L.A. WITCH: EXTREMES OF HAPPINESS AND MISERY
photography by ben rice
L.A. WITCH’s hotly anticipated self-titled debut album is almost here, and it’s been worth the wait. The psychedelic garage-rock trio delivers a set of dark, gritty, and haunting songs that are just much at home in the 1960s as they are in 2017. We caught up with Sade Sanchez, Irita Pai, and Ellie English to talk about the trials of touring, horror films, and the best arcade in Los Angeles. L.A. WITCH’s album release show is Thurs., Aug. 31, at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park. This interview by Julia Gibson.
I was creeping around on your Tumblr and saw a picture of the three of you and your tour manager at the Winchester Mystery House. Did you guys get to go on a tour?
Sade Sanchez (guitar + vocals): Yeah we did!
Irita Pai (bass): It was so hot.
Sade Sanchez: It’s an old-ass house. It’s funny because we’ve driven by it for years—since we started touring—and we’re all like, ‘When are we gonna go!?’ It was probably one of the coolest houses that we’ve ever been in. There’s a really crazy story behind it and super interesting, really beautiful architecture. Very goth-y. Lots of thirteens and spiders everywhere. It was epic. You have to go.
You guys are major road-warriors—you tour a lot!
Ellie English (drums): It never stops.
Sade Sanchez: No denying we are the road warriors.
Is it taxing?
Sade Sanchez: It’s both really hard and really easy; really fun and really miserable …
Irita Pai: Extremes of happiness and misery.
Ellie English: You just have to give yourself to the road. As soon as you accept it, you’re fine.
Sade Sanchez: Anytime something is going bad or we’re pissed or bummed or something fucked up happens, we always say, ‘Well, this is the life we chose.’ We can say no—we don’t have to do this. It’s always worth it, no matter what kind of weird, fucked-up shit you go through. At the end of it all, you’re like, ‘Damn, that was really cool, and I wouldn’t have gotten to do that otherwise.’ All the places we’ve been and all the people we’ve met … it’s pretty tight. You’re not a normal person if you’re touring.
Ellie English: Yeah, everything is not regular. I was going to say irregular but that sounded like I was talking about periods. [laughs] Everything is irregular.
How did you decide that right now was the right time to take a break from touring and record your debut album?
Sade Sanchez: We’ve always wanted to do it, and we’ve made a few attempts to do it, but recording was just a whole different process. We were really limited on funds, and we got signed to a really cool DIY label and they helped us out with that. I think that we were just finally here at the right time, and the opportunity came up to record at the studio.
Irita Pai: We actually recorded the album before we even signed to Suicide Squeeze. Hurley had approached us about recording at their studio.
Sade Sanchez: We recorded between tours. I think we were unhappy with a lot of the past sessions we had done. We would record something, and then we would go on the road and we would come back and listen to it and it would sound different because we had been playing these songs for so long that they just evolved in their own way. Now we’ve finished it and we’re putting it out with Suicide Squeeze and we’ve got this really cool vinyl and we’re super excited that it’s finally a real thing.
The vinyl is pink, right?
Sade Sanchez: Yeah! We wanted to do glow in the dark vinyl but apparently it’s not the best quality.
Irita Pai: Glitter too. Glitter’s terrible for sound quality.
What kind of gear do each of you use? And how does that help refine your sound, both in the studio and otherwise?
Sade Sanchez: I’m always wondering why people don’t ask us about this. We love talking about our gear. I’ve been playing this vintage 1968 Vox Viper. It was one of my dream guitars. I loved that a lot of influences of mine played one, like Ian Curtis or Brian Jones or Anton Newcombe. They are so cool because they have all these built-in effects. These guitars came out in the 1960s so the effects were aimed towards that psychedelic weird music. I would get pedals that were supposed to replicate these sounds, and I thought it sounded close to it, but when I got the Vox … nothing comes close to the actual effects of the guitar. I really like a lot of treble-y surf-y feel, a lot of fuzz, and a lot of reverb. If I had to choose one effect … I could not go without any reverb.
Ellie English: I don’t really use the same gear every tour. Every time I record I use a different drum set too. My favorite drum set I’ve gotten to play on—which wasn’t mine—was a C&C kit. I like Pork Pie—they’re consistent. I tour with a Gretsch Catalina Club set because it’s small, so it fits in the van. The bass drum for the Catalina is very light and slides around, so I converted a floor tom into a bass drum.
Irita Pai: I play a Fender Mustang—it’s a short scale bass. I have flatwound strings, which are different from standard round strings.
