Memories are obsessions your brain can’t stop replaying. Seattle surf rock band La Luz know that all too well. The four-piece romp through hazy, melodic, ’60s harmonies and shaking riffs. On their newest album, Weirdo Shrine, they turn the focus onto themes far darker than their sound previously suggested: obsession, death, and personal meaning.
The album’s toughest listen, despite its cheery guitar line, is “Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere”, a three-minute dance about guitarist Shana Cleveland’s close high school friend passing away in Michigan. Of course, musicians strive to write about what matters most to them. Writing a song like that, however, repeatedly opens up a wound by forcing you to play it live, often night after night, latching onto past emotional memories and pulling them to the forefront of your brain. “In writing the song, I had to divorce my own personal experience from it to a certain degree,” Cleveland explains. “As we play songs live, they take on new meanings. There’s a song called ‘Call Me In the Day’ where I think about a totally different thing when we play it now. It used to make me think of this awful car accident we were in… The image of that boulder slowly gaining speed going down the hill is unshakable. Before that, it was about a personal relationship. Once you put these songs out into the world, they’re open to anyone’s interpretation, including your own.”
Mentally working through issues brings about a change in perspective, particularly in tinting the ways in which you live your life. “I use art and music as a way of coming to a better understanding of this,” Cleveland says. For them, Weirdo Shrine is a way to nod to the objects, physical or emotional, we accumulate over time, shaping an obsession that grows sturdier over time. Obsession, no matter what its tied to, helps us in the long run.
“It feels like a way to be more alive,” says Cleveland. “You can go through your day and fall into a routine, but people pick up on various obsessions whether they’re related to religion, love, or fear. Feeling intensely about something can be inspiring in a lot of ways. You start seeing the world around you differently than everyone else.”
Musically, Weirdo Shrine introduced them to their newest fixation: fuzz.
After opening for Ty Segall in Portland several months ago, La Luz were invited on tour. Then, when it came time to choose a producer for their then-in-progress album, they wrote to him asking for help. “I asked him for his advice and he was like, ‘Oh, I’d actually love to record it myself,'” recalls Cleveland. “It was perfect because he had heard our songs live and heard us try out new material on that tour.”
Segall, the modern day king of fuzz and garage rock, immediately began introducing Cleveland and co. to various fuzz methods. “I try to keep my pedals simple because I don’t want to think about extra barriers between myself and the audience, but he was really persistent about my trying them,” laughs Cleveland. “Slowly, he started suggesting I use fuzz on all of the tracks, and it got better. Actually, he gave me one at the end of our recording session and I use it every day now!”
Out of all the suggestions Segall threw their way during their time working together, none stuck in their minds as much as his advice to step up their live show. “We’ve always been into trying to have a fun live show where it’s a good experience for everyone,” says Cleveland. “Ty’s live shows are amazing. He told us to try crowdsurfing with our instruments, which we had never done before. It seemed like an impossible task, crowdsurfing while playing guitar, that only he could pull off, but when we tried it, it magically went okay! It doesn’t always work, but if the crowd energy feels right for it, then we’re trying to go for it more often now.”
It isn’t all loud noise and morose nods. They fuel themselves with more mild obsessions than anything else when they’re on the road, noting their rapport with freestyle raps on podcasts, New Mexico’s co-ops, and the echo chamber of inside jokes. “We’re all obsessed with sandwiches, too,” laughs Cleveland, “which is kind of unfortunate because we eat a lot at Subway. Oh boy.”
LA LUZ, SCULLY, LITTLEFOOT, AND WAKES. MIDDLE EAST UPSTAIRS, 480 MASS AVE., CAMBRIDGE. 8PM/18+/$12. MIDEASTOFFERS.COM.