Love, Death and Los Angeles: La Luz Flies Its Surf Rock South

Shana Cleveland doesn’t want to tell you her life story.

As the frontwoman and primary lyricist of surf-rock foursome La Luz, she’s out to tap into something much simpler, more poignant, and thoroughly universal. So while she’s certainly drawing on personal experience, writing phrases a wide range of people can relate to always trumps divulging the nitty-gritty details of her life.

“I really appreciate lyrics that are deceptively simple and really easy to understand immediately,” she says.

Luckily, when it came time to write the lyrics for 2015’s Weirdo Shrine, she was already thinking about specific incidents that boiled down to two fairly universal topics: love and death.

[jump] “The experience was such a weird, specific thing that no one else could ever understand, but it’s these two things that everyone can relate to,” she says. “Everyone has some kind of fear of death. Everyone has weird personal struggles with trying to get love or trying to understand love. These concepts are so universal, but when it’s you, it feels completely unique.” The band formed in Seattle in 2012, though from its onset, its music never quite fit its home city’s mold. All four members had played in other bands across the Pacific Northwest scene; together, as La Luz, they burst forth with Ventures-inspired surf-rock, all jangling guitars and prismatic melodies inspired by waves crashing on beaches well south of the Puget Sound. Grunge never was a touchstone for the band’s music, though Cleveland admits that she was “into that for a while” as a teenager. The Riot Grrrl movement didn't inspire the band's music or its personal manifesto as women musicians, either. On top of it all, neither the climate nor the culture of the city made an impact on Cleveland’s lyrics or the band’s sound. For being a Seattle band, they were about as un-Seattle as possible.

So why did they stay for four years? For the reason every band wants to move there: the scene itself.

“With that many musicians that are that driven and creative, you just get inspired by your peers,” she says. They established themselves as scene stalwarts, even as the genre they’d chosen made them outliers within it. Still, when the opportunity to move to Los Angeles arrived three months ago, the band took it.

They were no strangers to the City of Angels. Bassist Lena Simon grew up there, and the entire band logged significant Southern California hours playing shows across Los Angeles and Orange County. They recorded, mixed, and mastered Weirdo Shrine in an old surfboard factory in L.A., using a makeshift studio built by Ty Segall. While they can finally lay claim to the term “L.A. band,” Cleveland admits she hasn’t learned her new city yet thanks to being on tour for two of the past three months. Still, she’s a fan. “I’ve really been enjoying it,” she says. “It’s a weird monster.”

And they’re excited to return, thanks in part to the myriad of unplanned madness their ongoing American tour has wrought. The band chose to tour in the summer to avoid hazardous weather, then promptly encountered a dust storm along the Arizona-New Mexico border, a hail storm in Louisiana, and a blizzard in Montana that sent cars skidding off the freeway. One chord into their sold-out show at The Subterranean in Chicago, someone pulled the fire alarm. “These sirens start going off, these lights are flashing, and everyone is just standing there,” laughs Cleveland. “You’d think when you start hearing those sirens that everyone would start running. But the timing was so strange that everyone just stood there.”
They’re equally eager to return to L.A. so they can concentrate on new music. As much as they love Weirdo Shrine, their second album is starting to feel as though it has run its course. “I feel really happy with it, but I am kind of tired of playing a couple songs,” admits Cleveland.

Though the band managed to sidestepped the sophomore slump with Weirdo Shrine, they’re eager to keep the momentum going. For Cleveland, moving forward is as vital to the band’s career as it is to her own mental health.

“Music is my way to relate to and understand the rest of the world,” she says. “We are always just trying to figure out new ways to connect.” 

La Luz plays with Babewatch and Smokin' Ziggurats at 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 29, at Brick and Mortar. More info here

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