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Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

While many bands struggle to develop a sound that is both unique and comfortingly familiar, L.A. Witch seems to do it with ease.

L.A. Witch is a power trio from Los Angeles whose music hits you like a 90-mph slap to the face. The band includes Ellie English on drums, Irita Pai on bass and Sade Sanchez on guitar. Each member contributes to a sound that stretches among rock ’n’ roll, punk, psych and garage rock.

The band in August released Play With Fire, a follow-up to the group’s self-titled debut in 2017, and 2018’s Octubre EP. The album is packed tight with jams that, well, feel like you’re playing with fire. Each track sizzles into the next, with Sanchez’s piercing guitar and vocals backed by lightning-quick and heavy grooved back beats from Pai and English, shining bright on tracks like “Fire Starter,” “I Wanna Lose” and “True Believers.” I spoke with them over Zoom about their recollections of recording the album, which have been hazed due to this Dumpster fire of a year.

“We hadn’t put out an album for a while, so it was like, ‘All right, you guys need to put out an album,’” English said. “We had to write it in a month and record it the next month. It was a very short time span for figuring it all out. I think we recorded it last year?”

Added Sanchez: “I remember recording in February. I’m not sure, really. Like, ‘Damn, was it really that long ago?’”

Added Pai: “This year has just been so long. It honestly feels like we did it yesterday.”

In years prior, the band was almost constantly on tour—while 2020 has left the band with a brand-new album, but no tour. L.A. Witch decided to test out the current trend of streamed shows with an album-release concert filmed in September at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles.

“I actually kind of liked it,” Sanchez said. “I thought it was going to be really weird, and we were hesitant to do it right away; we kind of jumped on it a little bit after there had been some other bands doing it. We said, ‘Fuck it,’ and tried it, because it would be the closest thing we’ll get to a release show. We did it at Gold Diggers, and they have a really amazing spot—a hotel, a studio—and the guys who work there are super rad.

“For me, when I was playing, it felt like a real show. I don’t know if that was a mental thing, where I was knowing that people were going to watch it. There are some mistakes on there. I don’t know if people can hear it, but there's a rawness to it. We tried to make it fun and brought out a dragon prop we bought at Costco. It was kind of cool and interesting, and we’d be down to continue experimenting and trying it out.”

Pai said the absence of an audience was strange.

“For me, the only thing that was weird about it, because sometimes we really feed off of the energy of the crowd, was finishing a song and hearing nothing but a dragon roaring,” said Pai. “Our friend Gregg Foreman, who produced our Octubre EP, played guitar with us, and he brought this psychedelic light that we used for a prop, but it was also a sleep machine that played cricket noises. We’d finish playing, and I would hear literal crickets. Other than that, it was really fun, and the sound was amazing.”

As is the case with many SoCal bands, L.A. Witch has a Coachella Valley connection, beyond playing at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club a few times. I learned about it when I found an L.A. Witch single in a Chicago record shop, turned it around and saw a familiar name—Jason Hall, a desert dweller deeply involved in the local music scene. He runs Ruined Vibes, a 7-inch-vinyl boutique-record label. Ruined Vibes’ first release as a label was, coincidentally, L.A. Witch’s first release on vinyl. I recently spoke to Hall about his history with the band.

“My friend Brent went to Levitation—back then, it was called Austin Psych Fest—and the band played there,” Hall said. “It was the year 13th Floor Elevators reunited, and it was crazy. It was also super-rained out and muddy. I was living in Austin at the time, and everyone wanted to go, but it was really tough to get there and also to find parking. Brent braved through it, and said, ‘Man, you need to see these girls; they’re insane. They’re so good.’ I instantly looked them up, and it was early on in their career, so there was really only one video on YouTube. I heard it and was like, ‘Holy shit!’ I saw that they were playing this place called Hotel Vegas in Austin two weeks later, so I went to the show and got to hear a whole set.”

Pai said the story of how the band met Jason was “crazy.”

