Following an electrifying instrumental, you hear these words: “in air so hot and sweet we heard it in the breeze / metallic shimmering of invisible things.” Images like this one build a captivating sensation on La Luz’s latest record, Floating Features. The four-piece’s music has often been described as eerie, as there seems to be more hiding underneath the 60’s upbeat twang of the guitars and the stacked harmonies. At the end of their epic 6-week tour supporting Floating Features, I chatted with lead singer Shana Cleveland about the band’s influences, the images that inspired the record, and being on the road.
When the band got together, was there a band or an artist or a musical experience you all initially bonded over?
Shana Cleveland: It was kind of funny in the beginning because I had this idea of what I thought the band could be and I was trying to get everybody on my page. I think everyone had very different taste in music and still does, but in the five years of playing together, we’ve kind of figured out who we are as a band. In the beginning, I had these initial influences and ideas of what it should sound like.
Who were some of those influences?
I was listening to a lot of Indonesian music from the 60’s. I started with this tape I had heard. There’s this great record store in Portland called Mississippi Records and they put out a lot of compilation tapes. At the time, that was kind of the only thing I was listening to. It was like a lot of early soul and R&B and rock n’ roll. It was bands that had this really distinctive sound where there was a twangy guitar and really thick vocal harmonies. A lot of the songs sounded kind of melancholy so it really had hints of American rock n’ roll I think. Maybe they were drawing from those influences, but it sounded really different from anything I had heard before. I was pretty obsessed with that and trying to translate that into something that could happen now with more of a garage sound.
Working with Ty was really cool because the timing worked out really well. We met him when we opened for him on his tour he was doing for his album Sleeper in Portland. He was like: we should do a tour together sometime! And then that actually happened and we did a tour together when Manipulator came out. Before we recorded Weirdo Shrine, we had been touring with him and his band so he got to hear us trying out the songs we were hoping to record every night. When we got back and we went into the studio, it was the most natural thing.
Right, because he had been hearing them so much on the tour.
Yeah, and we had sort of been working them out every night with him there. So it was just like he was there during the process of writing and working on the songs. It just felt really natural and easy when we went to record.
Totally. Now moving into the new material, I can’t help but hear all this visual imagery in the lyrics. I feel like even when I’m listening to the instrumentals I can see it too. I was wondering, since you moved to LA, are there places here that inspired the latest record?
Yeah. It’s hard to think of specific places. I’ve definitely spent a lot of time in some of the bigger parks that you can just get lost in and also places where you climb up a big hill and you have this expansive view of the city. I think that those types of places where you can be all alone but also in the middle of this huge metropolis are really inspiring to me. That feeling of being this tiny person in this huge landscape. That’s the coolest thing about LA: that you can have this sense of solitude but also be in a major city. Ernest Debs Park was really close to my house and I would go there a lot. You climb up this huge hill and you can see a lot of the east side of LA. Also, Malibu Creek State Park. It’s a lot of parks and some of the beaches north of Zuma, like El Pescador.
You perfectly describe that feeling. When I take my dog hiking on Griffith, you do the whole hike and you get to the top and it’s just that feeling of, “I’m so miniature in this whole landscape.”
Yeah! And not only are you miniature but the city is miniature. When you’re down on the street it can feel so overwhelming but when you get this view of everything you’re like: I can handle this. It’s all visible for me. It’s such a cool feeling.
Well, that’s a lot about home. On the tour, did you have a favorite spot recently or a favorite venue you played?
I think one of my favorite shows was in Montreal, which was totally a surprise because we had played Montreal a few times before. It’s always been ok, but never a highlight of the tour. But this show was in a really tiny venue, jam-packed, way too hot and sweaty. Everybody was just sort of losing it. We were losing it and the audience was losing it. That was probably my favorite. We also got to walk around Montreal a little bit and see the town, which is so rare. I feel like usually, we get to the show and we do the show and we’re sort of sitting in a dark room all night. Then we get in the car the next morning and drive away. So it was cool to just see a little bit of the city and have this amazing, ecstatic experience with a room full of people.
When you’re on tour, of course, you spend all your time with the band. What do you think is the best part about being in an all-women band?
I think one of the cool things is that there is no guy around for people to give credit to. People have to assume that we know what we are doing on some level. I think that even when there is one guy in the band, sometimes people that work at venues tend to assume that the guy is the one that’s in charge. That’s the cool thing about being in a band that’s all women. You have to recognize that we know what we’re doing, as ridiculous as that sounds. Being in a band is just hard no matter what. I feel lucky that somehow our four personalities seem to work really well together and we all still enjoy being trapped in a van together.
That’s a good thing! So your record came out in May. What’s next for the band?
Well, we’re gonna take some time off and then in September, we’re going to Europe for another big tour. We’re going to go to a bunch of places that we’ve never been out there. We’re going to Istanbul and Poland, which we’ve never been to, so that’s really exciting. And then we’re going to try to do some more West Coast dates in the fall when we get back from that.
Awesome. To end with: What is your advice for aspiring female musicians?
The most fulfilling thing for me has just been to practice a lot. I feel like I played a lot before I started practicing. I played in bands for years before I said to myself: I’m going to really figure out what it is that I am drawn to in the guitar. Not just playing other people’s songs or what other people have taught me, but really sit down and practice and play until I figure out what my own style is. That has been the most rewarding thing to me.
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