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La Luz interview with Alice Sandahl Abbey Blackwell Marian Li-Pino Shana Cleveland

© Jessica Lopez

Every time I put on La Luz I feel like I should be watching some lost Tarantino classic, and I mean that in the best possible sense.  While so many aspects of the band feel at once familiar to the listener, there’s is an intriguing and unique take on the 60’s Motown doo-wop sound deftly teamed with some serious surf and garage rock influence.  Keyboards and reverb soaked guitar jangle and meld into the melodic and haunting vocal-harmonies, twisting and spiraling into a slow surfy dirge threatening to consume the listener completely as they drift off into the calm cosmic ether of sound.  Their Damp Face EP has been kicking around for almost a year now, originally self-released in an edition of a hundred cassettes, and managed to turn enough heads that Burger records reissued the EP with an extended 250 cassette run.  The recently released Call Me in the Day 7” comprised of two tracks from the Damp Face EP has served to further impress audiences, critics and labels alike and La Luz is currently planning a massive U.S. tour for summer later this year.  I was one of the lucky few who managed to pick up a copy of the original pressing of the cassette and have been chomping at the bit to see if the band had any plans to release a full-length or follow-up ever since.  Now having heard rumblings about and an upcoming release on Suicide Squeeze Records I finally had my excuse to track them down!

What’s the bands lineup?  Is this your original lineup?

Shana:  Alice Sandahl – keyboards, Abbey Blackwell – bass, Marian Li-Pino – drums, Shana Cleveland – guitar.  The original line-up had a different keyboard player, Katie Jacobson, she played on our Damp Face EP.

Are any of you in any other bands?  Have you released any material with any other bands?

Shana:  I have another back called Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles, which doesn’t play very often, but it’s an outlet for me to perform quieter music than La Luz.  We have one self-released album called Oh Man, Cover the Ground.  My old band the Curious Mystery recorded two albums that were released on K Records.

Marian:  Alice and I were in the Pica Beats together, so we’re both on the latest album.

Abbey:  I play in a singer-songwriter/folky group with my friend Katie called Honey Noble, as well as a solemn, poppy, synth-based band called Wand.

Alice:  I have a solo project called Alice in the River with Joel Harmon (Grand Hallway, Sleepeyes of Death) and Margaux LeSourd.  It’s an outlet for me to play music that I’ve written and focus on vocal compositions.

Where are you originally from?  Where is the band located now?

Shana: La Luz is based in Seattle.  I’m from Kalamazoo, Michigan originally.

Marian:  I was born in Illinois and moved around a bunch as a kid, but I’m essentially from Washington.

Abbey:  I grew up in Everett but was born in Oklahoma.

Alice:  I’m from the sexy southern suburbs of Chicago.

How would you describe the local scene where you are located now?

Shana:  I haven’t lived in a ton of places, but it seems like Seattle must have one of the best music scenes anywhere.  I mean just the sheer number of bands is out of control.  There’s got to be more bands per capita in Seattle than any other city in the U.S.  I’m not basing this on any actual knowledge, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.  Seattle, and the northwest in general, has a really unique musical history; from soul in the Central District back in the day, to Jimi Hendrix, to Grunge, to Riot Grrl and just a crazy wealth of fantastic independent labels.  I think that draws a lot of musicians who are really driven and passionate about music to the area.  It’s what brought me here.

Abbey:  There is such a wide variety of stable music scenes in Seattle that it’s baffling!  I do a lot of stuff with the free improvisation and jazz scenes and then to come into the “garage” or “rock” scene and find it just as, if not more, expansive is quite promising.

Alice:  Yeah, its mind boggling how much music is happening in this town.  One thing I’d say that I really appreciate about this scene is how supportive musicians are of each other.  It’s competitive, but people still have your back and that feels good.

Did either the scene where you grew up or your current one play a large role in the history or evolution of La Luz?

Shana: Living on the west coast inspired me to start La Luz.  I’ve always loved old soul and doo-wop music, and have discovered a lot of stuff in that vein through Mississippi Records compilations and tape mixes that Calvin Johnson put out.  But I don’t know if I ever thought of something like that was possible these days until I started hearing all these awesome west coast garage bands that were incorporating a lot of early rock and roll and soul sounds into their music, like the Shivas and Shannon and the Clams.

How and when did you all meet?

Shana:  I met Marian playing in the Curious Mystery and I met Abbey at CafĂ© Racer, my favorite Seattle hang out spot.

Marian:  And I met Alice a few years back when I joined the Pica Beats.

Alice:  Yep, Marian and I had the pleasure of drumming together in the Pica Beats. And I knew Shana 
from sharing bills with Curious Mystery as well as having many mutual friends.

© Kelly O aka The Stranger

What led you to start La Luz and when did it begin?

Shana:  I felt like there was a band I was dying to see but I couldn’t find anywhere, so we started it.

Marian:  I was lucky enough to be in Shana’s vicinity when she devised the surf-rock plan last year.

Alice:  And I was lucky enough to know these fine ladies.

What does the name La Luz mean or refer to?

La Luz:  It means “the light” in Spanish.

