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La Luz rebounds

After a harrowing accident totaled their van and gear in November, the members of Seattle surf-noir quartet La Luz didn’t just feel lucky to be alive.

Singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland says the outpouring of support during the band’s recovery came across as a message that a life in music is where she’s supposed to be.

“For me, it reaffirmed my dedication to get on the road. Short of dying in that accident, it seemed like the worst possible thing happened,” she says. “The fact that we were able to come back and that we had so much support from the Seattle music scene and from fans all over who donated to help us by a new van was encouraging.”

La Luz — Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl and bassist Abbey Blackwell — cancelled a run of tour dates with of Montreal, but had already booked a spring tour and made it a goal to return. Blackwell has since left and La Luz recruited Lena Simon to join on bass.

“Sometimes as a musician it seems like it can be a selfish pursuit,” Cleveland says. “Very little of the job of working on music is in front of other people. It’s so much in your own head and with your band and to have so many people step forward and tell us that they hope we keep going to me ended up being a positive, encouraging experience in the end.”

Help poured in from everywhere — Japan, Australia and Europe. Somebody from the East Coast who Cleveland had never met shipped an amplifier to Seattle that she’s been using on tour.

“When we had to cancel those dates with of Montreal it felt like too depressing to cancel the next tour we had planned to so we did all we could to get back on the road,” Cleveland says. “It’s still a little freaky being on the road after that, especially driving at night, but the more you do it the more you get comfortable again.”

The accident slowed what was a rapid ascendancy for La Luz in 2013. The band’s full-length debut album, It’s Alive, was released on Seattle’s Hardly Art on October 15. The album — and its lead single “Big Blood” — created a big buzz for La Luz. Hardly Art calls the band’s sound “surf noir,” built from four-part harmonies, the catchiness of doo-wop, the jangle of early garage and the edgy reverb of surf-rock guitar and organ.

La Luz formed barely a year earlier, after Cleveland and Li Pino left their previous band, the psychedelic Curious Mystery. Cleveland’s songwriting zeroed in on a timeless sort of sound, blending elements of vintage rock and soul with beautiful vocal harmonies and the bristling energy of garage rock.

“I just listen to a lot of older music, old country and soul and rock ‘n’ roll from the 50s and 60s, stuff that has a lot of vocal harmonies and each instrument taking their turns to stand out and be in front,” she says. “It seemed like everybody in that era was using a few components that I like a lot and I tried to incorporate into La Luz,” she says.

“But we’re not really into being some sort of reproduction of that era. We draw influence from that and also newer garage rock, taking those influences and trying to make something that was our own and not just a throwback,” she says.

After this tour, which takes La Luz from the Northwest to SXSW in Austin, the band will play a month-long tour in Europe before more summer U.S. dates.

The light, for La Luz, seems to be growing brighter all the time.

“I’ve been writing a bunch of new songs and we’ve been working on them here and there, but mostly we’re gearing up for a lot of touring,” Cleveland says. “I’m hoping to get a bunch of writing done in the summer and we’d really like to start working on a new record in the fall or winter.”

Published March 10, 2014 in the Phoenix New Times.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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