and other on-trend bohemia, like many homes in Southern California. But for a young, hard-touring, full-time musician like Lay such anchored domesticity can be novel. Living by herself in a standalone rental she secured on her own is a first. “All the other places were from friends saying, ‘Take this random room,’” she says. “This has everything I need. And I feel this trust developing with life that we’re taken care of, that if things are supposed to be a certain way it’s gonna work out. I’m slowly learning that worry is optional a lot of the time.”
Lay is just 30 years old, but she’s been gigging in the Los Angeles indie music scene for more than a decade. A veteran of boisterous art-punk and garage-rock bands, by 2016 she was exploring a softer side of music, playing tender and introspective folks songs on acoustic and electric guitar. She’s a skilled player, but it was her gorgeous, gossamer voice that drew the attention of Kevin Morby, Ty Segall, Steve Gunn and many others who she’d go on to record and tour with.
She produced her latest album, Geist, with Jarvis Taveniere (Waxahatchee, Whitney, Purple Mountains). Its quiet assurance reads like a master statement, the work of a woman who’s finally found her footing in the world. “A lot of the identities and beliefs I had about myself were crumbling; everything was shattering,” she says of its making. “It was a tower moment, in tarot. But the best thing about those moments is that you can rebuild in a way that’s more sustainable and maybe more beneficial.” Its creation marked a turning point in a long period of self-reflection, self work and healing from childhood trauma.
“I began this process of therapy and trying to drop into my body a bit more,” she explains. “Be a little more present, be very honest with myself and not be afraid to explore the things that were hard to look at.” The result is a velveteen folk-rock album where the earthen and the celestial meet in a seamless embrace, much like her beloved houseplants and astrological ponderings. “It’s very lush and arranged while also being very intimate,” says Ty Segall. “She’s got such a great and unique voice.”