It’s hard to think of any other band these days that sounds more “California” than Allah-Las; You can almost hear sunshine in their songs. Their self-titled debut has been out for two years now and has garnered a flood of positive reviews. The praise is well deserved. It’s an incredible record that sounds as though it came straight out of another era. Reminiscent of bands like The Kinks & The Zombies with a healthy dose of California surf-rock added to the mix, the album has often been described as sounding like a hidden gem out of the ’60s psychedelic movement.
The band recently made their way through the Midwest and we were lucky enough to catch up with them at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. Before I could even ask them a question they asked me where they could find a record store. We walked towards KStarke Records on Western Ave. and talked about their tour, their new album, and among other things, how to spell their band name. Here’s my conversation with Miles (Guitar/Vocals), Matt (Drums/Vocals), Pedrum (Guitar/Vocals), & Spencer (Bass/Vocals).
I first saw you guys on a unseasonably cold Chicago night in April of 2013, you were playing with Elephant Stone and The Black Angels. Is this current tour your first headlining tour?
Miles: In the United States it is.
So what’s the difference headlining this tour as opposed to be a supporting act?
Miles: Fewer people so far haha. But you know, I think it’s been a lot better turn out in certain places than we expected. So that’s been a pleasant surprise.
Pedrum: Yea this show sold out.
Is it mostly the smaller towns your having trouble bringing people out?
Miles: Well, we get the ticket sale list every week before this and they were looking pretty dismal…
Matt: Lots of walk-ups…
Miles: Yea, a lot of walk-ups in each and they turned out to be good shows all around.
So you guys have been compared to a ton of ’60s artists. Do you think bands these days are drawing from that decade more, or is it just getting noticed all of a sudden? How do you guys see this sort of Psychedelic/Garage Renaissance we’re in right now?
Pedrum: There do seem to be more groups of that nature going on right now. I think it’s a great thing.
Miles: I think the people really have better access to music through the internet and what not and can hear things that they might not have in previous generations.
Pedrum: There are a lot more record stores now.
[We reach K-Starke Records on Western Ave. which was closed unfortunately.]
Are they closed? Looks like I gave you false hope.
Spencer: They close at 7 or 8pm according to the sign…
It must’ve been a “7pm” Day.
Pedrum: What part of town are we in now?
This is Ukrainian Village, right down from Humboldt Park.
Miles: I saw a sign that said that earlier, I thought it was just like a deli or something, haha.
Going back to the ’60s influence and the like… I’ve asked a lot of people this, but what is “Psych” music in your opinion? The term has been thrown around a lot these day.
Spencer: Yea, we were just talking about this today. I guess it’s kind of relative, it’s not always accurate to describe the band but I think it has the same sort of application has say the word “Indie” to describe a group of bands. It’s just kind of a colloquial term now.
Pedrum: I think classically it was used to describe music that was made by people on drugs for people who take drugs, kind of catering to that experience. Now I think it’s thrown around in regards to music that is reminiscent of that music, or is “trippy” in some way.
I’ve been going to Austin Psych Fest for the last couple of years, we make the drive from Chicago each time. And that’s the stuff I’m into, I got into the Nuggets compilations and just feel in love with the ’60s psych and garage bands. It just seems like “Psych” is this umbrella term now that fits a lot of different styles.
Pedrum: It’s like “Garage Rock” or “Lo-Fi”. We were talking to Ty Segall about this the other day, about how “Lo-Fi” doesn’t really mean anything anymore, it’s just a blanket term, like “Psychedelic” or “Garage” or anything.
I wouldn’t necessary put you guys in the Psychedelic genre, you have elements of it but I’d say you’re more garage rock, pop, etc.
Matt: The first album we released was more straight-forward garage, but if people can listen to it… then the word just evolves with the audience and the people that listen to it. People just like saying “Psychedelic”. It’s a cool way to describe a band.
Yea that’s probably true… and it looks good on a poster.
