It’s entirely possible that one can separate The Allah-Las from their home state of California and the sweet, smirking spirituality summoned by their name. The question is: why would you want to?
“When the United States seized the territory from Mexico in 1848, California became the stage for a strange and steady parade of utopian sects, bohemian mystics, cult leaders, psychospirtual healers, holy poets, sex magicians, fringe Christians, and psychedelic warriors. Less a place of origins than of mutations, California served as a laboratory of the spirit, a scared playground at the far margins of the West. Here, deities and practices from across space and time became mixed and matched, refracted and refined, packaged and consumed anew … no where else in the modern world has such unruly creativity come as close to becoming the status quo … Many of the paths that cross California are, in the words of religious scholar Robert Fuller, ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ Even that wan word ‘spirituality’ barely helps, since many paths crisscross the sacred and the profane, and look more like diet or arts or crazy fun than sacred pursuits. But that is the point, since the quest for insight, experience and personal growth can take you anywhere: a mountaintop, a computer, a yoga mat, a rock and roll hall.” – Erik Davis, “Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscape”
Words too lofty, too loony to apply to the upbeat, sun-and-fun rhythms of The Allah-Las? Like all things, it depends on your perspective – and in this case, it also depends on the number of rotations the band’s stellar seven-inch releases – including their most recent, “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind),” from Innovative Leisure Records – you’ve clocked in recent weeks. As long as we make our home some three-thousand miles away, and as long as bands like The Allah-Las continue to perfectly capture the imagination, odds are the spirit of California will continue as a source of odd inspiration.
What’s on our mind, however, is Austin Psych Fest 2012, and being fortunate enough to see a band like The Allah-Las for the first time. In preview, we feel fortunate to share the interview below. Enjoy – see you soon.
Are the members of the Allah-Las from California originally? How would you characterize growing up in your area of California? How much – or perhaps, how little – do you feel this influenced not only your interest in music but the type of music you became interested in?
Matt, Miles, and Spencer all grew up in Los Angeles, California. Pedrum grew up in SLC, Utah and moved here when he was fifteen. Living here made us “diggers,” searchers of new or lost things that would turn us on. LA is an easy place to write off if you don’t take the time to absorb what makes it good. It has such a rich cultural history and there are endless places to discover and explore if you’re curious enough to find them.
We’ve always shared music we thought was amazing with each other and a large extended group of friends. The music we make has been very much a product of specific records we love, as well as an appreciation for a lot of things this state stands for, especially the rock and roll and electric-folk that came out of California in the mid-late 60’s and beyond. A lot of our artwork and visuals come from our admiration for a lot of non-musical influences. Matt, Spencer and Miles are all avid surfers and a lot of our artwork and visual influence comes from their admiration for old surf culture and vintage surf films and mags. At the end of the day our record collections and the music we make together reflect the things we love about living here. If you do what you like, you’ll like what you’ve done.
We ask this in part to learn more about the history of the Allah-Las, but also because California is one of only a few locales that by name alone evokes a certain kind of sound in the minds-eye of many listeners – we’ve described bands from Massachusetts as having a “California vibe,” but we don’t anticipate describing a band from California as having “that Massachusetts thing going on.” What does the phrase “California music” evoke in your mind? What is most exciting or compelling to you about the current state of musical affairs in California?
California is much more than a place, and to many the word alone evokes a certain state of mind, a sound, even a lifestyle. Since the beginning of the 20th century, and especially from the 1920s to the 1960s, California has represented to the rest of the world an American Eden, a westernmost destination of unlimited opportunity, beauty at once rugged, idyllic and metropolitan, and a healthy balance of old Western American values and sophisticated progressiveness. The most common associations that people today have with California are blond hair and sunny beaches, but to us, making California music involves a lot more than capturing just those cliche concepts. We move onward into the future with an eye to the past, and we feel that other California artists today are starting to do so as well, recapturing in their own hearts what captured the hearts of generations before them, looking past the cliche, mass-marketed culture that outsiders have used to define California for so long.
