It's 9:30 p.m. at Cafe Racer in the University District, and I am sitting with the four ladies of La Luz. We are discussing their upcoming tour and waiting for a psychic to show up.
Originally, I was smitten with their Burger Records EP Damp Face, released last September—the artwork and title conjuring girl-group masters like the Crystals, but with a DIY edge (and completely free from the weight of a Phil Spector–ish Svengali hanging over everything). Then a few weeks ago, during their sold-out show at Magma Fest, it hit me that I'm not the only person who has caught on to them. All of Seattle DIY was there that night and was in love, everyone crammed into each other's space bubbles just to get a listen. If you see La Luz live, I dare you to take in the absolutely dreamy four-part harmonies while watching their synchronized dance steps to "Call Me in the Day" without your knees wobbling like a '50s teen at a Dion concert.
Frontwoman/guitarist Shana Cleveland shreds through surf lines as effortlessly as if she were brushing her teeth. Marian Li Pino's minimalist rolling drums shimmer—initially appearing to be a calm river, the undercurrent is constantly moving forward and pulling you along, threatening to submerge you in its catchy, hypnotic pulse. Plus, there's Abbey Blackwell on bass and Alice Sandahl on keys, easily pulling off the full-on '60s sound, the kind of sweet surf rock with a touch of melancholy that should be the soundtrack to the slow-dancing-at-prom scene in every teen movie. During the two live shows that I've seen La Luz play so far, I've heard "This band is totally gonna be famous" or "Dude, they're gonna be so big" yell-whispered over to me. That got me thinking. The band started practicing together less than a year ago and has so much positive energy surrounding them, pointing toward success. Obviously, there must be a way to speed up the process of finding out how big they are going to be.
La Luz means "light" or "enlightenment" in Spanish. So, naturally, I had the idea of taking the band to a fortune-teller to find out a little more about what was in their future.
La Luz—most of whom met while playing in other bands like the Pica Beats and the Curious Mystery—have accomplished quite a bit in the nine months or so that they've been a band, but they're just getting started. Cleveland ticked off a few upcoming releases while we were sitting there in Cafe Racer's OBAMA (Official Bad Art Museum of Art) room, waiting.
"We have a 7-inch coming out this month on Water Wing, an offshoot of Mississippi Records," she says. "And as soon as we get back from this tour, we're recording a full-length album."
And have you seen their new shirts? "LUZER" is screened across the front, an homage to old Sub Pop shirts from the days of yore (er, grunge). The four of them list groups like the Marvelettes and the Ronettes as influences, but by using their solid songwriting skills and killer technical abilities, they avoid falling into the same tired, fuzzed-out reverb rut of every other punk band that has tried to claim that pedigree recently. Their current foothold may be rooted in the psych-pop reverb revival scene, but their unique edge lies in their ability to create pastoral, hazy dream songs with simple, perfect harmonies and a sprinkle of ethereal twee. The beginning of "Call Me in the Day" brings to mind the Shirelles' "Baby It's You." Not derivative, mind you, but a subconscious reference point: similar genetics but a different identity.
"What's that on your tape about it being recorded in a trailer park in Bothell?" I ask, referencing the recording notes on their cassette.
"Johnny [Goss] from the Pica Beats recorded us," Cleveland says. "He lives in a trailer park in Bothell and has a really cool recording studio—it's like a one-bedroom apartment, but it's attached to the laundry room and they use the bedroom for a recording studio. And the bed is in the dining area. It's just a small room, but Johnny is really masterful... obsessive about getting the right sounds."
"Do you believe in psychics?" I ask. "This psychic says she's done a band reading successfully before."
There is a thoughtful pause.
"I'd say probably not... but I would be tricked. Easily tricked," explains Li Pino. "I wonder if it's gonna be hard for her to read the band's future. I feel like we are open, though. We were in North Carolina, and some guy came up to me on the street—I had a drum key around my neck, and he asked me if I was a hypnotist. He was obsessed with hypnotism and told me he writes scripts. He wanted to send me some of his scripts, but I couldn't gauge if he was crazy, so I gave him the band's e-mail address. He sent at least five e-mails. One script was titled Bald Girls Could Hypnotize and there were all these references to spaghetti... but I have been thinking about spaghetti so much lately! Maybe he did hypnotize me and I didn't even know it!" She laughs.
I suggest that maybe they should ask the psychic about that.
I started my hunt for an appropriate clairvoyant who could meet us in the University District for a late-night divination after La Luz were done with a practice. I searched Yelp. Turns out, most of the psychics on Yelp have pretty positive ratings—I expected the reviews to be a little more like crabby restaurant reviews, with complaints about bad romance guidance instead of soggy fries or whatever. The first psychic I called was a complete grouch and yelled at me about how she couldn't do a reading for a whole band, explaining that they would have to come in one-by-one to get their palms read, and then she could MAYBE figure out the band's dynamic. The next two psychics I called seemed too down-to-earth and practical, which felt unacceptable. But then I remembered that about a year ago, my friend and I had chatted with a tarot reader in line at Sureshot Espresso who insisted we consult the barista if we had any doubts about her skills and then pointed to her distinctive yellow flyer with an illustration of her face on it pinned to the bulletin board. On a whim, I called up Sureshot and convinced a confused barista to give me "that one psychic with the cartoon head's phone number" off the flyer on the wall.
