WORDS AMY MACKENZIE - PHOTOGRAPHY AND ART EVA PENTEL - FASHION MAISIE DANIELS
Boston-born, LA-based songwriter turned solo artist Sasha Sloan captivated the entire crowd at Dingwalls with her mesmerising voice, creating an intimate feel to her debut London show. Tapping into emotions most people are afraid of, Sasha Sloan has mastered the art of sad girl pop music oozing with relatability for a younger generation, providing hopefulness amongst her audience. Expressing genuine honesty in her lyrics and melancholy instrumentals speak to a wider audience, touching on topics relating to family, personal relationships and the loneliness experienced moving to a new city.
Sloan was discovered through a post on Reddit, where her parents had painted ‘DORK’ on the outside of her house with an arrow pointing to her window. Following this, she moved to LA as a songwriter, understanding the difficulty of writing good pop songs. She has written with the likes of Camila Cabello, John Legend and Kygo before she wrote a song she couldn’t bear to give away.
Amy MacKenzie: Hey Sasha, how are you doing today? Sasha Sloan: Oh you know, just chilling, ready to not be awake anymore. How are you?
A.M: Yeah I’m good, just hanging out. So, is this your first time in London? S.S: No. I’ve been here a couple of times, maybe my fifth time here.
A.M: Oh nice, do you like it here? S.S: I love London. It’s one of my favourite cities. I like the way everything is packaged, like all the food and stuff. It’s really aesthetically pleasing, and the chocolate’s amazing.
A.M: Any favourites? S.S: Aero.
A.M: Do you not have that in the US? S.S: No, it’s really hard to find. Flake, I also love. This is such a sad conversation [Laughs].
A.M: [Laughs] Not at all. What better thing to talk about than chocolate. Do you push it to Aero Mint? S.S: Oh yeah! That’s my favourite one!
A.M: Have you had the Aero Bubbles? S.S: The Bubbles one, that’s what I’m talking about, that’s the shit. And then Kinder, that’s here right? Like the eggs?
A.M: Yeah. S.S: I like the milk here too. I’m staying in a really shit hotel but it had a set up with milk and tea and sugar. A hotel in the US just doesn’t have that.
A.M: No tea? S.S: No tea.
A.M: I mean, I guess that’s kinda our thing. S.S: It is definitely your thing. It was shit but it was amazing. Also, I just like the culture here, people are cool.
Sasha wears top ELLESSE; sunflower print pants URBAN OUTFITTERS; denim jacket ARTIST'S OWN
A.M: So let’s get down to some real questions now. When did you first start writing music? S.S: I first started writing when I was like ten - if we are going technical here. The first song I ever wrote was called ‘Pitter Patter’ - a song I wrote about stubbing my toe - pitter patter was the tears. I remember writing it and my mum being like ‘oh, that’s actually not bad’ and I had a school talent show coming up and I was going to sing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. I vividly remember this, she was like ‘you should just play your original song instead’ and I was like ‘alright’ so, I did that instead and then people just...I mean I was 10 years old so they would obviously have not boo’ed. But after I did an original song, it kinda just felt really cool to not do a cover and I just kept writing since then.
A.M: Where did you grow up? What was it like there? S.S: I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in Southie which is South Boston, which is like the inner city, and then I moved to Hopkinton which is a suburb like 20 minutes away. I think I had a really weird upbringing because when I was in the inner city all my friends were broke and their parents came from rough backgrounds and rough areas and a lot of my friends lived in The Projects and it was just my mum and I. Then, my mum got remarried and I moved to a really rich suburb where all my friends suddenly had second homes and boats and all their parents were really perfect.
A.M: Why is it that you think you had a "weird upbringing"? S.S: I think I have a weird upbringing because I saw both sides of how people live and I saw that at a really young age. I think I’m actually really lucky to have grown up in both environments because it gave me a different perspective on things.
A.M: Was there much of a music scene there when you were growing up? S.S: In Boston? Not really. Berklee College of Music is there, but there isn’t really a scene like there is in LA. People who are actually doing music don’t live in Boston so I would do open-mics and stuff like that but I was never networking. That just didn't exist there.
A.M: Is it more casual and people do it as an extra thing? S.S: Yeah, it’s pretty chill. That’s why I don’t think Berklee makes any sense of being in Boston because the opportunities there don’t really exist.
