Shana Cleveland is a creative powerhouse. The published poet, writer, and illustrator is also the singer and guitarist of the surf rock band La Luz. Today, La Luz releases their third album, Floating Features. The album is a stunning meditation on dreams and the surreality of life in Los Angeles. To celebrate the release, Shana shared the songs that define her life in the Golden State.
Since a playlist of my whole life makes me feel too crazy, I’ve made playlist for my California life. I moved to the Golden State almost three years ago after a whole life of dreaming of being here.
1. “I’m Set Free” by The Velvet Underground
There’s something about the Velvet Underground that makes me feel calm and good about the world. Like most of their songs, I think everything about this one is perfect. The lazy guitar solo. The deadpan harmonies. And it’s so gentle that you almost don’t notice how weird it all is. “I saw my head laughing, rolling on the ground, and now I’m set free, I’m set free, I’m set free to find a new illusion.” Me too!
2. “Funnel of Love” by Wanda Jackson
This is one of my favorite recordings. That woozy, twangy guitar bouncing around in the back really hits a sweet spot for me. I love the two sets of background vocals, one deep, one high. And the percussion! When I was writing “My Golden One” on our new album I had the percussion on this song in the back of my mind, that little bell accenting the phrases. There’s something a little unsteady about it all that makes you feel like you’re dreaming, which feels so right for a song about losing control by falling in love.
3. “Did You Love Me” by Shannon and the Clams
The Clams are my favorite currently-active rock and roll band and also good buddies. They were a huge inspiration for me when I was getting La Luz started, how they managed to be soulful and heartfelt while simultaneously being a total rock and roll party band. I really lucked out when my boyfriend Will joined the band on keys a couple years back because now I get to see them all the time! Shannon’s voice in the beginning of this song gives me chills. Their new album Onion came out this year and might be their best one yet.
4. “Weary” by Solange
A Seat at the Table was the album I listened to most last year. There’s so much patience and beauty in this track. So many layers of vocals that overlap and intertwine just right. Like the best dreams, it feels airy and prophetic all at once: “I’m gonna look for my body yeah, I’ll be back real soon.” I saw Solange at the Hollywood Bowl last year and the performance was so stunning I teared up a few times, just happy to be alive.
5. “Andmoreagain” by Love
I secretly (until now I guess) have always thought that La Luz was a distant relative of Love and that Arthur Lee was my rock and roll phantom. Black people are few and far between in American psych rock and I sure felt less lonely the first time I saw a photo of Love. Something about the hearts of the bands feels inline: desert songs of dreamers and outsiders, upbeat ballads of loneliness and paranoia.
6. “Eyes Eyes” by Michael Hurley
Michael Hurley is one of my favorite songwriters, and a friend that I hear often but rarely see. His songs are often populated by interesting characters and I love all the creatures that show up here. Has anyone else ever sung about the “Protein Monster” and Marilyn Monroe in the same song? Nope, and no one ever will. At the end, the song switches to first-person and a woman is calling Michael a bum for sleeping all day, and that sounds funny and it is but it’s also pretty and sad and your head spins a little as all the characters who came before become as hazy as Marilyn’s reflection in the pool she’s stepping out of.
7. “Wrong Hand” by Jessica Pratt
On Your Own Love Again, Jessica’s last album, is one that I come back to again and again. It’s a quiet crystal universe of its own making. There are very few elements here and each one is delicate and essential. It’s the soundtrack I wish I could carry into my dreams.
8. “At Your Best (You Are Love)” by Aaliyah
This is such a sick Isley Brothers song, and this version by Aaliyah is so lovely. The lyrics are simply and perfectly stated and Aaliyah’s voice is as sweet and clear as water on a hot afternoon. I’ve always been inspired by singers like Aaliyah who are able to sound so utterly effortless.
9. “I Put A Spell On You” by Nina Simone
Too many to choose from, but to me this is one of Nina’s most amazing performances. Somehow more beautiful and terrifying than the great Screamin Jay Hawkin’s version. The way she sneers the word ‘spell’! The deranged scat call-and-response with the sax before the last verse! If I’m feeling down about the state of the world or the hopeless navel gazing of social media or whatever, nothing jolts me back to life and makes me wanna play music like watching a video of Nina Simone singing anything at all. ♦