Have you ever had a point in your life when you experienced a local band in their “moment”? When there was a collective energy coursing through wherever you live, whatever venues you frequent, when almost everybody you knew or were in social proximity to were witnessing a band you all agreed was on the precipice of a major breakthrough? Have the words, “This band is legitimately going to be huge!” -- whatever standards qualify as “huge” in our Internet-fractured musical landscape -- been not only your lips, but on the lips of many other people watching the same local group as you?
La Luz is having one of those moments in Seattle. After their terrific Damp Face EP dropped on Burger Records earlier in the year, they played a string of extremely well-received shows, signed with Sub Pop sister label (and one of the best portals for just-under-the-radar talent in America right now) Hardly Art, and are seeing their trademark Luzer shirts splashed across many a torso in Seattle and beyond.
Now, with their alluring, harmony-laden surf rock sound reaching peak levels with debut record It’s Alive, La Luz is ready to take on the world.
Hive had the pleasure of chatting with all four members of the band -- that’s singer/guitarist Shana Cleveland, bassist Abbey Blackwell, keyboardist Alice Sandahl and drummer Marian Li Pino -- on the eve of their album release party (and dance contest!).
Check out our Q&A -- in which we talk about the trailer park where they recorded their songs, "Soul Train," writing songs to simultaneously dance and cry to, and a whole host of other things -- below.
How did La Luz form?
Shana: We started when Marian and I were on tour with our old band, called the Curious Mystery, and I was kind of daydreaming about this new band I wanted to do that wasn’t that band anymore. [laughs] When we got home, I asked Marian, “Hey, you wanna start a band with me?” And she said, “Sure!” So, I started writing a bunch of songs and then we started playing with Abbey and shortly after, we started playing with Alice. And that’s the story! We played our first show at The Funhouse on October 4, almost exactly a year ago.
Awwww, I miss The Funhouse.
Shana: I know! I loved The Funhouse; I loved the little basketball hoop in the back.
In what ways do you think La Luz is different from the Curious Mystery? What made you want to start La Luz?
Shana: I was listening to a lot of surf-= rock and garage stuff and I was wanting to do fun pop music. I dunno, I feel a lot of people see La Luz as a dark band in a way, but it’s more like a “fun” dark band. [laughs] I just really wanted to play surf rock for a really long time, and I was trying to make it work in the context of the old band, but it just became apparent that it was going to have to be a totally new project. A lot of Curious Mystery songs were longer and kind of droney, and I was just interested in making something more accessible.
How did the name La Luz come about? Was there any significance to the name, or was it just that you guys thought it was a cool name and went with it?
Shana: Yeah, that’s it. We were just like, “That’s a cool name!” [The other band members laugh in the background.]
Okay, so I have this theory about, like -- no, I’m not going to project my theories on you. I’ll just ask, what about surf rock made you want to play it? In the context of living in Seattle, I mean.
Shana: I kind of want to hear your theory.
Well, personally, I find myself listening to a lot of, well, surf-themed music because it gives me a sense of escapism from the gloomy weather that we have here in Seattle like eight months out of the year. I’m not particularly musically inclined, but if I were, I feel like I would probably start a surf rock band. So, I was wondering if that was the same idea with you guys, like, “Hey! This would be a fun style of music to play up here [in the Pacific-Northwest]!”
Shana: Yeah, totally. I think it would seem redundant to play a gloomy style of music here. But I could see how it could be cathartic, like, “Oh, I feel depressed so I’m going to play this depressing style of music REALLY HARD to alleviate my depression.” But yeah, I definitely think it has to do with escapism. I daydream about living in California all the time.
Didn’t you live in California at a point in your life?
Shana: Yeah, I lived there for a year and I hated it. [laughs]
[laughs] Why’d you hate it?
Shana: Well, I lived in the San Fernando Valley for about a year. So, it was, well, you know. It was a hellhole. But since then, I’ve come to appreciate L.A. I’m not going to move there anytime soon, but yeah, I get it now.
I have a friend who lives in L.A. and I guess I was spoiled because he’s also a music writer and he knows what I like, so he took me to all the cool places and I was like, “Aw man, L.A.’s great!”
Shana: The couple of people who came to visit me in L.A. were like, “What are you talking about? It’s great!” But that’s because they spent like a day there and I took them to all the best places I knew, and then they would never believe me when I would tell them how much it sucked. But it’s really just the valley.
Going back to the idea that you’re a “dark” pop band: What compels you to write about darker themes, versus, “Oooh, I love my man and blah blah blah”?
Shana: It’s so hard. Like, I try to write love songs, and I can’t do it. I don’t really understand how anybody writes love songs. I’m fascinated by that idea. If you’re in love and everything’s awesome, then why do you even need to write a song about it? I can only write when it’s something I feel compelled to write about, and usually the thing that I’m writing about sucks. [laughs] I’m also really into old soul music, and I feel like there’s --
There’s a theme of melancholy that comes with that.
