It’s been a long day for L.A. Witch. It’s the first day of the band’s new tour — but without a gig to show for it. Having flown north from Orange County on a mid-April afternoon, the bandmembers are waiting at the San Francisco airport for a flight to Toronto, where they’ll play the first of 25 scheduled dates. Like pretty much every band ever, they’re hoping to play a solid round of tight, enjoyable shows. But they’re also hoping to hold on to their gear this time around.
For L.A. Witch, not having their gear stolen would be a welcome change of pace. The musicians found themselves victims of one of touring’s harshest realities when someone broke into their van and swiped $4,000 worth of equipment on their most recent European tour. Their panicked promoter called every pawn shop in Bristol, to no avail. Once the trio recovered from the initial shock, they started a crowdfunding campaign in hopes of gathering the funds necessary to replace everything.
Much to their surprise, the GoFundMe campaign was a resounding success, to the tune of $8,000. However, it didn’t solve the immediate problem of having no instruments with which to play the tour’s twenty-odd remaining dates.
Enter Facebook. Messages from fans eager to lend gear poured into the band’s in-box. (So many, in fact, that it would take several weeks to open and respond to all of them.) L.A. Witch managed to play the majority of its remaining dates on borrowed gear, giving its version of touring’s tried-and-true — but no less devastating or maddeningly inconvenient — tragedy the happiest of possible endings.
“We were stoked,” says frontwoman and guitarist Sade Sanchez. “Even though I was playing with three pedals that I’d never used before and some weird guitar, it didn’t even matter, because it felt so good knowing that people care. Those were some of the best shows I’ve ever played.”
That’s saying a lot given how L.A. Witch has adopted a relentless touring schedule over the past few years. Doing so has turned Sanchez into the kind of songwriter who can (and does) write on the road, an increasingly necessary skill in a musical climate hostile to record sales. (Yes, ‘Touring is where the money is’ is a tired truism, but it’s the modus operandi for indie rockers the world over.)
“I used to be like, ‘I can’t wait to get home so I can start writing again,’” says Sanchez. “Then we started touring so much that I started thinking, ‘It’s going to be a long time before I write if I keep thinking this way.’”
While she prefers to write in isolation — “I feel like I can be very real and have no influence or judgment from any outsider,” she says — writing on the road is a skill she’s slowly been sharpening. Sometimes that means penning lyrics in the van; other times it means recording potential melodies on her iPhone during sound check. Either way, it’s a part of her new normal.
There are a whole host of emerging realities for L.A. Witch, which is set to drop its debut album on Seattle independent punk label Suicide Squeeze Records this summer. It’s taken a lengthy stretch of releases to get here, each single and EP further honing the trio’s languid psych-by-way-of-garage rock, which conjures visions of everyone from Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre to the Stooges and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s sensual and sinister, dramatic but never overblown. Sanchez’s seductive drawl is a constant, and at its best while she’s unfurling the tale of a woman scorned among the scuzzy, silken blues guitar of “Kill My Baby Tonight.” On “Drive Your Car,” a pulsating lo-fi psych number (with a killer guitar solo shortly after the two-minute mark, mind you) released last year, she repeats the same three lines — “I’ll drive your car/I promise I won’t go far/For you, for you” — like a femme fatale who already knows you’re going to hand over the keys.
But it took years of practice. Raised on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Sanchez started writing songs in sixth grade. She met drummer Ellie English in high school, and the two started Pow Wow, which she remembers as “jazzy-sounding rock” built around unconventional time signatures. Using a fake ID, the then-underage pair would sneak into Crane’s Hollywood Tavern, a now-closed indie hot spot steps from the storied intersection of Hollywood and Vine. Their strategy? Play to whoever will listen.
This ethos stuck when Sanchez started L.A. Witch in 2011 with bassist Irita Pai.
“We didn’t know that venues paid bands until two years in,” she says. “Somebody paid us, and we were like, ‘What? You want to pay us? Why?’ We were just doing it.”
Now, six years into being a band and on the brink of releasing a debut album, the trio boasts a résumé that includes opening for the Kills (who stay in touch, Sanchez says), selling out shows across Europe, and playing Desert Daze and Levitation.
“It’s definitely weird to not have an album out, being a band for as long as we have,” says Sanchez. “People have expectations.”
Not that L.A. Witch particularly cares.
“This what we’re doing because it’s what we want to do. We’re not necessarily trying to make anyone happy,” says Sanchez. “If you want to appreciate it, then that’s awesome. We got your back.”
L.A. Witch, with Mr. Elevator, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 3, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway, $10, 303-733-0230.
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