La Luz's brand of rugged, sweet-tinged surfpop finds its roots in groups of the 60s and 70s who crystallized the genre, but the band's geography is a little greyer and wetter. As a Seattle band often described as “sunny,” “eerie,” and full up on “surf vibes,” La Luz is proving that no matter where you are, you can always ride that chill gnar. Recently, the foursome of Shana Cleveland, Marian Li Pino, Alice Sandahl, and Abbey Blackwell got together with me over Google Hangout after band practice and they told me all about Seattle, their debut album, It's Alive, and how to really drink wine.
Alice: Marian is starting a fire.
Shana: She’s starting a fire in my house.
You guys are at band practice right now?
Shana: Uh, sort of.
Is it a house? You can practice at your house and there are no noise complaints?
Shana: No, there are actually lots of noise complaints. [Laughs] We just do it anyway. We try to stop by like, nine, but sometimes there are noise complaints anyway.
That’s an early band practice, though.
Shana: I know! It’s totally early! That’s what I keep trying to tell the neighbors.
Do they not understand? Shouldn’t it be until 11 o’clock at night?
Shana: Legally, we can play until 10 but I just got kind of a complainer.
What do your band practices look like? Do you go through the songs straight through super professionally? Do you drink? Do you eat snacks? Do you gossip?
Shana: We love to gossip. We come up with a lot of really great, really horrible ideas that we never follow through with.
Alice: Like music video ideas.
Shana: We come up with a lot of new dance moves. It’s kind of all over the place. We’re not professional about it at all.
You’re making food now, right? Do you eat snacks while you’re practicing?
Shana: That’s the one thing we don’t usually do. That’s a really good idea, though.
Are you allowed to drink during band practice?
Shana: I think we’re allowed to do whatever we want. We usually don’t drink, though.
How about during shows?
[Enthusiastic nodding from the whole group]
Marian: Oh yeah.
I’m sure you guys get this a lot, but Seattle doesn’t seem like a super surfy town, but your record definitely has that vibe. Do you guys surf?
Alice: I had one surf lesson when I was in LA.
Shana: We can’t really surf here, but there’s a lot of water. I feel like surf music is probably partially about the sound of the waves, maybe? And also we have a lot of marijuana here.
Do you take issue with the category of being a surf band?
Shana: I think the surf music influence is pretty undeniable, and we’re a West Coast band so it makes sense. We’re pretty close to California. I’ve been influenced by a lot of California bands.
Do you think that you’d ever leave Seattle to go to a surfier, sunnier place?
Shana: I like Los Angeles a lot. I think we’re in Seattle for a while, at least. I don’t know, I would probably move to Los Angeles if I could convince these guys to do it. Or San Francisco is great.
What’s the scene like there?
Shana: I think it’s really encouraging. It’s definitely been really encouraging to us, at least. And there are lots of awesome bands around to play with—there is an endless supply, so that’s really cool for us to be a part of.
Can you name some for me?
Shana: Pony Time, Taco Cat, Rose Windows, Heatwarmer, Lonesome Shack, Chastity Belt, Dude York. There’s this Christmas surf band called Dancer and Prancer that’s really great.
Alice: There’s Intelligence, too.
Shana: Yeah, there’s a lot of them.
Are there house shows?
Shana: There are definitely a lot of places like that, but there is also a crapload of venues. There are just a whole lot of places, from illegal house show type places to venues to kind of art gallery slash warehouse spaces.
Are you excited to be going on tour? I know you’ll be going out on tour with Of Montreal.
Marian: It’s really exciting!
Were you fans of Of Montreal before?
Shana: Oh yeah, definitely. We’ve never seen them play though, so we’re stoked.
Is this the first big big tour that you will be going on?
Shana: We went to the East Coast.
Marian: Like, three weeks ago.
Shana: It wasn’t three weeks ago, but it definitely felt like it was three weeks ago.
Did you have a van that you drove across the US?
Shana: We bought a van and right before the last show of tour, it broke down. It was really sad. It exploded in a cloud of smoke.
Did you get a new van?
Shana: We tried to get it fixed but they said it was going to take like a week or something and we were in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming. Smalltown, Wyoming. The thought of missing the rest of our shows that we had planned for the next few weeks while living in Wyoming, was well, not ideal.
