Luna Shadows is sitting at the boathouse by Echo Park Lake just before taking a morning stroll around the water. There’s a pushcart vendor shaking bells in the distance, but he hasn’t found any customers. The lake is lined with an assortment of characters — a preppy young couple, middle-aged mothers with offspring in tow, shirtless skateboarders trying to endure the heat.
Luna starts walking, flaunting her porcelain complexion — the mark of a full-time musician living every day in the studio. She’s draped in a retro black-and-white outfit that mixes the glamour of Audrey Hepburn with the macabre gothicism of Lydia Deetz. But her two-tone visual aesthetic belies her colorful synth-pop songwriting, which is suffused with love for Echo Park.
The neighborhood is at the center of a larger artist community that has been growing for more than a decade and constantly fighting for validation. She recognizes the “too-cool-for-school” reputation Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz have garnered due to an influx of hipsters looking like a gaggle of Amish expats who just discovered denim. But she sternly rejects any notion that the area is exclusive or elitist.
“It’s frustrating that that [reputation] exists,” Luna says. “I’m not too cool for anyone. What I really want is for people to see this authentic part. The part that is not genuine is always talked about. There are terms like ‘Silver Lake hipsters,’ and I want to be one voice for the people that are really trying to do something, not even cool, just doing something that’s meaningful.”
Defining “authenticity” in any neighborhood is a bit of an intellectual chess game — in Echo Park's case, one played out between local creatives and mainstream critics who roll their eyes at anything smacking of hipsterism. But that doesn't distract locals from expressing themselves.
“There’s this girl, Anna Bulbrook,” says Luna, referencing the multi-instrumentalist best known as a member of The Airborne Toxic Event. “She made this event at the Bootleg. It’s this all-female music festival called Girlschool L.A., which is now turning annual. It’s mostly local, L.A. artists. It sounds really niche but it’s a total mixed audience.”
Luna voraciously seeks out creators across any medium that can help her communicate her enchantment with Los Angeles. This collaborative mindset led her to connect with Echo Park’s Ride or Cry Collective, a group of experimental marketers responsible for Emo Night at the Echoplex.
“I was so impressed by their marketing and ability to keep [Emo Night] going,” she says. “They’re like internet ninjas. And they are are totally in touch with the Echo Park/Silver Lake scene, and they really, really believe in the art that is being made here.”
Ride or Cry supplements the Luna Shadows project with fine-art photo and video campaigns that parallel her indie-pop sound.
Luna Shadows’ songwriting is a reflection of her romanticized perception of Hollywood glitz juxtaposed with the realities of urban living. Her breakout single, “Hallelujah California,” tells her story of leaving New York eight years ago as a teenager and nurturing an intimate relationship with L.A.
“I’m really affected by environment,” Luna explains. “I had this desire to write something in the same way you’d write a love song. Something that was like a postcard and a love song pushed into one.”
The single is a standout on her Summertime EP, which came out July 1. The four-track record was independently released by Luna Shadows with the help of friends Thom Powers of The Naked and Famous, Brad Hale of Now Now and Kamtin Mohager aka The Chain Gang of 1974. Mohager co-wrote the track “Cherry” with Luna; Powers and Hale helped co-produce the album and consult when Luna she needed an outside perspective.
“You know when you try to tickle yourself and it doesn’t work?” Luna says. “But when someone else tickles you in the exact same spot, it works right away? I feel like that sometimes with songwriting. I have my skill set and things I like writing. But for example, we one day sat down, and I wrote this chord progression that isn’t anything special. I always play it. I heard it, and I was like, ‘Ugh. This is stupid,’ and [Thom and Brad] were like, ‘No, no, no. That’s perfect. Do that.” They added a little side-chain to it. And that became my first single.”
Luna Shadows will unveil her live show for the first time at It's a School Night at Bardot on Monday, Aug. 1. Tickets are free with RSVP before 10:30 p.m., $5 after. More info.
Correction: An earlier version of this article neglected to mention Brad Hale as co-producer of Summertime and incorrectly credited Kamtin Mohager as co-producer. We regret the error.