La Luz fills a need you never knew you had.
Shana Cleveland turns around and flips her guitar over her back, wailing on the frets from behind before spinning back around casually, as if the moment never happened. Her band La Luz is performing at the Columbia City Theater on a dreary January weeknight, transporting the room to another place and time. Everyone’s swaying in unison. Occasionally Cleveland does a little Chuck Berry-esque shuffle in her turquoise shoes.
The four women in La Luz doo-wop and croon along with warbling guitar and shuffling bossa nova beats. Cleveland leads the way with her broad, reedy alto; the band mixes surf rock with 1960s girl-pop, their music like a dip into a fantasy involving a sexy, introspective spy, late-night dancing and convertibles in the desert.
“I feel like my blood pumps in surf beat,” Cleveland explains later. “La Luz is the band that I really wanted to hear, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Cleveland convened La Luz after six years with her previous band, K Records’ garage-psych darling the Curious Mystery. From the beginning, the Curious Mystery’s drummer, Marian Li-Pino, a self-proclaimed lover of surf, was on-board. Then Whatcom Symphony bassist and Cafe Racer Session regular Abbey Blackwell joined the group and introduced Cleveland and Li-Pino to keyboardist and singer Katie Jacobson.
La Luz played its first show this past October and word of mouth is now working in the band’s favor. Crowds have grown at each show, filling floors with happy, dancing bodies. The band’s debut, Damp Face, was released last September on cassette and sold out quickly. It was re-released in February on Burger Records, an independent California record label best known for cassette releases. This month, La Luz tours the West Coast and prepares to record a full-length album upon its return.
Judging from La Luz’s skyrocketing popularity, Cleveland was clearly not alone in her growing desire for throwback surf.
“I figured that people would like the band, but the response has been amazing,” says Cleveland. “I feel like people have been wanting to hear this kind of music.”
Photo by Chona Kasinger