“Are you guys ready to get sad?” Sasha Sloan called out to the audience at her New York City show in December. It’s the songwriter-turned-solo artist’s first headlining show in the Big Apple, and she’s keeping things as real as possible. (While rocking a black hoodie with ripped jeans and taking a hit of her vape mid-set.) But Sloan’s fans love her no-BS authenticity; they cheer back in response. Yup, they’re ready to get sad.
Sloan, 23—who’s penned tunes with stars like Camila Cabello, John Legend, and Tinashe—has a raw, emotional take on indie pop, and she quickly gained popularity after releasing her music in 2017. Her debut single, “Ready Yet,” inspired by her reluctance to reconnect with her father, currently has more than 20 million streams on Spotify. Her later hit, “Normal,” a more upbeat track about struggling to fit in, has over 23 million. To date, about 4 million people stream her music each month on the platform.
Her songs might contain dim subject matter—i.e. her parents’ divorce, heartbreak, being an outsider—but that’s why they’re relatable. (It also helps that they’re catchy. Sloan knows how to craft a perfect pop melody, even if it’ll make you cry on the dance floor.) Fans have also told the Boston-born singer that her music helped them survive their own personal trials.
“I get a lot of people who are just like, ‘This song really helped me out in dealing with anxiety and depression,’ and ‘I just broke up with my boyfriend or girlfriend and this song really helped me,’” she says in our interview in the basement of Mercury Lounge, right before her performance. “It’s really gratifying.”
Sloan is unafraid to point out her imperfections and unhappiness, often with a dark humor. (“Wanna hear a song about how f*cked up my parents are? Just kidding my mom is here,” she quips at her NYC show.) Her latest EP, which arrived in November, is titled Loser. She also frequently makes self-deprecating jokes on social media, even when promoting her music. (“My ep comes out in less than a week i hope it doesn’t suck lol,” one tweet reads.) She touts herself as a Sad Girl; it’s the title of her April 2018 EP, she has it tattooed on her left arm, and it’s in her social media handles (@sadgirlsloan on Instagram and Twitter).
By poking fun at herself and calling herself names, Sloan takes the power back from what may traditionally be seen as derogatory terms. She shows that it’s okay—cool, even—to be unhappy. “I guess what I’ve created is owning my insecurities. Trying to,” Sloan tells BAZAAR.com. “I think by calling it Loser and Sad Girl [I’m] being really honest about not feeling 100 percent all the time. It’s been really cool for me.”
A week after releasing Loser, Sloan talked to BAZAAR about writing her own music, growing up, and stepping into the spotlight from composer to performer.
When Sloan realized people liked her music, that gave her the confidence to be true to herself.
I had a collection of songs that really felt like me. I wrote this song, “Ready Yet,” and that was the first time I was like, “Whoa. This is really me and I don’t want to give this song away.” And then my manager and I decided to put it out. I didn’t know what was gonna happen, I literally just thought my mom was gonna listen to it. And then people liked it. A handful of people, which made me feel confident in releasing songs that were true to me.
So then I just made a volume of work and didn’t know what to call it, and was like, “Well, all this sh*t is really sad, and I’m really sad. Let’s call it Sad Girl.” It was kind of the same thought process with Loser. I always feel like a loser. So I was like, this is the next chapter.
She realized she often hides her emotions behind humor, and music is one way to express them honestly.
I actually just started seeing a therapist. She analyzed me within three seconds. She’s amazing. She’s says, “I think you just hide behind humor a lot. And that you actually have a hard time talking about how you feel.” Then I realized I definitely do and I think the way that I can express how I’m really feeling is through music.
That was a really interesting thing for me to recognize. I have a hard time actually talking about it, so just doing it through music is good for me and I hope that helps someone realize they’re not alone.
She was inspired by powerful singer-songwriters like Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette.
I feel like our generation doesn’t really have a Fiona Apple, not that I am, or an Alanis Morissette, or these girls who are saying real sh*t. I think we have it sprinkled in here and there, but I don’t know if we have anyone doing that anymore, which is who I looked up to and still listen to and love. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near them, but I think artists like that empowered me to release my own music that wasn’t “I’m the hot girl in a bra on a stage,” you know? Just me in a hoodie, being sad.
Sloan’s lyrical style is very matter-of-fact, and straightforward. She considers herself a “simple” writer.
I like to keep everything dumb, in a way. I always like to keep my lyrics like I would actually say it. Conversational. Lyrics are my main focus. Everything else kind of, not falls to the wayside, but is secondary to me. Always start with a lyric and kind of build the melody around the lyric.