I wanted to talk about your instrumental tracks. Your first album has two instrumentals, one of which was the B-Side for your single “Tell Me What’s On Your Mind”, and your new single also has an instrumental B-Side. What role do instrumentals play on your records? Do you make a conscience choice to use them as B-Sides?
Miles: I wouldn’t say that we think we have to come up with an instrumental for the B-Side, but we just kind of end up having instrumentals and they work well as B-Sides. Historically, B-Sides have been instrumentals, usually they were just an instrumental version of the vocal track. But I think it works well that way so we just end up putting them on there.
Pedrum: We like instrumentals so it works out. We put them on the LP too.
I like that you guys include those instrumentals, you don’t see too many Pop or Top 40 groups doing that these days, it’s all about hooks.
Pedrum: Back in the day, pre British-Invasion you could have instrumentals be hits. They were at the top of the charts
Pedrum: or “Green Onions”.
You guys all met at Amoeba Records right? Primarily?
Miles: Those three did [Pedrum, Matt, & Spencer], and then us three [Miles, Spencer, & Matt] went to High School together.
Spencer: Basically our group of friends merged with him [Pedrum] at Amoeba Records.
Did you guys bond over a mutual love of records? Or certain genres, certain albums, bands, etc…
Spencer: We kind of became friends naturally and started sharing music with each other.
Did that influence your sound?
Matt: Yea I think so, it’s kind of fun to get together and play music together because we kind of read what each other is doing. We know where everybody is coming from. It’s cohesive.
So you’re all on the same page generally?
Matt: Yea I think we all have different things that we like but there’s a lot of common ground.
That’s hard to find in a band, if you can do that with your friends it’s even better.
You guys have a new album coming out in Fall right?
Miles: Yea, in September.
Your first album got a great response when it came out, positive reviews, I love it myself. You guys did Daytrotter and all of that stuff, what did you take from that success going into the second album, did anything change or did you approach it the same way?
Miles: That first album was basically songs that we came up with jamming live, and playing them live. They evolved through playing them live in a showcase setting. And once we got back from the tours that we did for that record it was time to make a new record. So we didn’t have time to hash things out live, we did it in the studio. We really enjoyed having the ability to do that and take more time on the production and be a little more experimental. I don’t there’s anything we can do to make us sound completely different, it’s all the same basic elements just a little different approach. But we’re really happy with it.
I heard the new single “501-415” and it sounds like some of the most psychedelic stuff you’ve put out so far…
Miles: People have said that, that it feels “older” we didn’t necessarily think that but it’s always interesting to hear people’s feedback.
Does the rest of the album sound more or less like the new single?
Pedrum: That song is definitely an anomaly on the record.
Miles: That’s why it’s a single.
Your first album came out in 2012 and since then you’ve put out a few singles, how much of the last two or three years in between albums has been spent touring and how much has been spent working on the new album?
Miles: Mostly touring.
Matt: A lot of songs were had jammed on, we played, we created on tour before. They just weren’t pieced all together until after words. It’s hard to say exactly how much time we spent on those things. Impossible to say. We wanted to take as much time as we needed to have a product we were proud of. With all the touring that we did after the first record there just wasn’t any other time to do it.
What’s your relationship with the folks at Austin Psych Fest & The Black Angels? I know you guys played the pre-party last year, unfortunately I got down there a day late.
Miles: Yea we’re friends with all of them, they’re really great guys, we hope to play again next year.
Yea it gets better every year. In my mind, it’s the best collection of psychedelic and garage rock bands around.
Pedrum: Yea it’s one of the best festivals we’ve been too.
How do your US shows compare to some of the shows you’ve played in Europe, as far as the crowd reaction and turn out?
Miles: In Europe we’ve played a lot bigger festivals, but there are lot more festivals in Europe so…
You guys just played Bonnaroo right? What was that like?
Miles: It was cool, big crowd…
Pedrum: We played at 4:30 on a Thursday, the first day, and we we’re a little concerned about the turn out but it was packed, there were a lot of people, it was great.
Yea I’ve never been, I know nothing of it and I don’t live all that far from Tennessee… It’s certainly closer than Austin.
Miles: In terms of festivals, it’s really cool. Unlike Austin Psych Fest the bands aren’t quite curated towards one style as much.
It’s a little more all of the place.
Miles: On the bonus side you can see Elton John, Lionel Richie, Kanye West, Ty Segall….
Yea that’s a ridiculous lineup…
Matt: Apparently that’s what the name means, “Bonarroo”, it’s a Dr. John reference where he’s talking about mixing together things.
I never knew that…
Matt: I didn’t know that either.
Pedrum: It means “Good Street” or something…
Miles: “bon” then “rue” means street in french..
Oh yea… I guess that makes sense.
Miles: So yea I don’t know if that’s true or not…
It’s a nice little story though. It’s better than Lollapalooza I guess, that just means a big lollipop.
Miles: I have a question for you.
Miles [Looking at my notebook]: Where does that spelling of our name come from, “Allah-Lahs” How did you see that?
I feel like I copied from Facebook but I must not have if it’s spelled right there… I remember when I first got into you guys, after that show in Chicago, you’re Facebook was called something like the “Allah-la-la-la’s” or something and I didn’t know what the hell your name was!
Miles: Really? Maybe there was a fan page or something that we never knew about. It happens all the time, It’s “Allah-Las” but people spell it L-A-H-S. One time we went to a meeting with this label that was thinking of signing us and outside the room there was this sign that said “Welcome Allah-Lahs”, spelled wrong.
Haha that’s good to know then, I’ll spell it right for the interview now.
Yea that’s interesting…
It’s a great name by the way, even when I hadn’t heard any of your songs I kind of knew I’d like it just based on the name.
So what else has influenced you besides your average ’60s stuff? I feel like you guys would fit in with those Nuggets compilations just fine, old psych stuff, but what were you listening to that informed this music you’re making?
Pedrum: We like a lot of ’60s stuff but not just garage or psych. Lot’s of different genres from that period, folk…
Pedrum: World music…
Matt: And then a lot of ’80s and ’90s stuff that pulled from that period too. Spacemen 3, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Gun Club especially. Those kind of things. That had a big effect on all of us.
Spencer: Gories, we’re big Gories fans too.
Matt: Yea we covered “Nitroglycerin” for a little bit, covered some Bad Seeds too. Beat Happening… The Clean, that was the first bands we ever covered.
Anything else in the works besides the new album? Videos, Singles, etc…
Miles: All of those things, and then we’re going to get back to recording more stuff.
Pedrum: The second album is done.
Miles: We’re going to get a jump start on the third record, it’s one of our favorite things to do. Track things and make music.
That seems to be a trend with bands I talk to. Often their first album is rushed because they might be on a deadline to get something out but the second and third albums they’ve got time to really refine things in the studio. That extra studio time been beneficial for you guys so far?
Miles: Yea, yea, it’s been good.
Matt: I guess on your first record you could spend as much time as you want leading up to it. It depends on who you are I guess. If you’re that band Haim, or whatever, they were like a “buzz band” and then they had all of popularity and they didn’t even have a record out. They were forced to make a record real quickly. For us, our first record, we didn’t know what would happen with it so we took our time on it. We didn’t know if we would just make 500 copies and give it to our friends or what would happen. We took our time.
Any last thoughts, comments?
Miles: Oh yea, you were saying that the new 45 is going to have an instrumental on the back, the B-Side is not going to be on full length record. So that was why it was important to put it on there.
The band’s self-titled album is available via their record label, Innovative Leisure, and at most places you can find fine music. The Pre-Order for their new 7″ single “501-415” has already sold out, but expect more copies to be available soon, and keep an eye out for the new Allah-Las record this September.