“It was one of the many times we played at Hotel Vegas in Austin, and this guy comes up to us and says, ‘I really love your music, and I really want to put out your single, a 7-inch, because you guys really need to be on vinyl,’” Pai said. “We thought that was pretty cool.”

Hall said he was floored by the band’s performance.

“I had been toying with this idea of making a 7-inch-only record label, and every release would have this crazy thing that’s never been done before to make it highly collectible,” he said. “It was from both my love of music and the fact that my dad was a DJ for a radio station in the ’80s, so vinyl has been a part of my life since I was born. I asked L.A. Witch if they would be down to do it, and that it would be my first release. They were into the idea, but told me to talk to their manager. I talked to their manager; things progressed; and we ended up releasing ‘Drive My Car.’”

As for making the record “highly collectible,” Hall worked with the band on a unique photography idea.

“We did 400 black copies, and 100 white with grey smoke, so it looked like a smoke cloud,” said Hall. “That was going to be our special edition, but once they told me they were going on tour, I asked if there was any chance I could supply them with Polaroid film, and they could snap 100 Polaroids. It was random shit, whatever they wanted to do, and they did that. That was the ultra-exclusive.”

Pai talked about the aftermath of one of the photos.

“I saw one on eBay one time. It was just a Polaroid of me, and I thought it was so awkward,” she said.

Soon after the release, L.A. Witch began their uptick toward success. Both the band and Hall said their collaboration came at the right place at the right time.

“We got really lucky with that whole thing, because at the time, we didn’t have anything out,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know how many years we had been a band, but we definitely were still pretty young, and we didn’t have a label or anything.”

Hall said the collaboration would not have happened today.

“L.A. Witch has progressed so far. They’re still incredibly humble and sweet, and every time I see them, they hop offstage and give me a giant hug,” he said. “The only reason I released it was sheer luck. They were new; I was brand new. It was complete timing.”

The “Drive My Car” single helped lead them into getting signed with a major label, Suicide Squeeze Records.

“We were really just touring a bunch for a while after that,” Sanchez said. “Then we met David Dickenson from Suicide Squeeze. He came to one of our shows, and it was a really shitty and terrible show. We had to do our own sound—there was no sound guy—and there wasn’t even a stage. I was like, ‘Of course this is the show that a label is going to come check us out.’ … I was so bummed out, and thought we weren’t going to get signed. Then we got an email from our manager, and he said that David was stoked and wanted to talk.”

I chatted with the band about the fact that the days of a young band relentlessly touring until finding success may not return for a while.

“This time forces you to think outside of the box and be creative,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people are tuning into visual stuff, and now more than ever, people have time to search for new music, or learn to play an instrument. I just talked to the dudes at Fender, and for a while, I had heard they weren't doing so well—but now they’re doing so well that they can’t keep up with production. People finally have the time to learn how to play guitar.

“It’s weird for bands like us who had to play every shitty venue in L.A. and wherever in the U.S., but now people are looking for stuff. … I don’t think it’s a bad thing; it’s just one of those things that you have to adapt to.”

For now, the group is finding pleasure in playing music with no schedule.

“Normally, I wouldn’t have this much time to be able to write or learn new things, so I’ve learned some new recording programs and have been playing guitar,” Sanchez said. “It’s nice to be able to write and not feel rushed, and that I’m able to take my time with a song and not have to worry about going on tour soon.”

Added Pai: “I feel like it’s more fun. There’s no pressure; you’re just playing to work stuff out, and you don’t have to worry about practicing for a recording or a tour.”

Bands everywhere are struggling to safely meet during the pandemic. The members of L.A. Witch said they were in the same boat.