So you chose the name L.A. Witch because the word ‘witch’ conjures up the image of a powerful woman. Which powerful women do you look up to?
Sade Sanchez: Kim Gordon, Gwen Stefani, Patti Smith, Ronnie Spector … there’s so many. Courtney Love! We grew up in the 90s. PJ Harvey!
Did you see PJ Harvey last time she played in L.A.?
Sade Sanchez: No, but I did see Nick Cave. It was one of my top five favorite shows. You should go to a Nick Cave show. It’s … spiritual.
Irita Pai: Kim Gordon is why I picked up bass.
Did you ever get to see Sonic Youth?
Irita Pai: No, that would have been amazing. But Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are both playing Desert Daze this year.
And L.A. Witch is playing Desert Daze too?
Irita Pai: Yeah we are! We’ve done it four years in a row. It’s like we’re a part of their family now.
Sade Sanchez: There’s a lot of festivals happening now, but I feel like Desert Daze is one of those that is kind of perfect. People go there to see music—not like Coachella, which has turned into a fashion show. It’s not as crazy as other festivals.
Is it different playing festivals vs. playing one-off shows?
Sade Sanchez: Oh yeah!
Irita Pai: They’re so much fun.
Sade Sanchez: A lot of the time you’re on a festival line-up with your friends, so all of your friends are there. You usually have a few days off so its not like one show after another. You get the chance to actually chill and watch bands that you like, and you get to lose your mind, whatever your drug of choice is. You can’t really take acid when you’re on the road. I mean you can, but …
Irita Pai: It’s better when you’re at a festival. It’s the only place that’s really meant for that.
Ellie English: It’s set up for you to do drugs. It’s like, ‘Hey, come sit by this weird swing that we built! Come play in the mud!’ And you’re like, ‘Okay, I think I’ll do that.’
Sade Sanchez: We saw that happening at Levitation—like people rubbing mud on each other’s faces. I’m glad we never got that fucked up. We did some weird shit, but not that weird.
You’re getting ready to play Burger Invasion in Hamburg, Germany. Have you been to Germany before?
Irita Pai: We’ve played there.
Sade Sanchez: It’s super cool.
Ellie English: Danke!
Sade Sanchez: We’ve gone to Europe two times now.
Irita Pai: Yeah, a lot is is happening to you.
Ellie English: Everyday is so packed.
Sade Sanchez: There’s so much new information to take in. It’s definitely hard to remember everything that’s happened, which is why taking photos is really good.
Ellie English: Sometimes you get your photos back and you’re like, ‘I don’t remember taking this. I don’t remember doing that. What’s going on here?’
Sade Sanchez: It’s a cool way to keep a journal. We’re actually making a zine this year of all the photos we’ve taken. It’s our first zine, and we all really love film.
What is it that attracts you to film?
Sade Sanchez: It’s just got a warmth to it. It’s such a physical thing.
Irita Pai: It looks different. The way that it captures things are more true to life than a digital photo.
Sade Sanchez: And for some reason it makes it more memorable.
Irita Pai: When you develop them weeks later, months later—whenever you have money—you remember things. It’s like a little time capsule.
Sade Sanchez: I took this photo one time of [Irita] and her boyfriend playing an arcade game, and for some reason, the photo came out with her boyfriend’s head on top of her boobs.
Irita Pai: That’s what our baby will look like.
Are you into arcades? Which one is the best?
Sade Sanchez: I love Family Arcade. It’s so good.
Irita Pai: We’ve done shoots there. They’ll yell at you if you take pictures.
Sade Sanchez: I just love all of the weird lights, and I love that it’s in a weird spot, and how every time I go there’s no one there. They have all the old games. They’ve got vending machines for snacks. It’s kind of perfect.
I love any arcade that has Galaga.
Irita Pai: I love Galaga! It’s my favorite. It’s so cheap!
It’s not like Mortal Kombat, where you just mash the buttons and hope it works.
Sade Sanchez: [laughs] Yeah—like trying to come up with combos and you’re just pushing all the buttons together.
For 90s kids, the arcade at the mall was the coolest place.
Sade Sanchez: We’re so lucky—we were the last to get arcades. Now everyone just has apps on their phone. But I love Trivia Crack. A lot of the time we can’t be on our phones on tour though because we don’t have reception. I have to tell you about this other game: Trivia Crack is great but you have to wait for a turn, which sucks … Oh, QuizUp! I played it so much that I became number one in the country. Find me on QuizUp guys! Try and beat me!
Do you think there’s a lot to be excited about right now when it comes to music in L.A.?
