La Luz: ‘Since becoming a mum, since having breast cancer, my eyes have been opened to the raw brutality of womanhood’

Shana Cleveland shares insights into La Luz’s new album, News of the Universe, exploring themes of womanhood, change, and connection.

La Luz _Promo02_2024_WyndhamGarrett

“We’ve been a band for ten years now, so if we’re not putting out an album that feels fresh and exciting, why would we bother,” says La Luz’s Shana Cleveland. She initially formed the Seattle group to play surf music and see women indulge in guitar solos in a bid to create the sort of music she felt was missing, but “the band has evolved into something that’s far more interesting,” she offers.

The opening track to La Luz’s fourth album, News Of The Universe, might still draw direct inspiration from The Beach Boys, but the rest of the record is far more expansive. It takes cues from Indonesian trio Yanti Bersaudara and their take on American rock n roll and heavy metal titans Black Sabbath. “Yeah, we’re not a surf band anymore,” grins Cleveland. That might disappoint some people, but you need to follow where the music wants to go.”

“I’m really excited about where we’re at now,” she continues. “The only way we’ve been able to get here is by not holding too tightly onto that original idea.”

La Luz have every reason to be excited as well. News Of The Universe still has moments of sunny escapism, but there’s also a lush beauty to the record. Some songs are gritty and gnarled. Others are tender and beautiful. “It does feel different to what’s come before,” says Cleveland, who has just landed in Barcelona for a weekend of gigs. Part of that new energy comes with how the album was created, with the band originally heading into the studio with producer Maryam Qudos to “feel productive” and keep the cobwebs at bay. “It was very low pressure, but after that first session, we realised something cool was happening,” says Cleveland, and the band approached the rest of the record with a similar level of spontaneity. “It just felt really intuitive and organic,” she says.

La Luz _Promo02_2024_GingerFierstein
Credit: Ginger Fierstein

Working with Qudos was also far more collaborative than any other studio experience La Luz had had. “She felt like she was part of the band, which was fun but also allowed us to get to a place of trust, openness and vulnerability really early in the process,” says Cleveland.

“This album also feels like a direct response to the serious trauma I’ve experienced in the last couple of years,” she continues. Right before La Luz went into the studio, Cleveland was diagnosed with breast cancer, which led to cancelled tour dates and surgery. “When I was writing these songs, I felt really, really vulnerable but powerful at the same time. I had gone through this insane thing that shook me to my core, but I had come through it, so I felt free but also terrified,” she explains. With the members of La Laz so close and sharing a similar sense of uncertainty, when they eventually recorded together, they tapped into a “wild energy” while being in a “trusting, loving space” that allowed them to explore that.

“The album does have a very strong feminine energy,” says Cleveland. “Since becoming a mum, since having breast cancer, my eyes have really been opened to the raw brutality of womanhood. We often talk about it as being soft, sweet and nurturing but there’s also this really gnarly, dark, powerful side to it as well,” which is reflected across News Of The Universe.

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Despite the trauma though, it’s an album that constantly turns away from the darkness and towards love. “That’s been my biggest takeaway from the last few years,” says Cleveland. “Going through something like that, you end up thinking about life, death and your place in the world. You really learn to appreciate how we’re all connected, and we’re all headed for the same fate,” she adds. “For me, there’s something really heart-expanding about that. It teaches you empathy and now, I just want to live in a state of love as much as possible.”

She believes it’s an energy that feels important to share with the world right now. “If we treated everyone we encounter with love instead of judgement, we’d live in a utopia.”

News Of The Universe is a deeply personal record, but Cleveland hopes it resonates with others. “It was definitely created out of love and a desire to connect,” she offers. “I’m always open on our records, but this one really does feel like I’m reaching out. I hope people can hear that, and it makes them feel connected.  We are all suffering in some way, but this is a record that acknowledges that and pushes through in a pretty triumphant way.”

That perseverance reflects where La Luz are as a band. News Of The Universe is the first album new drummer Audrey Johnson appears on, but also marks the departure of longtime La Luz members bassist Lena Simon and keyboardist Alice Sandahl.

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Cleveland never once questioned her own commitment to the band following their departures but did worry about how other people would take it. “People have this desire to see bands remain the same forever, even if that’s very limiting,” she says. “They just had other things they wanted to do.”

Between the sonic shifts and line-up switches, “you do run into this question of ‘why the changes’,” explains Cleveland. “But it feels like a more valid question would be why things aren’t changing because change is the most natural thing humans do. I feel proud we were able to follow where the project wanted to go instead of trying to fit it into some previous mould.”

“I feel like I’ll probably do this band forever,” Cleveland continues. “Because it is allowed to change, there’s no reason to stop.”

So far, La Luz have only played a handful of shows in the News Of The Universe era but they’ve all felt incredibly cathartic. There are plenty more gigs coming over the next few months as well. “A lot of the time, venue staff will tell us we have the nicest audience. I know it’s not exactly the most rock & roll reputation to have, but it’s one I’m proud of,” says Cleveland. “I feel like if people are being nice, we’re doing something right. The vibes are just really positive right now.”

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