Talking Nightmares with La Luz’s Shana Cleveland

Talking Nightmares with La Luz’s Shana Cleveland Photography by Chona Kasinger

No band attacks vocal harmonies with as much commanding intensity as Los Angeles-based La Luz. Their eerie brand of surf-rock has always had something cinematic about it, thanks in no small part to their deadly four-part crooning. Their latest outing, Floating Features, finds the band dragging those screen dreams into the open. It’s simultaneously their most immediately rewarding record and their slowest burning, holding you captive with vibrant production and razor-sharp songwriting. Make no mistake: Floating Features will turn you into a Luzer for life.

AdHoc caught up with lead singer and guitarist Shana Cleveland to dig into their latest concoction.

Floating Features is available now via Sub Pop.

AdHoc: Which song is the oldest on Floating Features?

Shana Cleveland: I’m actually not sure. I know that I wrote “Cicada,” “Walking Into the Sun,” and “Lonely Dozer” early on. I wrote those first few in Northern California and the rest in LA, where the band fleshed them out together.

You tend to put a few instrumentals on your records, just tracks where you and the band rock out and jam. Is that something that you feel is central to the identity of the band?

SC: I think it is. It’s fun to have that break. We have so many vocals, oftentimes with four-part harmonies through most of a song. So when we come back after this long instrumental break, it feels really triumphant to break in with these huge harmonies. I’ve listened to a lot of instrumental stuff—surf music and finger pickers like John Fahey—so I always appreciate an instrumental song. This record we just had one, and the others had two, but it was nice to put that one as the first track. Even though there’s only one, it has a very prominent place on the record. 

What was the vision with this record?

SC: It was mostly influenced by our move from Seattle a few years ago. The strangeness of being in a new environment, and LA specifically. It’s a weirdly psychedelic city in a way; it’s hot, dusty, and very strange. A lot of that has to do with the entertainment industry here. You can just wander onto a set of dressed-up storefronts from the ‘50s, you know? I also started to notice the seam of dreams appearing in my writing and made a point to follow it. 

Is California still the “golden dream” you describe in “California Finally”?

SC: It’s different, but it still feels that way. That lyric can make it sound like it’s all rosy and perfect, and it’s definitely more complex than that. But I do love it. I always felt like it was the place I was meant to be. It’s a mecca for people who are chasing down a dream, and that always appealed to me, growing up in the Midwest. I never got over that idea and I haven’t been disappointed.

Do you have any recurring nightmares or dreams?

SC: I have a lot of dreams about my teeth falling out. I think it’s because I clench my teeth in my sleep, so it’s probably just my body telling me to stop. When I was I kid, I had one recurring dream about a dog with huge eyes. It was in a hospital and there were all these surgeons working on it, saying, “If it only knew it was sick, we could save it!” No idea what that one’s about [Laughs].

What’s been the best song to play live?

SC:“Cicada” is one of my favorites to play, and “California Finally” as well. They both have grooves that are great to sink in to. It’s hard to tell which songs are going to work out well live; it’s often not the ones that you think are going to be the hits. Some older songs still feel good to play, and we’ve had to retire some just so that can feel fresh. We still play “Call Me in the Day” and “Sure As Spring,” but it only feels fair to do that since more than half of the set is the new album. 

What’s your favorite guitar part on the new record?

SC: The solo from “The Creature” is my favorite. There’s a little moment in “Loose Teeth” — and the solo from “California Finally,” too. There’s a lot of them, I kind of went to town writing solos this time.

Whose idea was it to do the kind of demonic telenovela theme for the “Cicada” video?

SC: I don’t quite remember whose idea that was. The way things work with us, the original idea mutates really quickly once we start throwing around ideas. But I do remember that Diana Diaz, who plays the love interest in the video, grew up on telenovelas and sent us a bunch of clips from her favorites that we used as a guide.
There are some things we didn’t get to. We really wanted to have a jet ski chase, but it ended up being too expensive, so we compromised on ATVs.

What’s the number one secret to staying healthy on tour?

SC: All four of us have different methods and different levels of success with that. Lina has a whole holistic cabinet of pills and tinctures. She’s always taking something whenever I look over at her. I mostly try to get enough sleep lately. Last night, everybody went out to a birthday party, but I stayed in. Sleep has gotta be the key. Along with [not] drinking too much. I don’t really drink liquor on tour because, I’m afraid of getting sick. There’s just nowhere to hide, no privacy. And then trying to sing? I’m just gonna go with sleep. Sleep and no tequila.

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