At a gas station in El Paso, the members of the California psychedelic/garage-rock band L.A. Witch take a break before heading into what bassist Irita Pai deems "the boonies of Texas" on their way to Dallas. Fittingly, the musicians find themselves in the desert — the landscape that informs their soundscape — on their day off.
Despite six years of making music and three years of virtually nonstop touring, L.A. Witch released a self-titled debut album on Seattle's Suicide Squeeze Records last month.
"It was always time to make the album," says drummer Ellie English, whose alliterative name, along with that of singer/guitarist Sade Sanchez, is just too good and too glam rock to be true. "We recorded it three times; [then] we started touring, and the songs changed and developed while we were on the road."
Though the final product strikes the perfect chord between polished precision and effortless California drawl, even the band's biggest hits, such as "Get Lost" and "Drive Your Car," evolved. "The way the guitars were strummed or the accents on certain parts of a song, or maybe a [guitar] solo, changed," Sanchez explains. "Little things like that."
"We finally were like, OK," English says, "we gotta get this thing out.”
If Stevie Nicks ran away from Fleetwood Mac to join the Stooges in a parallel timeline, she would have released an album like L.A. Witch. The band, a multimedia love letter to the fuzzy reverb and 35-millimeter warmth of the '70s, embraces its influences, all the while exuding its own attitude. When it comes to postpunk, after all, somehow women musicians are often described as "derivative," while men are "inspired."
In some ways, L.A. Witch's origin story resembles those of punk and classic-rock predecessors: Sanchez and English played in a high-school band together; Sanchez and Pai created L.A. Witch; they lost their first drummer, and in came English; and they temporarily moved to New York. In 2011, amid the saturated landscape of poser bands and macho-alt-boy gatekeepers, L.A. Witch needed to have thick skin. "We dress like we dress," Pai says of their black leather jackets, Doc Martens, short shorts, and miniskirts. Sanchez adds that despite straightforward branding, “It’s hard to say what other people perceive us as.”
“We all listen to a really wide range of music," Sanchez shares. "When we first started the band, we all really bonded over our love of garage, postpunk, and psychedelic stuff.” She cites the Gun Club, the Stooges, the Cramps, the Jam, and My Bloody Valentine as influences that give L.A. Witch's oeuvre a unique snarl.
Of the other main inspiration, Los Angeles, Sanchez says the group subconsciously absorbed the city's rock 'n' roll history and deep countercultural roots.
Coming off Desert Daze — the Southern California music festival where they shared the bill with Iggy Pop — earlier this month and having all of their gear stolen in April, the bandmates are living the rock 'n' roll lifestyle of yore that many people might insist died decades ago.
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"It’s really hard to write on the road," Sanchez confesses, "almost impossible, actually." Despite this difficulty, the band has perfected its best songs on the road.
Now Sanchez, Pai, and English are bringing their weird-sisters vibe to Miami, Los Angeles' similarly un-goth and un-witchy cousin. Of Florida, English remembers the air conditioning breaking in St. Petersburg and wearing corduroy pants on laundry day. Irreverent as schoolgirls who just watched The Craft for the first time, Pai and Sanchez chime in with their expectations of Miami: Scarface! Miami Vice! Palm trees, boats, Grand Theft Auto. Neon lights. “Beaches, like L.A."
This Thursday at Gramps, Miami will prove L.A. Witch wrong (and right).