“We didn’t see each other for a long time during quarantine,” Sanchez said. “We were hesitant about doing photo shoots, because we were concerned about each other and each other’s families. Once we all got tested, we slowly got comfortable with having our masks off and being distanced from each other. Obviously, during a show, you have to share a very tight space, but we all got tested before that. It was really hard in the beginning, and we haven’t really had the chance to set any practices. We also lost our rehearsal space, which makes things a little bit harder. It’s all been hard—and probably will be until the end of 2021. Hopefully that means a lot of bands will have time to come up with some really cool shit. We’ll be able to really appreciate how much music means, and what it does for a community and for yourself.”

For more information, visit lawitch.tumblr.com.

Last weekend’s annual Desert Daze music festival offered music enthusiasts a supersize meal of indy, alt, psych, punk and crazy tunes at the Institute of Mentalphysics, with music replacing meditation, yoga and UFOs.

Three days in Joshua Tree offered an upgrade from the one-day edition at the Sunset Ranch Oasis. The traffic jam in Mecca was replaced with a good traffic flow. Also gone were the traffic challenges that occurred during a recent Childish Gambino gig, held at the Institute of Mentalphysics by another promoter, that stoked mislaid reservations about Desert Daze.

Safety was a priority, as every car was subjected to a detailed search, including the opening of trunks. According to one of the security staffers I spoke to, they did remove an ax and a sword from a car on the first day.

Yes, promoter Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU had the logistics down for this increasingly ambitious festival. Desert Daze was spread out over the 400 acres of the center. The Moon Stage, for example, was easy to find—you just looked for the harvest moon that was dead-center over the stage. But getting lost was part of the fun; that is how I found a shrine to bygone technology hidden in a path behind vendors.

Desert Daze also included local artists, including Sand and Suede, which features handmade creations by owner Jenn Starr. Joshua Tree clothing designer Totally Blown uses a shotgun to design one-of-kind pieces. I later ran into co-founder Sarah Harris, and she was not packing a 12-gauge—just some joy from the music.

The Death Valley Girls made another appearance in the desert featuring fast-paced macabre garage rock. I bumped into the queen of Joshua Tree, Jesika Von Rabbit, near the small Buddha temple; she was quickly joined by Brant Bjork and Sean Wheeler, two desert kings of rock, for a quick photo.

The Sonics played favorites like “Louie, Louie” and “The Witch,” rivaling Television as the longest-tenured performers at Desert Daze; the band was founded in 1960.

Toro y Moi came back to the high desert, bringing some psychedelic funk to the Moon Stage during a windy and dusty night. Fellow Pappy’s alum Deerhunter also played on the Moon Stage, wearing a hoodie while commenting: “I want to dedicate this next song to Hanna. … I just pissed on my fucking leg,” offering Dezert Daze’s foremost TMI moment.

Saturday brought the Los Angeles trio L.A. Witch, which has been moving up in popularity over the last few years; I first saw the group perform at a small gig at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.

Saturday’s lineup included another female fronted band—The Coathangers, from Atlanta, who previously opened for the Black Lips in Pioneertown. The Coathangers are a buzz-worthy band; after 10 years of grueling touring, the group has earned respect in the indie scene.

Cherry Glazerr’s animated midafternoon Saturday performance showed off fuzzy and dreamy songs, comparable to those from the defunct band The Like. Thee Oh Sees also played on Saturday; I was happy to have the safety and security of the photo pit barrier, because the last time I saw the band, at my favorite desert roadhouse, I almost broke my ankle trying to get a shot in a mosh pit. Thee Oh Sees bring fun musical proto punk chaos whenever the group appears.

Indie Danish rockers The Raveonettes played on the Block Stage, playing newer songs like “Sisters” and classics like “Love in a Trashcan.” The Raveonettes are releasing a new single every month this year.

Another high desert alum, The Black Angels, played the entire album Passover, a 2006 release; it was a true treat. I first saw Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas in 2013, playing a soldout set at Pappy and Harriet’s.

Primus headlined on Saturday, and Les Claypool’s six-string bass was magical during “My Name Is Mud.” Drummer Julie Edwards of Deap Vally was in the pit during the beginning of the set with her 10-month old baby, Mira, who was wearing giant ear protectors; the toddler got really excited during heavy drum beats, suggesting that Mira received Momma’s drumming genes.

