Allah Las, in Harmony

By
Photography Cara Robbins

Published September 16, 2014

ABOVE: ALLAH-LAS. PHOTO BY CARA ROBBINS

When the sun throws its rays upon the sprawling landscape of Los Angeles during a sunset, it places a tilted glow against the city, capturing ocean waves as they rise and crash, elongating palm tree shadows against the pavement and the sand. With its second album Worship the Sun, Allah-Las has weaved together its inspirations to create a universe of sound that captures the many facets of Southern California’s history and its vibrations.

Having met while working at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard, the group, which consists of Miles Michaud (guitar/lead vocals), Matthew Correia (drums/vocals), Pedrum Siadatian (lead guitar/vocals), and Spencer Dunham (bass/vocals), has a special insight into the subtleties of L.A.’s character, and are able to penetrate the city’s exterior to capture a deeper understanding of its essence. In the instrumental track “Ferus Gallery,” the group pays homage to a part of L.A.’s past, with each guitar jab taking us beyond the palm tree-lined streets of L.A. and into the former creative home of Ed Ruscha and Ed Kienholz. In “Buffalo Nickel,” we hear the group advance collective harmonies while proclaiming, “All this love for you, girl.” With modern psychedelic grooves, a bit of country, garage rock and roll, and folk, along with instrumentation that includes the piano and steel pedal guitar, Worship the Sun offers a fuller sound.

The band shot the video with Sasha Eisenman for the track “Follow You Down” in Mexico, with inspiration stemming from John Steinbeck, Jaques Cousteau, and a desire for adventure. It was shot entirely on Super 8 film and the track captures the band’s sound, which encapsulates a sense of past and present. We spoke with Allah-Las over the phone about nostalgia, performing live, and L.A. We’re also happy to premiere the video below.

J.L. SIRISUK: I know you were at Bonnaroo and played some festivals. How has it been taking the new material on the road?

PEDRUM SIADATIAN: Well, a lot of the songs off this new record we’re not playing live. So it’s like a mix between half old stuff and half new stuff.

SPENCER DUNHAM: We just started playing with a couple friends recently to add additional instrumentation more similar to the record. We have a show tomorrow and we’re gonna have a friend who plays the pedal steel join us; we have another friend playing percussion. It’s been kind of an evolution of playing with additional members rather than just the four of us.

SIRISUK: How has it been bringing in other people? How does that dynamic feel?

SIADATIAN: It’s cool to hear the old songs with extra players playing on them, just to kind of make them sound different than what we’re used to. So that’s cool too.

SIRISUK: I know that during the first album all of you experienced breakups. What about with this record, do you have new girlfriends? [laughs] And did that inspire any tracks?

SIADATIAN [laughs]: No, I don’t think so. I think there’s less of a relationship influence lyrically on this record and that’s one of the bigger differences between this one and the last.

SIRISUK: Why did you decide to work with Nick Waterhouse again?

SIADATIAN: Well, we actually worked with someone named Dan Horne as well. We recorded a lot of the basic tracks with Nick Waterhouse and then we went and we did a lot of over dubbing and mixing with Dan Horne so he had a really big part in how the record sounded as well. There’s one song that we recorded by ourselves and then mixed with Dan Horne.

SIRISUK: What song was that?

SIADATIAN: “Artifact.”

SIRISUK: Where did you do most of the recording? Were you in L.A.? I’m wondering because the album evokes so many images of the Los Angeles landscape.

SIADATIAN: Yeah, it was recorded in L.A.

SIRISUK: What are some of the things that each of you romanticize about L.A.?

MILES MICHAUD: I think that we are all nostalgic about the past in certain ways, in different ways, in similar ways. Los Angeles in particular has a very interesting history to us in terms of how many times it’s had to be reinvented and all the different things it represents to so many people, about being the furthest point west and kind of like a land of opportunity and also of loss and of broken dreams. All of that kind of interweaves into a very interesting history, and culturally and artistically it’s always been very rich. We’re always working to discover new things about the city and unearth new things from the past.

DUNHAM: I think it’s kind of hard to say what we’re most romantic about or nostalgic about because we grew up here, except for Pedrum who moved here in high school. But since we’ve lived here for so long it’s kind of like, “How would you romanticize your hometown?” I do think that there’s a lot of places that we’re really fond of here and that when we’re traveling, we do sometimes miss.

SIRISUK: What was it like when you were writing this album? I’m sure the four of you have different ideas at different times, so what’s the process like?

SIADATIAN: Actually, that’s another difference in this record. Solos were written separately and before we had to record, we went to practice like, “Okay who’s got songs?” and then we shared them and worked on them together that way. The songwriting was a bit different on this record, so that’s it. There are also songs that we worked out in practice just jamming together, so a little bit of everything.

SIRISUK: How long did it take to record this?

SIADATIAN: The actual recording didn’t take too long. It’s the mixing that was kind of off and on for a while.