Marian: We were supposed to be home in like two days anyway.
Shana: They said also that it’d cost like thousands of dollars to fix or something. We just left it on the side of the road.
Alice: Yeah! We abandoned it.
Did you put one of those white towels up to prove it was abandoned or whatever?
[The group then holds up a phone with an image of the destitute broken-down van on the side of the road.]
Let’s see if I can see it. Ohhhh, yeah. That looks bad.
Shana: There it is.
Alice: We didn’t know what to do! We called the towing company and told them they could have it.
What did you do after that?
Shana: We had to rent a van to get home, and this is actually kind of funny story. We had to rent a van and the only van we could get was this premium kind of minivan that looked really fancy. Then we played in Boise and Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips were there for some reason. And Wayne Coyne was like, “This is a sellout band” because of our fancy-looking van.
So Wayne Coyne called you guys sellouts, basically.
Shana: Yes! It was hilarious.
Did you have a favorite city on your first tour?
Shana: Fullerton, CA, where Burger Records is. Fort Worth and Austin, Texas.
Would you consider abandoning Seattle for any of those places?
Shana: Austin? Maybe Austin.
What’s the beach situation like in Seattle? Any places you can catch some rays?
Alice: They are real cold.
I know there are islands and stuff off of Seattle that people go to—can you go there at least? Or is it still too cold?
Marian: Nope, still cold. [Laughter]
What’s the fun in that?
Shana: Some of them are maybe a little warm?
Marian: And you can go on the lake, too.
Do you fish and stuff there? Is La Luz a fishing band?
Shana: La Luz the band does not fish.
There are certain words that a lot of writers attach to your band. Surfy is definitely one of them, and another is haunted or, maybe ghostly, that the music has sort of an eerie vibe to it. [In that regard], do you have favorite Halloween memories?
Abbey: I had a dream recently that we were trick or treating in the snow. It was Christmastime, but I have no idea why we were trick-or-treating.
[The band confers over something in the background] Shana: Sidebar: we are drinking some really good boxed wine.
Marian: You should bring it over. Show her.
Show me the boxed wine!
Shana: Put it in my mouth.
Abbey: Naked Grape!
Can boxed wine actually be good though?
Alice: It’s not bad, it’s definitely not bad.
Marian: There are four bottles within this one box.
That looks like quite a slim box to fit four bottles.
Abbey: I was quite shocked myself.
Back to childhood Halloween.
Alice: Halloween is my favorite holiday.
Marian: I straight up hate Halloween.
Shana: Wait, really?
Marian: I had a bad experience!
Shana: What was your bad experience?
Marian: I was in college and I was already kind of not vibing on Halloween anymore for some reason way before that. There was this big party at someone’s house and my friend showed up really drunk and she was picking through a bowl of candy and she was eating this candy I’d never seen before and she was like, [muffled] “It’s a Charleston Chew,” but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. And I’m like “What?” She starts digging through the bowl and I somehow knew that she was going to put it into my mouth without me wanting it. And I was like “No, I don’t want to try that” and she had this look in her eyes, so I ran away and she chased me up the stairs and I had gum in my mouth and she tackled me and held me down and put a Charleston Chew in my mouth and I was like I don’t want that. And she held me down and was like “Chew on the Charleston Chew!!!” and I was like “Stop, stop, stop!” And my friend downstairs called up, “What’s going on up there?” and I was like “Save me, save me!” and instead of saving me, she tackled on top of me and so it was this huge dogpile and I couldn’t breathe and I had this thing in my mouth and she dug her fingers in my mouth and dug out my gum and the Charleston Chew.
She dug it out of your mouth??
Marian: Yep. It was awful. I hate Halloween.
I understand why you would hate Halloween from that experience. Did you guys have good costumes as a kid? Did your parents make them?
Alice: My mom did. My mom made a harem girl one year. [Laughs]
Not P.C. at all.
Alice: I think I was probably around seven, too, which is even better. She made me a Star Trek character, too, one year. Which maybe cancels out the awful harem girl.
I think your next press photo should be you guys in Halloween costumes surfing away. So your first record is coming out soon. Are you nervous? Are you excited?
Alice: I’m excited.
Marian: We’ve kind of been sitting on it for a while, too. I am excited for people to just finally see it and hear it.
