Allah-Las won’t let you pigeon-hole them: ‘We don’t try for a certain sound’

The quartet are back taking aim at critics who call them retro revivalists, calling out tech-bros and explaining why their name isnt such a big deal

Before their eponymous debut album was released, LAs gauze-pop dreamers Allah-Las kicked drummer Matt Correia out of the band. I wanted to go to the beach, and they wanted to practice because maybe we had a gig coming up, he remembers. So I got the boot.

The remaining three called a friend to sit in on sticks. But in his first practice he started throwing in all these different paradiddles and time signatures, says lead singer Miles Michaud. We were looking at each other, going: Man, we need Matt back, we miss Matt. Three days later, Correia was back in the band.

It is an anecdote that somehow captures their essence: a gang as much as a band, but one with a shared musical vision and, as it turned out, beneath their stoner drawls and surf-soaked sounds, the ambition to become one of the west coasts most highly rated groups on their own terms.

Were talking ahead of a big few months for Allah-Las. On Sunday the quartet thats Correia and Michaud, along with guitarist Pedrum Siadatian and bassist Spencer Dunham will play Full Moon festival on New Yorks Governors Island. Thats followed on 5 September by the start of an 18-date North American tour (first night: Las Vegas) and on 9 September by the release of their third album, Calico Review.

Anticipation hangs heavy in their air, yet so too does a certain wariness. That 2012 debut album had no shortage of admirers (a batch of starry-eyed, minor-key beauties, was how Pitchfork described it). But there was also a critical consensus that Allah-Las didnt so much mine Californias musical heritage as mimic it. Terms such as revivalists and throwbacks got chucked about. References to the Byrds and the Doors were never far away. Even naming their 2014 follow-up Worship the Sun after a Felt song couldnt convince many that their influences stretched beyond LA circa 1965.

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Its ignorant, says Michaud. So many things inspire us what we read, what we see at the movies, conversations we overhear and our music is a subconscious result of all that. We dont try for a certain sound. So the 60s thing we get tired of arguing about it because it never ends. We used to care, but not now.

Does being labelled that way, though, play on their minds when writing new stuff?

I mean, it gets so annoying to be pigeonholed that you think about doing something different, just out of spite, Michaud replies. But youd get pretty lost if you did that. Thats not what being an artist is about.

Either way, theres no doubt the new album is more expansive. Even the name suggests it; Calico Review is, they explain, a reference to a pattern where a variety of colours become one. Thats what the record is, says Siadatian. Lots of separate ideas coming together to be part of a whole.

Its still garage rock, of course; still sun-kissed with 60s swirls; still more doobie than acid drop. But certainly there are darker undercurrents here too. Tracks such as Could Be You and High & Dry hint at northern soul and psychedelia.

Michaud agrees: It has more depth, more variety definitely elements of progress. Yet somehow he seems suspicious of his own word, progress. Its not something we planned, he clarifies after a moments consideration. It just happens how it happens. The songs are always an expression of what were feeling at the time.

If Allah-Las are sensitive to questions of 60s retro-ism, its perhaps because their musical taste and knowledge is genuinely eclectic.

Three of the four were working at LAs Amoeba Music store when they formed in 2008. When the <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jan/20/allah-las-american-cratediggers-in-london” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Guardian took them record shopping for a feature in 2013, meanwhile, their purchases included a Dutch garage compilation and a soundtrack by German avant-garde-ists Popol Vuh.

Even the religious reference in their name, they point out, is inspired by the Jesus and Mary Chain. But, yes that name, since they brought it up.

They chose to use Allah Arabic for god because they wanted something holy sounding. But they say they never realised some might interpret it as trivialising or mocking their religious beliefs. We get emails from Muslims, here in the US and around the world, saying theyre offended, but that absolutely wasnt our intention, says Michaud. We email back and explain why we chose the name and mainly they understand.

In Turkey, a show got pulled because the promoter didnt feel comfortable. But whats the alternative? asks Siadatian. Weve had the name so long I dont think we can change it. That wouldnt work. We dont dwell. You know, no regrets.

What the band do regret is the growing gentrification of hometown LA.

The city runs through both their music possibly the finest song on the new album, 200 South La Brea, is named after a local address and through their conversation. A reference to surfing is always around the corner.

People say we could only be an LA band, says Michaud at one point. I guess thats a good thing if our subconscious is being communicated through our art. Yet the city today increasingly feels alien to them. The growing number of techno-preneurs moving in has, they say, changed and destroyed the character of entire neighbourhoods.

I think LA has a bad name because its always attracted a lot of douchebags, says Correia. Everyone knows that. Plastic people coming here chasing plastic dreams. Living here is learning to negotiate that bullshit. But is it getting worse?

Yeah, because these people from Silicon Valley or wherever, they move into areas that are interesting and unique, where creative people live, and because they have so much money, the prices go up. And that means everyone else has to leave, Correia explains. So they eradicate all the elements which made that area interesting in the first place.

Theres a small silence. Then Siadatian clears his throat. But we could move out of town and go somewhere else, he says. Or we could stay pissed off and write songs. So it kind of works.

For now, being pissed off certainly seems to be doing no harm. Reviews for Calico Review havent started coming in yet but the band are confident it will be their best received record yet; in October they head out on their biggest European tour to date.

Not bad for a band who, when they started out, had two members who couldnt yet properly play their instruments. Correia and Dunham were still learning at that point. We had plenty of shows where we were still evolving, getting laughed at onstage, remembers Michaud. So to come this far, we feel very fortunate. Being in a band is the best thing.

  • Allah-Las play Full Moon festival this Sunday

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/19/allah-las-interview-calico-review-full-moon-festival

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