La Luz bounces back from fall tour catastrophe

  • SURF ROCKERS. La Luz is Marian Li Pino, Shana Cleveland, Abby Blackwell and Alice Sandahl. The band will play songs from its new album "It's Alive" on Feb. 8 at Bob's Java Jive. (Photo by Angel Ceballos)

Popular Seattle surf-pop quartet La Luz is fairly sick of talking about the accident. But singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland politely obliges, phoned during a windy tour stop in Arizona last week.

Cleveland had vividly chronicled the incident on her band's Tumblr page. She and her bandmates were headed home last November after being on the road with popular indie-rock band Of Montreal. Their tour van hit a patch of black ice, and the women swerved out of control before plowing into a concrete barricade.

They caught their breath, dialed AAA and waited in the dark, thinking the worst was over. Then came drummer Marian Li Pino's ominous declaration. “Oh no, it's coming,” she said, gazing into the rear view mirror.

Helpless and horrified, the women watched as a semi-truck plowed into their vehicle, turning it into a gnarled heap of metal and destroying most of their gear. Miraculously, they suffered only minor injuries. “We are beaten up but grateful and amazed to be alive today,” Cleveland wrote after the incident.

Against the odds, the band will wrap up its latest West Coast tour on Saturday, Feb. 8, playing shimmery cuts from their new album “It's Alive” at Bob's Java Jive. Seattle label Hardly Art issued the disc just weeks before the wreck, and its title is sure to add to Cleveland's growing penchant for seeing premonitions in her music.

Tacoma Weekly: You had the scary incident just a little while ago. I was wondering how you're doing after that.

Cleveland: We're doin' OK. We still have some health issues related to the accident but, for the most part, everybody's doin' a lot better, and we were able to kind of rebuild and re-buy some of the gear that we lost with the help of a lot of people that donated to us. 

TW: It’s good to see you guys are OK. I've seen a picture of the car.

Cleveland: Yeah, it was a really bad hit.

TW: Now that you're back on the tour what have been some of the highlights so far? 

Cleveland: Most of the dates are with the band Pure Bathing Culture, from Portland; and about a third of them we're playing by ourselves. It's been really awesome. Almost every show has been really well attended. It's been really encouraging.

TW: I was reading a story in Seattle Weekly that traced the beginning of this band back to an open mic five years ago.

Cleveland: I think I was mostly just talking about … how I first started playing music in Seattle, and a lot of the songwriting - as far as the songs on the EP (“Damp Face”), and some of the songs from the album - came out of a time when I was dealing with the aftermath and a weird premonition of the mass shooting that happened at Cafe Racer. (Six people lost their lives at the Seattle venue in 2012.)

I started going there ... and was truly taken in by the community of people. So that event was sort of this creepy, heavy time that put things into perspective in a way that made me more creative. It was one of those dark times from which inspiration can arise, I guess.

TW: I can only imagine with something like that. And, from the new album, “Call Me In the Day” is one of those earlier songs.

Cleveland: Mm hmm.

TW: Is that what you mean when you said you had a premonition?

Cleveland: I was freaked out by that song after the shooting because it's sort of about this character with this ominous feeling that something’s coming that you can't stop. After the shooting I was sort of thinking about these lyrics that I was writing that made a lot of sense into that. 

That song now is one I'm having kind of a weird time singing since the accident because we knew that semi-truck was coming for us a moment before it hit us. Every time I sing that line now, I think about that semi-truck coming down the hill towards us.

TW: Is that a song you still sing? Or do you skip that one?

Cleveland: No, we still do it. Yeah, I don't know. (She pauses to consider.) I'm just kind of like, 'Wow, that's really interesting. I should pay attention to the fact that that happened.' But I'm not so creeped out that I can't sing it or anything.

TW: How did you come up with the sound we hear on the new record?

Cleveland: I was listening to a lot of old soul music and old country music - a lot of different music from the '50s and '60s I would hear on Mississippi Records compilations. (The Portland label specializes in hard-to-find music.) 

It seemed like everything I liked from that time period had a lot of background vocals. So I just really wanted to hear more of that in newer bands. I also felt a lot of bands were claiming to have a surf influence, but it would sound more like newer indie-rock … than a vintage sound.

TW: I wouldn't have guessed vintage soul and country. 

Cleveland: Yeah, everybody kind of listens to some old girl group music and early stuff from that era, too. I think I was the only one that was into the surf stuff, but we all liked old Buddy Holly and stuff like that.

TW: How did you all come together? I think some of you come from your previous band (the Curious Mystery.)

Cleveland: Yeah, me and Marian were in that group before. Then Marian and Alice (Sandahl) were in a band together, called the Pica Beats. They already knew each other, so she was kind of the obvious choice for our keyboard player. 

Abbey (bassist Blackwell) I met at Cafe Racer. There's a jazz improv session that happens there every Sunday that some of her friends put on, and I used to go watch it. So I met her through that.

TW: So when did you know you really clicked? 

Cleveland: I don't know. It just felt right right away. After our first few shows, the response was really amazing. So that was exciting. None of us really had any other main projects we were doing at the time, so we just put all of our energy towards this. 

But Abby is actually pretty involved in orchestra music and our show at the Java Jive will be her last with us.

TW: So she's just busy with her other stuff and has to drop out?

Cleveland: She's not that into touring, which is the most rational way to be. (She laughs) It's not really that fun a lot of the time, and it's really hard. You can't really have another job when you're touring as much as we are. 

TW: So are you going to do something special during the show to commemorate her leaving?

Cleveland: I hadn't thought about it, but we should. (laughs.) We're open to ideas.

La Luz with the F---ing Eagles and the Tom Price Desert Classic

8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8

Bob's Java Jive, 2102 South Tacoma Way

$5 suggest cover

(253) 475-9843


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