Photography by Dana Boulos
“Nothing lasts, can I have your autograph, you’re not mine, just a world I step inside,” sings Buzzy Lee – the moniker of Sasha Spielberg – her voice an instrument of beautiful candour as she ushers us into her sophomore album Internal Affairs. With this recent project, Spielberg paints a soundscape of memory across nine tracks that move within the inflexions of heartbreak: where the recesses of anguish serve as an echo chamber of loss, remembrance and poetic resilience. “I just have more clarity and I’m less ‘waking up with my eyes closed because I’ve been crying.’ As a metaphor, that’s sort of how this album is different from the last,” she shares in the interview below.
Working with producer Gabe Wax who has worked with the likes of The War on Drugs and Soccer Mommy (Nicolas Jaar produced her first record), each track reveals the immediacy of memory with lyrics that, like the outline of a former lover’s touch, embrace with both sorrow and nostalgic affection. The songs on Internal Affairs were written during the same span of years as the tracks on her first record Spoiled Love (2021), which tells the story of a “horrible break-up”, but where the latter told of codependency and toxic love, Spielberg’s sophomore work weaves a foundation of personal evolution, identity and unwavering self-love.
J.L. Sirisuk: When did it strike you that it was time to begin a new project?
Sasha Spielberg: I sit on records. Spoiled Love was originally due to come out June 2020. When we all went into lockdown, it felt natural to push it, but then there were the elections in November – it was just a strange time. So I sat on my debut album with enough time to write an entirely different album. Right when Spoiled Love came out I was like, “Okay, on to the next. Let’s go.” The same thing is happening now with this album, I’m already ready for the next album, which is healthy for my brain because when I have too much time to think about what could go wrong, or what could be missing, or am I writing the best music I could possibly be writing, that’s when I go into the studio. I don’t use it as a distraction but I do find that it’s helpful, so a lot of these songs were written around the same time as Spoiled Love. They just didn’t quite fit with the album. I did take some of them to Nico [Jaar] and when we went on to record the tenth song, both of us felt like the album was finished. In my head, I knew I was going to save these songs for the sophomore album and so that’s how it really started.
JLS: Having written these songs during the time you wrote Spoiled Love, did you re-approach and adapt any of the tracks?
SS: Totally, I did all of that. Some songs I reworked lyrics and a lot of them actually stayed just as is. It was actually an amalgamation, it was a bunch of songs together from the years 2017 to 2020, and I recorded the album end of 2020 going into 2021 and even into 2022 a little bit, so these songs span about three and a half years.
I had the songs and recorded them all in the same window with the producer Gabe Wax. I get very attached to demos – we call it demoitis [laughs]. I love beginnings of things, I love beginnings of relationships, I love beginnings of days, I love mornings, I love beginnings. So for me, demos are hard to steer away from. I wish I could just release an album of my voice notes that were mastered and not mixed. I don’t do Pro-Tools and I don’t do any of the music software, what I’ve figured out is how to live version all my songs. I have a drum machine going, I have my left hand sometimes playing a synth bass, and my right hand playing a synth, and then I have a helicon, like a vocal pedal on my vocals. I know exactly where to place the phone and the compression on voice memo apps is incredible. That will be a project down the line, just really trying to make recordings sound exactly like the way I make my demos. So these songs existed as that. Some of them were just piano and voice, some of them had fun drums on them. Gabe really helped bring them into fruition and actually helped me love them as fully-formed songs rather than messy ideas. That’s always a challenge for me.
“I love beginnings of things, I love beginnings of relationships, I love beginnings of days, I love mornings,”
JLS: How do you feel you’ve changed as an artist between the previous record and now?
SS: In so many ways. I had just gone through a horrible break-up which Spoiled Love is all about. I was really in it, it was really raw. Nico [Jaar]… working with him, I’ve known him for fifteen years. I feel so comfortable with him, almost too comfortable, where it’s like a therapist and I’m crying hysterically, and then we’re laughing, and then we’re being goofy, and then we’re recording. I was so raw and I really didn’t love myself. I liked myself and I loved aspects, but I didn’t love myself. It was why I was seeking out relationships that made me feel less than, because it was almost like, “Well, it can’t get any worse. I already really don’t like myself.” So I was attracting people who didn’t seem to like me either, and I think from that time, doing a lot of work on myself and believing in myself more – I know it sounds cheesy, but accepting myself for who I am has changed my art drastically. These past few years I’ve written songs I would have never written five years ago, and Nico was such a champion, he was a therapist almost during that time. I relied so heavily on him. But [for this new record] I couldn’t work with him, it was the pandemic he was all the way in Italy and I met Gabe [Wax] who is also an incredible producer. Both of them are very different. They have very different approaches – I wasn’t weeping as Nico stroked my back helping me through it. I had space from all the events that took place, so even the performance and approaching how the songs are produced and made has changed drastically [as part of] loving myself. Where I’m like, “Great. Let’s put that on. I love it.” I just have more clarity and I’m less “waking up with my eyes closed because I’ve been crying.” As a metaphor, that’s sort of how this album is different from the last.