Claypool got partisan by offering a tongue-and-cheek comment poking fun at Donald Trump’s claim “that he can grab a woman’s vagina,” adding, “I say ‘vagina’ because I’m a gentleman.” I presume Mr. Claypool was unable to borrow Roger Waters’ floating pig that featured anti-Trump comments at Desert Trip.

On Sunday, Warpaint’s Jenny Lee took her dog, Ludo, onstage as she performed songs from her 2015 solo record Right On! I love the way Jenny Lee drops the bass lines; she was very impressive as a solo act, dominating the stage as she marched to her interpretation of true rock. She was one of the highlights of Sunday.

La Luz had an early set on Sunday; the group has been building a fan base by opening for bands like the Entrance Band and playing at the taste-making Echo Park Rising fest. La Luz is the only doo-wop surf band whose fans like to mosh—a true mystery.

Deap Vally was a highlight of Sunday’s afternoon, featuring Julie Edwards, the co-organizer of Desert Daze and the spouse of promoter Phil Pirrone. Deap Vally starred the howling vocals of lead singer Lindsey Troy, and the set featured “Gonnawanna” from September release Femejism.

METZ’s heavy punk sound was mosh-pit worthy, as the noise-rock group plays traditional punk that sparked a small circle pit in front of the otherwise mellow Block Stage.

On Sunday night, I hurried to catch Foxygen at the Block Stage set for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled start; attendees could see the stage crew trying to identify an unknown sound issue that finally resolved for a start time around 8.

Television headlined the Moon Stage. An apology came from Tom Verlaine, as he explained the band was asked to start a half-hour late. Verlaine asked for the spinning lights to be turned off, stating, “We’re going to have seizures if you keep those twirling discs on.” The lighting person complied, making it darker on stage. Fans in the front row sang along to “Prove It,” a detective story-themed tune from the 1977 release Marquee Moon.

I have followed Desert Daze since it began at Dillon’s Roadhouse in North Palm Springs. Little by little, this festival has grown to the point where music fans now have an opportunity to hear a lot of progressive music in a setting that’s not too large. Desert Daze is a place to hear great music—not a place just to be seen. Hopefully, the community embraces this DIY festival that has just one purpose: to rock.

Published in Reviews

L.A. Witch is a band on the rise. Sade (vocals, guitar), Irita (bass, organ) and Ellie (drums) have toured the U.S. and Mexico with a dark, psychedelic rock sound—and they’re part of the Desert Daze lineup on Saturday, May 2, at the Sunset Ranch Oasis in Mecca.

During a recent phone interview, all three members discussed how L.A. Witch formed.

“We’re all from Los Angeles,” Sade said. “Irita and I met through a mutual friend, and we all worked for the same company. Irita had been jamming with friends, and they were looking for a guitarist, and that mutual friend introduced us, and we met up and started playing together.

“Ellie wasn’t in the band until about a year ago; we lost our drummer because she moved to New York.”

L.A. Witch’s dark, psychedelic sound came naturally, the members explained.

“We don’t consciously try to sound like anything specific,” Irita said. “I think we’re directed toward darker things and darker sounds. That just sort of comes out in the music.”

The band members are all huge fans of horror films—something which undeniably influences their sound.

“I was raised on a lot of horror films and sci-fi,” Sade said. “My dad was really into that stuff—a lot of experimental and abstract kind of stuff. I’ve always really been drawn to that. I also really like Mafia and prison kind of movies, like Escape From Alcatraz and stuff like that.”

Their live shows have gained them a lot of popularity, and they recently finished a tour.

“Last year, we got invited to play in Mexico by our friends,” Irita said. “We went and played a couple of weeks in Mexico; we went to New York; and we just finished our first West Coast tour at the beginning of this month. The last show on our tour was at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.”

