By Michael Aushenker
She may wield a ukulele but this isn’t any Hawaiian Punch.
Singer-songwriter Sasha Haley Stern, otherwise known as “Punch,” will serve up a set of lovelorn originals, punctuated by a cover or two, when she returns to Witzend at 1717 Lincoln Blvd., Venice at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7.
“You grow up really fast but you never grow up,” Stern said of her lifelong Venice residency. Currently residing along a walk street, the 23-year-old has grown up all over the community and attended Santa Monica High School.
Stern has also lived in Marina del Rey.
“It was cool,” she said. “My friend has a boat out there.”
Nicknamed “Punch” by her dad at an early age, the raspy voiced Stern will play her DIY (do-it-yourself), punky music on a ukulele fed through distortion pedals. Her originals include “Blame It on the Moon,” “Validate Me,” “Never Quit,” and “Soul Sucker,” mostly tunes chronicling romantic turmoil – what Punch likes to call “sad songs with happy sounds.”
Stern has myriad favorites and influences, chief among them The Distillers, Muse, and Ellie Golding. She also digs hip hop acts Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony, Atmosphere, ASAP Rocky, and Kendrick Lamar; hardcore rap acts NWA, Wu-Tang Clan and Tech 9; New Wave bands such as the Smiths and The Cure; metal bands Metallica, Iron Maiden and Pantera; The Misfits, and Danzig’s solo stuff; the Cramps, the recently resurrected Bikini Kill, and Radiohead. “Blame It on the Moon,” as well as her earnest cover of Kid Cudi’s over-the-top “Pursuit of Happiness” (performed at Santa Monica’s UnUrban Café) can be screened on YouTube.
Stern laments the gentrification of parts of Venice, such as Abbot Kinney Boulevard. “There were always high-end boutiques but since the expensive restaurants and the food trucks go there, they’ve all upped their prices even more so.”
However, for those who want to find the unvarnished Venice, “if you are looking in the right places, it is easy to find,” she says. “There’s still those raw, authentic (parts of town).
“That’s what so great about it, it’s always a different kind of spot,” Stern continued. “I can go to the boardwalk and I feel like I’ve never left the boardwalk.”
Regarding her songwriting process, Stern explained she does not take to the beach or the local coffeehouse to work on her songs.
“I love to sit in my garage,” she said. “I love to sit in my room, so I can focus. And it’s usually late at night; two or three in the morning.”
Stern praised the people running UnUrban Café on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica.
“In L.A., it’s hard to find people with their noses that aren’t already up,” she said of the Santa Monica coffeehouse and live entertainment venue. “It’s a very comfortable place to showcase and let people know what you’re about. Everyone really cares about what you’re doing.”
UnUrban also proved very supportive when she was starting out, she says.
“They egged me on to keep playing,” she said. “I was so nervous, I couldn’t get through a set.”
Stern, who has also played West Hollywood’s Viper Room, the Bootleg near downtown, Danny’s and Santino’s in Venice, lauds the Witzend as “a comfortable spot, not too big, not too small” with terrific acoustics.
“It always sounds amazing,” she said. “You can’t really do wrong.”
She added that she eventually intends to play the main stage at House of Blues on the Sunset Strip and the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood.
“I love festivals,” Stern said, “my ultimate goal is to play festivals.”
But for now, Stern is work-shopping her songs acoustically at venues such as UnUrban Café and Witzend while in the process of putting a full band together to back her performances. As of press time, she had not come up with a name for the outfit, with whom she will record an EP in 2014.
“This is my last acoustic show,” Punch said of her Witzend show this weekend, “and then I’m going to work with these musicians.”
Information, witzendlive.com; soundcloud.com/sashahaleystern.
Punch Rock: Singer-songwriter Sasha Haley Stern to perform acoustic show at the Witzend
By Michael Aushenker