Sasha and the Valentines Cast a Spell With Premiere of Silent-Film Inspired “Witches” Video

Photo Credit: JB Bergin

With Valentine’s Day fast-approaching, love is in the air… or is it? Austin-based quintet Sasha and the Valentines want you to consider those feelings as carefully as they have on their debut LP, So You Think You Found Love? out April 16 via Oof Records. They’ve released one song from the project so far – existentialist dreampop ditty “Tears for Mars” – and today, they’re premiering a soft-focus black and white video for woozy new single “Witches.” Shot on 8mm film by Valentines bassist JB Bergin, the video sees the band (Bergin, guitarist Alex Whitelaw, drummer Billy Hickey, and aux percussionist Tim Zoidis) made up like mimes and bewildered by the spectre of singer/songwriter/keyboardist Sarah Addi.

The band met while attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst, relocating to Austin to hone their sound in the live music capital of the world. So You Think You Found Love? expands on the blissed-out Motown-inflected art pop that comprised their four-song debut EP Green, with Addi’s lyrics exploring the ambiguity of human relationships, as well as her personal experiences with codependency and queer identity. “Sasha” (a Russian nickname for Alex) acts as a genderless persona that can be embodied by any and all of the band’s members, as well as the listener; in keeping things vague, the focus shifts from each song’s particular narrative into full-on mood.

“Witches” opens the forthcoming LP with evocative synth and beachy, reverb-drenched guitar, unfurling into its languid chorus as Addi attempts to console a tempestuous lover. It’s easy to fall under her spell as she conjures the ghosts of Clara Bow, Theda Bara, and other doe-eyed stars of the silent film-era in a diaphanous gown and crown of stars, locked in an enigmatic waltz with her bandmates. Check out the video and read on for a Q&A with the band below.

AF: How did the band form? What other musical projects have you each been involved with? How did you all make your way to Austin and what’s it been like being part of the thriving music scene there?

JB: Our musical projects are a tightly woven tapestry. All of us play or have played in a few groups over the past few years while also playing in Sasha, which began booking live shows formally in summer 2018. Sarah, Billy, and John played in Calico Blue (2015-2020). John and Billy played on Christelle Bofale’s debut EP and in their live band. Billy has played in Hotmom and Holiday Music; Alex also played in Holiday Music for a while. Tim played in Petting Zoo when we all first met. Alex is the artist behind the band Spirit Ghost (2012-present), with John, Billy, and Tim supporting him for live shows.

We all ended up in Austin on each other’s heels; first Sarah, Alex, and Billy, then me, then Tim. It was really just a “pick a place on a map and go” sort of decision. The music scene is vibrant! It’s been important to be in a place where live opportunities abound, where we could really cut our teeth and define our live sound/live presence very comprehensively.

AF: What did you learn between the recording of your EP Green and putting together your debut LP? How did you get involved with producer Erik Wofford/Oof Records?

SA: I think the EP was a way of getting our music out there while we played live around Austin; I had written most of those tracks a while back and wanted to give live fans something to listen to online. When approaching the album, I wrote demos of these songs over the few years we’ve been in Austin playing live, so they were very seasoned and pretty fleshed out by the time we were ready to record. Going into it, personally, I had a very clear vision of what we wanted everything to sound like and we decided to spend the time and funds to really amp up our production, and Erik Wofford was a big part of that. Working with him was the only way I could have imagined this album going. He really understood what we wanted and just got our sound right away. It was an honor working with someone who has worked with such great artists.

JB: Erik saw us play in July 2019 at a Hot Summer Nights show at Cheer Up Charlies; we had just gotten back to Austin after a run to California. He emailed us that week to see if we wanted to come into the studio, so we scheduled a day and recorded Witches. Fast forward a couple months; we spent a lot of 2020 pitching the album to different labels, and we were introduced to Oof by seeing a tweet from our friend Tyler Andere. We sent an email, they responded, and now we’re here!

AF: How do you approach your retro pop sound in terms of songwriting and influences and how does that play out in the band’s overall style, musically or otherwise?

SA: I’ve never really written in a way that tries to be something, if that makes sense. So our sound is just a very authentic, subconscious amalgamation of all the artists we love and listen too. With SATV specifically, I wanted to write what I wanted to listen to. Growing up I listened to a lot of Motown, Stevie Wonder, ABBA, Blondie, Prince, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Cranberries, 80s pop, etc. etc. and that later translated to a love of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tennis, King Krule, Beach House, and other kinds of warm vibey indie pop. But I’ve also been directly inspired by musicals, TV shows, movies and music that stretches outside of what I normally listen too. I just have a lot of love for melodies and sounds that are catchy, nostalgic, and make you feel something honestly and shamelessly.

AF: I like how the album stays relatively vague yet plays with the idea of love and expectation in ways that go beyond romance. Can you talk about some of the deeper concepts you wanted to explore on this record, and how couching them in the form of love songs helps you process?

SA: One concept that I think shows up again and again is just the overall idea of giving and taking. In relationships, romantic or otherwise, sometimes we give so much to a person and they could potentially give you nothing. And sometimes we do everything for someone, not out of selflessness or love but to make ourselves indispensable and needed. In this record, I touch on a lot of my past relationships and those moments of manipulation, or rejection, needing, giving, taking. I think it’s me coming to terms with my place in relationships. Most of the time, I am a giver. I let people take everything I have emotionally and I’ll still smile and want to make them feel better. I’m facing my fear of rejection and being alone and being open about my sexuality and the shame that comes with it. It’s easy to be the giver when in the past you’ve felt like you didn’t deserve the affection or attention given to you. It’s also easy to make someone need you/want you so that you don’t have to be alone. That sounds so crazy, but it’s true.

