If you need some new mood music ’cause you have a summer crush and things are getting complicated, you may just need a dose of the Seattle surf group La Luz. Their new summer single “Brainwash”—or any track on their Damp Face EP—will fit those fluttery feelings that come with skirt and short-wearing days.
This summer, the gals of La Luz have been having fun in the sun and under phosphorescent stage lights. They’re currently on tour and have a full-length debut looming on the horizon. Before their show at NYC’s Mercury Lounge two weeks ago, we popped open some PBRs and chatted about music as poetry, feminist affinities and Pee-wee Herman’s studliness in the back of a nearby dive bar.
I’m really interested in how you guys started out as a band. How did you guys meet, and did you play a lot of basement shows early on?
Shana: Before La Luz, Marian and I started out playing together in a band. Later on I met Alice through Marian who had played with Alice in a band prior. Then Abbey and I met at an improv jam session that she would play at, and I would go to to drink beers and watch. As far as shows, I don’t think we ever really played basement shows in Seattle, that’s more of a tour thing for us. We started playing bigger venues in Seattle pretty fast—faster than we intended to. However, there are a few DIY venues that we really love back home. The Black Lodge is really fun to play. It’s a lot like playing a large basement show.
Your music has a very evident doo wop, surf pop vibe to it and your vocal harmonies recall that of early ’60s girl bands like The Ronnettes and The Crystals. What bands in this vein, if any, would you say inspired your sound?
Shana: As far as the surf rock and the guitar riffs, Link Wray and The Ventures were the two biggest influences. For the doo wap, sort of stuff my main influence there was listening to Mississippi Records compilations. Mississippi Records is this record label out of Portland that puts together these really awesome old soul compilations. Oh, and also Shannon And The Clams.
Alice: I’ve always listened to the classic harmony bands. Vocally I learned how to harmonize by listening to bands like the Beatles.
Abbey: I don’t have that much to do with writing the vocal harmonies, but my bass lines come from listening to a lot of early ’60s stuff. I listen to a lot of Led Zepplin-y and Beatle-y sort of things.
Marian: When Shana was coming up with the idea of a surf rock band I was listening to The Shirelles a lot. I was paying a lot of attention to their drumming. So when Shana asked me “Do you want to play in this band with me?” it was perfect. Dusty Springfield I would say I’ve pulled from on occasion as well. Some of that stuff is freaking amazing.
How do you feel as a band about your sound being so often compared to Phil Spector girl bands? Do you welcome the comparisons or find them annoying?
Shana: I like those comparisons because I feel like when you see us play it’s pretty obvious that we’re doing a lot more than solely that. In that respect, I’m not afraid of being pegged just in that genre because a lot of those Phil Spector girls were really amazing singers. To me it’s a compliment.
Alice: I feel the same way. I think it’s a compliment ’cause they were very talented. The only hesitation I feel sometimes is that our music might be interpreted as just revivalist. However, I think it comes across that we’re bringing together a lot of different sounds and adding to them.
A lot of your songs end just above the two-minute mark. Does it just sort of happen that way or is being succinct part of your structure?
Shana: It’s definitely something that I go for when initially thinking of the songs. Long jammy songs don’t seem so much like party songs or pop songs, and we’re pretty much a pop band. Old 45s had to be around three minutes so to go along with the sound of pop music from the ’60s, we try to end in that time frame as well. Overall I think songs can lose some of their power when they go over the three-minute mark.
Do you ever perform covers during a show? What would be a song you guys would be interested in covering?
Alice: We did a promotional show in Seattle where we needed to do a two-hour set, so we worked up a few covers for that. I can’t remember what all of them were, but we covered a song by The Ventures called “Lullaby Of The Leaves.” But we would love to cover a Zombies song. Anything by the Zombies.
Your Damp Face EP was originally printed on cassette. Was there any particular reason for that?
Shana: Cassettes seem less disposable to me than CDs, and I have a theory for that actually. I remember when AOL started sending CDs to everyone’s house everyday and you had to throw them out right away. As a result of that, I think CDs started to seem more and more like garbage. However, tapes have an appeal because they seem like they can be more collectable. Nobody seems to really want CDs anymore, but tapes have a sort of charm to them. Also, tapes just sound way better than CDs.
Shana, you write all of the lyrics for La Luz and you’re also a published poet. How does being a poet translate into being a lyricist for you?
Shana: There’s not a lot of similarity between the two for me. I think poetry comes from a different place. I guess the main similarity though is that in both types of writing I don’t like to have anything totally spelled out. I don’t like meaning to be completely obvious. For lyrics and poems I like there to be a certain amount of mystery, this way things reveal themselves over time as opposed to just right away. I would like for anything that I write to last through several readings or several listens.
What are some of the pros and cons of being an all girl band?
All: There are no cons!
Alice: Wait, actually I would say there is. The only con is getting gawked at and having people scream things at you like, “I have a boner,” which is just fucking rude.
That sort of thing happens a lot on tour?
Abbey: Yeah, one of my biggest pet peeves is when you’re in a band and someone automatically assumes you’re a singer. Our car broke down once and this guy who was helping us just assumed that we were all singers. Almost as if there was no possible way that maybe we could play instruments too. It just annoys me how close-minded people can be.
Shana: Sometimes it’s women too though. At one show there was this girl who, after saying how great we were, pointed to her husband and said “He wants to take you home.” It was so gross. That sort of thing is just gross.
Abbey: But on the flip side, girls would throw their underwear up on stage for male musicians when they’d play. That’s a gesture of throwing yourself at someone. So I guess it’s just finding that balance between: are you being misogynistic, or are you really just totally obsessed with a band? I think it’s harder for women because we’re always getting that outside of music anyway, so you just automatically take it to be negative.
Shana: And it’s not like we think that everyone who says stuff like that is sexist. Sometimes people just get really turned on by rock ‘n roll and, you know, that’s ok too.
Since you’re all best friends, how do you guys spend your free time on tour together?
Alice: Lots of stuff. It’s super fun to play games in the car. We like to jam out, free-style, and talk about Pee-wee Herman.
Shana: He’s actually our spirit animal of this tour. It’s really weird. We were playing the game where you have two names and the options are fuck one, marry one. When we were playing, the two names were Michael Jackson and Pee-wee Herman. Then we were talking about how it was so sad how Pee-wee’s career fell apart and we looked up what he was up to know. Then, after that conversation we started seeing his face everywhere. Like, literally everywhere. We went to this diner and his face was all over the diner. So yeah, basically he’s been our spirit animal of the tour.