By Karina Espinosa
VANCOUVER — No one does sunshiny doom quite like La Luz. Since their inception, the surf-noir quartet has evoked a light/dark paradox often associated with California, but done so by way of Seattle. Now that the band resides in Los Angeles, it would seem that their singular sound has come full circle. The change proved fruitful for lead vocalist and guitarist, Shana Cleveland, who claims that La Luz’s forthcoming album is their most accomplished work yet. Entitled Floating Features, the record refines their signature doo-wop/surf rock feel and is largely informed by the band’s new surroundings. What that exactly means to Cleveland remains a mystery.
“It feels like a really LA album to me in a lot of ways that I don’t fully understand. But there’s definitely something about the heat and the vastness of Los Angeles and California in general that speaks to our music,” Cleveland explains. “[Our band] has always been described as having a desert-y sound, which sounds mysterious and vast in a way. And that’s kind of how Los Angeles feels to me—it’s dusty and it’s big and it’s something you can never really know.”
Although they’re traversing an uncertain landscape, there’s a sense that the band is headed in the right direction. With the emphatic refrain, “I do what I wanna do,” the hazy, sun-drenched song “California Finally” is not only a tribute to the golden state, but also a celebration of personal freedom and self-actualization. Says Cleveland: “It’s about coming into our own sound as a band, because we’ve been playing together for five years now. We’ve been exploring who we are as opposed to who we thought we would be when we first started out.”
Based on the few singles released so far, it’s clear that Floating Features is an album of hidden depth—a tuneful, easy-playing summer record with a brooding undercurrent that begs for repeated plays. On one track called “The Creature,” Cleveland’s voice is airy and sweet. The accompanying music video is similarly light, telling an amusing story of what happens when a chain letter’s request goes ignored. But the inspiration for the song came from a time on tour when the front woman saw “a black, shadowy figure hovering up on a wall” while she lay frozen. It’s just one instance in which the band takes a dark subject—in this case, a terrifying episode of sleep paralysis—and filters it through a playful lens.
The darkness that permeates La Luz’s music is in part attributed to the band’s experiences with loss. First, a mass shooting broke out in Seattle in 2012, claiming the lives of several of Cleveland’s friends. Then in 2013 before releasing Weirdo Shrine, the band survived a near-fatal car crash that destroyed all of their music equipment. Thankfully, Floating Features came about through happier circumstances.
“I was really relieved that no tragedy occurred before recording this album, because that was the narrative of the last two. But it’s been good year. It’s been a really inspiring year,” Cleveland asserts. “It’s good to know that some insane, terrible event that makes you re-evaluate your life didn’t need to occur in order to write, what I think is, a really pretty album.”
Despite past hardships, the band continues to deliver party-inciting riffs and sweet vocal harmonies, creating a sound that’s distinctively their own. As for Cleveland, performing with La Luz is what keeps her going: “It’s the happiness I get when other women come up to me and say that we inspire them in some way; knowing that the simple act of playing music and touring around is somehow making a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s probably the best part.”
La Luz plays the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on May 16. Their third full-length album, Floating Features, is out May 11 via Hardly Art.