Q&A with Allah-Las

by Tanvi Sehgal

Q&A with Allah-Las

WRBB caught up with Miles Michaud of Allah-Las to chat about their unique sound, Mediterranean diets, and the zen of Bob Ross videos. Calico Review is out now via Kemado Records and Mexican Summer.

Tanvi: What is your creative process like? How does your music all come together?
Miles Michaud: Depends; different songs have different approaches. There’s never been one method or way or writing style that we use. A lot of tracks start with an idea, a riff, a concept, and then we kind of just build off that together. On our latest record, a lot of the songs were written on our off time individually, almost written completely, and then finished and polished together and you know, what not.

You guys wrote separately and then somehow put it all together?
Yeah, that’s mostly because we’d been touring a lot together, and then we were done touring, we wanted to not be together all the time–so we took that time to write songs. Then, when we went back to the studio, we kind of showed them to each other, learned them together, and then we would make little changes. Embellish them, improve them, in the studio.

That’s really cool. And it flows and meshes together well?
Yeah I mean, the thing is no matter what we come up with or what the song is, when we come together and start to play it, it just kinda grows into an Allah-Las song. It could be playing like a, I don’t know, a Billy Joel song or something…it just sounds like us because that’s just how we play and how we sound and all those things. It’s funny cause we did worry that it would not sound like Allah-Las if we did that, but by the time the song goes through the washer and comes out the other end, it just has our sound on it. Couldn’t help it if we tried.

That’s sick. Was it just the last album you guys decided to try this alternative method for your creative process, or did you do it like this for most of your albums?
The second album had some songs like that as well, but the first album is just, well the first album…Sandy I wrote separately, Pedrum wrote Sacred Sands, but most of the songs were just a product of us getting together, jamming… We basically wrote that record over the first four years that we were a band. Just the songs that we played live and the ones that stuck with us. For those twelve tracks on the record, there’s probably a hundred that we had played. That record was mostly written together in the studio–in the rehearsal state–but since then, we tend to just be writing more individually in general, I guess that’s just the natural course of things.

You guys each probably have your own unique writing style? How would you compare yours to the other members?
Pedrum [Siadatian] tends to be very technical in his songwriting. I tend to be more melodic and simple, I don’t know what the word is…I guess because he’s foremost a guitarist and I’m more of a vocalist, that’s how our individual minds work.

I read that the other members all used to work at Amoeba together, how did you all meet and decide you guys want to make music together?
I went to highschool with Matt and Spencer–actually went to middle school with Spencer too, so I’ve known those guys for a while. They started working at Amoeba, and I actually tried to get a job at Amoeba too, but they told Matt that they weren’t hiring anymore surfers at the moment so I couldn’t get a job…which was probably for the best. But they met Pedrum there at Amoeba… First Pedrum and Spencer met and they kind of hit it off, you know, digging the same kind of music, and had some bedroom recordings they had done, shared them, and decided that they’d try to give playing together a try. They got to jam once or twice, and then invited Matt along. They wanted somebody to sing, and I was taking voice lessons at the time–with an old lady…well, I mean, they were lessons in technique, she was an opera singer. She was really cool; her name was Gloria Bennett. She used to do opera on the radio, very sweet lady. Anyway, Spencer and Matt knew that, so they invited me to come by to sing ,and that’s how it started. We did that in 2008 and our first show we had was like three weeks after we started playing together. Didn’t even have songs or anything, just kind of had some riffs and some concepts and I just kinda made up lyrics over them. But people were like, yeah that sounded cool. And we were surprised, but we were like, “well, we’ll have to do it again sometime.” From then on, we just played whatever we could for a few years, then we made our first record. Now it’s all we do.

I know you guys are touring soon. I’m guessing touring is super hectic–how do you deal with the busy schedule involved with touring?
M: It’s pretty rough. Especially in the states–there’s a lot of space between cities, so a lot of times, you’re driving like four or five hours a day, especially in the west. The eastern seaboard isn’t so bad. This is the first tour we’re doing with a nightliner, which is a tour bus but at the end of the night, around 2 or 3 am, the bus leaves the venue and drives to the next city. You just sleep in the bus overnight and wake up in the next city, so that’ll be nice. It’s the first time we’re doing that.

Do you have any stress relief that you go to?
Well, we watch a lot of Bob Ross videos. It’s pretty, it’s therapeutic. Zen-like.

What’s your recording process like? Do you record live or take by take?
We record the drums, bass, and guitars, and the rhythm guitar all together and then we’ll do a few takes of that until we get one we feel comfortable with. Then we’ll overdub, whatever, other guitars, piano, vocals, you know, all that stuff comes after. But yeah, we usually, we’ve been doing a lot of records on tape, so it’s easier to play all together and get as much sound down at once so you don’t have to do a lot of editing later.

