Music has power. It can lift one’s spirits and encapsulate a mood—simply through instruments and vocals.
For examples of this power, look no further than La Luz. The Los Angeles-based band includes guitarist and songwriter Shana Cleveland, bassist Lena Simon, keyboardist Alice Sandahl and drummer Audrey Johnson. Their sound is often rooted in surf rock, with dives into psychedelic rock and jazz spread throughout their four studio albums. Vocal duties are shared by every member, soaked in reverb to create dreamy soundscapes. Check out “Floating Features” to hear the Tarantino-esque surf rock instrumentation with a hint of world music, and listen to “I Can’t Speak” for some of those haunting vocal lines. Hear them live when the band arrives at The Alibi Palm Springs on Thursday, June 9.
“I’m really excited,” Cleveland said during a recent phone interview. “My partner plays in Shannon and the Clams, and they’ve played in the area a few times, and I’ve gone with them. I’ve had so much fun out there; it just feels like such a parallel universe to me.”
La Luz is finally getting to fully tour in support of the band’s self-titled 2021 release, after a tour was cut short by both the omicron surge and personal health reasons.
“We did just one short tour in November, and then we had to cancel a bunch of tours, because I had a health issue come up, and now we’re just getting back to it,” Cleveland said. “I think the November tour just felt surprisingly normal. A lot of people wore masks back then, which was comforting, but from the stage, it felt just so similar. It didn’t really weird me out at all that people were wearing masks. It was such a relief to just get back on the road and get back to playing shows.”
Cleveland said she appreciates being able to properly share their new music live.
“It’s always such a relief to get to play music right after a record comes out, especially because it’s all these new songs that you’ve never played before,” Cleveland said. “Usually, the recording process and just sort of waiting for the actual record to be released into the world is such a lengthy process of living in a vacuum with this music, and you’re just dying to get out. Releasing the record is one thing, but playing the songs live feels like the best way to deliver the music—and the best way to feel like you have a connection with the people who are listening to it. … We recorded the album, and then it was just about a year until we finally got to play the songs to people.”
On La Luz, the group experiments with yet more sounds while further strengthening the surfy psychedelia. “Watching Cartoons” features a more jazzy vibe, while “Here on Earth” emanates somber folk feels, and “Yuba Rot” is a slow surf jam that feels bluesy.
“I think that each record comes out of the time and place where I started writing the songs,” said Cleveland. “For me, that’s what I hear. In this record, I hear the California countryside, and I hear the isolating effects of COVID. That time of just staying close to home felt really sweet and let me really lean into the intimacy of what was close by—the people I love the most and the land around me. It feels like a very intimate record that is just full of big love.”
The shifting sounds of La Luz can be attributed, in part, to the band’s impressive list of producers. 2015’s Weirdo Shrine was produced by garage rock prince Ty Segall; 2018’s Floating Features had Dan Auerbach of the indie/blues rock outfit The Black Keys; and Adrian Younge of the jazzy Midnight Hour produced La Luz.
“We’re just so tuned into each other that I think when we go to the studio, it is kind of refreshing to have that other voice come in and sort of interpret the songs in their own way, and throw in some fresh ideas,” Cleveland said. “I love that aspect of being in the studio, and each record that we’ve done is sort of a different level of collaboration. I think that this album is probably, in some ways, the most collaborative that we’ve been with a producer.”
As for that aforementioned health issue: Cleveland was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“For a while, I was in the thick of it; I wasn’t writing, and I was just sort of trying to stay sane,” Cleveland said. “It doesn’t really feel like I’m totally on the other side of it, but I’m certainly starting to come out of the dark period of not knowing what was going to happen, and this really oppressive feeling I got after the cancer diagnosis.
“It’s so hard for me to say, ‘On the other side,’ because I just don’t feel like that. I feel like I’m still dealing with it every day—but I do feel so freakin’ stoked. I have so much energy to create now, and I’m just, like, ‘Yes, let’s release an album; I’m gonna write an EP, and then I’m gonna write this other album for my solo project.’ It’s all kind of coming out, because I just went through this really intense time, but I felt like I wasn’t really able to talk about it. Now, I’m just so excited. I’m so excited to play shows for people; I’m so excited to write more records, and it feels like a time of really big energy.”
Cleveland said the diagnosis reaffirmed the power of music to her.
“I think that a lot of times, when you’re at a real low point, when you’re really depressed—that’s when a song can break through to you, and in the biggest way. Listening to some of my favorite music just made me realize how powerful it could be. I think that sometimes, I kind of forget to listen to music, because I’m just always writing and playing guitar, and I have a 2-year-old son, so there’s not a lot of leftover time. … In our society, we tend to value productivity over rest, but I think that rest is just as important for an artist. You need that time for reflection to know what you want to say.”
Through cancer, the pandemic and having a kid, Cleveland said remains focused on creating, even if La Luz is not as busy as it once was.
“In the beginning, we just started touring right away,” Cleveland said. “I was just so stoked, and I wanted to do everything all the time. That’s how we did it for the first, at least, five or six years, and then slowly, we just started being like, ‘Oh, instead of a six-week tour, why don’t we do, like, three two-week tours and have a little rest in between?’ If you’re trying to make a band sustainable in the long run, if you’re trying to not go cray, then you have to learn how to schedule.”
La Luz will perform with opening act Tino Drima at 8 p.m., Thursday, June 9, at The Alibi Palm Springs, 369 N. Palm Canyon Drive. Tickets are $20 in advance. For more information, visit www.thealibipalmsprings.com.