Surf's Up for Local Band Allah-Las as They Hang Ten
Only a few hours before their set at San Diego's Belly Up a little over a week ago, Allah-Las were waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean. "Already sound-checked," said bassist Spencer Dunham. "We're at the beach."
These days, '60s-inspired, Beach Boys-influenced bands abound, especially in Southern California, where the sun's always shining, the ocean's minutes away and the mood is mellow. But not every salty dirtbag can throw on a guitar and sound like a Wilson brother. For L.A. quartet Allah-Las, the beach sound and lifestyle is more than a trend: It's their vibe.
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Allah-Las are Miles Michaud (vocals, rhythm guitar), Pedrum Siadatian (lead guitar), Matt Correia (drums, percussions) and Dunham (bass). Three of the four members met in the stacks and storage rooms at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. There, they fine-tuned their tastes, studied up on their predecessors and formed what came naturally to them: a surf band. Michaud, Correia and Dunham graduated from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, just a few blocks from the ocean, where they surfed tasty waves before and after the bell rang. They surf almost every day up and down the coastline when they're not practicing, playing shows or finishing up their latest album, Worship the Sun, due out in September on the indie Innovative Leisure label.
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The band was at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, where they were asked by Raen Optics, relatively new contenders in the eyewear game, to play the premiere of a new short surf film, I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, taking its name from the Electric Prunes' psychedelic classic. Directed by Dustin Humphrey, the owner of custom motorcycle-surfboard Aussie company Deus ex Machina, the film is a nostalgic glimpse into the lives of two surfers in search of the perfect wave in Bali, Indonesia. A little like Endless Summer, the film's soundtrack features indie songs, most notably Old Man Canyon's "Wiser," a whimsical track with a jangly Bon Iver feel.
"We love the band and thought they would be perfect for the crowd!" said Julia Heit of Raen, regarding the pairing of Allah-Las with the surf film's Southern California premiere. "You're very '60s surf," said Heit of the band. "And you guys are good to look at." Which definitely helps.
But looks aren't always everything. Allah-Las may wear velour shirts and get sand stuck in the folds of their pants, but they perform seriously, with meticulous yet loose precision. Their live set is an accurate portrayal of the recordings, which is rare, especially in a time of overproducing and digital enhancements. These guys have the practice.
Allah-las have been together since 2008. After establishing street cred and playing more shows than they could count, the band recorded its first album in 2012, with a little help from friend Nick Waterhouse. Released on L.A. indie Innovative Leisure -- the home of Waterhouse, Hanni El Khatib and Tijuana Panthers -- their eponymous debut instantly became a KCRW favorite, with plenty of rotation at beach-front bars. Ralph Lauren and Miller Lite even used two of the songs from the album in commercials. But the band was criticized for belaboring over the project for too long. "Our first record is really us recording our live set after playing those songs for about two years," said Correia. "This record was created in the studio."
"We did some self-recordings," Correia said, "because we thought some of the songs would be better if we just did them ourselves."
And he was right. Reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Then Play On in flow, the songs on Worship the Sun vary from Kinks-like upbeat melodies to instrumental surf jams rich with percussion. The album is more mature, robust and experimental than their debut, and not as painstakingly combed through, possibly because of its multiple sessions. "Different songs have different feelings," said Correia, a refreshing quality that oftentimes is lost on a band pigeonholed into a surf category.
"Different people got together," Correia continued, "whether it was two of us or one of us or three of us, or all of us, and then worked it out in the studio to see what other people had to bring to the sessions." Like a solid force, the band contributes equally to the creative process. They also share more instruments than you'd think. Guitarist Siadiatian sings on three tracks on the new record. Lead singer Michaud contributes piano to an instrumental number wonderfully riddled with percussion. Album producer Dan Horne of Beachwood Sparks, and a frequent collaborator with Jonathan Wilson, plays pedal steel on two tracks, one of which brings to mind Gram Parsons.
"It's not just about having fun in the sun," Siadatian said of the album title, dismissing the notion that "surf" music is merely flippant pop. "It's more spiritual than that." Allah-Las believe in the sun, and their surf ballads are their testimony.