As the sun went down, Shana Cleveland posed with a guitar in front of a manzanita tree in the backyard of her countryside northern California home. The scene, captured by photographer Chantel Beam, was illuminated by a spotlight to compensate for the evening’s darkness and complemented by paper mache flowers made by Cleveland’s friend, Lauren Corden.
Cleveland described the fitting nature of this image that graces the cover of her most recent album, “Manzanita,” released on March 10. Cleveland founded her music career in the chatty guitar and heavy drum riffs of the alternative band La Luz, but this record speaks to a calmer, more diaristic set of musical intentions.
Cleveland plans to extend her effusive spirit to the SLO community as she opens for indie R&B punk quartet Shannon and the Clams at SLO Brew Rock this upcoming Tuesday, May 16, at 7 p.m.
Cleveland’s intimate experience with motherhood, illness and California flora reshaped her creative process from that of an explosive collaborative endeavor to an inward exploration of self and her relationship to the natural world.
“You’re not going to dance to the songs on ‘Manzanita,’” she laughed. “You will go on a journey in your mind, if you’re feeling comfortable.”
Cleveland wrote most of the album while pregnant with her son, Ozzy. The nine months of pregnancy recontextualized what her creative aspirations and visions were, not only for her music but herself. She said she feels like becoming a mother resulted in a completely new terrain of emotions she attempts to explain and explore on “Manzanita.”
“It’s wild the feeling that you would actually do anything for this person and you’d always put this person ahead of yourself,” she said.
Not only does she touch on the precipice of new and untrodden feelings in the album, but she also reflects on the person she saw herself as before becoming a mother.
“Maybe I was a selfish person before, but I didn’t know this feeling,” she said.
Her vulnerability is a gift, and through pursuing an opportunity to explore the often unacknowledged facets of identity, “Manzanita” emerges from the chrysalis as a mosaic of glittering songwriting.
Cleveland said she sees the natural world as her muse and, as a result, a majority of the physical writing of “Manzanita” took place outside. She said she will sit in her front yard thinking in a lawn chair, lounging under the sun and strumming her guitar waiting for the daylight to stop covering the fields.
“It’s nice to write outside because it feels like a collaboration with nature, in a way,” she said.
Citing Mort Garson’s 1976 record “Mother Earth’s Plantasia” as a reference, Cleveland explored how music could take inspiration from nature, even to the point of recreating facets of nature through electronic noises and harmonies.
Many of the synths on “Manzanita” serve to replicate the chirps and buzzing of bugs in the natural world. The rebirth and naturalistic life cycles that the record investigates echo warm and blossoming spring sensibilities, a notion Cleveland emphasized on the record.
“Optimism of spring feels appropriate for the music,” she said.
The principles of rebirth and peace that spring is so commonly associated with are an essential part of Cleveland’s musical vision with this record, and the reason she saw herself sharing the album during the season.
“I really was hoping that the record would come out in the spring because I do think of it as a springtime record,” Cleveland said.
Both written on the album cover and sung in the final track “Walking Through Morning Dew” is “Everything is blindingly in bloom.”
When performing on this current tour, Cleveland has found that the new songs have truly resonated with an audience.
“This music is so intimate that the interactions I have with people tend to be pretty emotional,” she said. At a show in Chicago, she recalled, a man came up to her after the show and told Cleveland how her music made him feel calmer as an anxious person.
“It’s kinda why I do it,” Cleveland said. “Playing this music makes me feel really relaxed and at peace, so it’s really nice to hear it does that for other people.”
As she continues touring, Cleveland finds that the performances with her band get better every night. The current lineup of her touring band consists of Geneva Harrison on drums, Luke Bergman on pedal steel guitar and Will Sprott, who is also performing with Shannon and the Clams, on keyboard.
Cleveland talked about her excitement about returning to play shows in her home state of California, making stops in Santa Barbara, Pioneertown, Big Sur and San Luis Obispo.