A.M: Was your mum musical? S.S: She’s not technically musical but she is an amazing singer. She would never admit that, but she is! My whole family loves music and they’re all pretty good. My uncle is super talented but they never really went for it.
A.M: You’re flying the flag for them. S.S: Yeah! Except for my dad’s side of the family, there’s literally not a musical bone in their body so I think it probably came from my Mum’s side.
A.M: What kind of music did you listen to growing up? What music was being played in your house? S.S: Isn’t that funny that you just listen to what you’re parents listen to and that becomes your style? At least for me. During the photoshoot, we listened to The Carpenters - obsessed! Amy Winehouse, Brandy Carlisle, Adele, Eva Cassidy, listened to so much Eva Cassidy, then like Green Day, The Killers, Muse. I loved bands too. I loved female singer-songwriters, Eva Michaelson was huge, early Eva Michaelson and then like indie-rock bands.
A.M: Oh cool. So you went to Berklee, and what did you study there? S.S: Well I was going to be a songwriting major but you can’t declare your major your first year there but I was going to go into the music business and minor in songwriting. Is that how you say it here?
A.M: We don’t really have major and minor in the same way. S.S: Oh well, yeah, I remember I didn’t really want to do music. I really like music and it was the only thing I really connected with, but I always thought I wanted to be on the business side of it. I don’t know, I just didn’t ever really see myself as being the centre of attention, in the spotlight, it’s not really what I love doing but I love making music so it just ended up happening.
A.M: So when did you end up moving to LA? S.S: I moved when I was 19.
A.M: How old are you now? S.S: 24.
Sasha wears jacket HUMMEL; cropped top ELLESSE; trousers ARTIST'S OWN
A.M: I know that the way you ended up where you are, especially moving to LA, started quite weirdly or unexpected. Can you tell us more about this? The story of the photo on Reddit? S.S: Damn. Shit. [Laughs] The way that happened...well part of the reason why I didn’t want to be a songwriting major and become an artist was because I saw a lot of my friends doing that and getting stuck in the same cycle of struggling and hustling for years and just playing the same bars in Boston and not really knowing how to break that circle. I didn’t want to get stuck in it. Well, I’m a huge Reddit nerd, and I posted this photo of my house on Reddit. My parents had painted it and they painted ‘DORK’ in massive letters with an arrow pointing to my bedroom window and it was ridiculous, I took a photo of it, posted that photo to Reddit and it blew up. It was number one on the front page and then I posted my Soundcloud link in the comments and I got absolutely roasted for posting the link because you’re not meant to self-promote on Reddit - it’s like the number one rule. But I’m glad I did because I got a call from someone at Warner Chappell like a week later saying “hey, we want you to move to LA and become a songwriter”. And I was like ‘oh shit, I didn’t even know songwriting for other people was a thing’ because I grew up listening to Amy Winehouse and The Carpenters and I just didn’t know that exists in a world I didn’t listen to, so I was like ‘alright, fuck it’. So I dropped out of school and moved to LA! [Laughs]
A.M: Were there lots of questions in your head doing that or was it like ok they’ve asked me to do it so I’ll just do it? S.S: I don’t think I’d really processed it until I was in LA and reality hit me like - ‘oh shit, I’m completely alone, I don’t know a single soul here, I’m underage, I can’t even drink, I have no friends, I have to find a fucking fake ID, can’t even go buy a bottle of wine' and I had no friends to ask to go do it either. It was super scary. It wasn’t scary going but it was scary being there. The first three years were terrible.
A.M: Terrible? In what way? Just because you couldn’t do anything? S.S: Yeah. I was just super lonely, all my friends were still in college so I had massive FOMO just sitting alone. Also, not knowing if dropping out of school was the right thing to do. Part of me was like ‘oh, you shouldn’t have done that, what if you have to go back to school you’re gonna be the old kid in college’. I was just really scared. I was writing songs I hated but I was learning a lot. I had a huge learning curve and realising that I was having a huge learning curve was scary. I was like ‘fuck, I’m really starting from nothing’. I think I had been a big fish in a small pond and then I became the tiniest fish in an ocean.
