It’s not surprising that La Luz moved to L.A. It’s surprising that they aren’t from here in the first place.
If you didn’t know better, you’d figure the Seattle transplants were born in a Hermosa Beach house, circa 1964. They cast psychedelic surf-rock spells, ripe for the best party that Inherent Vice’s Doc Sportello never crashed, playing with the sunshine-noir dialectic embedded in this city’s DNA.
As soon as they arrived in the first months of 2016, the all-female quartet staked a claim as the city’s best rock group. Several full moons later, they’ve acclimated as well as you’d expect from an outfit whose name translates to “the light.”
“Maybe it’s just because we’re new, but it feels like people have been really supportive and interested in what we’re doing,” says keyboardist Alice Sandahl. “It seems like there’s plenty of room to have fun, hang out and coexist.”
Despite a punishing tour schedule, La Luz’s interludes in L.A. have been long enough to discover the natural splendor of the Eastside’s hiking trails. They’ve exchanged the frequent rain of the Pacific Northwest for shorts, tees and a warm apartment at the top of a Highland Park cul-de-sac, cooled off by cans of La Croix.
“It was kind of like, ‘How long can we be here and still have people like us?’” jokes Shana Cleveland, La Luz’s lead singer. “Seattle is a medium-sized city, and every press outlet had already written about us. There are so many bands fighting for not that much space.”
Save for some records, basic appliances and necessities, most boxes remain unpacked in the space that several of the bandmates share. We speak in late April, a couple days before a spring mega-tour finds them canvassing the continent. It concludes with a homecoming performance at the Bootleg on June 5 — their first major show since moving to L.A.
Southern California isn’t exactly strange territory. Cleveland, Sandahl, drummer Marian Li Pino and bassist Lena Simon have regularly gigged here since forming in 2012. Early last year, they accepted an offer from garage-rock wunderkind Ty Segall to produce their latest record, the phenomenal Weirdo Shrine, released last summer on Hardly Art.
The idea was to record at his home studio, but when that became unavailable, they decamped to a storage facility in San Dimas often used as a workspace. The previous tenant fittingly made surfboards, an irony so absurd that the band members roll their eyes at its mention.
“I wanted to be in a band where people had a good time at our shows,” says Cleveland, who had previously joined Li Pino in the now-defunct Curious Mystery. “That sounds obvious, but it feels like a lot of bands don’t always have that goal. I wanted people to understand our music off the bat but have it also be interesting and complex, relatable but with a deeper mystery.”
The sensibility is somewhere between Our Band Could Be Your Life and Broad City. Dick Dale meets Daniel Clowes. Raw garage-rock intertwined with legitimate pop songwriting chops and seraphic harmonies. The music is alternately romantic and chimerical — inspired by graphic novels, dreams and poetry (which Cleveland studied at Chicago’s Columbia College).
There’s also a sense of urgency, partially underscored by a near-fatal car accident that occurred when their tour van slipped on black ice in late 2013. It didn’t necessarily change anyone’s perspective on life but reconfirmed an innate desire to pursue a life in music without looking back. Ultimately, the only logical place to go was L.A., the most contradictory of cities, where lightness and darkness peacefully coexist.
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La Luz perform at the Bootleg on Sunday, June 5 with Sick Sad World and Colleen Green.
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.