I first heard the band in 2015 opening for the likes of Beck, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spektor at the unique “Echo in the Canyon” showcase—a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the “Laurel Canyon sound”—a high watermark in SoCal music, from whence a psychedelic surf-rock emerged to dominate rock’n’roll for over a decade. Allah-Las were the only act that evening to not play covers—their original songs integrating seamlessly.
From having read other interviews, the band appeared sensitive to being too tightly affiliated with any particular sound or time. Unable to help myself, I ask: Is retro a dirty word?
“For some reason it’s an annoying word,” Siadatian offers. “I guess it just comes up so frequently,” Dunham adds. “All music is retrospective in a way,” Siadatian continues, “You can’t control how people want to describe your music.” “Also,” Michaud comments, “I think having a perspective that includes music from the past is one of the things that marks current art, and culture, and trends—so is it retro if it’s current? Or can it be current and retro at the same time? It’s almost a Catch-22.” The band’s sentences flow into each other, their life-long friendship—three of the four grew up together amongst the waves of Manhattan Beach—evident in the fluidity of their communication.
On the theme of looking back, I ask the boys the seminal question of now: How would they make America great again? “Lower the rent.” Dunham quips. “It’s hard to say,” Michaud offers, “because I think what people view as progress—a lot of people view that as the economy rebounding—it’s back up again, but you just have a concentration of power and wealth in smaller and smaller groups, and I think things work better when individuals have more property and wealth to themselves. I think that the concept of making America great again means turning back the clock to a lot of people, but that’s not feasible.” “I think the first step would be to remove Trump from any kind of involvement in American politics,” Siadatian concludes.
Frightnening political machinations seem a world away from here, where serendipitously, not one, but two of Allah-Lah’s songs drift across the sound system as we down beers in the sun. It washes perfectly over poolside vibes beneath Californian palms, with the relaxed, upbeat energy of warm tube amps and infectious harmonies. “Any location seeps into the people who live there, and influences how they interpret those surroundings.” Siadatian observes as we chat about the curious way that music can speak so strongly for locations and subcultures.
But clearly Allah-Las’ resonate with a wide geography, and the band have gathered a global following from their first two studio albums, with their third due in September. The first new single, “Famous Phone Figure” takes lyrical swipes at social media stars, yet possesses a sonic quality that reminds me of both The Beatles and Bowie—an assertion that the boys modestly reject. I can’t help but feel that their music isn’t retro so much as timeless—possessing a catchiness that makes you feel like you just might have heard it before.
Photographer: Alexandra Hainer for Tack Artist Group.
Stylist: Soaree Cohen.
Groomer: Marina Gravani for Tack Artist Group.