L.A. Witch Reappear, Packing Heat
For many bands that find success with their debut album, the notorious “sophomore slump” is a real worry. For the members of garage/psych rock trio L.A. Witch – singer/guitarist Sade Sanchez, bassist Irita Pai, and drummer Ellie English – making their second full-length album seemed like an especially daunting task because they only had a very limited window of time in which to write the songs for Play with Fire (due for release on August 21 on Suicide Squeeze Records).
L.A. Witch’s critically lauded 2017 self-titled debut album was written over the span of a few years, but due to scheduling issues, “This time, we had two months to write it before our studio recording date, so we just had to meet up a lot more and have a schedule where we would go in and work on songs,” says English, on a conference line with her bandmates, all calling in from Los Angeles.
Pai agrees: “It was like rock and roll boot camp! We were super focused. It was literally up to the moment we were recording. We didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.” But, she adds, in a weird way, this time crunch might have actually been a blessing in disguise. “Even though it was kind of forced, it felt more natural,” she says.
Another change in their methods, according to Sanchez, was the way they approached their lyrical content this time. “The last album we put out was mostly love songs, and that can get kind of boring to write about,” she says. “This album is called Play with Fire, and fire was the theme that was the root of where all these songs came from – it symbolizes the warmth that gives life, or the thing that causes destruction.” Fire also, she says, “symbolizes a rebirth. We haven’t put a full-length album out in three years, so it feels like a new beginning for us.”
The band may regard Play with Fire as a fresh start – but fans will be happy to know that the distinctive L.A. Witch signature sound – retro-yet-modern garage/psych rock with a cinematic sheen – remains intact. But, says Pai, this has never been a deliberate move on the members’ part: “We never really set out to sound a certain way. We all listen to different types of music and we also listen to the same types of music. And [our sound] is just what comes out.”
Sanchez does admit that there was some cohesion, in terms of what inspired them in the first place. “When we started the band, we really bonded over our influence of a lot of L.A. punk. Like The Gun Club or X or The Cramps,” she says, though she adds that for her own part, “I was raised on a lot of oldies and classic rock. Throughout my youth, I went through different phases – I feel like I went through every era of music and style.”
All three members grew up in families where music was important (and Sanchez and English’s fathers were both musicians), sparking their interest in playing it themselves from a young age. Sanchez, in particular, recalls how crucial music was during her childhood: “When you’re really young and bored and you live in a weird neighborhood where you can’t walk anywhere or do anything, I think that can be a good thing because it forces you to become creative or learn something. For me, it was learning the guitar. It was a way to communicate,” she says.
Sanchez first formed a band with English during high school. “We didn’t go to the same high school, but we were in the same city,” Sanchez says. “Back then, there weren’t as many musicians around, especially not girl musicians. So I knew who she was before I even met her. And she knew who I was before she even met me. I had a demo of songs that I’d made, and I passed them around at school. She somehow had heard it. One day we met at a party, so we were like, ‘We should jam!’”
After high school, Sanchez and English went their separate ways. Sanchez formed the original version of L.A. Witch with Pai (whom she had met when they worked at the same company). The band went through various lineup changes – but in a fortuitous twist, they ended up needing a drummer just as Sanchez bumped into English again. English came on board, and the trio soon made a name for themselves in the L.A. music scene.
Sanchez says they’ve tried to stay above their hometown’s hyper-competitive fray, though. “We always focus on being consistent, whether it’s playing shows, touring, or continuing to create,” she says. “We do our own thing and really try not to compare ourselves to other bands or put ourselves in a specific genre.
“I know a lot of people like to put us with psych rock or garage, which is cool because we totally love those genres,” Sanchez continues, “but I think we have a ton of other influences outside of that. So I think us just focusing on what we actually want to do, rather than trying to fit into those boxes, has helped.”
Another thing that has helped to set L.A. Witch apart is their status as a trio, which remains a relatively rare band configuration. “I think three is such a powerful number. It looks so cool on stage. It’s a really raw formation. Bass, drums, guitar – it’s super stripped down,” Sanchez says.
But, Sanchez adds, this may not always be how L.A. Witch will operate: “We’re not tied to any ideas. Before the quarantine, the last show we played in L.A. was actually with another guitarist because we had been toying around with the idea of having another guitar. Just to be able to experiment with sounds more. It is a really raw sound when you have three people, but at the same time, you can become limited in what you can do. It’s fun to add in different elements.
One thing the band members are sure of, though, is that they likely will never again wait as long between albums as it took for them to release their debut (the band formed in 2009 but didn’t release L.A. Witch until 2017). “I don’t think we decided to take that long,” Pai says. “People would ask us if we wanted to play a show – and then it would be another show. We started touring, and we were so busy that we never really had a chance to sit down and actually [record].” Sanchez adds, “We were so happy when we finally had the [debut] record. It was like we had something to show for all the work we had done, finally. We finally felt like a real band!”
Now, the members are grateful to have this new album coming out: “We want to thank our listeners and people who have supported us over the years, who have helped us get as far as we have. We hope that they’ll enjoy Play with Fire,” Sanchez says. “We’re really excited to share it and we can’t wait to start playing live for people again.”