An Interview With Surf Noir Quartet La Luz's Frontwoman Shana Cleveland

It seems like something dark and catastrophic always happens right before surf-noir quartet La Luz records an album. Before the first album, it was a mass shooting in Seattle. Before the second album, it was a catastrophic car accident on a highway whilst the band was on tour. All of this misfortune, perhaps melded with the dark overcastness of the Pacific Northwest, gives the band a murderous and deliciously baleful sound. Just take the track Oranges off their newly released album entitled Weirdo Shrine, which was produced by the lo-fi, garage funk master, Ty Segall, in a surf shop in San Dimas. The song, which was inspired by a deeply haunting poem by the suicided beat poet Richard Brautigan, starts off with a fuzzy guitar riff that sends a dagger through your spleen and then, as the blood seeps out, becomes an instrumental ballad that is the perfect soundtrack for a homicide in the coolest spy film you’ve never seen. All in all, though, the entire record reminds you of some of the greatest from Spector, but remains contemporary in its beauty – the band’s harmonies and lead vocalist Shana Cleveland’s voice is near angelic. Autre got a chance to ask Shana a few questions about the band, the accident, and their collaboration with Ty Segall.   

Oliver Kupper: How would you describe the sound of La Luz? A lot of press releases have described it as surf noir. Is this accurate?

Shana Cleveland: I like the surf noir description. It’s a description that a friend who used to work at Hardly Art came up with. When a lot of people hear the term “surf rock,” they think of the Beach Boys—something light, or party music. It seems nicely clarifying to add “noir.” It hints at the fact that there’s something darker at play than simply cars and girls. I don’t know how to describe it—that’s the best description.

OK: Did you naturally arrive at the sound?

SC: It’s just what came out. When we started the band, the idea was to have a lot of vocal harmonies. I wanted to see more rock bands that had soul-influenced vocal harmonies. We also wanted to incorporate the surf-guitar sound. That was intentional. The “noir” part is just what came when writing the music.

OK: Did you grow up in Seattle? It seems like a far stretch from the world of those classic surf-guitar riffs.

SC: I actually grew up in Michigan, which is even farther away from any sort of coast. I started listening to surf rock when I moved to Seattle. I saw this band that could more aptly be described as “surf noir.” They were a super dark, experimental, instrumental surf band. They were playing at a house party, and everyone was dancing. It was one of the first times I had ever been to a show where people were having so much fun. It made a big impression on me. I started listening to more surf rock. I learned to play songs by The Ventures.

OK: What’s unique about Seattle is that you can do that—go into an abandoned building or someone’s grandma’s house and play music. Have you noticed that?

SC: Those places are always appearing and disappearing. I’ve lived in Seattle for ten years now. I don’t think any of the same DIY spots that were open when I moved here are still around. But there are always new ones cropping up. Where I live, in the University district, there’s a lot of that. There are so many kids; there are so many new bands. It’s inevitable that people are going to find crazy new places to have shows.

OK: Did you grow up in a musical environment? Did you know that you wanted to play music?

SC: Yeah. My parents are both musicians, and all of their friends are musicians. Plus, I’m an only child. I was always surrounded by musicians and hanging out at shows. At the time, I found it super boring. But when I was old enough, I gravitated towards it.

"If the accident made any influence on the feeling of the album, it was from how close we’ve become as a band."

OK: The accident seemed to have a major shift in the band, especially in the sound. Can you talk about how that changed the direction of the band?

SC: It’s hard for me to see. It’s definitely in there, but not obviously or literally. There is a heavy mood that is hovering over things. But I also think that in the first album there is a lot of that as well, so it’s hard for me to tell how much the accident had direct influence. I was dealing with some pretty heavy stuff when the first record came out. There was a mass shooting in Seattle, in a place where a lot of my friends hung out. Ultimately, it’s hard to say. If we made another album, and we had a great year leading up to it, we would still probably come up with something dark. If anything, it made us closer. In the last year, we’ve spent so much time together. We’ve been touring constantly. We recorded Weirdo Shrine at Ty Segall’s house in LA, and we left immediately from there on another month-long tour. If the accident made any influence on the feeling of the album, it was from how close we’ve become as a band.

OK: You recorded at a surf shop in San Dimas?

SC: Yeah. That was a happy accident. We were supposed to be recording at Ty’s new studio, but we couldn’t. At the last minute, we had to find a new place. His friend, Tyler, owns a surfboard company called Year One Boards. He offered his space, and a bunch of people from Ty’s band came to help move all this big, analog equipment into the surf shop. It was actually a great place to record. It was a big room with a lot of possibilities for mic placement and manipulation of the sound.

OK: There is a serious rawness to the album.

SC: Yeah, that’s definitely Ty’s influence. His idea was to make it feel alive, to capture the energy of live shows.

OK: How did you meet Ty Segall? 

SC: We opened for him in Portland. We really wanted to play with him. Afterwards, he approached us with a lot of excitement for the band. Even after that show, he said, “Yeah, let’s go on tour together.” I was like “Yeah, sure, buddy.” About a year after that, sure enough, we went on tour with him. In the meantime, I wrote to him and asked if he had any suggestions of whom we should record with. I really liked the way all of his recordings sound. And he said, “You should just record with me.” It worked out really well. On the tour, he got to hear a lot of the songs we had been working on. He was really familiar with them by the time we got to the studio.

OK: So, what’s next for La Luz?

SC: There’s a big change coming, but we haven’t talked about it publicly yet. We have a lot of stuff in mind. For the next month and a half or so, we’ll be on tour in Europe. I’m going to stay and travel around with Shannon and the Clams doing merch. I’m hoping to find some time to write more music. We’re working all the time. I’d like to get the next album out as soon as possible, but I have to start writing it first.

You purchase/download La Luz's new album Weirdo Shrine here. Keep up to date with current shows here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @autremagazine

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