Shana: Yeah, it all comes from some kind of conflict. It’s like, “Yeah, I’m so in love … but, um, there’s this thing.” Or like, “Yeah, it’s a struggle, but I love him so much.” That’s way more interesting to me than, “Oh, I love him and he loves me and everything is just really cool!” It’s just kind of boring.
I totally understand. I’m in the same class as you. I truly believe that the melancholy and the struggle of whatever someone’s going through makes art more interesting.
Shana: Yeah. I also really like seeing people dance to sad stuff. Like on "Soul Train," people just totally getting down and feeling good to one person’s heartbreak. That to me is really heartening as a human being.
Marian: We were someplace, and I bet maybe Shana said something about it. She said something like, “We should tell them to Soul Train.” I don’t know. I don’t think it happened during the show.
Shana: Yeah, I dunno. It was probably my idea because I watch a lot of "Soul Train."
"Soul Train"’s awesome!
[Band members all laugh]
How surprised were you when it was actually effective?
Shana: Oh man. It was amazing. Every time it works it’s amazing.
[The band members chatter amongst themselves to consider if there was ever a time the Soul Train didn’t work out. The word “Portland” is featured prominently in this side discussion.]
Abbey: Yeah, there are times where the Soul Train fizzles out really bad.
Shana: And it’s not that bad for us, it’s bad for everybody there later on. [band members laugh]
It’s super enjoyable to be in the crowd when that’s happening, it’s like, “This is not how Seattle shows usually go,” where everybody’s standing around with their arms crossed, and maybe the first two rows are actually into the music. Like, everybody splits up [during the Soul Train section of La Luz’s shows] and it’s amazing. It was amazing the first time I saw it.
Shana: Where was that?
I had seen you guys before, but the first time I had seen the Soul Train Line was when you opened for the Intelligence.
All: Yeah, that was a good one. That was really good.
So, you guys recorded Damp Face in a trailer, and I feel like that’s a really interesting part of the band. Because, you know, you think of "Breaking Bad" and you think of these little cramped spaces that come up with all this magic. How did it come about that you would record in this trailer?
Shana: Well, it was in a trailer park, but it actually was a concrete bunker attached to the laundry room.
Honestly, that’s a little cooler than the trailer.
Shana: I dunno, it would be cool to record in a trailer, I think. We recorded in the trailer park because that’s where our friend Johnny [Goss] was living for like a decade, and he had just accumulated all of this really great recording gear. And he wasn’t working [a day job], he was just working on music. We wanted to record with him because he’s actually been in bands with three out of the four of us, so we all knew him except for Abbey, and he was always easy to work with.
Did you guys record Damp Face for Burger [Records] or did you record it first and then send it to them? How did it end up getting released on Burger?
Shana: We actually just recorded it as a demo to try to get shows, and then our friend Sasha Morgan (who’s kind of like our manager now, she works at Sub Pop) heard the EP and she really loved it and was like, “I wanna send this to Burger!” And that was exactly what I had wanted to happen. I didn’t know exactly how to get in touch with them, but I was inspired by a lot of the stuff that Burger was putting out when I was writing the songs.
Burger is such an awesome label.
Shana: Yeah, they’re the greatest -- besides Hardly Art [the band’s current label]. [laughs] But yeah, that was kind of my dream of what would happen, to get to put something out on Burger. So, it was awesome getting to meet those guys and be involved with that scene.
And you said Sasha worked at Sub Pop or works at Sub Pop?
Shana: Yeah, yeah, she still works there.
So is that how you guys linked up with Hardly Art?
Shana: Actually, no. But I think it was part of the reason we decided to go with Hardly Art. We were playing [Seattle DIY staple] Cairo’s Expo 90 [music festival], and Ruben [Mendez] from Hardly Art was at the show and he really liked the show and afterward he bought all of the tapes and sold them with his Gold Van Records store. And then he started talking up the tape to people, selling tapes out of the van, and being really supportive in general.
Now that you guys have gotten It’s Alive out of the way recording-wise, have you thought about what’s next for the band musically?
Shana: I think for the next record, we’re just totally going to change the vibe completely and become some kind of twee, mumblecore kind of thing. [laughs]
So you guys are trying to soundtrack Michael Cera movies, now?
[laughs] Shana: Michael Cera movies, like, fifty years from now.
That would be, like, adult-contemporary twee by then.
[The band members all laugh.]
Shana: We have about a third of the next record written already, and it’s pretty similar stylistically to this album. So, basically, it’s stuff you can groove to, stuff you can cry to with your buddies --
And stuff you can dance AND cry to!
Shana: At the same time!
It's Alive is out October 15 on Hardly Art.