AF: Even the title of the record is subtly daring, like a challenge to the idea of fragile relationships and fickle feelings. Who is that question addressed to and how does it relate to the overall concept of the record?

SA: I think the question is for yourself, myself and the listener. I’m asking you, everyone and myself “So you think you found love?” It’s super easy to interpret it in kind of a challenging, condescending way, that could mean maybe you feel defensive about your relationship or your innate desire for love. But you could also interpret it as a very genuine question. Do you know what love is? Did you find it? Is love actually what you are feeling? Or are you desperately clinging to the feeling of being needed? It’s not really meant to be cynical. I believe love is real. But those other feelings – insecurity, not feeling good enough, the need for validation, or fear of being alone – can also be love in disguise. So through processing all my relationships, mirrored through the album tracks, I am and have always been asking myself, did you find love? Is this what it is?

AF: You tackle some big ideas that can be sort of heavy, like codependency, coming to terms with queerness, etc. but the songs have a feather-light feel. Can you talk about the benefit of approaching weighty topics with airy melodies? How did you sonically capture that floaty feeling of falling for someone?

SA: I think humans are really funny. We’re very dramatic and we feel very hard. We love hard and we hurt hard. But when you zoom out it’s also kind of comical and very trivial. So I started writing these melodies and chord progressions that contradict the feelings and ideas that drive the lyrics. Because even though love and other relationships can really hurt and fuck you up, that feeling of falling, or butterflies or being really seen and understood by someone is always worth it. So why not wrap these themes in a warm, bubbly package? Make them sweet and easy to swallow, because each time no matter how broken we get in love we’d do it all over again the next time because it feels that good.

AF: What inspired the song “Witches”? How does that symbolic, evocative title play into the meaning of the song?

SA: So the concept of “Witches” comes from past relationships where I have wanted to get so close to a person, and know everything about them in an effort to be the one they find the most comfort in. If they could tell me anything then I am their confidante, which means they can’t leave me. But that’s not true, and that’s borderline manipulative on my part. So I came up with the idea that I was like a witch: I cast a spell on my lovers and they bare their souls to me so that they’ll always need me and be worse off without me; they’d be under my spell. It’s kind of a creepy reminder that even selfless-seeming acts can have weird manipulative intentions. Especially in relationships.

AF: Have you had any personal brushes with witchery? Does anyone in the band practice magic, rituals, etc.? What kind and for what purpose?

SA: I don’t think so. I mean, we’re all from Massachusttes, home of the Witch trials. But no, not witchery or witch practice in particular. Even though I am a huge fan of spooky things, Halloween, magic and the paranormal in general.

AF: Can you talk about what you were going for in the video? I get silent film-version of The Love Witch vibes!

JB: The Love Witch was one of our visual references for the video, actually! We tried to create a similar mood to The Love Witch, but if Marcel Marceau and The Addams Family were directing it. Sarah also had this very specific, very weird Russian children’s movie scene in mind when it came to Alex’s costume.

AF: Were there specific production challenges you faced in making the video, due to COVID or otherwise?

JB: COVID didn’t put a damper on making the video, since all of us were living together by the time we filmed it. However, it was my first time using an 8mm film camera (I’ve been shooting professionally on film cameras for a few years but had never used movie film before) so the entire filming process felt like a shot in the dark. We had no guarantee that the camera was still in working condition; I only knew that it was my grandpa’s and that he took excellent care of his belongings.

AF: How about any challenges with making the record or just existing as a band in general right now?

JB: Existing as a band right now definitely poses some challenges. Without live shows, we’re left with a lot of free time, which can be positive: a way to re-assess what we’re doing, a chance to structure a practice routine that isn’t only in relationship to when our next gig is, a break from the emails and social pressure of playing live. The downside is we’re faced with this endless existential question mark – why are we doing this? Is this fulfilling us, answering the questions we had when we started? Playing live was often the uplifting answer to those questions. So it kind of becomes a question of, are we really doing this, when no one else is watching? When it feels like no one else cares except us? I think that’s the ultimate question for any artist, and I don’t think we were expected to be confronted with it so abruptly.

SA: I second that. It’s also, frankly, hard to make a living as a musician if you can’t tour. Touring can be very lucrative and fulfilling so it’s disheartening that we can’t do it right now. But at the end of the day, we just want to share what we’ve made. We’re proud of our songs and we hope other people emotionally connect to them like we have.

AF: What are your plans for the album release and beyond? Livestream shows, etc?

JB: On release day there’s a plan that involves karaoke… but the rest of that idea a secret.

AF: Last one: what does it mean for y’all to find love – not necessarily in a traditional sense, but as a band, amongst each other and/or with fans?

JB: I think love boils down to trust and mutual benefit. Are we sharing with each other and growing/transforming from that exchange? Are we putting our vulnerabilities on display and believing that whoever is watching (the others in the band, the audience) will hold us closer because of it? To me, finding love is exploring what types of ways we’re held.

SA: It’s very special to meet people that believe in you and your musical instincts. I have been incredibly blessed to feel loved and supported by my bandmates and our fans. And I hope each of them feels how much I love and support them. Even as an audience member, I hope you feel that when I’m singing you my songs, I am offering a piece of my heart to you, everytime. And I hope in those moments when you’re looking for love or questioning if you’ve found it, you can find solace in the fact that someone else is looking too. Even if it’s not romantic, we all look for love.

BH: I think love is about trust, being able to express your true self without fear. Band-love is a very special kind of love, because we have to come together to express a shared self. You love your band mates because they’re a part of you and your ability to express yourself to the world, they’re my emotional microphone that allows me to express myself as part of a whole. It’s nice to be a slice of Sasha pie.

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