Shana Cleveland and Rachel Budde on the Similarities of Perfumery and Songwriting

The La Luz guitarist and the Fat and the Moon founder talk creating a scent together.

Shana Cleveland is an artist and the guitarist of the surf rock band La Luz; Rachel Budde is an herbalist and the founder of the Grass Valley, California-based natural body care company Fat and the Moon. La Luz and Fat and the Moon recently collaborated on a limited edition perfume balm, Dune — to pair with their new self-titled album, which is out now via Hardly Art — so to celebrate, the two hopped on a Zoom call to chat about it.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Shana Cleveland: I met Rachel when I started working at Fat and the Moon. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a full time musician for the last seven years or so, but I moved to this really small town in Northern California [Grass Valley] about four years ago, and I felt like a really weird, creepy outsider, just lurking on the outskirts of town, not knowing anyone. I heard about this company — a friend of mine worked there, and I said, “You know, if you guys are ever hiring to do any menial task, just let me know because I need to, like, be a part of this community in some way.” So I started stickering products there, and I just kind of fell in love with it and I couldn’t leave. 

And then the pandemic happened, and it was kind of like my whole reason for starting to work there went away, because I wasn’t meeting anyone anymore — I was working at home. But I found it really hard to quit, because I kind of fell in love with with the company that Rachel had built. And, here we are!

Rachel Budde: Oh, that’s so funny to hear your your account of that. I feel like as soon as you came into Fat and the Moon, I was like, Oh, my gosh, Shana is a special human. Plus, you just had had Ozzy [Shana’s son], so it was also like, OK, here’s this rock star mama and new member of the community — I just felt right away a lot of resonance and fascination with who you were and what brought you to the community. There’s this weird magnetism that is in Nevada City and Grass Valley, I think, really talented musicians — something’s in the water here that keeps them keeps them coming back. 

Shana totally did start as a stickerer at the Moon, but then you kind of got into everything else, slowly went up the ladder — whatever that means sideways, the sideways ladder. I think this is apparent in [your] songwriting as well, but [you’re a] super amazing, evocative writer. So Shana has been part of our marketing team doing the copywriting. 

The story and the narrative of Fat and the Moon is so special and close to my heart, and has been a really hard part for me to give up to anybody else. But I would say, the one exception really has been Shana. There was a real mutual love of Shana and her music, and just who she was as a human. I feel like your music is sort of this entity, and then for me, Fat and the Moon is my entity — there’s a resonance there. So it’s been really cool to get to work with you. Especially because of COVID, I feel like we had an opportunity to work way more closely together than we probably would have if you were just continuing to go on tour. So, yeah, I’m grateful for that that time.

Shana: Yeah, I think the cool thing for me has been that I’ve been sort of, I guess, the front person in a band for so long, but I’ve always had a fantasy of just having the most minimal role, just being sort of on the side playing the triangle or the tambourine or something — just getting to be a part of something that I loved, but getting to be a side person. So I feel like that’s what I liked about the Moon. It was like, I can join this band and not have the pressure of it being my face at the front of it, but still have like a creative role.

One thing I was curious about, because I am a new member of this small town community, is how it’s been for you as a creative person to live in such a small town. I think that your experience is a lot different than mine — what drew me here was the sort of anonymity, in a way. I think I struggle with the feeling of wanting to be a part of the community, and also really enjoying not being part of the community and people not knowing who I am. Whereas for you, I feel like you probably go to the grocery store and see a dozen people that you know, all the time. What that’s like, to be creating in a town where everyone knows who you are and maybe has opinions about who you are and what you’re doing?

Rachel: I think, mostly, I really like it. Mostly I just like the feeling of connection. I like the feeling of like just, like, pedestrian culture, where you walk down the street and you’re like, “Hey, George, hey, Sue!” That feels good to me. It feels really grounding. It’s probably like a really old, deep part of me that wants to be part of a village, you know? 

I think this place has a pretty exceptional community of artists, especially of women that I’ve been super inspired by. So I feel like even though it is a small town and there’s a lot of [problematic] elements that we’ve talked about, there’s also just understanding. I think because there’s so many creative women here, I feel this support on that level. Especially because I have a kiddo. There’s a sense that there’s people who are there for you, who have your back, and would hang out with your kid if you really need it — but also really get a creative vision, and want to support it. That’s been my experience. 

