“Los Angeles is the cradle of all the showbiz dreams,” Sasha Chemerov says in enthused broken English. Chemerov, a Ukrainian cultural refugee who now fronts Angeleno band the Gitas, explains his motive for moving to the city three years ago. The artist was weaned on American films and music, and one day hoped to come to the entertainment hub.
He’s here now, and he’s carving his own path in a music scene that tends to bloat with too much melancholy. The Gitas, Sanskrit for “songs,” are here to give L.A. a swift kick in the ass. On their new album, Garland (self-released), the group cross-stitch the Black Keys with ’90s alternative rock. Additionally, the imagery and mythology behind the band owes greatly to Vedic culture, as Chemerov says. Look on the Gitas’ site, and you’ll be greeted by a three-headed Hindu god spitting fire at skeletons, and other animations by Gosha Vinokurov. It’s as Hare Krishna as it is hard rock.
The brief seven-track packs a variety of punches. Opener “Brand New Life” playfully slaps the listener with Killers intuition, but then “Black Crows” and “Mood for Love” deliver forceful uppercuts and blows to the solar plexus. (Admittedly, we were intrigued when the Gitas’ PR team introduced the project as a mixture of Black Keys and Deftones. And right they were!)
Chemerov attributes that variety to his voracious love of music from the States: “From my childhood, I was really into all American music, starting from Etta James and all the old blues stuff. Then a lot of alternative bands like Faith No More, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Slayer, Pantera and stuff. … Everything inspired me.”
The singer and guitarist (whose voice sounds a bit like Our Lady Peace’s Raine Maida) indulged his heavier tendencies while in Ukraine as the front man for outspoken rockers Dymna Sumish (“Smoking Mix”). It was while leading that group through 2012 that Chemerov started to run into problems with the government.
“It gets kind of complicated,” he says, which is an understatement. As he’s questioned whether he can legally return to his home country, the phone connection apparently gets garbled on his end. Also on the line are Gitas producer Jaron Luksa (Alabama Shakes, John Legend), who nervously asks the publicist – who’s also listening in – if we should continue. It might have been a coincidence, but given the touchy nature of Ukraine’s current situation, we let it be.
The interview goes on, and Chemerov offers:
“When I was in Ukraine, everything was good until I got older. And I began to understand what was happening there. And it was pretty good until I was talking too much. I had my own opinion of everything, and it wasn’t suitable for government people and stuff. So I’m kind of refugee. I’m not political refugee, but I like to say I’m a cultural refugee. Cos I can’t play music in Ukraine. I love Ukraine— it’s beautiful in nature, beautiful people and stuff. But … all of (it) is getting me down, so that’s why I’m here. I just want to make art, but I just can’t do it in Ukraine.”
What he’s doing in Los Angeles is charging full speed ahead. With advice and studio time courtesy Luksa and backing musicians such as the Click Five’s Joe Guese coming aboard, Garland was fleshed out over seven months and turned into a hulk of a record. The Gitas are starting to gig around SoCal with Brittany Maccarello on drums and Sal Ramazzini on bass, including a Feb. 22 show at Chain Reaction in Anaheim.
Sasha Chemerov is one of those talents who looks forward and back at the same time. In particular, he’s got a passion for cassette tapes, which have made an underground comeback.
“For me, it’s kind of my childhood. I’ve always loved the sound of cassettes— it sounds kind of crappy, right? But it gives you that feeling of the ’90s. I’m a ’90s child, but I don’t want to be like this. I want to be more in real time, but still, I think ’90s was the best time. We had best bands, best guitar. … But there’s no way to make it like it was.”
There might not be any way to return to that era, but on Garland, the Gitas do a darn good job bridging the alternative decade with today’s modern rock. You’ll be in the “Mood for Love,” too, once you give the catchy song a listen.