Shana Cleveland on the background to the psych poppers’ fourth album, how living remotely has influenced her writing, being challenged in the studio, and their live plans
Since arriving on the scene with their debut album It’s Alive back in 2013, West Coast surf-guitar-psych-pop outfit La Luz have quietly established something of a niche spot for themselves on the musical landscape, incorporating various musical strands to form an alluring and compellingly melodic proposition.
Their self-titled fourth album sees them at their most assured, striking a balance between all of the beguiling elements that contribute to their sound. It was recorded in Los Angeles, and for this release the trio of vocalist, guitarist and bandleader Shana Cleveland, keyboardist Alice Sandal and bassist Lena Simon worked with producer/composer Adrian Younge. The results may have more in the way of subtly psychedelic touches than before but it also boasts plenty of evidence to prove that their pop heart is still beating as strong as ever. A sense of escapism has always permeated their music, helping relocate the listener to more exotic and faraway environments and it’s again very much the case here. At times it feels akin to getting lost amid a series of soft, languid musical daydreams and it should further consolidate their growing reputation.
When did the album start to take shape?
“We started working on the songs together in December 2019. I had been demoing them in the fall of 2019 and because of covid it has been a long process. We did about half of the songs then but it was quite a while before we were able to get together to flesh out the rest of them.”
How did you manage the recording of the songs during the pandemic? Was that a challenge?
“Recording them was ok, the hardest part was working out the songs. We were trying to do that remotely which was really difficult. We were trying these different apps that were supposed to allow you to play together in time with each other but none of them worked so we kind of gave up on that but not before wasting a lot of time trying it out. Eventually, we just started emailing demos back and forth. It was a slow, arduous process. Recording at the studio was easy, we just all got tested a couple of times and got an airbnb and made a pod for ourselves and producer Adrian Younge. It was great, it was refreshing after spending so much time trying to work together digitally.”
I read how the album was partly inspired by the ‘mysteries of the natural world’. Does that relate to where you are staying at the moment? How did that come into your music?
“I live very rurally right now in California, down a dirt road, in a small town. It’s very isolated, I can’t see other houses from my house so that’s a really new experience for me. I’ve always lived in cities for my whole adult life until now but I’ve always come out to nature to write and try to find some sort of getaway even if it was just some little corner of a yard or a park or beach to write. I feel like it’s easier to get to a state where I’m less distracted. Moving out here I decided to lean into that impulse and just sit outside and listen to nature, just spend a while looking at a leaf or a cloud. This stuff sounds kind of cheesy but I noticed the longer I gave something my full attention the stranger it seemed. Instead of becoming more familiar with something I felt I was becoming less familiar with things I was seeing everyday which was exciting for me.”
When I was listening to the new album I thought it maybe sounded more dreamy and more mellow than your last album Floating Features. How do you think it differs?
“I have not listened to Floating Features in a while and I like to stay away from our old records but I feel like I was in a different headspace then. When I was in Los Angeles I was excited by living there and I feel like Floating Features was my ode to the city. Being out here now, it’s a radically different environment. It’s hard for me to say exactly how that expressed itself sonically but it’s definitely something I pick up on when I listen to it.”
You worked with producer/composer Adrian Younge on this album. What did he bring?
“He brought so much to it. It really felt like he was part of the band when we were working on this record. He was challenging us to give our best performances in a way that was new. You’d think producers would always do that but I think that for the most part what I’ve experienced from producers is that they let you do your thing but later they’ll come in and maybe when you’re in the overdubs part of recording they’ll make suggestions but from the start Adrian was listening really intently, more than we were used to. If you played a guitar solo that was pretty cool but not awesome he would catch that. I’d be like “I hit the notes, let’s keep it!” but he would be like “do that with more feeling, play that wilder” and so on and I really appreciated that.”
He’s done quite a bit of film scoring in the past and the two instrumentals on the album definitely have a cinematic feel. Was there any influence from him on those?
“Yeah, definitely. I was sceptical of adding the melodica to (the first instrumental track) Yuba Rot but it comes across as very cinematic, with a spaghetti western feel.”
Tracks like Metal Man and Watching Cartoons have this great mix of psychedelia and pop. Is having that melodic pop element to the music of La Luz important to you?
“I want all of our albums that we make to feel like you are going on a journey as opposed to a stroll. I don’t feel like a collection of songs is complete unless it has an array of sounds and a certain amount of variety.”
You previously said that Sun Ra was an influence on your last solo album. Were there any musical influences on this album?
“I do think that on this album we have become a little more self-referential than drawing from outside influences. With the first two albums I had an idea of what La Luz should sound like – a little bit of this style, a little bit of that style, but now there is not as much thought put into that. These days it’s just a case of doing our thing and seeing what comes out.”
I saw that (original drummer) Marian Li Pino isn’t featuring in the videos/press shots this time. Has she left the band? Who played drums on the album?
“Yeah, she quit a while back, before covid. We had this guy called Riley Gear play drums on the album, a friend of our bassist Lena Simon. He’s a really great drummer. For our live shows we’ve been talking to a girl called Audrey. She was meant to play with us a year and a half ago. We thought she would be a good fit for the band. Hopefully it’ll go well.”
The videos you’ve released for the first few singles are really fun, cool videos. How did they come about?
“The director of the Watching Cartoons video was Nathan Castiel. I feel like we moved into another echelon with that video. He built the set, made all the props, there was so much attention to detail with that video. That was our manager Chris’ idea. We thought it sounded great but also impossible but Nathan somehow made it happen. I feel like we were just along for the ride on that one. For The Pines karaoke style video, that came out of my trying to think of ideas that we could shoot without being together.”
Who are some of your favourite artists? Are there any that have been important to you over your musical career?
“I think Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations and the other Bach recordings he did are probably the things I’ve listened to most in my life. I don’t know how it enters into my music but I’m sure it does because it’s drilled into my memory. A lot of Stevie Wonder also, especially in the last five years. Other than that, it’s always changing. Obviously a lot of guitar stuff also, Link Wray is one of my favourite surf guys.”
You became a mum just before the album was recorded. Has that had any effect on your role as an artist?
“It’s definitely in there. My son shows up in so many of these songs but it’s never literal. As an experience it’s given me such a deeper understanding of love. I’m sure it’ll be in everything I make from now on.”
Finally, how does it feel to start playing live again? I saw you in London a few years back and it was such a fun show.
“There’ll be a lot of things we usually do that we won’t be able to do now, like crowdsurfing, but we want the shows to still feel different and special and to have that element of connection. I can’t wait to play shows, it’s been so long it’s very unnerving. Even just being at a show kind of feels terrifying right now. Our first La Luz show will be my first show since the pandemic, I haven’t been to any others. Everyone I’ve spoken to in the UK seems to have been back at shows and it sounds like you guys are doing a good job out there.”
La Luz’s self-titled album is out on 22 October 2021 through Hardly Art. Tour dates and further information can be found at luzer.online