Bringing Fat and the Moon here felt really good, because there’s a lot of people who move to Nevada City or Grass Valley and they, like, want a piece of it, they want something from it. But it felt really cool to bring something additional here, to give something to the community. This place has given me a lot, so I want to also create things for it. 

Shana: When you mentioned a lot of supportive women here, it reminded me of the statistic that there were more women than men in this town in general. Have you heard that? 

Rachel: Yeah!

Shana: Why do you think that is? 

Rachel: Have we talked about this, the Tibetan monks that usually come here every year, except for COVID, who do the sand mandala? 

Shana: No.

Rachel: OK, so they talk about this place, the Nevada City, Grass Valley area — because of geological formations and all the elements that make this place, the gold that’s here, people who live here have their karma sped up. There’s something kind of mystical and magical that when I first moved here, I was stunned. Like, super talented, amazing women, beautiful, all with giant earrings — I was like, What is the phenomenon here? This is crazy, and I want to be a part of it. It’s mysterious, but also really cool. 

I feel like, too, as a musician, you kind of do have one foot in a community and one foot out when you’re touring. What’s your sweet spot? How do you imagine what community looks like when you are also on the road a lot?

Shana: I’ve just been so hesitant to get involved in the music community here, even though I know that there are so many great musicians here. I hear about it all the time from people that I trust, I believe it. But I think I had such a great community in Seattle that I’m sort of nervous to jump in and be disappointed or something. And I think also part of it is that just the size of the town kind of freaks me out in that way — when I lived in Seattle, by the time that I left, it was like every time I left the house, somebody would come up to me and say, “I love your album!” Which was amazing, but also made me feel a little exposed. So I kind of fear that here, like if I were to start playing shows here as a loner, which I have always been. I’m just very reluctant to get to a place where people know me. 

I think I just like being an observer. When I lived in Chicago, I loved the feeling of how big the city was and how I could just wander around all day long and never see anyone I knew and just sort of take notes and be inspired by things that I didn’t understand, things that I could sort of just guess about and can come up with my own stories about. I’m afraid of the mystery not being here if I become too involved in the town.

Rachel: It’s interesting, though, because then with Ozzy, I feel like there’s a practical side of needing community as a mama and as a family that is sort of inevitable, just getting your kid involved with preschool and stuff.

Shana: That would be the thing that would make me cut that out. and just doing some stuff. That’s the thing that I really struggle with — I have to figure out if I want to be here or not, because I’ve got this baby and I don’t want to drag him around every time I get a new impulse. Yeah. But then, you know, there’s all these other elements, like the lack of diversity in town. I’m like, Is this the place where I want my mixed race child to grow up? But we are a long way away from perfume now. [Laughs.]

Rachel: This is kind of the backdrop though, because I feel like one of the things about a small town with a lot of creative people is there’s a lot of potential for cross-pollination. That is one of the things that I really like about living here — when I lived in New York City, it’s like, you hang out with the people who are in your scene, and there’s not that same opportunity for, like, a musician and an herbalist to do something together. It felt really natural to do something together. And I want to keep doing that, because I feel like scent and music are so evocative — they make you feel memories, they make you feel places, they make you feel like all of a sudden you’re in a different time and space.

Shana: Yeah, I do love that idea of this smaller pool opening up your willingness to cross pollinate in that way. I think that’s a cool idea, and I feel like that’s even something that I’ve noticed with my neighbors, and just sort of being surrounded by Trump supporters and being like, Oh, OK, actually, these people are OK. You know, most of them are great neighbors. That’s been probably my biggest takeaway so far, a smaller pool forcing you to talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to. So it’s cool to hear that you feel like that also extends into your world as an artist. I think that’s the best case scenario in my mind. 

As far as the perfume, I think it’s exciting to me because, putting out an album is such a big deal as a musician — you only really do a handful of these things in the life of a band. If you’re lucky, maybe you become the Rolling Stones or something, and you put out a couple of dozen. But most bands, it’s maybe half a dozen, if you’re lucky. So there’s so much energy that goes into it, so much creative energy obviously into the audio, but also the visual — you know, you’re thinking about the cover and the posters and the T-shirt, the music videos and sort of creating this whole visual world around the album. So it’s exciting to me, the idea of adding this other sense to the mix. So I’m stoked that you wanted to collaborate on this perfume.

Rachel: I also just loved the process of you having such a big hand in the creation of the scent. Which makes way more sense, just in terms of, you know what you are trying to evoke. I feel like I just got to create a little space and kind of be like, “Yeah, do it!” 

