Ghosts seem to loom large in the world of L.A. Witch singer-guitarist Sade Sanchez. Or, more accurately, one ghost: that of the ex-boyfriend who inspired two of the three gloomed-out tracks on her band’s eponymous debut EP.
“I’m in a skate park right now, so I’m just out of breath,” Sanchez says, audibly huffing and puffing upon answering her phone in her hometown of Los Angeles. “I just started learning, so I’ve been going to the skate park and stuff every chance I get.”
This, of course, raises the question of what she’s riding, the answer to which is not a vintage Dogtown Skates or newly minted Tony Hawk board.
“My ex-boyfriend was a professional skateboarder, so it’s one of his pro models,” she reveals. “It’s a Deathwish board.”
That skateboarder, who shall remain nameless, had a profound impact on Sanchez in a number of ways. Starting with the obvious, there’s L.A. Witch’s swampy “Get Lost”, where over echo-bathed drums and doom-surf guitars, the singer drones, “Get lost from my soul.” “You Love Nothing”, meanwhile, is pretty much self-explanatory, which does nothing to diminish its black-hearted appeal. Add the coal-mine-country noir of “Heart of Darkness”, and you’ve got a record that’s perfect for a road trip to Austin’s legendary Psych Fest.
Sanchez has made no attempt to hide who “Get Lost” and “You Love Nothing” are about, and she doesn’t shy away from the question of whether she’s over her ex.
“It was definitely something that had to end,” she says of their union. “There was a lot of really good stuff that came out of the relationship, and a lot of really dark stuff as well. The good stuff is definitely being able to create something out of it and being able to learn from it.
“But I also feel like you never truly get over a relationship when it was that deep,” Sanchez continues. “It’s something that was unhealthy for me, and I would never be involved on those terms again. We were together for three or four years, and he taught me a lot. He found me at a time when I was really vulnerable because I was in a dark place.”
That darkness would, in many ways, bleed into the formation of L.A. Witch, which has earned favourable comparisons to bands ranging from the Cramps and the Black Angels to the Gun Club and the Velvet Underground.
“It’s hard to explain without telling you what exactly I was going through,” Sanchez reveals. “This is a person who helped me clean up my life and basically got me to be sober. But also it was a person who was really overprotective. That’s the reason I started playing in an all-girl band—he basically told me that it was either going to be an all-girl band or I wasn’t going to be in a band at all.”
Given this back story, it’s no surprise that the group—which includes bassist Irita Pai and drummer Ellie English—ended up embracing an aesthetic that’s not exactly full of blazing sunshine and good vibrations. Sanchez remembers bonding immediately with Pai and original drummer Crystal Nava, who played on the EP.
“We hung out a lot—I became really close by being in a band with them,” she recalls. “Because we practised so much, we ended up hanging out a lot. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of close friends, maybe because I was a newly sober person who had to push out a lot of people in my life. We all knew what we were going for when we started playing, even though we weren’t going for anything specific. The sound just sort of happened.”
Today, L.A. Witch is generating strong word in the L.A. underground, a small mountain of press positioning the trio as a band poised to break out. As for Sanchez, she’s finally ready to turn a page on the past.
“I’m a person who’s always in my own head, so it’s hard sometimes to realize what’s happening,” she says. “At the beginning of this month I was sitting there going, ‘Fuck—did I do anything with my life last year?’ Then I remembered that I went to New York for the first time, I released my first music video, and my first EP. Even just playing Psych Fest late last year was incredible—that was one of my goals for 2015, and I’ve already done it.”
L.A. Witch plays Electric Owl on Tuesday (January 27).