In 2016, La Luz left Seattle—the city they’d started in and where their label, Hardly Art, resides—and took their dreamy psychedelic surf rock to LA. Last week they released their first album since leaving, Floating Features, and on May 17 and 18, they’ll play back to back shows at the Crocodile and Project Vera.
I talked to singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland about the move and the new album.
How do you think the LA move affected this album? Especially since you’re a surf band with a streak of weirdness, which seems very LA.
I think that the strangeness of being in a new city accounts for a lot of that and L.A.'s such a strange city. I think I could live there for decades and still find it fascinating. Part of that is the entertainment industry. There’s one street I walk down every day, and one morning all of the store fronts had been turned into 1950s store fronts and all of the cars parked down the street were 1950s car. Everybody was wearing clothes from that era. They were just filming, but it's pretty wild if you're not used to that.
How do you think that affected this album compared to your others?
I feel that I can hear the heat in the album. It also sort of feels like LA, which looks very hazy. A lot of that is because of the smog and the big views that you can get at every turn because it's such a hilly city. I don't know how to explain how that ended up in the album, but I think it seeped in from being in that environment. This overriding theme of dreams started to present itself and I followed, and obviously California dreams are a cliche at this point but it made a lot of sense when I was there. In ways that aren't just good. It’s surreal and it's creepy.
There seems to be a lot of bad dream imagery mixed in with the nice dream stuff. Like you have “California Finally” but then that goes right into “The Creature” which is a sort of nightmare.
Yeah, and even “California Finally” is lyrically very rosy and positive but the music gets darker and darker. That wasn't exactly something any of us planned. When I listen to that song now, it's really interesting to me to hear the vocals, which I think are so beautiful. But then it just goes down this sort of tunnel, so even though it's a song about being free and doing whatever I want and sunshine, it actually feels like you're left in a dark place.
There's this very ominous cast over the whole album still. What inspired all the dream imagery?
Maybe it started with “The Creature.” I had this dream about this creature walking out of the wall and sort of possessing me. I was like, man that's a good song, I should write that one day. Then when I finally did they just all started tumbling out for us. I think that it's creatively a really exciting time when you move to a new place, so it makes sense that would sort of make your dreams more wild and interesting. You're forced out of your normal ways of thinking. Like you don't even know where to buy groceries.
You worked with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys on this one? How did that compared to working with Ty Segall on Weirdo Shrine?
Ty was just finishing up his studio at the time so he made this makeshift studio in a thrift shop. It was pretty sick, it was all analog. Dan's studio was a treat just to be able to walk in and use all of this amazing gear that we would never normally have access to. Like Alice [La Luz keyboardist] this got to use a Hammond B3 organ and all these cool synths. It was like we were a professional band from the 60s.
I'd guess just based on his albums that Auerbach would be a bit more structured in how he approaches recording?
Yeah, Ty would take long breaks to like jam on a Doors song. And we'd all just be hanging out and like, “I wonder when he's going to stop doing that?” (laughs)
With Dan we worked with his engineer too. We had this huge studio and we got to play around. It was more efficient in a way just because everything was all laid out and ready.
Was there any intention in playing two smaller shows instead of one bigger show or was it just that you wanted to play both a 21+ show and the Vera Project?
I think we still would have chosen to do it this way. So much of our performance depends on the energy that we get back from the crowd. We were trying to do that in a lot of the bigger cities on the tour, we're doing the same thing in New York and then Chicago and we just did that in San Francisco.
You’ve you played a few Seattle shows since you left. Has audience reaction been different since you left? I feel like the idea of homecoming has certain emotions attached, nostalgia, excitement.
It really feels the same. I mean, I guess I wouldn't complain if people were even more excited. But I think since we started playing in Seattle people always seemed excited and I think it must just be growing [in popularity] at a gradual rate. Seattle’s always been one of our favorite places to play and to live.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Come early and see the opening bands because Ancient Forest are amazing. They're one of my favorite bands and they don't play very many shows so it's really a treat to see them. And Savila, from Portland, are also amazing. So it's kind of a dream bill for us.
May 17, The Crocodile, $20
May 18, The Vera Project, $20