Interview: Sasha Sloan Talks ‘Self Portrait’ EP & Album Plans
Sasha Sloan released two of the best EPs of 2018 (Sad Girl and Loser), so it shouldn’t be too surprising that the just-released Self Portrait is an early frontrunner for the best Extended Play of 2019. A brutally honest collection of songs that dives deep into traditionally uncommercial topics like religion, loss and mental illness, Self Portrait finds the renowned songwriter coming into her own as an artist. Every song has been distilled down to something that is quintessentially her.
I recently caught up with Sasha to talk about Self Portrait and found out why she decided against adding a few songs and calling it an album. The 24-year-old also talked me through some of the EP’s highlights including the deeply relatable “Thank God” and “Too Sad To Cry.” We also spoke about the breakout success of “Dancing With You Ghost,” which has gone viral since being featured on HBO’s Euphoria. Other topics of conversation include anti-anxiety measures and her upcoming tour. Get to know Sasha a little better in our Q&A below.
If you had two or three more songs, you could have called Self Portrait an album. Why did you stop at seven?
I wasn’t quite ready for an album. Honestly, I just feel like I wanted to build a little more and get a little bigger. I feel like this EP could have been an album for sure. I just have so many songs, that it’s hard to pick sometimes. I think this EP actually made me ready for an album, as weird as that sounds. An album sounds so daunting to me. I think doing a body of work like this… this one really feels like me. I feel like I found it. I think finding it is really important going into Album One.
This EP feels a little rawer than Sad Girl or Loser.
Totally. I just got less concerned about what people would think and I just really made this EP for me. I just blocked everything else out. I wasn’t thinking like, “Oh my God, will people like this song ‘Dancing With Your Ghost?'” It’s a slow ballad. It was just like, “I love the song, so I’m going to put it out.” I think that mentality is so important going to album one. Where I needed to grow into that because I’m extremely insecure. I needed to find that confidence. That’s what this EP did for me, I’m so lucky to have that.
“Dancing With Your Ghost” has taken on a life of its own. I know it was on Euphoria, but people are naturally gravitating to this song. Are you surprised by its success?
I am truly shook! [Laughs]. I wrote the song when I was like 19, alone in my bedroom in Woodland Hills. It was a garage band demo that I had for years. I always loved the song. It was always one of my favorites. I know everyone is like, “Oh, it’s too country. It’s too slow.” I’m just like, “Fuck you all. I’m just going to put this out because I love it.” It was more like a guilty pleasure really. So then, when people really connected with it… that kind of spurred on the rest of the writing for the EP. I was like, “If it feels good to me, I think that means it might feel good to other people.”
I definitely had that reaction to “Thank God.” I feel seen.
I was so scared that someone was going to protest my shows, but that was a risk I had to take. Yes, I’ve been thinking, “What is my faith?” I’m pretty atheist. Or maybe I’m more agnostic. I believe there’s something out there. I love Ouija boards and all that shit. I don’t know. I think I got super stoned and I was like, “Oh thank God for hell.” Because I was smoking weed and drinking Diet Coke, doing everything that’s probably going to kill me. Then I was like, “Oh my God, has anyone ever said that?” Then the song just like poured out.
How autobiographical is “Thank God”?
It’s very autobiographical. I went to Catholic school as a little kid. My mom would be like, “Jesus Christ.” Then I would go to school and not say “Jesus” during prayers because I was told that was a bad word at home. I grew up with this really conflicting ideas about religion. Then as I got older, I just became really cynical. I’ve got nothing against religion. I just have this mentality of, “I’m just going to do what makes me happy and not feel guilty about it.”
I love it. Another favorite of mine is “Too Sad To Cry.” I think a lot of people literally reach the point when you’re just spent emotionally and there’s nothing left.
I wrote that song with King Henry and Shane McNally, who’s amazing. We just became really close. He came over, sat down on the couch. He was going through some stuff and was like, “I’m just too sad to cry.” I was like,” Fuck, we should write that.” I also had a weird summer, I was just in this slump and I didn’t know why. Nothing was going wrong. Everything was fine, but I had so much anxiety. I had a couple months like that. He came over and just got really emo and that poured out.
That feeling of being miserable, but everything’s okay is the worst.
I know. It’s so weird. It’s pretty real. That song also talks about my struggle with religion. I always talk about wishing that I could just accept heaven and be like, “Okay, I need to live my life like this because this is going to happen if I don’t.” Because I feel that would make accepting everything so much easier than having literally no fucking clue what’s going on.
Right. You would at least have a framework to function within.
We need to talk about “At Least I Look Cool.” The whole idea of being completely broke and going to a stupid party and pretending to have fun is so relatable.
I don’t go out anymore. I’m not even joking. My boyfriend and I went to Diplo’s Grammy party and I was so miserable. I was freezing. It was just a hot mess. I love Wes to death, but it’s not my scene. Then we went home and I woke up the next day and I was so hungover, so I immediately smoked a joint. [King Henry] had that beat and I was just kind of freestyling and the whole song poured out. It was written as a joke. I never intended to put it out, and then I was just like, “This is kind of dope.”
I think anyone within this weird bubble music industry bubble can relate.
I know. It felt a little too niche. I was like, “Is this just made for people in the music business?” Then I was like, “Whatever.”
There are dark, cynical songs on the EP, but there’s a sprinkling of light coming through on songs like “Keep On” and even “Smiling When I Die.” Are you coming in a slightly less miserable place?