What has been your favorite music festival to play at?
We’ve played a lot of festivals…we played this one in Netherlands that was on an island. You had to take this ferry there, and I don’t even remember what it’s called to be honest. Stupid… It was in the forest. They had lit up the forest at night, and you had to walk through this lit up forest that had shimmering lights and all this cool stuff in between stages. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t realize there were so many festivals before we started playing them all, but it’s crazy how many there are all over the world. They can be fun, but honestly, playing festivals is a little stressful because you don’t get time to really check your sound and often you’re rushed on stage and off stage–it’s not as rewarding musically as playing club shows, but it’s definitely a fun experience.

Do you enjoy playing your own independent shows more than at a festival?
Well I guess it goes back and forth. The nice thing about a festival is that you get exposed to a lot of new listeners who wouldn’t know to go to your show in the first place. So it’s a give and take. But overall, playing at a club where you have the sound dialed in and you know that the audience is right there and receptive and know the music; that’s a good feeling.

What’s been your favorite food you’ve eaten from the places you’ve been?
Well, I gotta say, I love Greek food. I love the Mediterranean diet. I love putting lemon on everything. Everything’s so fresh and our promoter down there– this guy named Tasos–loves to eat. Whenever we go down there, he takes us out for a Greek feast and he just orders twenty dishes for the table. Fish, meats, vegetables, potatoes, tzatziki… it’s delicious.

A lot of the footage in your music videos seem to be from your lives. Do you guys have an idea for the music video before you make it or do you let the video take its course?
Well, we try to always bring these super eight cameras on the road, and we just shoot a bunch of that film. Some of the videos are just compilations of those and that stuff, you know, we didn’t shoot it thinking we were gonna make a video or anything. We just shot it cause we wanted to shoot super eight. We’ve tried a few concept videos, and it’s hit or miss. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve actually made videos we didn’t release, so I think it’s just easier to come up with something that doesn’t necessarily have a narrative or a concept, just something visually enticing to watch while you listen to the song.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
Well, my folks were into like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and I remember my mom was super into Joni Mitchell. My dad was more into–he was always into new music. I remember him being into Radiohead. I remember he bought Kid A, that Radiohead album. I didn’t get it at the time–I was more into this punk rock. In grade school, we were into Rancid and some ska stuff like Skankin’ Pickle and The Specials, and all that kind of stuff

Did any of the music you grew up listening to have a big impact that stands out on the music you create today?
Um, I don’t know. I mean, I think that, in terms of melodies and the way that I understand music, it has to. Your brain is just soaking up information so readily at that age that I think the very foundation of how I understand music is probably interpreted through that stuff…but I don’t think it was until high school, when I started really getting into music, that I found the sounds that are what you can hear in our music now.

What’s the craziest or most fun show you’ve ever played at?
Jeez, I don’t know…You know what’s a good, fun story? Early early on, before we even had a record out, we played a show with The Black Lips at the Hard Rock in San Diego, and it was all ages. It was the worst idea for a show, in hindsight. It was all ages, open bar, and free to get in with RSVP. So there was a line around the block to get in. Black Lips played one song and people were going nuts. Then, they started in on Sea of Blasphemy and all these kids rushed the stage and I remember the security started running down and throwing people off stage to stop the kids. The kids were knocking over the amps, the mics, and everything was just going to shit. I remember Jared climbed up on one of the speakers on stage, and the security guard was trying get him down and he was holding his bass and kind of stabbing at the security guard with the head of his guitar. They shut the show down, and everybody got kicked out. Those guys, they just have wild shows.

In your opinion how would you describe the Allah-Las? Or what kinda genre? Because it’s not very easily definable!
Yeah, and people ask all the time you know like “oh you’re in a band, what kinda music?”. I just say rock n roll. You know, I’d waste half of my life trying to explain what it is when you just gotta hear it. I think that’s it. And as an artist, as a musician, I tend to shy away from defining myself. I think a lot of artists do. It’s pretty common. So, you know, just rock n roll.

Catch Allah-Las on tour this spring:

3.11 |Marfa| Marfa Myths *
3.13 | Kansas City| The Record Bar
3.14 | Minneapolis| Triple Rock Social Club
3.15 | Milwaukee| Turner Hall Ballroom
3.16 |Chicago| Thalia Hall
3.17 | Cleveland| Beachland Ballroom
3.18 | Detroit| El Club
3.20 | Toronto| The Mod Club
3.21 | Montreal| Rialto Theater
3.22 | Philadelphia| Union Transfer
3.24 | New York| Webster Hall
3.25| Boston| Brighton Music Hall
3.27 | Washington DC | 9:30 Club
3.29| Athens| Georgia Theatre
3.30| Asheville | The Grey Eagle
3.31 | Atlanta | Terminal West
4.01 | New Orleans |One Eyed Jacks
4.03 | Houston | Walter’s
4.04 |Austin | The Mohawk
4.07 | Denver | Gothic Theatre
4.08 | Salt Lake City | Metro Music Hall
4.16 | Coachella | Indio *
4.23 | Coachella |Indio *

* w/o The Babe Rainbow

Listen to Calico Review:

Thanks to Allah-Las for Miles Michaud for the opportunity to interview, as well as Lauren Bodin of Universal Music and the Mexican Summer team for coordinating.