MICHAUD: We tracked almost all the basic tracks in about a week and a half, or a week. I forget. I think we started midweek and went through to the next week. We are very particular about the sound of our record. So the basic tracks we can get done easily, but like Pedrum was saying, a lot of these songs were hashed out in the studio, so we spent a good amount of time tweaking all the tones and making sure every instrument sounded good together. We went back and forth a few times with different thoughts until we got a product that we were all happy with. So it took us a couple of months, but it’s a process that we all really enjoy. We like the outcome as well.

SIRISUK: In terms of the recording, how did this one feel different? What do you find fundamentally different about recording Worship the Sun?

MICHAUD: I think, like I was saying, the fact that we worked the songs out in the studio. The first time around, we had never been in a studio before and we really didn’t know what to do and basically played the songs as we had played them live. Luckily we had been doing that for years so we pretty much had them down. So that was our record the first time around. This time around, we were working with songs that we hadn’t really had the opportunity to play live a lot, or at all in most cases, and had to work them out in the studio. So there was a different approach, a different feeling, but I think that as musicians one of our favorite things to do is be in the studio and experiment with things. Throw something on there and maybe take it off and see how things sound together. It’s like working out a puzzle, putting all the right pieces in all the right places so you have something that fits what image you were going for in the first place. It was a very redeeming process, albeit different than the first record.

SIRISUK: The track “Better Than Mine” has a nice country tinge to it. When you were recording this were they any particular influences?

MICHAUD: I think for that one, we wanted to have a kind of a major chord, more upbeat song. There’s definitely a lot of Byrds influence in that, Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons-style influence. So yeah, that’s just something that we started playing and it sounded nice so we said, “Let’s put it on the record.” So we did.

SIRISUK: Who do you remember rocking out to earlier on in life?

SIADATIAN: I don’t know if you can hear much of a Can influence in our music, but we did really like that. When I first met Matt, we were listening to lots of Can together and nerding out over it. We all love the Stones very much.

SIRISUK: I read once that you guys wanted to try recording somewhere outside of the U.S. So what destinations do you have in mind?

SIADATIAN: South America would be cool.

MATTHEW CORREIA: Australia would be pretty cool.

MICHAUD: We just spent a week and a half up in Vancouver Island, up by the coast. That was pretty amazing.

SIADATIAN: We’re not really sure but it’s kind of like a pipe dream. I don’t know if it will ever happen but it’s fun to think about.

SIRISUK: Do you think that being in a different atmosphere, another town, would change your sound?

SIADATIAN: I don’t know if it would change the sound, but it might inspire us to write different music, or a different subject matter and things like that. The sound comes from the amps and the guitars, the gear that we have. I don’t think that would change, but it’s hard to say until it happens.

CORREIA: You absorb what’s around you. Even a different room or a different house or a different part of town can change your influence, your state of mind, and affect your art and your feelings. But I think moving to a different town and trying to set up and make the music there is a tradition that musicians do to kind of clear their mind, and I definitely think that we’re affected by our surroundings like anybody else.

SIRISUK: What can you tell me about performing live? What do you enjoy about it?

SIADATIAN: When we’re playing and it sounds good and we feel like we’re doing a good job and the audience is reacting to it, it’s a pretty special thing, and I guess that’s something we hope to get with each show. Sometimes we get closer than others.

CORREIA: The songs can kind of change and warp and speed up or slow down based on the crowd and the energy around that. That’s kind of fun to experience as musicians in a live setting, to see the songs evolve in different ways based on the setting. That’s my favorite part.

SIRISUK: You guys have known each other for a long time. I know three of you met in L.A. working at Amoeba Records. For how many years now have you guys been playing together?

SIADATIAN: About six years. Also, Matt and Spencer and Miles went to high school together, so they’ve known each other even longer.

SIRISUK: When did you know that you wanted to focus on music and not do anything else?

SIADATIAN: Collectively, probably when our first 45 came out. That made us feel good about the band. We wanted to do it.

CORREIA: We were all kind of doing other things—school, jobs, normal things. Then music started taking more time and I think instead of trying to fight to do all those things at once, we kind of just let go and let that stream take us on down with the music and it was kind of a natural progression and it didn’t seem like a big leap or anything like that. It happened naturally with the different things that were offered to us and every step has been a surprise. We’re very happy to have had this experience.

SIRISUK: Going on the road again soon, what do you hope to get from this album, from taking it out on the road?

MICHAUD: Personally, I hope that we get to keep doing it because it’s been very rewarding and a very wonderful experience. Being able to travel, and being able to share experiences with people around the world, and to be able to make a third record, and possibly a fourth and however many records we can make, would be the ultimate thing that I would want.

SIADATIAN: I feel a lot the way Miles does. I hope that people will listen to it and enjoy it for years to come and that we’ll be able to keep doing what we’re doing as long as possible.

WORSHIP THE SUN IS OUT NOW ON INNOVATIVE LEISURE. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS WEBSITE.