He’s a county supervisor and the son of one of the city’s most beloved leaders. But Phil Serna also is known for getting down on his bass guitar.
On Saturday, June 24, his band Unsupervised will be performing at a free event called Pops in the Park held at East Sacramento’s Glenn Hall Park (6-9 p.m.). Made up of local politicians and lawyers, Unsupervised plays pop music with a heavy blues flavor, complete with horns, strings, and most importantly, soul. The Bee spoke with Phil Serna about the band, his bass playing, and why you should come out and see this show.
Q: What has kept you playing bass throughout your political career?
A: Well, first of all, I guess I should explain I’m a drummer – that was my first instrument. I grew up playing drums since I was 7 and I played in a number of bands around town, but I’ve been really focused on playing bass guitar for the last dozen years or so. The bass guitar is kind of a synthesis of rhythm and melody. There’s a lot of parallels with political life. Being an elected person, part of your job description is to synthesize a lot of competing priorities and best represent your constituents.
Q: What made you switch from drums to bass?
A: The bass guitar has always appealed to me ... . I think with a background in percussion, you have somewhat of an advantage learning the bass and honing your skills with that background. I got to tell you, I’m an ear player, so I’ve learned to play bass guitar by ear. Now I can read charts and whatnot, but it really has been just been by doing a lot of careful listening that I learned to play the bass.
Q: Would you say your bass playing is more similar to Paul McCartney’s or Geddy Lee’s?
A: [Laughs] Well, I admire both of them as musicians and bass players. I’d probably say more along the lines of Paul McCartney just because Geddy Lee is an incredibly technical player and I don’t have the dexterity that he has. I’m a pretty basic bass player. Rush and Geddy Lee are some of my favorite bands and musicians (though).
Q: If your band gets big, do you think you’ll leave politics?
A: [Laughs] I don’t think there’s a real valid threat of that happening.
Q: How would you say your legislation style is similar to your bass playing style?
A: I would say depending on the song, I know when to be a bold presence and I know when to hang back.
Q: What’s it like rehearsing with a bunch of lawyers and politicians – are there a lot of battles for creative control?
A: No, not too many battles for creative control. In fact, it’s pretty orderly. It’s pretty democratic. It’s probably more organized than most bands, believe it or not, and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that we have a lot of legal minds and political minds in the rehearsal studio.
Q: Why should I come see Unsupervised play this weekend?
A: You should come see Unsupervised because we will thoroughly entertain you, and if you’re a young person, you might even get the chance to sing backup vocals.
Q: What would you say is more exciting – an Unsupervised concert or an open budget meeting?
A: Oh, hands down the Unsupervised concert. Are you kidding me? [Laughs]