“Older” is a sobering track that is about her relating to her parents’ flaws now that she’s grown up. “The older I get the more that I see / My parents aren’t heroes, they’re just like me,” she sings in the chorus.
My dad is from Siberia, he moved to America after my mom got pregnant. Didn’t speak any English. Didn’t have any money. Then my mom was in the military. And then they had me. She got her GED while I was a baby. Totally broke. Then went on to get her Masters in teaching. Then he started a business here and he had me when he was 24. I was just starting to think about it, I was like, “Oh my God. I’m turning 24 in March.” If I had no money, couldn’t speak English, and I had a baby on the way, there’s absolutely no way I could do that.
I have a really interesting relationship with my dad. It’s complicated. But the more I thought about that and thought about them less as parents are more as just humans, it kinda just clicked in me, like, “Oh sh*t. I need to cut you guys some slack. ‘Cause you did a really good job, considering the circumstances.”
Going through her first breakup also gave her a better understanding of her parents’ divorce.
I never really understood my parents’ divorce. And then they went on to get remarried and they got divorced again. At the same exact time. I was just like, “What are you guys doing? How hard is this sh*t? C’mon.” And then I went through my first break up. I was talking to my mom about it and she had all this advice for me, like, “Oh I’ve been there. I know how that feels. I know how that goes.” And realized, sh*t, this stuff is actually really complicated.
Sloan wrote her song “Faking It,” which recently got a music video, about a previous relationship where she pretended to be happy when she was actually falling out of love.
I think I was stuck in a relationship and I didn’t know how to get out of it because I didn’t want to hurt him. And I think he didn’t even know I wasn’t happy until I broke up with him. He realized that we weren’t right for each other. But I started telling everyone else around me that I wasn’t happy, instead of [telling] him. I’d be like, “I’m so miserable,” and when I come home I’d be like, “I love you.” There were two sides of me. So I was faking it and then I broke up with him.
After that relationship, Sloan went through a period of partying before finding love and settling down again. Her song “Chasing Parties,” where she sings about staying home with someone rather than going out, is about that new chapter.
I just started partying really hard. I think I was super depressed. Didn’t know what I was doing with my life and started going out and getting drunk. These parties I didn’t even really want to be at. I found love. My boyfriend now was in a very similar situation to me at the exact same time.
I remember one night when we wrote chasing parties, we were in my apartment. I was like, man, I’m so glad I’m done chasing parties. We just loved staying in and drinking wine and watching movies. It’s so nice. I don’t know why I ever went out—probably will never again. Then we just sat together and wrote the song and it was really nice. It was my only love song. I was like, “Thank God.”
Sloan says the party scene is so not her vibe.
I just prefer to sit in a living room on a couch and get f*cked up with people I really like. And then go to bed. I don’t like going out to clubs and hanging out with people I don’t really know and feeling weird around them.
She gained a better understanding of her sound now, after making Loser.
When I released Sad Girl I had never performed live. So that really influenced Loser. When I performed Sad Girl for the first time I was like, “This is a lot of slow sh*t.” For Loser I was like, “Okay, how can I still be emotive, but change the production up, increase the tempo?” I thought more about the lyrics on Loser. I don’t know if I know who I am yet, or if I’ll ever know, but I think musically, I’ve kind of found the direction I want to go in.
Sloan is still trying to write with other artists while pursuing her solo career. She penned a couple of tracks on LANY’s album, Malibu Nights, and mentioned in our chat that she plans to write with Allie X, Kiiara, and country stars Thomas Rhett and Sam Hunt.
I’m trying to keep a balance. I love Paul [Jason Klein] from LANY so we just really connected and I got to write a lot on that album, which was really fun for me. I think writing with other artists keeps me a better writer. With writing and performing, you just have to keep doing it, and doing it, and doing it to get better. I think I can get a bit burned out on my own feelings. I get tired of myself really easily, so it’s nice to run with an artist and be like, “What are you feeling? What are you going through?”
She also co-wrote Camila Cabello’s hit “Never Be the Same,” which appears on the singer’s Grammy-nominated debut album.
It was really cool. She’s super chill, and she’s an amazing artist. It’s easy to work with artists who know who they are and have a vision. So I mean, I was just there to edit her. ‘Cause it all just comes out of her and I’m like, “I think this is a cool part, and I think that’s a cool part” and we combine them. It’s all her story. I love working with artists like that.
Sloan’s first headline tour kicks off in March.
I am excited because it’s my first headline tour. It’s nice to look back to the past few nights we’ve performed, seeing real fans there for me, it’s really cool. You see numbers on computers, but meeting people in real life. It’s an experience unlike anything else. If I fail, YOLO. [Laughs]
Stream Loser by Sasha Sloan below.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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