ABOVE: LA LUZ. IMAGE COURTESY OF KELLY O
La Luz means “the light” in Spanish. If we go with the metaphor, the light with which the Seattle foursome drenches the songs on their sold-out cassette Damp Face (Burger Records) must be refracted from lime-green ’50s muscle car hoods, amber costume jewelry, and the shiny black lacquer of a mirrored vanity covered in ripped photographs of an old flame.
“Call Me in the Day,” the first song from the EP, drew us in with Abbey Blackwell’s doo-wop bass line, ripped from an American Graffiti Top-40. Unexpectedly, the song doesn’t tighten into a bubbly ode to teen love. Instead, singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland’s voice rings out throaty and melancholy; it is almost a widow’s walk of a song. Cleveland’s loose guitar and Marian Li-Pino’s drumming, familiar tonally to the more wooded West Coast psych garage scene, pull double-duty to sail the tune wistfully over the water. Alice Sandahl’s keyboard solo draws out both the sandy timbre and the emotional kick.
“Call Me In the Day” is paired with the similarly drama-filled “Easy Baby” for a 7″ single, which is still available from Waterwing Records in Portland, Oregon. Both releases were taken from the same session, recorded in a steamy trailer in the desolate exurb of Bothell, Washington. When you order from their Bandcamp, the EP comes with an adorable calendar of portraits by Cleveland, an illustrator who has drawn for Vice and The Believer. We spoke to the ladies in a sunny conversation about Elvis, the beach, and where to locate the best Mexican food in the country.
MEMBERS: Shana Cleveland, Marian Li-Pino, Abbey Blackwell, Alice Sandahl
AGES: An average of 26
FORMING THE GROUP: Shana Cleveland: Marian and I started the band after coming home from a super long tour with our old band (psych rock outfit the Curious Mystery). I had been listening almost exclusively to Mississippi Records soul tapes, early rock-‘n’-roll from the US and all over, and tapes that Burger put out like the Shivas and Ty Segall. I was chomping at the bit to play in a rock-‘n’-roll band that had lots of vocal harmonies. Then we found Abbey (bass) and Alice (keyboards) and all my dreams came true.
HARMONY IN THE SURF: Cleveland: We play rock-‘n’-roll with girl-group harmonies and surf instrumentals. Usually, I have an idea for a song that I bring to the band and then everyone throws in their ideas and we bash it around for a while until it feels right.
Alice Sandahl: I really appreciate how organic our writing process is. Shana brings something to the table and we all mold the clay together.
THE BEST OUTDOORS: Cleveland: Pretty much any beach is my favorite place, but some of the best are El Pescador in LA, the sand dunes around Lake Michigan where I grew up, and Ocean Beach in San Francisco. I really want to figure out a way that La Luz can play shows on the beach so we can have dance parties like in ’60s beach monster party movies.
Marian Li-Pino: I’m more of a forest kid, myself. Less noise and less sand in my shoes.
Abbey Blackwell: What Marian said! I grew up on a green belt, and some of my favorite memories are making fires and camping.
Sandahl: I have to side with Shana. I feel like a happy puppy on the beach. There are a lot of thrilling natural settings, but being on the water has a special kind of power to it. I’d say next to that, the Grand Canyon?
THE TRAILER PARK: Cleveland: We recorded with our friend Johnny, who lives in a trailer park in Bothell, Washington. He calls his studio Dandelion Gold. It was super hot and there was no air conditioning, which probably contributed to naming our EP Damp Face. I love recording in Johnny’s trailer park bunker because there’re no frills or attitude and he keeps the kitchen stocked with Red Hot Blues. And he’s really good at what he does.
Li-Pino: I’m pretty sure that was one of the hottest days of the year for our area. I would say the temperature added a sense of urgency to the recording process. Like, if we don’t get this in the next take, my hands will be too sweaty to play accurately.
Blackwell: It was a pretty intense experience. And being in Bothell, there isn’t too much around to distract you from the music, which is good. But we had no cafés where we could hide from the heat.
GOING TO GRACELAND, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Cleveland: I haven’t been to Graceland. If we did go, I could imagine us gathering around Elvis’ grave and trying to work out harmonies to “Heartbreak Hotel” like that scene in Spinal Tap.
Li-Pino: If I go there, man! I will buy every single thing with Elvis’ face on it.
Sandahl: I need to visit Graceland! I must experience all the Elvis landmarks in town. Audio tour of the mansion!
LATIN-AMERICAN EATS: Sandahl: I just cooked up some refried beans from scratch. Cuban food is delicious. Mexican food is delicious. I’ve found that some of my favorite spots are small taco trucks or little hole-in-the-wall spots. There is an amazing Cuban restaurant in Minneapolis called Victor’s 1959 with the best tostones. Everything there is good.
Blackwell: I love burritos. Some day I will have an avocado tree and my life will be complete.
Li-Pino: Dude. Tacos in California are the best, no brainer.
Cleveland: Yes, tacos in Cali!
LA LUZ IS CURRENTLY PLAYING SHOWS THROUGHOUT THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR FACEBOOK PAGE.