Your music is an entrancing combination of familiar sounds, reinterpreted and yet strikingly original at the same time, I’m very curious as to who some of your personal musical influences are?  What about the band as a whole rather than individually?

Shana:  Some of my personal influences are Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Tina Turner, Ty Segall, Link Wray, Bo Diddley, 60’s Girl Groups and Les Jaguars.  Collectively, the two bands that we all really love and sing along to in the van are the Beach Boys, the Growlers and this Mississippi Records comp called Why Did You Make Me Human, which we’ve probably listened to over a hundred times.

Marian:  My personal influence is basically everything.  I’m usually in tune to rhythms, obviously, so anything that is catchy, original or in the pocket will get me honing on it.  For instance, lately I can’t get over how damn smooth the drumming is in Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”.  That ride at the end is perfect.

Abbey: I grew up listening to rock and roll from Led Zeppelin to Buddy Holly and then expanded into jazz and now classical.  I’m very interested in exploring harmonies in all brands of music, because they’re used so differently in different genres.

Alice:  I’m really drawn to heavy vocal harmonies and also grew up singing along to a lot of older groups doing just that i.e.The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas but also can’t get enough of bands like The Rolling Stones; just good old rock and roll.  It’s pretty fun to put the two together.

Can you talk a little bit about La Luz’s songwriting process?  Is there a lot of jamming or does someone bring in a more finished, polished idea and share it with the rest of the band?

Shana:  Some of both.  I usually bring a song that’s pretty much there and then the band kicks in a bunch of ideas to make it better.

Marian:  Yup.  And I’ll try to stealthily make a drum part way too complicated until Shana notices and says, “I like that, but I’m kind of just hearing something that’s more along the lines of a… surf beat”; which always sounds better, of course!

Alice:  And I come in and try to step on Abbey’s solos.

Your self-released Damp Face EP was rereleased by Burger Records and two of those tracks have been issued as the Call Me In The Day 7”.  Can you tell us a little bit about the Damp Face recording session(s)?  Where was it recorded?  Who recorded it?  What kind of equipment was used?

Shana:  We recorded it with our friend Johnny who lives in a trailer park in Bothell, Washington, which is like a suburb of Seattle.  It was really hot.  Literally, of course, not sexy hot; although, to each his own I guess.  Uh, it was recorded digitally and then Johnny ran it through a reel-to-reel as a kind of poor-man’s-mastering.

What does the name Damp Face mean?

Shana:  Whatever you want it to.

Marian:  I’d say it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Alice:  Not to be confused with Dump Face.

As I said before you released the Damp Face EP yourself originally and reissued it with Burger Records last year.  Are there any plans for a follow up this year of any sort?  Some of us, who own the original version of the cassette especially, are rabid for some new material ha-ha!

Shana:  Yes!  We have two new tracks coming out on a 7” through Suicide Squeeze Records.  And we just finished recording a full length that will be out on another label, hopefully this fall.

Having first self-released the album and subsequently dealing with Burger Records what do you feel like the pros and cons of working with a record label are?  What about self-releasing material?

Shana:  If you have a good label, like all the labels we’ve worked with and are planning on working with, a label that knows what they’re doing and works for their bands, it’s awesome.  It’s much better in my opinion to have the support of a good label that striking it out alone.  It gives us more time to focus on our music and not have to worry about every detail of distributing and promoting ourselves.  There are so many bands out there though that it’s really hard to find a good label to support you sometimes, so we really lucked out that way.

Where is the best place for our readers to purchase your music?

La Luz:  Burger Records for the Damp Face tape, Water Wing Records for the Call Me in the Day 7”, our bandcamp page for downloads and Suicide Squeeze for the new 7” ( due for release July 6th).  You can special order those releases through your record store too.

What do you have planned as far as touring goes this year?

Shana:  We’re doing a month long U.S. tour in June and July and hopefully another US tour this fall, waiting for details on that.

You have played with some pretty awesome bands in the last year or so that I’ve been following you.  Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve had a chance to share a bill with?

Shana:  Rose Windows is a favorite, and Lonesome Shack.  Oh!  And Guy Blakeslee from the Entrance Band in Los Angeles, he’s incredible.  This band Froth we played with in Los Aangeles was really cool and the Lost Luvs in Eureka and Wimps and TacocaT!  I’m really stoked to play the first show of our summer tour with the Shivas in Portland.  And we’re kinda sorta opening for Ty Segall at Music Fest NW so I am freaking out about that concept!  Plus I’m really excited to play with a bunch of awesome bands like Guantanamo Baywatch and Summer Twins at SMMR BMMR fest in August.  There’s too many to get into I think.

Marian:  Yeah Rose Windows and Lonesome Shack are up there for me.

Abbey:  Yeah, Wimps!!

Alice:  The Shivas.  Loneseome Shack.  Rose Windows.  The Ballantynes.

Do you have any funny or interesting stories from live performances that you’d like to share with our readers?

Marian:  I don’t really remember how it started, but we’ve managed to get the audience to do a soul train at nearly all of our shows.  Somehow they always go along with it and it’s been pretty spectacular each time.  I was telling Shana that my dream would be for professional dancers to suddenly appear at a show and completely blow everyone’s minds.

