Artist Spotlight: Buzzy Lee

    Spoiled Love marks the debut full-length album from Buzzy Lee, the moniker of Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sasha Spielberg, but it’s far from her first foray into music. She and her brother Theo have been making music with their indie-folk project Wardell for over a decade now (following the release of their debut EP, Brother/Sister, a New York Times article advised readers to ‘Forget Their Dad; Just Listen to Them’). Around the same time, Spielberg began collaborating with her college friend and renowned producer Nicolas Jaar, resulting in 2018’s somber and ethereal Facepaint EP. They’ve teamed up once again on Spoiled Love (out today via Future Classic), an album that feels like a natural evolution for Spielberg as musician, songwriter, and collaborator. Conceived in the aftermath of a break-up, the LP format affords the songs, as well as the reflective sentiments they tend to encapsulate, the necessary space to breathe and swell, with Jaar’s minimalist production serving as a guiding presence as it moves from melancholy piano ballads to more spacious and expansive compositions. If Facepaint saw Lee coming into her own as a songwriter, then Spoiled Love feels like a reaffirmation of her talents as an evocative storyteller, capable of not just crystallizing a memory but also turning it into something bigger than itself.

    We caught up with Buzzy Lee for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her earliest influences, collaborating with Nicolas Jaar, perfumes as a means of time travel, and more.

    I read that watching Almost Famous was part of what made you want to be in a band. I don’t know if that’s true, but I recently rewatched the film, so I’m curious to hear more about your experience with it.

    Oh my gosh, that’s so funny, I recently re-watched it too! I think I was sort of joking when I said that, but I also wasn’t. I was obsessed with classic rock when I was in sixth/seventh grade, and I was listening to like, Led Zeppelin and The Who and Rolling Stones, and I was just obsessed with collecting vinyl. I had a record player and I would just play every classic rock record I could find. So when I saw Almost Famous for the first time it just really fit; I mean, it was sort of mind-blowing to me, because I had been listening to all these artists and I almost was so possessive over the names, even – if anyone said they liked Led Zeppelin, I would almost get possessive over the bands that I was listening to. And I’d never felt that with music. And when Almost Famous came out, you know, they used all the bands that I’d been listening to, so I was just was blown away by it.

    I don’t know if it made me want to be in a band; I feel like it made me want to be Penny Lane and be following a band. But because there weren’t any female characters who were in a band or musicians in the movie, really, and the females were just groupies, you know, it was hard to imagine. I wish I had seen a movie that was like Almost Famous but with female musicians, and then I think that would have made me want to be on stage.

    At what point do you feel you grew out of it and classic rock in general, if at all? How did your music taste develop over time?

    It’s really developed. I mean, I will forever love 60s and 70s music. I think that it grew in that I was so obsessed with classic rock, but my brother across the hall, he was two grades older –  two years older, I still think in grades – he was listening to a lot of indie bands like The Strokes, and so then my music tastes pivoted to sort of the indie world of music when I was in ninth grade. And then I started really discovering independent artists through blogs. I was looking at, you know, My Old Kentucky Blog was one of them, Gorilla Vs. Bear, I was always on that. I was on these blogs, like, you know, downloading every new artist, and then I would see them in LA, if the shows allowed under 21. And then I got to college and I met Nico, who produced my record, and his music taste was so expansive, so he introduced me to a lot.

    I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your collaborative process. Whether you’re working with your brother Theo with Wardell, or with Nicolas Jaar for your solo project, what do you feel makes for a good collaborative relationship?

    For me, I think that I have to obviously know the person very well to feel comfortable and safe. Nico I’ve known, you know, 12 years, my brother I’ve known for 30. I think knowing someone really well opens up – you know, even one of my closest friends, her name is Greta Morgan, she’s an amazing musician and she also plays in Vampire Weekend. And she and I are so close and we collaborate. And so I find that the people I collaborate with are all just best friends, really. And that intimacy, the intimacy of best friendships, is unbeatable. You really can’t get better than that in a room.

    How do you feel that those collaborative relationships have evolved over time, especially with Nicolas Jaar on this new project? Has the process changed at all?

    Yeah, definitely. The EP was sort of more off the cuff, like, “Why don’t you come to New York and let’s record the songs that you’ve sent me.” And we did, and it was so fun. It was very relaxed, you know, I was staying somewhere else and he was living in the city. So we would go to his place at 10am and leave at 10pm and then go to the place I was staying. And you know, I was drinking, I was having fun, it was like, fun summer in the city. And this experience was way heavier – it was really just us in northern Italy, like we were even staying in the studio. You can’t get closer than that, so it was really, really close. And I think what comes out of that is just a really intimate record, because you have no choice but to really just be with each other and be with the music and then be with food. That’s it, that’s all.