The psychic's name is Rajket. She is an experienced medium/psychic/tarot reader with additional experience as a pet psychic. She was enthusiastic about reading a band—on the phone, she explained to me that she hadn't done a reading for a band since she "was contacted by the four ladies of the group Jack Off Jill" (Marilyn Manson's co-touring buddies of the 1990s). The band had wanted answers on what direction they would go. (Rajket has a policy not to disclose the specifics of other cases she works on, but she felt confident that her reading really shaped Jack Off Jill's direction.)
Middle-aged and charismatic, Rajket shows up and introduces herself in a pleasant Julia Child falsetto, announcing that she is ready to give the band several tarot decks to choose from. She's draped herself in the earth-toned garb that every psychic worth her salt should be costumed in. She casts her eyes down at the cards behind her sensible glasses and under a cascade of graying dreadlocks. The band members sit very close to each other, looking both amused and skeptical, nervously side-glancing at each other as Rajket begins. "We're gonna approach this like I approach a couple's reading," Rajket says, and gives them a deck to work with. She also announces that, although she doesn't go to shows much anymore, she listens to KEXP and will keep an ear out.
"I'll call in a request sometime!" Rajket says. "What are your influences? Like, Tegan and Sara or...?"
"Early rock 'n' roll."
Rajket presses further, "Early as in...?"
"The first rock 'n 'roll, like 1950s and '60s."
"More like surf: Link Wray, the Ronettes, the Ventures."
"I have three decks and my fairies for fairy readings," Rajket continues, plopping a few clumps of what look like moss and dried-up weeds onto the table, clumps that are apparently each a fairy. "With the crystal ball, you observe time differently, it's more like an egg cut into slices than a linear thing. We don't have the crystal ball to work with, but the fairies work just as well to get to the bottom of things. I've been doing readings and working with fairies pretty much all my life, and I have made little parts of my home welcome to them," Rajket explains, pushing back her tea-colored earth-goddess sleeves. "The fairies started to want to join me and help me do readings. They work quite well."
Looking deeply into the deck the band chooses, she begins, "You have a following in the area. Small audiences, but loyal. I feel like one of you, YOU," Rajket says, pointing to a wide-eyed Blackwell, then shifting her pointer finger to Sandahl and saying, "No, YOU. I feel like there was a relationship recently and there are still questions... let's just put it this way, if you're worried about traveling, will that person still be there? Will you still be able to keep the relationship alive and be in the band?"
She flips a card and then points to Cleveland and Li Pino. "And YOU TWO will be experiencing creative tension on and off the road for the next few years."
At times during the reading, Rajket's thoughts shift out of psychic reading and into straight-up band advice. But here are a few of her predictions for what the stars may have in store for La Luz:
• The band will play a festival somewhere in Seattle or Bellingham this summer. The headliner will back out of a top-billing spot, and La Luz will take it over.
• The band will be together for an estimated seven years.
• Sandahl will leave the band prematurely to pursue a Tori Amos–like solo project.
• The band will become involved in theater, eventually writing a musical.
• Someone will be having relationship difficulties on upcoming tours.
• Cleveland will not receive much support from her family with regard to her musical career. She'll drift away from music, and in 10 years will be "writing a book... a series of books, actually."
• La Luz will become involved with an established male band on the West Coast ("I'm leaning toward someone like Wilco") that will collaborate on a project with them. The two bands will create a masterpiece together, which will help La Luz grow as musicians.
• Two band members will experience tension on the road—they will have to get over it.
• La Luz will be working with a small local company this year on their full-length record and be in Europe in the next year.
• This year, a local venue will underpay the band several times—they will never play there again after feeling mistreated.
• Two of them will have dreams that will lead to their signature song, the "crown jewel" of the band's career, which is yet to be written.
Rajket directs a few thoughts to Cleveland specifically: "The dark side pushes you, and you push back. I don't think fame will swallow you. I don't think it will swallow any of you. You'll fight yourselves and your insecurities... you don't wanna be Lindsay Lohan, train-wreck child."
And she has some more cosmic advice for all of them: "Before you book important concerts, it's essential to make sure that the date falls under good stars."
Hmm. It's a little underwhelming, I have to say. There are no cheesy horror-movie psychic predictions (possession via Ouija, ominous death foreshadowing, etc.) and no past-life epiphanies (reincarnation by way of that Shangri-Las backup singer who died in 1970, or possibly Lead Belly). But the positive future forecast, at the very least, leaves the band anticipating the inevitable good times, good vibes, and good tunes. Is any of it true? Will anyone take off on a solo career? Will they surprise-headline a NW festival this summer and collaborate on a masterpiece with Wilco? The only thing that is for certain is Rajket's conviction. It's there in her face as she stares at La Luz, delivering her final words to them: "I could see you going for that star quality, unscrewing the door off the hinges and throwing all the shackles off. And you'll get fans asking you why you aren't doing what they want you to, but you'll do it anyway. And this is the year we will listen."
Yeah, okay, I can get behind a prophecy like that.