Playing in Mexico was a positive experience for L.A. Witch.

“I think that all of us can agree that it was one of the most fun trips we’ve had,” Sade said. “It was definitely very different as far as the city and the environment goes. I think the reason we liked it so much was the crowds and the people are much more hungry for music. I think in L.A., everyone plays in a band, and we have so much access to venues and instruments. When we played down there, they brought us gifts and were always so nice, and they were always so excited. When you’re performing and your crowd is excited, it makes you excited, and you want to play even more.

All of the members agreed that Los Angeles is a tough music scene to crack.

“I think that we’re pretty unique,” Ellie said. “I’m not really worried about standing out, given we have our own sound. L.A. is really super-saturated with so much music and bands.”

Sade agreed.

“People come here trying to launch their acting careers or their modeling, and this is the place—Hollywood,” Sade said. “This is where everyone wants to come to be famous, to be a star, or be somebody. Sometimes, we get thrown into that mix, and I think we’ve been really lucky. I don’t really know what it is, but I don’t worry about not being able to stand out. No matter what, at the end of the day, we’re playing for fun.”

After playing at Desert Daze last year, the band is looking forward to returning.

“It was so fun,” Irita said. “There were so many great bands on the lineup, and we were so excited to be a part of it. We played almost first, at the hottest time of day—but it was really fun.”

Desert Daze takes place starting at 1 p.m., Saturday, May 2, at the Sunset Ranch Oasis, 69520 S. Lincoln St., in Mecca. General admission tickets are $55. For tickets or more information, visit desertdaze.org.

Published in Previews

February is the shortest month of the year—but it’s also the high season in the Coachella Valley, which means there’s a wealth of great shows you should keep in mind.

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club will be hosting a performance by L.A. Witch at 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6, in the Amigo Room. The psychedelic female trio has been playing shows with the likes of the Black Angels, The Melvins and Blonde Redhead. Admission is free. The Ace is also hosting a special Valentine’s Day weekend put on by The Do-Over, known as the Lovers x Heartbreakers Palm Springs Weekender, on Saturday, Feb. 14, and Sunday, Feb. 15. There will be a special lineup of surprise musical guests hosted by Haycock, Strong and Blacc. Admission is free. Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-325-9900; www.acehotel.com/palmsprings.

Local DJ duo The Deep Ones have started an open-mic night for DJs. What does this concept involve? Well, if you ever wanted to try your skills on a turntable and a mixer, you’ll get your chance at 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26. Get more info on The Deep Ones’ Facebook page. Plan B Live Entertainment and Cocktails, 32025 Monterey Ave., Thousand Palms; 760-343-2115; www.myplanbbar.com.

The McCallum Theatre has a solid schedule for February—with shows on 24 of the month’s 28 days! At 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 3, A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor will be bringing his show featuring anecdotes from the American Midwest and other amusing portions of his life. Tickets are $45 to $75. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, Great American Songbook singer Michael Feinstein will perform while sharing the history of these famous tunes. Tickets are $65 to $95. If you’re looking for something to enjoy with the whole family, the Vienna Boys Choir will be performing at 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 19. The choir is split into four touring choirs of boys between the ages of 10 and 14; many are from Austria, but kids from other countries are included, too. Tickets are $25 to $65. McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert; 760-340-2787; www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa has great shows scheduled throughout the month. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, it will be hip to be square with Huey Lewis and the News. True story: I asked for a Metallica album for Christmas one year during my childhood—and my mother bought me Huey’s Sports album instead. Needless to say, I was not happy. Huey has been going since the late 1970s and has had quite a career. One of his more memorable moments was a cameo in Back to the Future, to which he contributed “The Power of Love.” Tickets are $40 to $80. If you had a great time at Air Supply’s Valentine’s Day performance at The Show last year, you’ll be happy to know they’ll be back to soft-rock your face off again, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14. Tickets are $40 to $60. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28, Mexican musician and composer Espinoza Paz will be appearing. Paz went back and forth between Mexico and the United States in the late ’90s when he was an aspiring songwriter and musician. He eventually found his calling and released his first album, El Canta Autor Del Pueblo, in 2008. Tickets are $65 to $85. The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, 32250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage; 888-999-1995; www.hotwatercasino.com.

