I first discovered L.A. Witch at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. They opened up for the kills. The dreamy garage rock band smoldered on stage. I was entranced by the grungy three-piece group led by guitarist and vocalist Sade Sanchez, Irita Pai heavy on the bass and hard-hitting, always on beat Ellie English. The crowd went wild; if you walked into the venue, LA Witch would appear the main act. I hoped to run into them again soon.
I always kept an eye and an ear out for that band. With songs, “Drive Your Car” “Baby In Blue Jeans” and “Kill My Baby Tonight,” LA Witch steadily toured and garnered well-earned fans across the US and Europe. Over the past few years, I’ve been able to shoot several of their shows in dark smoky venues across Detroit. Dedicated fans wait outside in the cold to get a prime spot at one of the small downtown stages.
With the release of their new album, I jumped at the chance to interview LA Witch and talk about Play With Fire and see what the band has been up to during the recent pandemic.
Thank you for speaking with me today for Folk N Rock. How are things going in LA?Sade: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Things are okay. You know, ups and downs a lot of weird things going on. It’s a very strange time for a lot of people. I think we’re all hanging in there and doing the best that we can.
You’re about to release your latest album, “Play With Fire”, how did you approach the process of making this album compared to your first album?
Ellie: Very differently.
Irita: The first album was really a collection of songs, from the very beginning when we started up to when we recorded the album. So there was a big difference between those early songs and the new songs that we were writing. The second album reflects where we were at the time we wrote it because we really had time to focus and channel our creativity.
Sade: We were definitely on a more strict timeline. We were thinking we wanted to put out this album in 2020, and so we said, well, if we want to put it out at that time it has to be finished soon and it’s really hard to find the time between touring schedules and, when you get home. You’re only home for so long and there are so many things that you just want to catch up on.
Even just being able not to do anything for a few days. And then I decompress, because there’s constantly just traveling and constant movement. But I think this album is definitely more cohesive as far as like theme and the flow of how the songs because they were written at a more, closer time to each other, as opposed to the first album where those songs are written over a course of time. That’s one huge difference. I think you can hear that. You’ll be able to hear that in the new record.
Did you have any particular influences that inspired you with this album?
Irita: At the time we were writing the album, I was listening to a lot of Wipers and Metallica’s ‘Kill Em All’!
Sade: I don’t know if there’s, you know, anyone in particular at least for me. I know that lyrically because I write a lot of lyrics while on the road, and a lot of the music part later because it’s kind of hard to play an instrument while on the road, I started writing a lot of things down during a time in which the elections were going on. We were about to go on tour.
The new president had been announced, and I think there are a lot of social things being expressed in this album, where before, the theme was mainly love songs. Love and heartbreak because that’s what I was going through at the time. And you don’t always feel that love or romance. For me, I feel I had to find other things to sing about and talk about.
I’ve never really been someone to talk about like, you know, politics or social things. But I mean, those are the things that are happening. It was me trying to learn how to sing and write about those things that are important to me or to us as a band who didn’t know. And it’s, it’s hard, at least for me. And so, I think a lot of what was going on in the world has been a huge inspiration on this record.Your new single, “I Wanna Lose” dropped some weeks ago along with a lyrical video. What other songs are you excited to release, did you face any challenges recording any of the tracks? And which would you say was the most labor of love
Irita: ‘I Wanna Lose’ was actually my fave to write and my fave to play on this album!
Ellie: I think one song that we spent a lot of time on was “Dark Horse”, because of that changeover, like that time change or whatever it is.
Sade:It was definitely a challenging one. I don’t know that they all had their ups and downs. It’s kind of hard to kind of go back to the whole writing process. And when I listened to a lot of those songs, I can’t believe I wrote that. Because when I play it, even when I play like it, it’s kind of like a weird guitar part. Even in “I Wanna lose, those changes and those guitar pieces are kind of strange, you know? So for me, I feel like, how did I do that? I’m proud of that song. I’m very proud of it because I think it kind of shows off a little bit more of our technical planning for all of us.
The next single, which is coming out tomorrow and it’s called Gen-Z, I’m also really excited about. It’s another one of those songs where it’s more talking about more social issues if you.
Your live sound is incredible. I first discovered your band when you opened up for the kills in Detroit in 2016. You said that was your second show, but I was totally hypnotized. I feel like it’s very hard to open up for Alison Mosshart. But for a band to open up and just have that kind of energy and the same kind of moodiness, it was super impressive and everyone was just going crazy for you. How do you feel about playing live versus recording and how do you convey that type of energy that you guys have playing life into a record?