A.M: When you started writing with other people, how did that process start? What was it like at the beginning? S.S: I had a publisher that set me up on random blind dates and it was terrible! [Laughs] In the beginning I hated everyone, hated pop music, I didn’t even really listen to it growing up. All the artists that I wanted to be in with, they don’t co-write, like Bon Iver doesn’t need me, you know what I mean? But then I realised that writing pop music is actually really hard and it’s really hard to be simple and once that kind of clicked for me, I fell in love with writing pop music and I really started to enjoy it. And slowly but surely you find people you really want to collaborate with and once you find your crew you basically just stick together, so that way the blind dating isn’t so brutal. My new rule is that I won’t go into a room unless I know at least one person in there and now it’s cool.
A.M: What are some highlights of the artists you’ve written with? S.S: Oh God. Everyone sucks. Off record. Just kidding [Laughs]. Camila [Cabello] is really cool, she has a lot of energy which is great because I’m not like that which is good, this way we have a good balance. John Legend was really nice. Kygo was really nice. Everyone’s super chill - no one’s ever been a total dick except for a couple of producers but it just thickens your skin. At this point, I really don’t think anyone could hurt my feelings in a session. You go through so many, you’re literally just immune to everything. Who else is cool? I don’t know. Paul Jason Klein, I actually love Paul Jason Klein, put that in there, he’s the shit! I love LANY! [Laughs] Who else? Oh yeah, I met Pink! recently, I have a song on her new album then I got to see her concert and she met me after and was like “thanks so much for being a part of the song” and I was like “What?! Thanks for existing!” [Laughs]
A.M: So when did you decide to release your own music? S.S: I think it was when I wrote this song called ‘Ready Yet’ which was the first song I ever put out. I always knew that I wanted to put music out but I just wanted it to be the right time and I wanted to make sure I was being myself. Before I knew what to do I was like ‘maybe I’ll dye my hair pink and maybe that will be my thing or maybe I’ll shave my head and that will be my thing’ and then I was like ‘fuck it, I’m just gonna be myself’. I was like ‘whatever, I’m just gonna wear what I wear and do whatever I want’. And I wrote this song called ‘Ready Yet’ and it was the first one I’d written since moving to LA that I was like ‘Woah, I really just can’t give this away which means I should probably just put it out’ and then when I’d figured that out, the rest just start rolling.
AM: What’s ‘Ready Yet’ about? S.S: It’s about my relationship with my dad and I think it was cool because any subject like that in my life that’s really sensitive and has impacted me in a big way, I find myself writing multiple songs about it. I tried writing about it before and it would just come off either as too specific or it’s not hitting the right emotion, and I felt like after years of failed songs about it it just kinda happened. Also, it’s about my dad but you don’t know that listening to it. I like when I can listen to a song and have my own story to it and then the artist is like ‘well, it’s actually about this’.
A.M: So does that feed into the inspiration behind your EPs? S.S: Yeah. I mean, I think the inspiration for my music is just my life. I always feel bad when people ask what inspires you because I don’t know - just being alive! [Laughs] I think I have a really complicated family situation and that has affected everything in my life and who I am and I think that will sustain material until I die.
A.M: Can we talk a bit about ‘Older’ which is my favourite song of yours, by the way. Where did that come from apart from it just being your life? S.S: Aw thanks. Both of my parents are mad fucked up. Nah- I’m just kidding [Laughs]. The same thing with ‘Ready Yet’, it was a song I tried to write forever but couldn’t figure out how. It’s so funny because once I try to write about something I try and I try and then I fail, but once I just forget about it it just comes out on its own. I actually wrote that song in Germany with my friend Danny. We got really high, found a joint, it was incredible because neither of us had smoked weed because we’d been in Europe and we both live in LA, so it’s like having a drink for us, so we were really excited. We went to KFC, went back to the hotel and then Danny just started playing this thing on guitar and the song just kinda came out.
Sasha wears top URBAN OUTFITTERS
My mum and my dad got divorced when I was two years old, then, they both got remarried to different people when I was 9, then they both got divorced from those people when I was 17 - all their marriages and divorces lined up with each other which was really weird. But I spent a lot of my childhood pretty much alone because I was an only child and my mum and my step-dad always had a weird relationship so it was tense in the house.