JLS: That’s interesting – your experience of songs as you change, how you felt when you wrote them and your new perception as well.
SS: Also, a challenge. Because I’m looking at the lyrics and I’m like, “Oh my god. We went through some really hard times didn’t we?” So I almost sang it like I was coddling myself from 2017; that was kind of in the performance of the record.
Photography by Dana Boulos
“I almost sang it like I was coddling myself from 2017…”
JLS: I love the video for Cinderblock. I love dogs and I know you love to paint them. What gave you the idea to include all the dogs in the video, is it because they have minds of their own and do whatever they want?
SS: Exactly. It’s impossible to control a dog, it’s impossible even if it’s the most well-trained dog. So I knew it was going to be a mess and I wanted to capture that on camera [laughs], even if they were trying to sit still. There was always one that was looking to the left and seeing a dog they had never seen before and running over to it. I was so excited about letting it happen, letting it go because again, I strive for perfection and I knew the dogs acting imperfect was going to inform the video.
JLS: The internet search history shown in the video includes Tom Stoppard. Who are some writers you really enjoy?
SS: I have so many. This is going to sound so pretentious, I read Madame Bovary right before I made this record. I read it twice and at the same time my best friend was doing her PhD on [Gustave] Flaubert, so we would call each other and talk about it. It was such an important book for me, but I love Flaubert, I love Proust, I really love French writers. I love Donna Tart, I love Ben Lerner, I love Amor Towles. I have so many favourite writers. What’s funny is that I never read poetry and Theo, my brother, when we were in a band together he would write the most beautiful lyrics and now he’s in school for writing. He’s such an amazing writer, and he’ll send me poems and the way I read poems is the way I look at TikTok – I just scroll through and I have no attention span for it. I’m worried that something’s wrong with me because… I write lyrics, how can I not like poetry or understand it? I admire poets, I just wish I connected more.
Writers are some of my biggest influences, and for me, lyrics are the hardest. Melody and again, my obsession with beginnings – starting a song and then the melody comes naturally, and the chord progression comes naturally and words start to form. Never once in my life have I written a song starting from the lyrics. I have so many lyrics I’ve written that I’m like, “I’m gonna put these in a song. I’m going to do it.” Never. What I find is the subconscious, what comes out while I’m figuring out a song and just playing and letting the voice memos go, are so much stronger than the lyrics I’ve written on a train, or just thinking and writing things down. I find the subconscious plays a way bigger role than my conscious.
JLS: So it starts with that sonic element first, and that guides your story.
SS: Always. Because sonically, I think looseness yields something so much deeper than sitting down on a chair with my journal writing lyrics. When I feel loose, freedom comes from that and when I feel free, everything comes out of me. With Nico, he checked me so many times because I can also bullshit a little when there’s an assignment and it’s last minute. This was always in high school, like turning in essays. I would kind of bullshit and just be like, “I think this works.” [laughs] So I tried that, and tried to get by Nico a few times, and he caught me. He knows me so well inside and out, so he knows what I’m capable of and when I’m dimming myself to make something work.
Photography by Dana Boulos
“I know it sounds cheesy, but accepting myself for who I am has changed my art drastically.”
Photography by Dana Boulos
JLS: In revisiting these track and having that emotional space, is there any particular track which feels more emotionally resonant than the others?
SS: I think the last song on the record, The Last Time. When I was recording it, I was really taken by how much that song still affected me because I really remember exactly how I felt writing it, and exactly where I was when I wrote it. My friend Georgia Lill played cello on that track and the whole album, it did something to me, it’s like a guttural sound, and the movement of the cello swayed me back to where I was before. I’m so nostalgic, to a fault. With any of the songs, I can one hundred percent go back and feel everything like it had just happened, and there’s one day every year – 26th April every year, it makes me cry because it’s a very specific type of day, and it’s always at the same time which is 5.30pm. It’s the same type of light every year, it’s the same breeze. The breeze is identical.
It’s actually really weird and strange. It was a day I was with the person who a lot of the songs are about, the day was so achingly, heartbreakingly beautiful that it hurt. He and I were in such a horrible place, and I sat on his lap and we cried because we knew we couldn’t carry on. But the day was so beautiful, and every year it comes back to me and I remember the year after we broke up, the weather was identical to that day and I didn’t even realise it – I started crying hysterically. I was like, “Oh my god. This day is so beautiful,” and then I looked at my photos from the year before, and it was that exact same day. From then on, I started noticing every single year that this day is the exact same. In that way, I think I can do that with each song. Every song for me is like a 26th April, and can be.
Internal Affairs is now out via Future Classic.
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