Irita: That tour was so fun. It was the first time we ever did a full US tour. One of the first stops on tour was Boston, which I hadn’t been back to since my parents moved us back to California. We had a day off and I took everyone to the small town I grew up in. Live is more fun, and in a lot of ways it’s easier because you can really feed off the energy of the people around you, and the crowd. Recording is almost exactly the opposite of that. You’re stuck in a booth by yourself playing over and over to a scratch track. It can feel really awkward sometimes.
Recording is almost exactly the opposite of that. You’re stuck in a booth by yourself playing over and over to a scratch track. It can feel really awkward sometimes.
Sade: It’s definitely a challenge because it’s such a completely different energy where you’re in a more controlled space and when you’re recording it’s like, you have to have your time. And Ellies great at that. She’s an amazing drummer and she’s so on point with timing, whereas I play more by feel, and I’m less trained I don’t know any kind of theory or anything like that. So I just go by emotion and feelings. So in the studio I have areally hard time with that, because I would get all excited and I’m like speeding up.
But then, the producer, our engineer, Nick is like, you’re singing too hard or you’re playing too hard or something. It’s weird to have to have to do that. I think we’re really happy with the results. It’s definitely easier to play a live show because it’s more in the moment, and there’s more connection with your audience. You don’t feel the same pressure and it doesn’t feel permanent. With a record, in the back of your mind, you know that’s going to be a permanent thing and you can’t change that. And just a lot of pressure. Whereas live, it’s all about the feelings and the energy and stuff.
Ellie: Even playing off of each other too, it’s different in the studio than it is live. I would definitely prefer it live because in the studio it doesn’t feel right. I’d rather do like live tracking really. It just feels better. It’s like, we’re all there, we all feeding off of each other.There’s this sort of like hypnotic energy with the three of you. I call it dreamy garage rock. I feel like I’m sitting on the couch in the corner and there’s smoke in the air, I just feel it. Did you have any plans for promotion or tours with the new album? Because I know the band has released heavy on touring in the past. How has the current state of things going to affect your approach?
Irita: We still have tour dates in Europe scheduled for November, but that will depend on the pandemic. It’s a really scary, uncertain time right now. Independent venues are being forced to close or depend on donations to just survive. These venues are the lifeblood of our industry.
Sade: Well, I mean, it’s, weird. Cause we have to like kind of get creative and really depend on social media a lot, because that’s how everyone’s kind of connected. I’ve seen a lot of bands doing some interesting things. Like if it’s like a show, a live stream show, or getting even more personal than they normally do. It’s so raw and stripped. For example, like us, we haven’t even really been seeing each other and stuff.
We’ve been communicating a lot, like how we’re communicating right now. And that’s been really strange. There has been talk to maybe do a photo shoot over zoom, or, you know, I have to Photoshop things together or, we can edit like us playing together. It’s really challenging time, but I think it also will make it more exciting so that if we’re able to tour soon, hopefully, that’ll bring a new energy.
Maybe it’ll bring more people out or maybe people will have all the songs memorized by then, or maybe they’ll be more patient to see bands and stuff. Or just have more gratitude for the music industry and the work that people do. Because it’s really hard for not just musicians, both the venue owners and bartenders, the writers and photographers. It’s a labor of love.
I totally agree. People really underestimate the amount of work and the amount of people that go into putting a show on. It’s not as easy as the band showing up and going on stage and playing. That’s a very good point. I think that people will hopefully start to have gratitude and to realize how much goes into it.
Are there any personal side projects that any of you are working on? What kind of things have you been doing in your downtime? I know Ellie mentioned she’s been learning Spanish, which I think is awesome!
Sade: We’ve been doing our best to stay busy. I have a motorcycle, I’ve been riding a lot and working on that. I got a new camera, so I’ve been shooting a lot of photos and I also finally got a computer after years of not having one! I’m really excited because I got logic on there and I really liked making beats on my iPad. When we’re on tour I make a bunch of weird beats and stuff.
So I start to wonder if I can like a weird hip hop or triphop, like project or something. I don’t know. We’ll see if I get bored enough and can teach myself how to use this program, that would be really cool. Cause it’s hard practicing with each other right now. And you still have the drive to want to make music. It’s not like you stopped playing cause you can’t see each other cause he can’t play a show or something. You gotta kind of figure out ways to stay motivated and inspired.