I think so. When I wrote “Smiling When I Die” I had just been on this really morbid wave. I’ve had a hard time writing songs about love, a lot this is just about life, which is why I wanted to call it Self Portrait. “Smiling When I Die” was just like, “Holy shit, I’m 24,” which isn’t old but I’m not 19 anymore. I don’t see my mom that much and you know when you see your parents and every time they look a little older?
Yeah, it’s scary.
I was just starting to think about all that stuff. There are so many things that I want to do and I never have. That’s kind of where that song came from. “Keep On” was just about figuring out how to deal with anxiety and panic attacks because mine are really bad. I mean that song is super real. There’s a line like, “I’m recognizing I’m not okay right now,” and I just tell myself I’m not okay. You kind of learn how to connect your mind to your body. Like learning how to deal with “Too Sad To Cry” moments. “Keep On” came after that song, and I think I wrote it after for a reason. It’s the daily reminder I tell myself. “Get through this day, get through this moment, because in 10 years you won’t even remember it.”
That’s a useful tool, thank you.
I think I’m finding out how to manage anxiety better. Before, like a year ago, I just lived with it. Now I’m like, “Okay, I actually want to feel better.” I think you have to want to feel better. I think Sad Girl came from a time when I felt like I would never get better, so I just didn’t even try or want to. “Keep On” comes from a place of, “Okay, this kind of sucks. I’m over it now. How do we fix this?” I don’t know if I’m feeling better but this is a step in the right direction.
That’s another good song title, “I Want To Feel Better.”
Oh, 5 percent, got you!
You mentioned that you wanted to build more before releasing an album. I feel like that’s really happening. On Social media, I see comments like “legend” and “slay, queen” all the time.
I never thought someone would call me a queen. [Laughs]. It’s a weird adjustment, but I’m here for it. On the other hand, someone said to me once that when you start getting negative comments that’s when you know you’re reaching a wider audience. I think I had to wait for that. I’m starting to get some pushback like, “I don’t like this,” or “I don’t like that.” I’m like, “Okay, I think I’m doing something right,” as weird as that sounds.
I noticed that Meghan Trainor is a fan. Are you surprised?
It’s actually a weird story. I’ve known her since when we were like 14. Yes, because she’s from Nantucket and I’m from Boston. I’m not even joking, we did an open mic together at a BestBuy when we were 15. That’s how we met. I was like, “Oh my God, you’re really good,” and she’s like, “I think you’re really good,” so we stayed in touch. She’s a beast, talk about a phenomenal songwriter and producer. She is the boss. I look up to her so much. She was like, “Send me your demos, I’ll produce them,” so she would produce demos and send them back to me.
She was like 16 at the time. Like she knows her shit. We just became friends and stayed in touch. Then when “All About That Bass” happened, I remember her Facebook messaging me like, “Oh my God, I have to dance in a music video tomorrow, I’m so nervous. I’ve never shot a music video.” Once I went to LA and she just reached out to me. She’s like, “Let’s write.” She was working on her album. I think I have a song on there. Yeah, we go way back, she’s so supportive. I feel so lucky to feel like genuine love from someone.
Apart from Meghan, who else have you been writing for?
Well, I’ve been in the studio with Paul from LANY. I’m probably going to be all over that album. I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about them, but I’m still writing for other people. Honestly, I don’t know. Once I started writing for me, I didn’t want to write for other people unless I love the artists. Songwriting is a such a tough game and it’s so much more fulfilling to put my own stuff out. I’m allowed to break the rules because it’s my own stuff. I feel like the less I chase radio hits as a songwriter, the more they’ll come.
I’m just not the type of writer that can turn it on. When I write, I want it to be from my heart. I have a hard time going into it and being like, “All right, what do we think so-and-so wants to say?” I can’t do it. I think I’m also accepting that part of me, but I’m still writing songs for other people. It’s just on my terms. I’m really lucky to be able to do that.
You’re so open about anxiety. How do you deal with touring? Traveling always triggers me.
I hate traveling so much. It literally gives me the worst anxiety of all time. Touring is really tough for me. I’m really not good at it. I like performing. There’s just a lot of downtime and I get a lot of anxiety sleeping on a bus because I’m scared of being in a car accident. It’s like every possible anxiety happens while I’m on tour. Which is why I try to keep my touring to like two-to-three weeks at a time. Just because I will truly lose my mind if I’m on the road for like two months straight.
And then I start to get bored because you pull it to the city and you have 10 hours to kill, but you have nowhere to go. And then I’m also not the type of person who’s like, “Yes, we’re in Seattle, let’s go see everything.” I’m like, “I literally going to sit in this bus until I have to go on stage.” I have no self-motivation.
How is this tour different? I know you’ve got more songs.
I have way more songs. I mean, the venues are bigger. I’m actually really excited and I’m going to have lighting. It’s just a step up from my last headline run, which was like bare minimum, tiny rooms, no lighting, just bare-bones and this one will have more of a stage design and I’m just going to be more comfortable.
Are you going to recreate the cover with an easel and canvas?
Oh my god, that is genius. I haven’t thought about. Well if you see one, know that it’s your idea. I think I might want to have that face [from the EP cover] hanging on a curtain behind me. That face is so fucked up, it’s like Danny DeVito but it’s truly how I see myself. It’s like my body dysmorphia painting. I hung it in my house. Good times.
Last question. Is there a song or album that you have gravitated towards this year?
This may be the craziest answer of all time, but “Circles” by Post Malone. I think it sounds timeless. I don’t know. I love that song. He makes me feel cooler than I am.
Good luck with everything!
Thanks, you too. Thanks for taking the time.