Photography by Alexandra Cabral
Allah-Las‘ latest record, ZUMA 85, is named after a John Divola photograph that doubles as the album artwork: taken inside an abandoned house on Miami’s Zuma beach, we see a vivid sunset rise through the obliterated window frame – curtains ragged, glass smashed to bits. “It was a nice kind of interpretation of the album in a way,” Allah-Las frontman Miles Michaud tells us backstage before the band’s gig at London’s KOKO. “You have the sunset, and that’s moving more like the traditional sound, and then you have the decrepit. There’s both of those elements battling throughout the record.”
In Zuma 85 (the record), Allah-Las shift gears from their signature easeful surf waves towards a more underground, ambient place, washed up on new shores. Embracing influences of late-era Lou Reed and John Cale, Royal Trux and early Roxy Music, there’s a raw experimental edge that surges through the record – while these tracks were crafted on Stinson Beach, their essence is in an after-hours downtown beat. We chat to Michaud about the band’s new sound and how the band have changed since their last album.
Alex James Taylor: When was the last time you guys were in London?
Miles Michaud: I’d say, 2019. I think the last place we played was EartH (in Hackney).
AJT: Before the world shut down. Congrats on the record, it’s really nice to hear your progression. Can you talk me through what your mindset was going into the album? Did you have a plan or did you just go straight in the studio?
MM: We didn’t have a whole lot of plan. We had got together a few times for some rehearsal-writing sessions and came up with a few jams we liked – fifteen or sixteen. Some of them didn’t even have changes or anything like that, and then I also had like two or three tracks that I’d fully written out in demo. We hadn’t been in the studio together for a long time, and, to be honest, it was nice to have the break of the pandemic, because we’d been going at it for like eight years non-stop. The studio we recorded at was this place up in Marin County North of San Francisco. Beautiful Studio, beautiful area. The guy we worked with, Jeremy Harris, is really good at pulling it out of us and it felt fresh again. Because we hadn’t been doing it for so long, we had each spent some time apart from each other, apart from the band. I’d had a baby and like, we each had all these things, and to get back together, it felt exciting again. We weren’t sure what to expect, but that was really refreshing. So we laid down like eighteen tracks in the first session we were up there, and then we took a few weeks off and went back for another eight, nine days and finished the record in three sessions. We kind of just let it spill out, like any idea that comes, just record it, and we’ll sift through it later and see what we need to do.
AJT: You can feel it, you guys obviously had a lot of fun.
MM: Exactly. Not try to overthink it, or not trying to do anything other than just let the music come to us and put down whatever came to mind.
“I’m always toying with the idea of buying a plot of land, building a studio somewhere and just raising chickens and making records.”
AJT: In the press notes it speaks about how you took sketches into the studio, records to listen to and different references. I’m interested in those items.
MM: We always have some art books and some photography, I think Matt [Correia], our drummer, is the most visual in that regard. He always has some books around. We drove around every day listening to what we’d recorded and listening to other records as well and kind of internalising those things. Then when we’d go to record each night, oftentimes those things would just slip in and out. I say it again, that environment really is inspiring. Every morning, I would walk through, like there’s like a rainforest that’s in between the house and the beach, and I’d walk through with my headphones listening to the stuff we recorded and just let my mind wander. It’s really a special place.
AJT: Is that where the field recordings for Zuma 85 were recorded?
MM: Yeah, that was just outside of the studio.
AJT: And the John Divola image on the album cover, how did that come about?
MM: Again, Matt being the visual guy, he’d been into John’s work, and he lives maybe like an hour and a half from LA. He has this whole series that he shot from inside these dilapidated apartment buildings on Zuma Beach, and that was number 85. We just felt it was a nice interpretation of the album; you have the sunset, and that’s more like our traditional sound, and then you have the decrepit. There are kind of both of those elements battling throughout the record.
Zuma 85 album artwork / photography by John Divola
AJT: In terms of the sound, you can hear that change in pace and depth – was that a decision when heading into the studio?
MM: Everybody has their own idea of what things are going to sound like, and it’s just kind of based on what you’re into at the moment. When you work with a band, especially with us, nothing ever comes out exactly like one person had in mind. It’s always going through the ringer and comes out miles on the other end. We hardly ever vocalise those things. You never say like, “I want it to sound like this, I want to sound like that.” You just play a part, you say hey, “Try this thing,” and then it just all kind of comes out.
AJT: Is there a specific time of the day you like to record?
MM: So for this spot, we did like 5 PM to 2 AM, sometimes 3 AM and then wake up at noon. We definitely prefer doing these things when the sun is down, because otherwise you just want to be outside. Especially there. We slept at the studio, and we’d go like eight, nine days in a row.
“We definitely prefer doing these things when the sun is down”
AJT: You recently became a father, did that change things at all for you in terms of the music?
MM: Yes. It’s definitely subject matter, I wrote a song about that experience, and… the traveling is a lot more difficult, like, you have to just pick up and go whenever somebody calls. You’ve got to really plan it out, and my wife and my daughter are meeting us at the end of this tour, we’re going to spend some time in Athens together.
AJT: Do you find that LA is now more than ever a rooting place for you?
MM: Yes and no. I do love it, and I do think it’s valuable to raise a kid somewhere near a city and let them have that experience, but I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realise that I’d much rather be in the natural world than the city. I’m always toying with the idea of buying a plot of land, building a studio somewhere and just raising chickens and making records. But I live in Topanga, which is already kind of like that, it’s up near Balboa and it’s really very rustic.
Allah Las’ new record Zuma 85 is out October 13th via Innovative Leisure / Calico Discos.