One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that good music has a way of finding you, even when you least expect it. Maybe it’s because we are the entertainment capital of the world or perhaps it’s because Hollywood attracts some of the most impressive, ambitious artists, but our city is chock full of incredibly talented yet relatively unknown musicians.
Last month, I found myself at the delightfully campy, Flamenco dance hall El Cid to watch my friends in the sketch group Family Sandwich. When it was announced that “live music would follow the performance,” I ordered another drink, settled in, and prepared myself for another unexpected concert. The curtain parted to reveal a petite female lead singer clutching a ukulele with a raven-haired girl at her side prepared to strum a washboard. My friends and I exchanged happily surprised expressions, sat up, and took notice. Vocalist Sadie D’Marquez immediately piqued my curiosity as she began strumming while humming on a kazoo, and I instantly thought, “LA, you’ve done it again.”
The band hit song after song out of the park during their almost hour-long set. From the way D’Marquez sang with a husky Southern edge, effortlessly flipping to falsetto, to Jazzmin Gutierrez switching between washboard and muted trumpet, the band played with a passion and talent that made me want to stand up and shout, “Why aren’t more people here to hear this?” Their group vocals, particularly when a’cappella, were soulful and haunting. As Andrew Narvaez played bass and cowbell with equal physical vigor and Anders Terrance left his drum set to accompany the group with harmonica, Sadie and The Blue Eyed Devils owned the stage until their finale encore. It may have been a intimate venue with a small crowd, but the Devils captivated every audience member.
I had to know more about this Sadie and The Blue Eyed Devils, so I spoke to the band about their extensively diverse influences, their new EP, and their summer tour.
Where did you get your unique band name?
D’Marquez: Blue-eyed devil is basically a pejorative term for a white person, and in music, has been used to refer to white singers who try to sound black. It’s weird, but it’s kind of a self-effacing thing, a nod to the fact that American music owes basically everything to black culture.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your heartfelt songs?
D’Marquez: My big, oafish, crazy heart! It’s nearly always broken over someone or something. I write when I can’t help it — when I’m overcome with emotion. Above all, love! Also, 4 A.M. conversations with crazy people at the corner store about angels and Daisy Duck and death and Bobby Kennedy.
What are some of your major musical influences?
D’Marquez: Old Hollywood movie musicals. I grew up on them and knew basically nothing about contemporary music until I was a teenager. I have a vivid recollection of the moment I realized that spontaneous song and dance routines just didn’t happen in real life. Utter devastation. My dad played a lot of Patsy Cline around the house when I was growing up, and my mum always liked swing, so I’ve always had an old-fashioned aesthetic sensibility. Blind Willie McTell is definitely a songwriting hero of mine, as well as Van Morrison and John Prine.
Narvaez: The Monks, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Van Ronk, Chicha music, Os Mutantes.
Terrance: Paul Butterfield, Levon Helm, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, The Buffalo Skinners, The Lexingtons, The Beatles.
Gutierrez: The Beatles, of course. Lots of ska in high school. Listening to Reel Big Fish and Streetlight Manifesto made me crave being in a band. I love the words and music that were created by Regina Spektors’ brain and finger tips. I love our friends The Buffalo Skinners; their talent inspires me to become a better musician. Satchmo, Stewart Cole from Edward Sharpe, Belle and Sebastian, Michael Jackson, Melanie, and Christmas music, especially Zooey Deschanel’s voice in Elf.
What’s it like to be such a Southern band in a city like Los Angeles?
D’Marquez: It’s really interesting, because we’ve really had nothing but positive responses everywhere we’ve played.
Terrance: It’s funny, because we never really think about our music being associated with any particular geographical area. To us, it’s just the music we enjoy playing. If all four of us were together in Russia, we’d probably be making similar music.
Gutierrez: Yeah, we were all just attracted to the idea of touring the South, and when we started telling people they were all very encouraging and told us that we were meant to be there. I just wanted to go meet ghosts in plantation houses, but getting to play music there is groovy too. [LAUGHS]
You all play such an assortment of instruments. Did anyone learn an instrument specifically because it sounded good on a song or are you all just multi-instrumentalists?
D’Marquez: I want to be able to play everything!
Narvaez: My friend Dominick taught me how to play the bass and to not be afraid of all the different aspects of musical tones. That was a moment where I wanted to learn as many instruments as possible. My next goal is to start building our own instruments and to be able to play a duet with jazz on some kind of woodwind.
Terrance: Well, the first instrument I really loved was drums. That was the first one I ever picked up and taught myself. Then when I heard Paul Butterfield for the first time, I sure enough melted and had to learn the harmonica. Apart from that, I just asked my friends to teach me all the instruments they knew (i.e., guitar, bass, mandolin) because my career as a Sammy Hagar impersonator was floundering. [LAUGHS]
Gutierrez: I’m the middle child, so when I was in 4th grade I thought I had to learn the saxophone because Lisa Simpson was the middle child and she played the sax. After a year, I decided to switch to the trumpet because the walk with the sax from the school office to the band room was too far for me to carry that damn thing. The rest is history, baby. I like making noises with other stuff and immediately fell in love with the tambourine and wanted to play that in more songs then the horn. We recorded mandolin on the EP, and I had been wanting to learn a stringed instrument so that worked out beautifully.
Why is the name of your first EP We Love You?
Terrance: I was burning our songs on iTunes and noticed that all of them were being burnt with the title “Final Mix” which is what our fantastic engineer Chad had named it, as a placeholder. I figured “Final Mix” didn’t look very interesting on someone’s iPod, so I just typed “We Love You.” I didn’t know that I had inadvertently titled it. [LAUGHS] That being said, we do love you.
What has been your favorite show experience thus far?
D’Marquez: When the proprietress of a venue we were playing stormed the stage in the middle of our set and announced that she wanted to sing and commanded us to play “Route 66.” We did, of course.
Terrance: I think winning the first two rounds of a battle of the bands in Whittier. Those were so much funm and we had so many great friends out there supporting and dancing with us!
Gutierrez: Yeah, the battles were awesome! My favorite show I think has to be our EP release. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people in front of us before. It really humbled me and made me so incredibly grateful for everything we have been blessed with.
Narvaez: Those were all amazing, but for me it had to be a performance at The Roosevelt Hotel with our dear friends from across the Atlantic, The Buffalo Skinners. It just became a huge jam session with some special participation from the audience.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of the year?
D’Marquez: Writing, recording, and traveling the country with my best friends.
Terrance: Tour! And spreading the message of proper dental hygiene.
Gutierrez: Tour! I have always wanted to go on the road and knew it would happen this year. We’ve been working hard booking shows and getting couches to surf on, and all of this work I have been doing to design unique covers for each CD and our tour poster is making me want to leave now!
Narvaez: As mentioned, tour! Also, we’re recording a full-length record.