Sasha Chemerov says he’s all about music, and that’s the reason he’s based in Los Angeles.
Throw a rock down Sunset Boulevard day or night, and you’re all but guaranteed to hit another musician who will make a similar claim. But chances are very few singers and instrumentalists, if any at all, could honestly say their journey to southern California began in Ukraine, like Chemerov’s did.
About three years ago, Chemerov — a veteran of Dymna Sumish, among other Ukrainian rock-pop bands — relocated to L.A., where in 2014 he formed his current group, The Gitas. Backed by session players Joe Guese on bass, Alex Burke on keyboards and Matt Lucich on drums, singer-guitarist Chermerov recorded Garland, The Gitas’ vigorous and varied debut, with producer Jaron Luksa, who in his multifaceted music career has worked with the likes of John Legend and Alabama Shakes.
Since completing The Gitas’ debut, the 33-year-old Chemerov has put together a regular lineup: Guese on guitar, plus Sal Ramazzini on bass and Brittany Maccarello on drums. In advance of Garland’s Jan. 27 release, Chemerov fielded a fistful of first-themed questions about life before and after moving to Los Angeles.
First album purchased with his own money:
Sasha Chemerov: “The first album I bought was Aerosmith’s first record from 1973, and I’m pretty sure I used pocket money my parents gave me. I think it was in the late ’80s. Beyond that, I made a rule for myself to only purchase two cassettes per week.”
His first concert:
Chemerov: “The first shows I attended were [crappy] U.S.S.R. pop acts. I had no choice; I was with my parents. But later in life, I attended a punk show, which totally blew my mind: loud guitars, severe yelling and stoned — but beautiful — people. The only thought in my head was, ‘I should do this punk-rock thing and front a band!’ ”
The first words that come to mind when asked to describe life in Ukraine:
Chemerov: “It’s pretty hard to formulate my feelings into words because I went through different personal phases as I grew up. I had an amazing childhood, then a turbulent yet fulfilled period as a teen. But while entering adulthood, I found myself framed in circumstances I couldn’t accept: incomprehension, corruption, survival, daily struggles and the list goes on. But you know what? I have no regrets: It’s my damn life. I love my country, but there is nothing about patriotism. All I am about is music. That’s why I’m here in L.A.”
His first impression of Los Angeles:
Chemerov: “For a person who has always been a big fan of blues, rock ’n’ roll and American movies, it felt like a fairytale: colors, great weather, bright lights, the ocean, The Doors and The Beach Boys … these streets seemed familiar at first. But after a couple months, I realized that it wasn’t like the ’70s, ’80s or my beloved ’90s in L.A. anymore.
“Political and social aspects of the L.A. music scene appeared missing. The current entertainment biz felt more artificial once I got inside it. The ‘pay to play’ shows bum me out. Those type of promoters don’t care about music anymore, and not every working musician deserves those stages. But flakes, waste-of-life wannabes and tourists buy their way into playing those gigs. L.A. appeared to operate like a huge museum to me. But I’m an artist; thank God I live in my own world, and it’s beautiful. I can combine dreams, reality and love to create my own version of L.A. I think I appreciate the environment and its opportunities even more than some Los Angelenos.”
The first rock star he recognized in L.A.:
Chemerov: “It was at the [Henry] Fonda Theatre a couple years ago. I went to see The Entrance Band, which I’m very fond of. After an amazing show, I met Paz Lenchantin [the band’s bassist]. I told her she’s my favorite female bass player and that she’s gorgeous. Wow, she melted me down with her shy smile.”
The first song written for Garland:
Chemerov: “All the songs for Garland were written in a two-three year period before we started working on the record. But ‘Black Crows’ is the oldest. The song’s story is about a strong man who wisely struggles for his freedom. The main inspiration comes from real life: Whatever happens, you should keep trying. We used Martin Luther King Jr.’s interview about nonviolence and civil disobedience in the bridge to make a powerful statement in the song.”
Recalling the first time he met producer Jaron Luksa and working on Garland
Chemerov: “I met Jaron more than two years ago. A friend I was working with on a project introduced us. A year later, I came back in to make a couple of demos for some pop/dance songs. After a few more months, we decided to team up and co-produce The Gitas’ debut record.
“It’s amazing how our musical tastes matched, even though we came from different worlds. I had a bunch of rock demos, which I had been working on for the last four years. We picked seven songs, fixed up the arrangements and parts, found a perfect sound and made it happen. Jaron’s studio, The Rattle Room, has all this sick gear, a perfect atmosphere and he is a brilliant producer-engineer. It made for an amazing creative process. We got on really well, and I can’t imagine this record without Jaron’s [input].”
Finish this sentence: As the frontman for The Gitas, for the first time in my music
Chemerov: “I’m at a perfect time and place with superb conditions for my mission.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior