meet sadgirl, the la band putting an eerie surf punk spin on elvis and ‘twin peaks’ americana
As we premiere the band’s newest single ‘Someone Else’s Skin,’ frontman Misha Lindes talks growing up in Southern California’s DIY scene with his model-musician sister Staz, and why his mom is so stoked on Hedi Slimane.
Photography Alex Aristei
Before Misha Lindes began making surf punk tunes as the lead of LA trio SadGirl, he was winging his way through Nirvana covers in the seventh grade battle of the bands. Born in London before moving to Southern California at the age of seven, Misha was raised by an American father (a musician who played guitar in Dire Straits) and British mother (a former model and "pretty creative lady," he tells me over the phone). "Growing up in a musical household, I assumed that you just sort of pick an instrument you wanted to play and then announced that you played it. So as a kid, I claimed forever that I played the bass, but I never properly practiced, or even owned one." When word got around at school, Misha was top playground pick for the upcoming competition. "I went out and bought a bass, practiced a little with a group, and played the battle of the bands."
"We ended up winning," he laughs. "I have video footage of it that's hilarious."
After his half baked covers of "Territorial Pissings" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Sublime's "Santeria," and "some Metallica song" earned serious seventh grade glory, Misha began more seriously devoting himself to music. He switched from bass to guitar, studying Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones solos with neighborhood pal Dakota Peterson (SadGirl's bassist). Years later, he ditched art school in London and began working as a graphic artist at a screen printing shop back in LA, where he met Paul Caruso — a fellow printer who ran a small press operation out of his garage. "One time we were hanging out and Paul mentioned he played drums, but I kind of forgot about it. When I hit him up a couple months later to jam, we hit it off really well even though we'd never properly hung out." SadGirl was born right then and there. "We've played together every week since," says Misha.
Though the band's sound these days has moved far from the blistering 90s shredders that gave Misha his start, it's still shaped profoundly by his parents' creative encouragement and fondness for early rock. "I think it was the music that came into existence when they were kids and completely changed the course of their lives," Misha explains, listing Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Zeppelin, David Bowie, and the girl group compilations lining his dad's car — "Phil Spector stuff like The Crystals and The Ronettes" — as chief influences on his own direction. "For some reason, I always have had some fantasy about what my dad's childhood was like growing up in early 60s America: big cars, guitar music, and The Beatles on the radio." When they were kids, Misha's younger sister — mega model Staz — got super into Crybaby. "I remember hearing a lot of doo-wop songs for the first time from that soundtrack. I think that it really changed my musical perspective in some way, too."
That fascination has lead SadGirl to craft exciting new takes on classic Americana, refreshing its clean-cut codes with eerie lo-fi energies a la Twin Peaks and Suicide. One of the band's first singles, 2013's "Norma and Jessica," (which arrived with a music video shot on 16mm film and starring Danny Trejo, by the way) netted comparisons to The Marketts, albeit a far grittier spin on the early 60s instrumental pop outfit's surf style. "Love Me" — the B-side of the record i-D premieres today, "Someone Else's Skin" — is a skuzzy version of one of Misha's favorite Elvis songs, a sentimental slow burner lifted from The King's 1956 sophomore album.
Yet Misha counts "Someone Else's Skin" as something of a step away from the band's typical psychobilly leanings in a more Detroit punk direction. "It's about reaching a kind of rash decision that could potentially change your life, totally forever, and realizing that you might have made a mistake — made the wrong choice," Misha explains. "But the song also reflects the idea behind it; it's sort of a departure from most of our other songs in terms of sound, and that's intentional. I don't think you should have to feel the need to fit into a particular style or genre in the music you're making or whatever you're doing creatively," he says.
It's solid advice, considering Misha's multidisciplinary approach to the band. Glancing quickly at SadGirl's website, it's easy to see the guys have a clear sense of aesthetics — unsurprising considering Misha and Caruso's design backgrounds. He cites simple, stark imagery like flowers ("Love Me's" record art includes illustrations of Southern Magnolias, the state flower of Elvis' stomping grounds, Mississippi) and old school punk flyer graphics as chief inspirations. "I remember my mom telling me about going to the record store and buying a record — how special it was to pull out this large object, open up the gatefold, read the lyrics, look at the art, or pull out a poster. Not just listening to the band's music, but experiencing the band visually and tangibly," Misha explains. "I've always been fascinated with that broader experience."
Another aspect of that broader experience is, of course, clothing. So it made sense when fashion's biggest music nerd — and champion of LA's surf rock scene in particular — Hedi Slimane tapped the siblings Lindes for his Diary photographs. Staz rocked a leather jacket adorned with Elvis patches, Misha a beat up Metallica tee. "I'm not a model, I'm not crazy into fashion, but I am into creative projects in general. A lot of the [Saint Laurent] stuff that I was involved with was with Staz, and I was stoked to have these incredible portraits shot with my sister. My mom was really stoked," Misha says. "Having two kids doing music and art and fashion means a lot to my mom, which in turn means a lot to us."
And though Misha's mom has made a measurable impact on SadGirl's sound, so has his sister; Staz fronts her own killer band, The Paranoyds. The four-piece is presently the opening act of DIIV's US tour, the final stop of which arrives at Brooklyn's House of Vans next week. "When I was in my bedroom trying to learn the intro to 'Sweet Child of Mine' on my guitar, Staz was in her bedroom across the hall writing amazing songs," says Misha. "For a while, I just wanted to be a guitar player, but I think she's what made me want to step my game up. I've been really influenced and inspired by my sister."
While Staz is shredding the East coast, Misha's happy to contribute to his city's emerging, hugely DIY scene. SadGirl's already shared the stage with The Drums, Kim & The Created, and will soon play with The Garden. "I have the best group of friends that I've ever had in my life because I'm surrounded by people who are creative and constantly trying to make music, showing each other music, wanting to make art, to shoot pictures, to paint, make t-shirts, or whatever. It's just a great group of people who are constantly pushing each other creatively," says Misha. "I hope our music keeps growing and evolving and we keep doing weird things."
SadGirl's 'Someone Else's Skin' 7" release show is tonight at Non Plus Ultra in Los Angeles, more information here.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Alex Aristei