Shana: It was interesting to me how that process went down, because it felt in retrospect sort of similar to writing a song, where we were throwing around ideas for a couple of months, going back and forth. I’ve certainly done that with songs. Some songs just come right away and you’re just like, “Yep, that’s it. That’s that’s exactly the song.” And then some of them you write, and then you’re just like, “This is a good song, but this isn’t the song that it’s supposed to be. It’s really difficult to know sometimes why one song just feels right and one doesn’t, and some songs, I’ll just kind of kick around for years. And then all of a sudden, I’ll change a lyric or I’ll change a chorus and I’ll be like, “There it is. That’s it.” 

I feel like that’s how this perfume was, where we had tried — I think this was the 18th version of it. And all of the other versions were great. I have them all in a big tote bag, and I’m so stoked because it’s, like, 17 private perfumes, you know? It was really interesting because it was like, “OK, there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not clicking.” It was learning a new language in a way, to me, because I had to figure out with Jenny, the head maker at Fat and the Moon, how to just throw some ideas around and see what ended up clicking. When we came up with number 18, I smelled it and I was just like, “Yeah, I think this is it.” And I remember you smelled it and right away, you were just like, “That’s it.” And you’re not even in my brain — I was just kind of like, “I want it to smell like the album,” and you were coming at it from a different place, but we all kind of knew.

Rachel: Yeah, it’s cool. It’s kind of like composition — it’s like, what are the elements that need to come together? And then there’s a click. That process is so addictive. Especially with essential oil-based scents, because you’re working with plants and they are really complex beings. They’re live elements, so you’ll have this idea of, Oh, I’ll just put these two plants together and it’s going to be really good, but then they come together and it’s weird and not good. It’s so mysterious. It’s such a cool learning experience, and really feels like a conversation. I feel like that’s the part that artists are attracted to, just that conversation with materials and with other elements. 

Shana: Yeah, I think about some of the early versions, the really early ones that Jenny put together, and I don’t remember if it was you or her that said they smelled like a dentist’s office. [Laughs.] It was something weird.

Rachel: Yeah, there was one that smelled like canned peas. I was just like, “Get this away from me.” You’re like, How could cedar and lavender smell like canned peas? It doesn’t make sense! 

Shana: It’s so weird. I think I told you that I made a perfume once, a long time ago, and when Will, my partner, smelled it, he smelled hot dogs. [Laughs.] So I can’t wear it. I’m just like, “I don’t want to smell like hot dogs to you, even though I smell great to me.”

Rachel: [Laughs.] Well, it’s also interesting because how an essential oil might smell on me might smell really different on you, just based on our chemistry. So the process continues even after the perfume has been made — it goes out into the world and then it interacts with new live beings and new situations. 

This is maybe a little bit twisted, but when people come up to me, total strangers, and they’re like, “I’ve been using Fat and the Moon deodorant for two years!” The first thing that comes to my mind is like, Oh, my god, something I made is in that person’s armpit all the time. All the places that they go and what they do, I’m just like up in their armpit, one of the most intimate places. But I feel like that with music — how music is so intimate. The emotive aspect of what’s happening in your life via the context of a song, it’s so intimate.

Shana: Yeah, I think that it helps me feel less lonely. I think that I’ve always felt lonely like my whole life, and I’ve always just kind of been OK with that. But I think the thing that makes it bearable is just feeling like I’m able to create things that people can take take into their lives. At once, it’s like I’m putting things out and I’m getting that back. I’m getting that love that comes from feeling like people appreciate what I’m putting out there. 

When you were talking about your deodorant, I was just imagining you sort of on people’s shoulders walking around, because everyone who comes into contact with those people is experiencing you in some way.

Rachel: [Laughs.] But that’s really cool. Not to get too melodramatic about it, but from one kind of lonely soul to another, sending a message that you couldn’t necessarily send with any other material — sending a song, or I feel like that with Fat and the Moon potions. Just like like, “Hey, I get you and I’m here for you and I’m going to try to make this offering to you to help you along your way,” because I know that I need that.

That, I think, is just really beautiful and really powerful. I would love if everybody thought of everything that they were offering to the world, all the work that they were doing, all the products that they were making or whatever, [as] a message of care and love and solidarity.

Shana: Yeah, I love that. That’s definitely what I always have in mind when I’m creating too. It would be a cool world if everybody had that intention.

