Get lost: A Conversation With L.A Witch

LA Witch Crop BL.jpg

It’s turning dark in the bar when I meet Los Angeles based LA Witch, Sade Sanchez (vocals, guitar), Irita Pai (bass) and Ellie English (drums). They’re playing in Bristol again less than a year after their last show here where the band’s van got broken into. This resulted in a loss of gear but not morale after the online community, local music fans and Alex Studer of Stolen Body Records chipped in what they could to replace guitars, pedals and amps. Tonight there’s a glow around them. They’re evidently excited to be back in Stokes Croft and as we sit down there’s some fresh pizzas being served.

The band’s self-titled debut record is now out and it’s nothing short of brilliant. Before it was released they were already being compared to The Black Angels, which they take as a compliment. Sade’s melodic and reverb soaked vocals cut clear over brooding guitars and bass with Ellie’s drumming impressively holding it together. Recent studio time held new experiences for the band, it was their first time they tracked each song separately. “It was a challenge,” Sade tells. “We are so used to always playing together, so it was really hard.” Despite this, they didn’t let the record stray too far from how they wanted it. The band mixed and mastered themselves, but they do admit that this wasn’t something they particularly wanted to do. “We just didn’t have time,” Irita admits. “We were making it between two long tours and we literally had three days.” Three days for a full length LP is a challenge without a doubt, and the fact that they produced something so promising and impressive within that time is outstanding. “We were going crazy,” Sade laughs. “I had so much shit to do as well,” Irita thinks back. However, they agree that it’s not all doom and gloom trying to record in a small time frame, “the thing I like about it is that you’re not sitting down for ages, and you don’t have time to second guess and nit-pick at things, and sometimes the first take is the best take.” On the night it came out the band were in Berlin and it seemed to be one hell of a night. Irita laughs, “I don’t really remember the night, Berlin gets crazy.”

From L.A Witch’s very beginning the band have been strongly focused on the DIY ethos. Los Angeles is home to a constantly blossoming DIY scene, especially within music and arts. It’s home to rising garage record labels and home grown venues. I ask them what DIY means to them and it’s a question that hits very close to home. “It’s really cool,” Sade says in-between slices of pizza. “If you’re doing it yourself that’s when you know you really love something because you’re putting in all the work by yourself, and it’s cool because you’re paying your days and really learning.” She delves back to the early days of L.A Witch, the days where they burned their own CDs to sell which they spray painted and printed their own covers. “We made our own buttons, we had no money.” Irita is next to me, smiling, before chipping in, “they were all one of a kind and took hours to make!” There’s a pause, Sade is deep in thought. “I’m just so grateful because I think it make this all more special for us now, and we feel really grateful when we find some things being a bit easier now than it once was.” The work ethic behind them is inspiring, Irita recalls not having any connections when they started and it was simply a case of working so hard at everything. “We just wanted to make music,” she firmly states.

Now things have grown for L.A Witch. Their debut record is out on Suicide Squeeze Records, a label with an impressive roster, who got started with releases from Elliot Smith, Modest Mouse and has since released music from Ty Segall and The Coathangers. L.A Witch described the Seattle based label as a family to them, and family is something they hold close. Sade is not just talking about Suicide Squeeze but everyone who has helped them get to where they are today. “I just want to work with people who are really passionate about what they do. I don’t care about how much money a label has, or what a business can offer me, it’s really just about if you love what we are doing I want to work with you.” There’s a certain value that’s untouchable when working with people who actually give a shit, and the trio strongly understands and respect that. “It’s great being with people who have your back and know that you’ll have theirs,” she continues. “It’s not just a business, this is what we love”.

Los Angeles is an interesting city. Nicknamed “The City of Angels”, and home to more than a few broken American dreams. I told the band about my visit to LA, but when I visited I must have only been eight or nine years old, and that the things that stood out to me were palm trees and hench men on Muscle Beach (and also throwing up in front of the Hollywood sign, see, I was always living the rock and roll life). The three of them laugh thinking about palm trees and hench men, “yeah that’s pretty much all L.A is,” Sade admits. Jokes aside, the band are rather fond of their home city. “It’s one of those places that’s so diverse,” she continues. “There’s a lot of music history and art history, it’s just one of those places where there’s always something to find. There’s always something to be inspired by.” As musicians Sade is speaking through a musical mind, she is grateful for her city and feels lucky to be based there. Irita chips in, “It’s more mellow than New York, for example. It’s always crazy there. L.A you can pick your pace.”

Lyrically the band’s record is an interesting one. After a few listens, I found myself often smiling at Sade’s song writing and the cynicalness of it. Songs like Kill My Baby come across on the surface as a love song, but with lyrics like I’m gonna hurt my baby tonight / If he don’t come home on time / I’m gonna kill my baby tonight / This will forever be mine you can’t help but be drawn in by the underlying dark tone to the story. Sade laughs at this take on her writing and finds herself also agreeing, but takes a moment to open up about the more sensitive side of song writing. “It is really hard sometimes because you’re really vulnerable, you’re telling the world who you are and about your personal issues, whether it’s in a direct way or in a symbolic way.” Her way of song writing isn’t necessarily like anyone else’s, and Sade pays respect to song writers who aren’t necessarily writing to share their personal side but are maybe simply telling a story or even being political. For her she finds that being open is what she can do best. “Sometimes it can be embarrassing or stupid and sometimes you try and experiment, but I try my best to be really open.”

Over the years there’s no hiding L.A Witch’s constant persistence as artists and individuals. With just one record out, Sade, Irita and Ellie are as confident and powerful as their reverb toned rock and roll makes them out to be. It seems they have a clear idea of what they want to do and there’s not going to be anything that will stop them, but their growth is still on a non-stop track and they are merely scratching the surface. They find themselves in a position where they may not find pressure from the outside world, but inside they want to continue working hard and are creating something for themselves. “We are just going to try and evolve as a band,” Sade says, with nods from Ellie and Irita. “We just want to experiment a bit more, maybe do a few collaborations and just keep it interesting. We’re still learning.”

Interview by Nathan McLaren-Stewart. Photograph taken by the author at Stolen Body Records.