It’s been almost exactly three years since we spoke to Cali dark rock trio LA Witch, and back then they were on the verge of releasing their debut album four years after putting out their EP. So here we are in 2020, and as we speak via Zoom, they’re preparing to release their second album Play With Fire. They don’t like to rush things, spending months upon months touring between records, but this year’s lockdown has allowed them to sit down and focus. Every cloud has a silver lining and all that, because the album is a gorgeous, intense yet dreamy, psych-rock beast. The evolution between records is clear, even to them.
“It’s gotten more complex,” says frontwoman Sade Sanchez. “We’ve all been playing with each other for a while now, so I think the dynamic has gotten a lot stronger. It already was naturally, but lots of touring with each other and lots of spending time together, it’s strengthened the sound.”
“The first album was kind of a collection of songs that we had been playing since the beginning of the band, so it didn’t really represent where we were at the moment it came out,” adds bassist Irita Pai. “A lot of it was older. For this album, a large portion of it was recorded in the span of a month or two months. So, it was very focused.”
It certainly sounds focused — recent singles “True Believers” and “I Wanna Lose” are saturated with punk energy and swathes of Sabbath-esque groove. The title adds a little extra incendiary edge.
“The theme is definitely fire, which is why it has that title,” says Sanchez. “A lot of the songs branch off from the idea of fire being something that’s very symbolic. In life it can be something that can lead to destruction or it can be like the warmth that gives life. I’ve always loved symbolism, and the imagery that can be in your mind that sometimes can communicate things that words can’t. So, starting off with that helped me when writing lyrics. It gave me ideas and inspiration for themes within the songs. You’ll find a little bit of that in every song, I think. Also, it’s like a new beginning, and this being our first album in three years it feels like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”
While the album was written before COVID kicked in, and recorded in February just before lockdown, Sanchez says that the themes feel like they tie into recent events.
“That wasn’t the intention, but it just shows that it’s something that has been rooted deeply in us,” she says. “Not necessarily the pandemic, even though writing did feel a little bit like a pandemic — at least for me, because it felt like a quarantine. Trying not to get a lot of outside influence and really focusing on writing and having this timeline to write. A lot of anger with things going on. Not to get too heavy into things, but I think there’s a lot of unhappiness with the way things are in life in general.”
Ultimately, though, the musicians say that the rollout of the album went ahead pretty much as normal, as far as the singles building up to the drop and the release date. Of course, they can’t take it on the road.
“We definitely can’t tour, which is I think the number one thing you do to bring attention to your album, especially nowadays,” says Pai. “It’s really hard. You don’t sell CDs anymore and stuff like that. It’s been interesting. We’re trying to adapt to the new times, like doing interviews on Zoom all the time. I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it at this point.”
They certainly have; they’re free flowing with the anecdotes, such as this one about recent single “I Wanna Lose.”
“When we first were writing the song down, I was spelling it ‘loose’,” says Sanchez. “I didn’t realize that I was misspelling it. I sent it to my friend, and he was like, ‘Yo dude, are you ok? Why is your song called I Wanna Loose?’ I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ Now, I know how to spell lose. What that song is about is dropping the ego, and that feeling when you celebrate your failure — realizing that it can make you stronger. That experience when you’re so down and feel so defeated, and at that moment there’s this feeling where you’re like, ‘Fuck it all, I don’t care anymore.’ It’s because you had that feeling of having nothing to lose and everything to win. That’s kind of the message behind that song.”
Strong stuff, and a clear reminder L.A. Witch is in this thing to succeed. Already super-talented, they’re driven by a desire to improve — to push themselves and each other. That drive has helped keep them sane during lockdown.
“I’ve been practicing a lot,” says drummer Ellie English. “I was also in New York for three weeks because my sister got married, so we had to do a mandated quarantine where they check up on you every day and make sure you’re quarantining so that was crazy. Then just working.”
“I’m trying to stay busy as much as possible within the rules and regulations,” adds Sanchez. “Riding my motorcycle a lot, which has been cool. Hanging out with my dogs. I started a boxing class yesterday — that really kicked my ass. Finding all sorts of weird shit to do to keep my mind occupied.”
They have plenty to keep them busy, including the launch of this album as well as planning a livestream.
“We’re still figuring out the details for that,” says Sanchez. “It’s complicated because of the whole COVID stuff. We have to get tested on the day of. I don’t know if a certain amount of people are allowed in — like 20 people. Something weird like that. So, we’re trying to figure out the details. We don’t have a specific date yet, but it is in the works.”
Besides that, they’ll keep writing and working on new music until the day comes that they can tour again. They’ll keep getting better and stronger, because that’s what L.A. Witch does.
L.A. Witch’s new album Play With Fire is out August 21 via Suicide Squeeze.