Alice:  I like to try to kick Marian’s ride cymbal while we’re playing.  That’s always funny to me.

Many people have long considered rock to be a boy’s club to say the least but that’s has vastly changed especially over the last few years and it’s not often that I interview a band without at least one female member.  Have you ever had any problems with sexism or not being taken seriously because of your gender?  Do you feel like it’s even still an issue?

Shana:  Seattle’s pretty open minded, sexism is still a big problem in this country in a lot of ways so stuff comes up now and then, but I don’t feel like it comes up more often when I’m playing music really.  One annoying thing that people do quite often when they find out I’m in a band is immediately ask me if I’m “the singer”, which is just like, dude!  Ladies have been playing instruments for a really long time, wtf?

Marian:  The sexism I’ve encountered is usually subtle and so inane that I hardly consider it as such.  But it’s there from time to time, usually with ignorant questions:  “I see you have a drum key around your neck, does your boyfriend play the drums?” and stuff like that.  Or someone will try to compare me to another female drummer, not because we are stylistically similar, but because we’re both women; stupid.

Shana:  Ha-ha that one happens all the time.

Alice:  I’ve experienced that “subtle” sexism in some bands and just being a female musician in a country that still needs a lot of work in that area, yes.  But the subtleties are what make so much of the sexism in music fly under the radar, and we end up thinking we don’t need to work on it.  I had a woman come up to me after a show and tell me she took a poll and all her male friends would sleep with me.  Um... how about “great playing”!  That sucks.

With the vast amount of choices available to artists today I’m always curious as to why they choose the mediums for releasing physical product that they do.  Why a cassette release?

Shana:  I like the sound of cassettes.

Marian:  The kids love those things.

I must admit to enjoying my digital copies of albums, I can listen to them wherever and whenever I want on my phone or whatever.  But there’s something that I can’t describe about having a physical album to hold in your hands.  Liner notes to read, something to look at that just makes the listening experience more complete, at least for me.  Do you have any such connection with physical releases?

Shana:  Yeah, I still buy all my favorite records on vinyl because I like having the art object as well as a good sounding album.

Marian:  Definitely.   You get a little more from the band than just their music with a physical album.  Kind of like a look in to their aesthetic or personality with the liner notes.  It also feels more exciting to have an album in your hands rather than just watch it load on to your computer.

Alice:  There is definitely an art behind the album that we seem to be losing with digital music but I feel the two can co-exist!

Do you have a music collection?  If so can you tell us about it?

Marian:  I have no collection to note.  Just tons of random music on my computer and all the old classical CDs my dad left at home.

The internet is rapidly changing the face of the music industry to say the least, how do you feel about digital music and distribution?  On one hand it’s crippled decades old infrastructures, but on the other hand it’s exposed people such as me to a lot of music that we would otherwise never be exposed to unfortunately.

Shana:  I feel a lot of ways about it.  Too many to get into now I think, but overall I think it’s a good thing for music even though people are probably buying less actual albums.

Marian:  The internet makes it easier for bands with less money or opportunities to be seen and/or discovered.  But that also means there’s a ton more stuff to sift through.  I think there are pros and cons, like anything concerning technology.

Abbey:  It’s definitely good for distribution.  Everyone with a computer can buy your music.  But there’s also the problem with illegal downloads and sharing.  I’ve definitely downloaded music from the internet for free in the past, but now that I’m older and more aware of how music works, it looks a whole lot less appealing to me.

I do my best to keep up with the never ceasing stream of uber talented bands that are out there right now.  Who should I be listening to from your local scene or area that I might not have heard of?

Shana:  Lonesome Shack, the Shivas, Diminished Men, Thee Satisfaction and Nucular Aminals plus anything on Sublime Frequencies, Mississippi or Water Wing Records.

Is there anything that I missed or that you’d just like to talk about?

Shana:  Dancing more will make you happy in life.  I really like dancing by myself, like in crowds or alone, either way.  Some people like dancing with partners or whatever and that’s cool but it’s not my thing.  It’s also good to have one really impressive move that you can bust out when the moment comes and to have a name for it.

Marian:  I can vouch for that dancing comment.  I’d also like to note that dancing with my band is really fun whenever I get the chance. 

Abbey:  I can say the same for dancing as well as singing.  I feel like you can’t be mad or sad when you sing, so I try to do it all the time!  It keeps my spirits high.

Alice:  In my next life I will be a professional dancer!  For now I’m working on my hip-hop dance skills.  And eating good food, that will make you happy too.

(2012)  La Luz – Damp Face EP – Cassette Tape – Self-Released (Red Cassette, Limited to 100 copies)
(2013)  La Luz – Damp Face EP – Cassette Tape – Burger Records (White Cassette, Hand-Numbered run of 250 copies)
(2013)  La Luz – Call Me in the Day b/w Easy Baby – 7” – Water Wing Records
(2013)  La Luz – Brain Wash b/w T.V. Dream – 7” – Suicide Squeeze Records (Limited to 500 copies)

Interview made by Roman Rathert/2013
© Copyright

1 comment:

Ziggi Fuxman said...

Love that band!
So cool!