Fantasy Springs Resort Casino’s February lineup is packed with great shows. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, you can relive the short reggaeton era (remember that?) with Yandel. He is half of the duo Wisin and Yandel, and he released his second solo album, De Lider a Leyenda, in 2013; a brand new album, Legacy, is slated to drop just before this show. Tickets are $39 to $69. Natalie Cole (above right) will be performing on Valentine’s Day, 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14. The daughter of Nat King Cole was a big success in the ’70s before falling into drug addiction. She made a remarkable comeback in the late ’80s and has been going strong ever since. Tickets are $39 to $79. The great Burt Bacharach will be returning at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 22. Bacharach has had 48 Top 10 hits over a 50-year period, and his songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Linda Ronstadt, Dionne Warwick and Aretha Franklin. Tickets are $29 to $69. Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, Indio; 760-342-5000; www.fantasyspringsresort.com.

Spotlight 29 Casino has a star-studded lineup this month. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 7, former Saturday Night Livewriter John Mulaney will be appearing. Mulaney was responsible for writing the “Weekend Update” portion of the show and created the character of Stefon! Tickets are $30 to $50. If you want a little edge on your Valentine’s Day, former Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 14. He also performed with the members of Queen for five years. Tickets are $45 to $75. Martina McBride will be bringing her “Everlasting Tour” to Spotlight 29 at 8 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 26. The country vocalist has had a long and successful career, and her latest album, Everlasting, features duets with Kelly Clarkson and Gavin DeGraw. Tickets are $79 to $139. Spotlight 29 Casino, 46200 Harrison Place, Coachella; 760-775-5566; www.spotlight29.com.

Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace will be busy during the month of February. At 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 10, Pappy’s will be hosting the first performance in 18-plus years of Babes in Toyland. The Riot Grrrl trio has had a rough go of it since disbanding. Frontwoman Kat Bjelland suffered a schizophrenic episode and had to be hospitalized in 2007; bassist Maureen Herman has written about a sexual assault that resulted in a pregnancy; and drummer Lori Barbero suffered from Lyme disease. Babes in Toyland is an intense band that will take you back to the days of grunge and alternative rock. Tickets are $20. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 21 singer-songwriter Brett Dennen (below) will be appearing. The Northern California folk singer has a unique voice, and his deep lyrics have landed him on the bill at the Newport Folk Festival, at Coachella and on various TV soundtracks. Tickets are $25. Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, Pioneertown; 760-365-5956; www.pappyandharriets.com.

The Copa has had a steady season, and that trend continues in February. Leslie Jordan will be appearing at 8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 13, and Saturday, Feb. 14. Leslie may be short, but he’s a larger-than-life performer, guaranteed to be funny. Tickets are $25 to $45. At 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 21, actress and cabaret singer Emily Bergl will perform. You may remember Bergl from her appearances on Gilmore Girls, CSI: Miami and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, among other shows. Tickets are $20 to $40. Copa, 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs; 760-322-3554; www.coparoomtickets.com.

The Hood Bar and Pizza is hosting a couple of notable events. At 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 15, metal goddess and poet Otep will appear. Not only is Otep a poet and metal singer; she’s also a painter and writer. She’s been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry series. She also spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Advance tickets are $10, available at The Hood, and they’ll be $15 at the door. Word to the wise: Buy your tickets in advance. At 9 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 28, there will be a special birthday party for local hip-hop artist MC Manny G featuring EeVaan’ Tre and the Show, Thr3 Strikes and others. Admission is free. The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-636-5220; www.facebook.com/thehoodbar.

Published in Previews