Waking Dream

Underneath the effervescence of La Luz’s effervescent surf-rock lies an electrical charge-a roiling undercurrent of global pop and psychedelia that’s both haunting and heartbreaking. On the band’s 2018 album Floating Features, that ominous feeling rises to the surface, as guitarist/lead vocalist Shana Cleveland’s rough-hewn riffs and echo-drenched words recalling the recurring dreams she had when she was writing the record.

“That element isn’t just in the lyrics,” Cleveland tells Folio Weekly. “It somehow permeated the sound of the record, which is cool because being on tour feels like being in a dream. You’re in a car for eight hours, daydreaming. You’re sleeping in a different place every night, which is psychedelic in a way. You wake up and think, ‘Where’s the bathroom today?’ It’s like a six-week waking dream.”

The dichotomy of Los Angeles also figures heavily in the vibe of Floating Features-the band moved to the SoCal metropolis after years of living in Seattle, intrigued by the city’s mix of grime and glamour. “When I listen to the record, it sounds like California,” Cleveland says. “LA is such a strange and inspiring place. Everything is hidden behind this disgusting smog, even though it’s always sunny. Those two things make the city feel sort of hallucinatory. You don’t know what’s around every corner, especially as a new Los Angeleno. You don’t know what you’re going to run into-but it’s always going to be different than what you think.”

At its heart, Floating Features is still rooted firmly in surfy sounds new and old: Dick Dale’s sweet, wet, slightly sinister reverb, the garage grit of former Hardly Art labelmates Shannon & The Clams, even the Southern/tropical vibe of Jacksonville, where La Luz bassist Lena Simon recently moved to live with Glenn Simon, who booked La Luz’s June 14 show at Root Down under her Winterland Presents banner. “The first time we ever played in Jacksonville with Glenn’s band BOYTOY, it was insanely hot-so much fun,” Cleveland remembers. “All of us crowd-surfed-the energy was amazing. We’re really looking forward to coming back to Jacksonville to see what Glenn and Lena have been cooking up.”

Cleveland says that La Luz’s marathon six-week North America tour (with only two days off in the whole run) forced them to be more resolved about their set list-especially since organist Alice Sandahl lost her father two weeks ago. “Touring has been pretty fast and furious,” Cleveland says with a sigh. “We’re sticking to two different set lists, splitting up songs from the new album with songs from previous albums as opposed to what we’ve always done before, which is to do a rush job of writing a set list right before the show, when we’re freaking out trying to find Sharpies and paper.”

Floating Features stands as the first La Luz album produced with a different goal than “basically making a really good-sounding live record,” Cleveland laughs. “We wanted to incorporate additional instruments and more production-what Lena calls ‘tasties.’ It’s those little things that you miss unless you listen to the record on a stereo. So we’ve been stepping up and trying to figure out how to reproduce those bells and whistles onstage.” All we can hope is that Cleveland fires up the scorching guitar solo that bisects “The Creature,” showcasing her marvelous guitar skills before the band breaks into its trademark multipart harmonies on “My Golden One.”

Staying true to themselves while simultaneously evolving was critical for La Luz on Floating Features. Though they recorded the album in Nashville with The Black Keys co-founder and famed producer Dan Auerbach, they chose to downplay that fact so it didn’t dominate the narrative surrounding the album’s release. Instead, the quartet’s growth can be viewed as a culmination of six years of hard work: touring nonstop, letting their success come naturally.

“We’ve always grown steadily-in direct relation to how much effort we’re putting in,” Cleveland says. Likening La Luz’s evolution to a slow-building wave before opting out of what she calls a “shitty” metaphor-“a wave just disappers, so I’m gonna not go with that one,” she laughs-Cleveland says the beauty of La Luz is that the band has never been burdened with more than it can handle. The reviews for Floating Features have been overwhelmingly positive, and Cleveland says all indications are that it’s doing especially well in the UK. “At the end of the day, it’s just satisfying to put in this work and see the results,” she says. “Hopefully, things keep going in that direction.”