Rachel: Yeah. I just also want to say, the album is so atmospheric — it’s sort of old and psychedelic and it’s just so spacious. When I was listening to it, I was like, Of course this album has a scent. It is similar — all these different notes that really give you a sense of a place that’s a sort of parallel universe.

Shana: Yeah. I’m interested to hear how you would describe the scent, because I don’t think I’ve heard you describe it yet.

Rachel: With the notes of the album, in terms of the atmosphere that’s created, there’s totally a parallel. I feel like Dune is kind of earthy, but also bright, but also kind of floral, but also grassy — there’s a lot happening, and it does feel like it’s holding a lot of different contrasting notes. 

But it’s something I want to smell like — that sort of, of the earth, the plants themselves, the aroma that’s on an orange peel or in blossoms. It’s all kind of there, it’s sort of representative of the ground, the deep earth, and the sky. 

What about you? How do you describe the scent?

Shana: It does sort of make me think about something that the producer that we worked with, Adrian [Younge], said when we were recording. He was really conscious about wanting to have moments in every song that felt like it just opened up — like all of a sudden, the clouds parted and it was just like a heavenly chorus. I think that it has that element, to me, of being very earthy, but also the brightness just feels like that chorus that comes in, and just is so satisfying every time that you hear it.

Rachel: Yeah, totally. I love that. Writing about scent, it’s kind of like when people write about wine — they’re like, “It tastes like cat piss and garden hose.” Garden hose? But then you’re like, Oh, I get it, if you actually really allow yourself to go into all of the associations. 

Shana: Have you ever ridden a bike past a river, like a nasty city river, and had it smell like roses? But what you were actually smelling was probably sewage?

Rachel: Huh. I have had gross delicious moments a bunch of times in New York City, but more so in India, actually. I don’t know if I could ever experience something more extreme than some of the sensory input I experienced in India, when I was there learning miniature painting — literally the most amazing smells of sandalwood and spices and scents that were coming out of temples, and then the wind would slightly shift, or I would walk by a pile of garbage. But because my senses were so open to the other amazing, delicious, heady, sensual aromas, it almost created this opening where the smell of the garbage went in so fully, and I feel like in my memory of those moments, it’s equal parts the most amazing smell I’ve ever smelled and the most horrible smell I’ve ever smelled sandwiched together. But you have an experience of rose smelling sewage?

Shana: Yeah. I don’t know if it’s sewage. For some reason, every time I pass by a river — like the LA river, but really any city river that’s probably full of mostly trash — for some reason, it always smells like roses. And then I realize what it is, and I can kind of shift my brain to smell it differently, but it’s sort of already fixed. It’s one of those things where it’s like, Does everyone have this experience? 

I think music is like that too, where it’s sort of absurd to give an album a rating — you know, it’s going to be different to everybody. But yeah, it just makes me think about the whole hot dog perfume thing.

Rachel: I feel like you just revealed one of your superpowers, that you can turn the smell of sewage into the smell of roses. But I feel like this is also where just the idea of reality comes in, where we are all having a very subjective experience of the world around us. And yet, we can somehow agree on some level that like, “Oh yeah, this is like this,” up into a point. And it’s cool when you’re like, Oh, no, there’s actually a lot of things that we are experiencing that are completely our own. I mean, that’s art — when somebody is revealing a part of themselves that is so unique to them. Those are the same sort of subjective places, but then that also have these universal elements. And we all do have our own scent superpowers, that is for sure. But I’d like to borrow yours.

Shana: Well, try it next time!

Rachel: I’m going to do some olfactory gymnastics. [Laughs.]

Shana: Well, it was fun to talk to you!

Rachel: I know, I could talk to you for hours, Shana! It’s really nice to see you in a different meeting format. 

Shana: [Laughs.] Yeah.

Rachel: I’m so stoked for you, and the album is so good and I love it and I’m just so blown away by you, and I miss you! I loved our weekly meetings and I hope that we can do more of these kinds of things and continue to work together.

Shana: I’ll be back to the marketing meetings after this tour is over!

(Photo Credit: left, Pooneh Ghana; right, Monica Semergiu)

La Luz is a band from Seattle, WA, started in the summer of 2012 by Shana Cleveland (guitar), Alice Sandahl (keyboard) and Lena Simon (bass). Everyone sings. Their latest, self-titled, album is out now via Hardly Art.

(Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana)