Twenty eight year old musician Lena Simon has had a busy 2018, thus far. Buoyed by the success of 2015’s Weirdo Shrine, Simon’s band, the surfy, irreproachably cool Doom Wop quartet, La Luz, has been incessantly touring the country and putting the finishing touches on their follow up, Floating Features. A song Simon inspired* and co-wrote was nominated for a Grammy. And in January she relocated to Northeast Florida, settling in Springfield with girlfriend and sometimes bandmate, Boytoy’s Glenn Van Dyke.
It’s the kind of frenetic life which the L.A. native Simon has grown accustomed, especially since her days in the Pacific Northwest, where she says she was “notorious” in the Seattle music scene for playing in “five bands at a time.”
On Friday, La Luz will embark on a six-week U.S. jaunt in support of Floating Features—a tour that includes a June 14 stop at Five Points’ Root Down. Before hitting the road—and after a quick surf session—Simon stopped by the VOID office, where we asked her about the new album, her Grammy nomination, and her new home, here in Jacksonville.
How’d you get into music? Do you have any formal training?
Like most third-graders I started out on the recorder [laughs]. And that looks a lot like a clarinet, so I quickly moved on to that. I graduated to clarinet and studied that for like 15 years, which got me into music school, which was cool. I studied at an Arts high school in Los Angeles—classical clarinet, Jazz drums, and classical percussion.
What does classical percussion consist of?
It’s mostly counting bars of rest [laughs]. But when your moment comes, you better be there.
Better hit that gong!
Were you playing in bands growing up, too?
Not really until college. I was in a cover band in 7th grade called Dynamic Distortion. We played like Green Day and Red Hot Chili Peppers stuff. I won Battle of the Bands in 8th grade with a band called Batteries Not Included. Then I took a band hiatus for awhile. All through high school, somehow I didn’t play in bands.
Then I got to Seattle for college and realized there was a major for songwriters. I immediately switched to the composition department. Classical clarinet, I decided then, was not my future. Lame. Great. But lame, for me. I quickly started joining five bands at a time. I was kind of notorious for that in Seattle—a show every night in different bands.
Really? Was it a range of styles?
Oh yeah. Some bands I was even playing clarinet. It was like when that whole Chamber Pop thing was happening. That’s also when I started playing bass—in college.
You have solo projects, as well.
Yes, just one, though. Kairos.
What’s the first CD you ever bought?
I still put it on every now and again. That and Barenaked Ladies.
I’ve picked up on your appreciation for that late ‘90s early 2000s pop.
Yeah, of course. There were a lot of drum machines. Which I still like to use now in Kairos.
How did you come to play in La Luz?
Seattle’s music scene is pretty small. So, once you’ve played in five bands, you’ve kind of played with everybody. I knew everybody in La Luz. Their bass player didn’t want to tour anymore, so they were looking for somebody else. At the same time, I was getting pretty sick of Seattle and wanted to do some extensive touring. They were like, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a bass player that may or may not be female and is ready to go on tour in a couple of months.’ I was like, ‘That’s me. I will do that.’
How long had La Luz been around at that time?
They had one EP and one full length called It’s Alive. After we toured that first time, we started writing Weirdo Shrine.
Were you able to roll in seamlessly and contribute to crafting songs right away? How’d the songwriting process work in La Luz?
Shana [Cleveland] (lead vocals, guitar) usually comes to the band with a skeleton to the songs. She writes the lyrics, but there may or may not be words, depending on the song. Then we’ll just arrange something, add things, slow it down, speed it up. They were very open to suggestions right away. I always preface ideas, when writing with anybody, with, ‘Hey, this might be a really dumb idea. Let’s just try it.’ Set the bar low. I won’t be offended if nobody likes it. If it sounds cool, then great.
Tell me about the new La Luz album.
It’s called Floating Features, which is also the opening, instrumental track. We recorded it in Nashville, Tennessee. We had an invitation to record there. The approach was different than with Weirdo Shrine, where we wanted to capture a more live sound. Ty [Segall] did a great job with that [on Weirdo Shrine]. This round, we wanted to do the opposite and spend more time adding layers. We wanted a more hi-fi sound. We wanted that studio experience.
Is that because the songs lend themselves to that?
I don’t think so. I think when we recorded with Ty, we were in this warehouse where it’s just like, ‘OK, this is a live setting. Let’s capture the song how it sounds live, put some overdubs on it. Done.’ Where as, when you’re in a studio, you have all these toys. You see a vibraphone and you’re like, ‘let’s see what this sounds like.’ It’s a more experimental process, I guess.
So you leave Friday for a six week U.S. tour, right?
Yep. Album release in San Francisco at the Rickshaw Stop. Two nights. All ages. In the past those shows have gotten crazy. Fights in the front row. Crowdsurfing. We end with a homecoming show in L.A. on June 22.
*You wrote a song that was nominated for a Grammy. It’s a great story. Can you share that?
I wrote a song and the song, I guess, bled into this singer K. Flay’s subconscious somehow. Her song called “Blood in the Cut” was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine. She was like, ‘Yo, this sounds like she used your song.’ I had a song called “Dirt and Grit” that was a Kairos song. I listened and the songs were just too similar. So I asked about it and they decided to cut me in. I got a songwriter credit. The song was nominated for a Grammy. It didn’t win, but it was still exciting. She’s done really well with it. It was a breakout song for her.
So you’ve been living in Jacksonville for a bit. I know you have been on the road and not here so much. But what about Jax appealed to you?
Well, growing up in L.A., Jacksonville has a familiar feeling to it. Beach culture. You have to drive everywhere. It was an easy transition for me. I saw how Glenn [Van Dyke] was really inspired to bring in art and culture, music. Winterland was really inspiring. Being from L.A. there’s so much happening there. I would rather feel like I’m adding something to the place I live than just being in a band.
But, again, I’ve mostly just been slowly moving stuff into our house in Springfield.
You’ve been surfing, though.
Yes, I got here in January and it was freezing. It wasn’t what I expected for Florida [laughs]. But I’m gone so much, I’m not surfing enough. I feel out of practice. But today was fun.