Of course, the truth is that the scope of music coming out of California is as varied in depth and breadth as the state itself – it can’t truly be confined to a single genre. Given that, what are some genres of music or bands that you truly admire and enjoy, but don’t really show up in the music of the Allah-Las in any notable way? What is it about that music that captures your attention? Can you think of a particular album whose appeal was utterly lost on you until recently? To what do you attribute this change?
We like organic non-electronic music and recordings. We like artists that have crafted something special from the past into something unique. Honesty and sense of place are also important. There’s not a formula to whether you like music or not, at least we don’t think there should be. You either like it or you don’t. Good live music is a visceral thing that you feel, and if you do feel it, you don’t go outside for a smoke when you’re witnessing it
What can you tell us about how the Allah-Las came together? Did you have any experience playing music with the other members in previous projects? What in particular do you think is unique that each member brings to the Allah La’s as a whole? Was there anything different from previous projects that you wanted to experience with the Allah-Las?
The band came together more or less in Spencer’s parents’ basement which serves as a storage space for his dad’s giant surfboard collection. It started with and Spencer and Pedrum getting together and just riffing around on guitar in there once a week. Matt was asked to play drums because of working together at Amoeba Music, and Spencer and Matt had been friends since high school. After a week or so, Miles, who Spence and Matt had also been friends with since high school, was asked to sing and play second guitar.
This band is the first “real” band any of us have ever been in. We say real in the sense that it’s the first band where we’re all making the kind of music we want to be. We each bring a different set of skills, tastes and experiences to the band, and because we don’t have any sort of hierarchy, it results in lots of arguing. In the end, it’s a compromise between our conflicting ideas that helps us make what we want to hear.
Although we’ve yet to experience the Allah-Las live, the songs on your debut have us believing that anyone that resists the urge to move their feet during an Allah-Las set is most likely a person without any feet to move. What reaction has been most surprising to you in the shows you’ve played thus far? What would the ultimate Allah-Las show look like for you if you hand a magic wand?
People react differently to our shows. It’s surprising when fights break out. We think some people expect us to be a raunchy, “Louie Louie” frat rock band. We’re not doin’ windmills and getting crazy up there, but it’s always great to see people react strongly to anything you have made. Our ultimate show would happen on a boat.
What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what’s your favorite song by The Seeds and why?
We’re listening to all kinds of shit all the time. Favorite Seeds song? That’s a tough one. I think it’d be easier to answer the most skip-able Seeds song, which would be “Where is the Entrance Way to Play”. R.I.P., S.S.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that you are planning to record a split seven-inch with the great band from France, The Dalai Lama Rama Fa Fa Fa’s, consisting only of girl group covers? We hear the tentative title for this release is, “The-Dalai-Allah-Las-Lama-Rama-Fa-Fa-Fa‘s play The Shangra-La’s.”
The rumor is true and the record has already been released but copies are hard to find cause it has blank labels and doesn’t exist. It was financed and contributed to by French millionaire and playboy Philippe DeBarge.
How did you first hear of Austin Psych Fest? Are there any bands in particular that you hope to have the chance to see perform while you’re in Texas?
Heard it through the grapevine years ago. Most enigmatic and prestigious of psych festivals. Are there many others? Many good headliners this year. All the “B” bands are gonna be great
In the book “Riot on the Sunset Strip: Rock n Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood,” Jerry Hopkins of the Los Angeles Free Press is quoted as saying the following:
“I have a theory about the Sunset Strip. I say it is not real. It is plastic. I say the Strip is manufactured in Japan and shipped here in small parts. Then it is reassembled by a committee of pot smokers.”
The part of the sunset strip Jerry Hopkins was talking about is a lot different now than it seemed to be in the 60’s. East of Doheny and west of Crescent Heights/Laurel Canyon is especially awful. Burnt out Nikki-Six looking dudes and high school alternative rock bands doing pay-to-plays at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and Rainbow Room and any of the other venues that line that part of the strip. So that part can definitely be called plastic. Nothing reminiscent of the Pandora’s Box and Whiskey scene of the 60’s though, which seemed a lot more tough and less stale.
What’s next for the Allah-Las?
Our newest single, “Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)” b/w “Sacred Sands” was released on April 17th, and our LP will be out in October. Looking forward to playing Austin Psych Fest on the 27th and Madison Square Garden on the 30th.