A.M: How about your dad? S.S: My dad and my step-mum lived in Pennsylvania so I never really saw them. I lived in Massachusetts which is like a 15-hour car ride, so I think I spent a lot of my childhood really pissed off and jealous of my friends who had warm homes. But after I went through my first break up, hopefully, my last, dear God, I don’t wanna go through that shit again, that was rough! [Laughs] Anyway, after I went through that I was like ‘ok, shit’s really complicated’ and I could empathise with my parents for the first time ever and I think it just took that experience to make ‘Older’ happen and for things to all be water under the bridge.
A.M: Oh wow, that's really interesting. So, with all this history and experiences you'd have a lot of material to work out into your music. S.S: Oh, yeah!
A.M: And are you working towards an album now? S.S: Yeah.
A.M: How’s it going? S.S: Good. I don’t know, I have three songs that I’m ready to put out. The next one coming out is called ‘Thoughts’.
A.M: Was that the one you played last night? I really liked it. S.S: Yeah! Oh cool, thanks! Yeah and then this song called ‘Cool’, I think that will be the title, I don’t know yet, and then a song called ‘Good Enough’ and then probably an album top of next year. I’m just taking it slow and making sure everything is saying exactly what I want it to say. I’m a super nerd about lyrics and it takes me a while to write songs sometimes so I’m just letting myself take my time.
A.M: Well, I’m really looking forward to it whenever it comes. What do you have coming up for the rest of the year? S.S: Pretty much writing my album. I’m in Europe right now, that was always something I would always say, ‘I’m going to Europe soon’ – I’m here now! [Laughs] And I’m opening for LANY in June.
A.M: Yeah, looking forward to it? S.S: Paul Jason Klein, love him! And yeah, once that’s over I’ll just be writing and I’m sure I’ll be forced to do more shit. [Laughs]
A.M: [Laughs] Forced, because you don’t want to do any of it?! S.S: I mean if it was up to me I would have never been born but here I am! [Laughs] Just kidding!
A.M: Do you prefer writing songs for yourself or for other people? S.S: Definitely for me, because when it’s for me I call all the shots, that’s why I started doing it. As a songwriter, when you are working with other artists, they really hold all the power, they don’t even really - it’s their labels and their teams. It takes so many moving parts for a song to come out and it takes a hundred times that to make it a hit. So now that I get to write for myself, I feel like that creative piece is being filled, whereas when I was writing songs for other people, I could have been working in a bank because it wasn’t fulfilling. But now I have way more fun writing with other people because there’s nothing to lose and I’ll write a super fun pop song with you and then I can go and be super weird and emo at home.
A.M: So now I just have some not so serious questions. A quick-fire round. Are you ready for it? S.S: Oh yeah!
A.M: Morning or night? S.S: Night.
A.M: What’s your favourite season? S.S: Fall on the East Coast, LA doesn’t really have seasons.
AM: What is your first or most embarrassing email address? S.S: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A.M: If you could have an unlimited supply of one clothing item, what would it be? S.S: Probably socks, I lose socks all the time! [Laughs]
A.M: What fortune would you want to get in a fortune cookie? S.S: Hmm. You’ll have a number one album tomorrow and it won't be written yet and then somehow magically my album will be written and then boom it goes to number one. That was a terrible answer, that was so bad! [Laughs] Also, once I got a fortune cookie that said ‘you will have a great life with your wife’ and I was 13 and was like ‘am I a lesbian?’ [Laughs]
A.M: [Laughs] Oh my God! Okay, so, what’s your favourite tattoo of yours? S.S: Oh God, I have a tattoo that has ‘“that’s what” – she’ … that’s what she said, that’s probably my favourite.
A.M: What’s your favourite F Word? S.S: Ooh, clever! Firetruck. Because it starts with F and ends with UCK. Ya know, what starts with F and ends with uck [Laughs]
A.M: [Laughs] Did you literally just come up with that? S.S: No, I’ve literally been telling that joke since I was like 11.
A.M: [Laughs] I’ve never heard that. That's amazing, though. Sasha, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me and, enjoy the rest of your tour! S.S: Thank you!
Words: Amy MacKenzie
Photography and Art: Eva Pentel Fashion: Maisie Daniels HMUA: Emilie Louizides