I have a fan question for you. A friend that I brought to the second show that I saw, and she’s super into you guys, she was so excited. She said your record label, Suicide Squeeze, currently has seven other bands. Are you close with any of your label mates? And are there any that you find yourselves being similar to or learning from?
Irita: We’ve met or toured with almost all the bands on that roster. We saw the Marfa Lights with DVG, hung with Julia from the Coathangers in her home studio, spent Halloween in Baltimore with Guantanamo Baywatch. What I love the most is that everyone is super chill and were really welcoming of us joining the SS family. We couldn’t be more stoked.
Ellie: Death Valley Girls! We’re homies with them, The Coathangers, we definitely we love them.
Sade: I mean Suicide is a family. We’re definitely extremely close with Coathangers and extremely close with Death Valley Girls out of everyone on the label. We love Sad Girl, who are LA based. So we kind of see them around, or did before this whole lockdown happened. The Paranoyds are that their newest band and they’re the ones that we have not been able to get to know as much. But I think Suicide’s business has that vibe where it’s just like, you automatically feel like a family.
And also it’s like with your co-bands or whatever, I feel like there’s like this understanding where you know how much work goes into doing what it is that you do, that you kind of automatically have this like respect. It’s like some sort of brotherhood or sisterhood, whatever you want to call it. We support them and they support us and anyone who is on this label, we have each other’s backs. Death Valley is actually one of the first bands that we toured with when we first started. They’ve gone through a lot of different lineups and we have kind of grown together.
They started maybe a year after we started. We’ve seen them through all of their changes and it’s been really cool, to like be there and see that. And then to have them be on the same label as us is awesome.
Coathangers are just bad ass. I was really intimidated by them because they just have this really strong presence, not just on stage. Even I remember seeing them on stage and I was scared of them. (laughing)
Cause they were so cool and it’s awesome because when we did that tour, they ended up being like the sweetest, funniest and such down to earth and lovable people. On top of that, they’re just extremely badass on stage, so punk rock.
You’re not the stereotypical all-girl band. You genuinely seemed to like each other and enjoy playing together. It never feels like a competition between the three of you on stage. No one’s trying to outdo the other. No, one’s trying to be the showman. You all three equally have your space on the stage. It’s a great three-piece. How do you manage to work and travel and play together and still stay friends and also be so cool while doing it?
Irita: I would say we are more like family. We’ve literally traveled the world together, we’ve been places that I had been saving to go To on like a honeymoon or something. Lol. But for real, I think the members of my band are super funny and we can always have a laugh together and that means something.
Sade: It always trips me out when I see bands that aren’t actually friends because in my mind it’s like, well, that’s what a band is. They’re like friends first, and they share love for similar music. They get together and then they create music because we all like the same things.
To me, that’s what a band is. It’s, a family. You’re going to be together for a really long time. You’re going to experience and travel and create music. And that is such a heavy thing. It can’t just be anybody. Luckily we were able to find each other and it’s a great fit.
I think we’re just really lucky and it’s also understanding that it’s not going to be perfect. We spend more time with each other than we have with our own families and our own significant others or whatever. You grow a really strong bond that you have with nobody else, even, your own blood. It’s really cool when you realize what you’ve been through, or what you’re capable of doing. It makes it so that you have to work for it. You gotta work for it. It’s not always perfect, but at the end of the day you love each other.
Ellie: I liked what you said about like the stage presence thing. Cause I do think it is cool that no one’s really trying to add to each other, we’re just all three, trying to have fun and not be scared.
It’s like you each have your own different style. It’s not a cheesy type of let’s all dress up and play the same. Completely different style, different vibe, but it all works together. As I said, it’s not someone’s trying to be louder or more showy. You all have your place on stage. It just feels like can tell Oh, they like each other. It’s not three chicks who got smashed together and are forced to play, like girl drama, It’s like I could hang out with all three of you.
I want to say thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Everyone is really excited about the new album. Do you have anything else that you’d like to share with your fans?
Sade: Thank you for your time and also thank you fans for helping us get where we are and for being so patient with us as far as like the new album goes and just for being so cool and lways having like our back. It means a lot to us to have so much support. We hope that people will enjoy this new record.
Irita: Glad that album 2 didn’t take as long as album 1 to write. Thanks for the support, we could have never done it without you.
I would love to see some sort of live stream or something. Show energy because that’s your moneymaker right there.
Sade: We’ve been talking about it. We’re like, how are we going to do this? It’s such a foreign thing to us, but we get it. Hopefully, soon we’ll have something for people!