Sade Sanchez: It’s hard to say. For me personally, it’s been challenging to find things that I feel excited about. When do find things I’m excited about, I’m super stoked. When I was a kid, everything was exciting. Everything that was on the radio I thought was cool—I had every album. Now—and I don’t know what it is—maybe it’s the way we listen to music? But it doesn’t feel the same. I’m not saying that there’s not cool shit happening … maybe I just don’t know about it. Maybe I’m too detached because we’re always traveling. It’s a weird time right now, I think.
A word that I keep seeing used to describe your music and lyrics is ‘ominous.’ What do you think of that?
Sade Sanchez: I definitely think that word can describe us. Nothing that we do is intentional, as far as creating music. We have a wide variety of influences, and whatever they are at the time, that’s just naturally what comes out in our music and lyrics.
Anything in particular?
Sade Sanchez: Horror films. Sci-fi.
Ellie English: I don’t like scary stuff. I can’t watch.
Sade Sanchez: I love scary stuff!
Irita Pai: We’ve watched a few together, on the road, and I always feel bad because Ellie is always like .. [covers eyes in fear]
Sade Sanchez: My plan was to slowly build her immunity.
Ellie English: It just caused more damage.
Sade Sanchez: We fucked up. We made her watch The Babadook.
Ellie English: I only watched the first 20 minutes.
Sade Sanchez: She couldn’t sleep for two days after that.
Ellie English: I googled the ending while they were watching because I had to know what was going to happen, and I was still scared.
Irita Pai: It’s still really good!
Ellie English: I prefer documentaries. Or cartoons.
What about books?
Sade Sanchez: I’m still working on Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands by Will Carruthers from Spacemen 3. I love reading books about other artists and bands because it’s super relatable. Sometimes you’re reading about something while it’s happening to you on the road, and it helps you out. It’s like a weird guide.
Irita Pai: I do the same thing! I’m reading Get in the Van by Henry Rollins. It gives you perspective. They lost a trailer once, I think. They saw it sinking into a river. Anything that happens on the road … at least it’s not that bad.
Sade Sanchez: At least it’s not like your guitar tech took too much acid and broke your bass into pieces.
Now that the album is ready to go, what’s up next for L.A. WITCH?
Ellie English: Our record release show is on August 31st at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park.
Irita Pai: It’s going to be this crazy outdoor show. Frankie and the Witch Fingers are playing too, so it’s a witch thing. We’re excited! We just went to see Thee Commons down there, and it’s a really cool space. People brought blankets and everyone was just hanging out.
It’s like a miniature festival!
Irita Pai: It is! There’s trees! Where are there trees in L.A.? You’re not allowed to bring booze though.
Sade Sanchez: Everyone … it’s BYOB.
Irita Pai: We’re excited to have our record out. It’s been a long time coming. It’s also a little scary.
Sade Sanchez: I’m so scared. Are people going to hate it? We just released a new version of ‘Drive Your Car’ and someone went on our Facebook and commented ‘Nope. I like the original version more.’ I was just like, ‘I do too, but who cares about your opinion!’ We always joke like … what if we answered our fans with how we actually felt? People start to demand things of you, like, ‘why didn’t you play this song and that show!’ and I’m just like, ‘I’m just a human being!’ People don’t really think of you …
Irita Pai: As a person!
Sade Sanchez: Yeah! And when we were a smaller band, that didn’t really happen to us. It was just our friends and shit. Now it’s a growing thing online.
Ellie English: Cyberbullying.
Sade Sanchez: There’s haters! But I think it’s more the interaction where it doesn’t feel like a personal thing and so people don’t realize that they’re talking to, you know … a girl that’s just trying to fucking play music! Just trying to follow her dreams.
Ellie English: Sometimes they probably think we’re not going to see it or something. Like there’s some kind of blockage and its not going to get to us. But like … we see it.
Sade Sanchez: Maybe they think the Facebook page is our label’s, or maybe it’s our manager answering … no, it’s us. It’s like, does Metallica check their own Facebook? I don’t know.
Irita Pai: They’re all crying over it. Lars is just crying the whole time, before bed.
L.A. WITCH’S RECORD RELEASE SHOW WITH FRANKIE AND THE WITCH FINGERS ON THURS., AUG. 31, AT THE LEVITT PAVILION, 6TH ST. AND PARK VIEW ST., MACARTHUR PARK. 7:30 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. RSVP HERE! L.A. WITCH’S SELF-TITLED LP IS OUT FRI., SEPT. 8, ON SUICIDE SQUEEZE. VISIT L.A. WITCH AT LAWITCHES.BANDCAMP.COM.