“Strange Songs That Invite You In Gently”: An Interview With Shana Cleveland


The last time I talked with Shana Cleveland, her band La Luz was in the midst of releasing a host of EPs. Since then, they’ve released one full-length, It’s Alive, on Hardly Art, with a followup due out later this year. She’s also released her debut solo album: Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles’ Oh Man, Cover the Ground, on Suicide Squeeze. While it shares a haunting quality with her work in La Luz, Oh Man, Cover the Ground also features a more pastoral aspect, with both the lyrics and the music summoning up images of outdoor scenes. I checked in with Cleveland to learn more about the album’s origins, as well as exploring some of the lyrics heard on it.

Between La Luz and The Curious Mystery, you’ve been playing in bands for a while. Were the songs on this album written concurrently with both?

These songs were mostly written before La Luz got together. I recorded the album with my friend Johnny Goss, who also recorded Damp Face and It’s Alive for La Luz. I told him I wanted it to sound loose and lazy. Strange songs that invite you in gently.

Did your writing process for these songs differ substantially from the process of writing (say) a La Luz song?

Writing these songs, as well as playing them, feels meditative. The songs are rambling and the guitar parts are intricate but repetitive. Lyrically there’s more nature on this album than in La Luz. More of a hazy daydream.

What led to the choice of The Sandcastles as the name of your backing band?

It has my initials. And the mood seemed right.

The release dates of Oh Man, Cover the Ground and La Luz’s next album are within a few months of one another. Do you see these two albums as being at all connected?

No, they were written years apart and feel really different to me.

There’s a lot of natural and pastoral imagery in these songs; was that something you were conscious of as you put the album together?

Yeah. I’m an outdoors kid, in a passive way. I could sit by a river all day, get high, eat some snacks, sit some more, roll around in the grass. That’s what I’d do everyday if I could.

Looking at the album’s lyrics, there are also a lot of references to drives and traversals of the country. Were you drawing on your own experiences, or more looking towards driving as a lyrical archetype?

I’ve been touring pretty frequently over the last several years. Being on the road, always moving, catching brief moments of beauty and leaving them behind. It’s a weird way to live, with long stretches of big boredom. My mind wanders a lot and that feeling seeped into these songs quite a bit.

From its lyrical images to the line “My friend don’t mean it when she says ‘We’re both black, we’re all black,'” “Quiet As Skin” is one of the album’s most specific songs. Was it inspired by an actual event?

When I was in high school I got my first job canvassing for the Sierra Club in rural Michigan. It was mostly a weird and lonely job but at night all the employees would hang out at someone’s house and pass around gross jugs of wine. That song comes from those days of breaking off from the group to make out and stare at the ceiling with this guy I liked. The line “my friend says we’re all black” is from this time around then when I was walking at night with my friend Rebecca and some guy yelled at us and called us “white bitches” which caused Rebecca to yell “WE’RE NOT WHITE!” Which I always tease her about because I’m not white, but she is…and she didn’t take issue with the “bitches” part.

In “Rounding the Block,” you sing “Pass me the microphone.” Is Oh Man, Cover the Ground the result of what happens when the microphone has been passed?

You could say that. With that line I was thinking about my parents, who are both musicians and did a lot of touring before I was born.

Photo: Will Sprott

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