Shana: I’m just stoked!
Have you shared it with friends?
Alice: I’ve only shown it to a couple of people, I’ve been trying to keep it kind of under wraps. I feel really proud of this record over any record that I’ve been a part of so far.
Abbey: [In the background] I agree!
Alice: Abbey is the ghostly voice, the mystery in the background.
The boxed wine! It appears out of nowhere.
[Some alcohol-filled laughter rings out as all four of them attempt to squish into the same screen for me to see them all at once]
You’ll be playing from this record for the tour with Of Montreal. Are you doing the same thing? Like you’re driving a van across country for this? Is it going to be a different experience this time around?
Shana: We’ll definitely be playing at bigger venues. I think that it’ll be interesting because we’ll be playing for mostly fans of theirs, I would assume. As opposed to on our last tour, most of the audience was made of people who were specifically there to see us. It’ll be cool. We’ll have to win people over but I think we’re pretty good at that.
I was going to ask you guys about that, actually. I heard that you guys like to dance. Is that how you plan to win people over on this tour?
Shana: We are really into dancing. I feel like dancing makes people happier, so we just try to encourage that as much as possible. It’s always a fine line because you don’t want to be the band that’s like, “Come on! Loosen up, come on!” It’s always kind of a game. A tightrope that you walk to loosen up the crowd in a fun way and not in an aggro, weird way.
Are there cities that had better dancers on your previous tour than others?
Shana: Yes, for sure. Where do you guys think?
Marian: Fullerton. Or maybe they were just super stoked to see us, doesn’t mean they were better.
Abbey: Sometimes we have great dancers in Portland and sometimes we have really bad dancers in Portland.
Shana: Yes, Portland is hit or miss. They are either the best or the worst.
Marian: I think what it was is that we were playing a festival show the last show we played in Portland and maybe a lot of people there weren’t explicitly there to see us. The other shows were more just by themselves and people were dancing then.
I think it’s hard to get people to dance when there is a little bit of a stage. It’s like people don’t want to get into it because there’s a distance.
Marian: It’s what we’re worried about a little bit with Of Montreal, since we’re gonna be on much bigger stages most of the time. It changes how we interact with people.
What do you think the best dance move is?
[Unanimously, without even a beat]: The worm!
Shana: it’s the best.
Can you guys all do the worm?
Abbey: So many people can and it’s so awesome that they can, but we can’t.
But you have to learn now! If you’re gonna call people out about the worm, you have to know how to do the worm yourselves.
Shana: We just thought it’d be cool to encourage people to do the worm, and then one day, someone actually did it and it was awesome. I think maybe the first time it happened was Omaha and it was an awesome worm. She was wearing a really short skirt and she was doing a really big worm.
In a short skirt? That’s amazing.
Shana: And then when we played in Boise, this guy came on stage with us and did the worm. He almost knocked my microphone stand over.
Marian: The worm takes up a lot of room, so that part was complicated.
Is there a part of your set where you’re like “Now is the time where we ask you to do the worm?”
Alice: It’s actually pretty recurring throughout the whole set.
Shana: In the instrumental songs.
I think you need to learn it as a band in order to move forward.
Marian: But it’s not like I could do the worm on stage while I’m playing the drums, though!
I guess that’s true.
Alice: I do see what you’re saying though. If we’re asking other people to do it, we need to step up and be able to do it ourselves.
Abbey: I’m going to start learning how to do the worm the minute this interview is over.
Since La Luz means the light, do you guys have a favorite kind of light?
Shana: My favorite kind of light is at the golden hour right before the sun goes down and it’s all orangey and romantic. Or if you’re in the forest and there’s just a little shaft of light and you can see little things wafting through.
Marian: That’s me, too. I agree. The sunset hour.
Oh yeah, the magic hour.
Alice: My first thought—and this might be a copout—but it’s lightning actually. I like that flash. I really like storms. I’m from the Midwest and I miss that kind of rainy season of thunder and lightning and storms. That’s my answer.
Abbey: I like dappled shade.
[Pause, everyone explodes into laughter]
Marion: How long did it take you to think of that?
Abbey: [shrugs] I just love dappled shade!
La Luz's It's Alive is out now on Hardly Art.