Los Angeles-born rock band L.A. Witch began from a dire situation. “This is kind of fucked up,” says the group’s frontwoman and co-founder, Sade Sanchez. After the preface, she continues with the story of a bad relationship. Her then-boyfriend was physically and mentally abusive, she says, to the point that, when Sanchez decided she wanted to start a band, he forbid her from including male members. So, not yet ready to part ways with him, which Sanchez later did, she sought women players for her new group. “That was really hard at the time,” she says.
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Now, though, some years later, Sanchez’s group is going strong and so is a burgeoning community of like-minded rockers, including groups like the Coathangers across the country in Atlanta. On November 19, L.A. Witch and the Coathangers will release their new split 7” album on vinyl, which features covers of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” and The Gun Club’s “Ghost on the Highway.”
“My friend told me about these girls who were jamming and had this rehearsal space,” Sanchez tells American Songwriter, “and they needed a singer and a guitar player.”
With that incredible and fortunate opportunity, Sanchez pounced. And when they all eventually met face-to-face in 2011 and when Sanchez saw them, she was sold immediately. At the time, the other members weren’t especially skilled on their instruments, Sanchez explains. But that didn’t matter. Sanchez showed them the songs she had, the members liked them and they started jamming on them, building L.A. Witch up note by note from their first rehearsal.
“One, they looked cool as fuck,” Sanchez says. “Two, they were super passionate about music. We had all these ideas. It wasn’t even that we wanted to play shows. We just wanted to make cool music. We started playing and things started to pick up.”
On that first day, Sanchez formed the band with bassist Irita Pai. The band’s original drummer, Crystal Nava, was the third originator but has left the group. To replace her, Sanchez reached to an old friend, Ellie English, with whom she’d played in a two-piece band in high school. But in between those musical partnerships, the two old friends had undergone a falling out. Now, though, there was a chance for reconnection. As Nava was departing. Sanchez invited English to sit in on some gigs and the trio has since been together solidly for the past six years.
“There’s an irony to it, which I think is kind of cool,” Sanchez says. “It’s kind of a funny reason for me to start a girl band, it’s not what most people would think. But I’m glad it happened.”
Sanchez is glad for music in general. As a form of language, it gave her a voice. Growing up in L.A., the daughter of parents from Mexico City, Sanchez’s home was filled with music, much of it was American and British rock groups. There was Mexican music too. Her father played guitar and she loved Disney songs. MTV came next with its cornucopia of music videos. But as a kid, she was also somewhat isolated. She grew up in an industrial part of Los Angeles, there weren’t many neighbors or kids to play with. Even the scenery was mostly railroad tracks and shipment centers. So, she threw herself into music. First the cello and then, more in earnest, with the guitar.
“Music,” Sanchez says, “is the language that I found that I felt like I finally had a voice when I played guitar, especially being someone where English was a second language.”
Sanchez describes herself as an introvert growing up, shy. Music lets her communicate and connect. Living in Los Angeles is not like living in most places on earth. Within a five-minute drive anywhere there are recording studios, music shops, venues, record stores, landmarks, or someone at least wearing a band t-shirt. In other words, music and the creation of it are especially fostered there. This helped Sanchez build her musical muscles.
Now, her band is connected with an important independent record label, Suicide Squeeze, which boasts other bands on its roster like the Coathangers, Julia Shapiro, Death Valley Girls, and many others. “There’s a lot of women on the label,” Sanchez says. “It’s really cool to have that, you feel a little bit more connected, in a way. We’ve toured multiple times with Death Valley Girls, multiple times with the Coathangers. It’s really cool to have that.”
Speaking of touring, L.A. Witch, which released its most recent LP, Play With Fire, in 2020, is about to head out on a few months of gigs. It’s a grueling process but Sanchez says it’s both rewarding and welcomed. Further, the band is closely-knit. “We’re a family,” Sanchez says. And as Sanchez continues to look ahead, she says there is new music in the works. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the band members wrote some new stuff. Though they weren’t able to see one another as much as they’d wanted to for various reasons, Sanchez says 2022 will offer some new songs and even potentially some new styles.
“We all have things we want to try out,” she says. “We’re super open about not sticking to the same sounds. The roots will always be there but are looking to do something a little bit different.”
That’s the beauty of what she and L.A. Witch can do. The music the band makes connects them to new roads, people, and opportunities. In the same way, the songs her parents played in the house as a kid opened her eyes and ears. L.A. Witch’s music continues to do the same for her today. It has even provided her window out of a moment in life that had been painful, damaging. That’s powerful stuff.
“I love that it’s always a way to connect people,” Sanchez says. “And that it’s an escape for people. It’s a good escape for myself. It’s this abstract world but it’s universal to everybody.” She adds, “I love that you can meet people in different parts of the world and you will share the experience of listening to a song.”