Allah-Las’ history as a band reads like the script for the next U.S. smash TV-series: four young, handsome surfer dudes from California form a band and then one after the other each member loses his girlfriend. Three of the four (Matt, Miles and Spencer) have known each other since high-school, later three of the four (Matt, Pedrum and Spencer) work together in Amoeba Records, one of Los Angeles‘ most important record stores. They all share an affinity to vinyl from the period between the 60s and the 80s and each of them is already trying to figure out his own musical project. When the guys decide to make music together none of them know how to play the drums but Matt quickly learns and buddy Nick Waterhouse helps with the recordings. September 2012 sees the release their self-titled debut album. We met them in Basel.
Your debut-album is not only an hommage to the 60s but it actually sounds like it would have been recorded back then. How did you achieve to get that dusty, vinyl, analog feeling of sound?
Pedrum: A lot of it was Nick Waterhouse’s production and the studio we recorded in, which is called the Distillery.
Miles: There‘s lots of dust, you said dusty, and the studio is literally very dusty and dirty.
Pedrum: I got sick every time we recorded there. And there is also all kinds of recording equipment, some of which isn‘t even intended for music that Mike McQ, the owner who is kind of a mad genius, had applied to music-recordings. Mike McQ and Nick Waterhouse together…their combined knowledge helped to make the record to sound the way it does.
Miles: We tried to record it digitally a couple of times, you know with Pro-Tools, but we weren‘t happy with it.
Pedrum: To be fair: We played the songs shitter back then (laughter).
Miles: We always start to sound cool and then Pedrum jumps in and we sound like dicks.
The term »psychedelic« comes up a lot, when reading about you…
Matt:… it‘s a term that people misuse all the time…
Pedrum:…it‘s thrown around very loosely. When I think about psychedelic music, I think of that Spacemen-3-record »Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To«, which I don‘t think is necessarily what we went for, although I think lots of people enjoy listening to our music while on drugs, which is completely fine with us. But lyrically our music doesn‘t reference drug-use.
I quote: „You are more like the L.A. people daydream of, than the actual L.A.?“ What is the difference between both of them and does your music come from daydreams of from your everyday life in the „real“ L.A.?
Matt: I think growing up there, we saw things that people don‘t usually get to see and got a good glimpse of a history of L.A. that isn‘t really talked about. I think the rest of the world sees Los Angeles as a big crowded mess. We just see what makes it really good and all of that gets filtered into our music. I guess when people started saying that our music kind of portrays the Los Angeles they daydream of, that comes from the way we romanticize Los Angeles and what we think it could be like in the future.
»We get those write-ups, like we wrote a Vietnam song wishing we could go back to those times, like we would be reminiscing about our time in Vietnam.«
So more specifically: What does your L.A. sound like, what does it smell like, what are people doing?
Spencer: I think our record sounds like L.A. on a rainy day.
Matt: Definitely smells like Mexican food, dust and sand and the ocean.
Miles: Car exhaust. I think the thing about Los Angeles is that there is so much to absorb, it‘s so spread out and wide reaching that it‘s impossible to really appreciate it in a short manner of time. People who say that they don‘t like Los Angeles never really experienced it. But maybe our key is just that we are the kind of people who try to find the best things.
Matt: We also a bit like »diggers«: Always looking for records people haven‘t heard and places people haven‘t been.
Pedrum: (laughs) Alright, let‘s shut up..
Okay, so we get back to you and your album: It sounds very light and at the same time it‘s about loss and nostalgia – how did that combination came together?:
Matt: In the transition from doing music as kind of a hobby to more of a full time thing we all had some serious break-ups in our lives with our girlfriends…
All of you at the same time?
Miles: Yeah, just by chance.
Pedrum: It was like a domino…
Miles: What‘s funny is that they are all in our oldest videos and one after the other left. And now we have…bullshit-videos (laughter) that don‘t represent us at all.
So what sucks so bad about your videos?
Matt: Well, our first videos had no PR-Push and were just filmed with Pedrum’s old Super-8-camera on various trips we took as a band. Those videos show what we really like but the last three videos (»Tell Me What‘s On Your Mind«, »Busman‘s Holiday« and »Vis-a-Vis«) were directed by other persons. I don‘t think those videos represent us the way I feel about the world around me or our sound.
The combination of your visuals, your music and your lyrics gives me the impression that all of your are very nostalgic…
Pedrum: I think that‘s a compliment. It‘s a very heavy feeling and it‘s nice to induce that with what we‘re doing.
Miles: I‘ve always been nostalgic ever since I was a kid. I was always obsessed with medieval times, with the Tom-Sawyer-times. I like reading books about Los Angeles in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. So I think our music just kind of evokes that nostalgic feeling; the feeling that there was something once that is no longer.
Matt: But we also have a song – »Busman‘s Holiday« -, it‘s a song about war, but people listen to it and say: »Oh, that‘s a song about Vietnam«. It‘s not! It could be about any person in any war. And we get that write-up like we wrote a Vietnam song wishing we could go back to those times, reminiscing about our time in Vietnam.
Pedrum: Yeah, or about our time in World War I.
Spencer: These guys are sooo »retro«.
Don‘t you think that the whole ,retro‘-cliché is caused by your fascinations for old sounds and images?
Spencer: Where the videos fall short is that they add to the idea of being retro, which is not what we necessarily want.
Matt: We like Super-8, we like film. That‘s all just based on our taste. I stress that we don‘t take from one period in any sense. It‘s a lot of periods mixed together. If people are just seeing the surface of popular music you probably won‘t get what we are doing. I think that is just the case; people seeing us thinking »Oh, that‘s just the 60s«.
Pedrum: We started to use the term »retro« in as many jokes as we can. We played in a museum the other week surrounded by dinosaurs and we thought: »This is the most »retro« show we ever played«.
Miles: It‘s funny that people view art as something linear: »Oh, that‘s old art, that‘s new art«. Why is our music considered »retro«, while other music that draws from different times is considered new?