    The songs on the EP were already quite personal, but in many ways, Spoiled Love to me feels even more intimate. Not just in terms of the lyrics, but also just the presentation and some of the more stripped-back songs. Do you feel that’s come as a result of becoming more comfortable with vulnerability?

    Well, it’s really easy to become comfortable with vulnerability when it’s just you and a piano. And so I find that that’s not the hard part. When I first write down the songs, they’re just for me. So the hardest part is then playing them in front of someone else. And then you realize, “Oh god, I’m gonna have to play this in front of – ” well, hopefully, one day, but you know, crowds of people, and then, “Oh, god, this is going to come out and people are going to hear what I’ve written.” So up until the part where it comes out, I’m actually fine with being vulnerable, because no one’s hearing it except Nico and me. So this is the time where I’m the most anxious a bit in anticipation, and I’m feeling so seen. I don’t know, it feels very naked.

    There are moments where I write lyrics that just sound good with the melody, and that’s when Nico will challenge me and push me further to actually write lyrics that mean something. And so with Spoiled Love, that’s what happened. There were totally different lyrics there that were sort of just easy, like I wrote them when I was on tour in Europe, and I just wrote them at a cafe really quickly, because I was like, “I have to write these before I go to record with Nico.” And he could immediately tell that they were just swiftly written. So he looped ‘Spoiled Love’, the piano part, and I wrote for like, two hours, I just sat and wrote new lyrics.

    What’s going through your head, when you’re in that process of, “Okay, this doesn’t really work, I’m going to have to try to write something that feels more thoughtful”?

    I put a lot of pressure on myself and then I become perfectionist. I don’t think I was very happy with the lyrics that I wrote, and I kept writing new lyrics and scribbling them out and then I start to get really frustrated. And in that frustration, I think, comes the emotion, which almost doesn’t make sense, but it does, and then I’m able to write really simple lyrics. Like, ‘Spoiled Love’ is pretty simple. It gets pretty direct. But it’s not about a partner or breakup, it’s actually just me cradling my own neuroses and singing them to sleep. So it’s actually not about any person.

    I wanted to ask about the sound of the album as well; there’s kind of more of a cinematic feel to a lot of the tracks, especially the instrumentals, like ‘Brie’ and ‘Mendonoma’. What inspired you to go more in that direction with this album?

    I think sometimes songs with no lyrics paint a brighter picture than songs with lyrics. I’ve always believed that, and I think growing up with just being inundated with movie scores, I found that because I started picturing – you know, if I heard a composition that had no lyrics, I would just paint the picture myself. And so I feel like sometimes I can get more across through instrumentals than through my own lyrics.

    Another thing that I love about the album is the progression of it, especially from the first few tracks to ‘Strange Town’ and then when that groove kicks in on that track. Could you walk me through, if you remember, the process of making that song, and how you decided it would build like that?

    So, we were having trouble with that one because it’s a big song, it’s a journey in itself. And Nico had to kind of conceptualize how to record that, because we tried doing the introduction. And then Nico was like, “You know what, no, let’s go to this little room, off the studio.” It’s like a tiny little room, there are all these synths. And he took out the Hammond. And he was like, let’s start with the melody, that piano melody. So that’s what we started with. And then he put a beat to it. So we actually started with the drop, and then around it recorded the softer parts. And that took a different day. So one day was dedicated to the choruses, and then one day was dedicated to the more emotional sides. And that was an interesting one, because I did a take where I did the opening very emotionally, where my voice was almost breaking, because I was, like, reliving it again. And he said, “Okay, we got the emotional take, beautiful, you can do that. You can do that 1000 times, you’re great at that. Now, let’s do a take where you’re just telling a story to your grandchildren of this great love you had, and this weird little town you’d go to with him. And just tell the story, no emotion, just tell it.” And I did that. And that’s the take we used. And so that was sort of the motto of the whole record, which is not to get lost in the emotions again, and not to get overnostalgic where I lose myself in my past, the ghosts of my past, but it was more just, “Here’s what happened. Here’s what I felt. Here’s what I feel now. And I’m gonna continue to grow.” So it’s sort of like a cliffhanger, almost. There’s not even an ending, really.

    Which, I mean, you finished the record in 2019, so it’s kind of already or even more in the past for you.

    Yeah, and I went through another breakup over quarantine, and now I’ve met the love of my life. [laughs] So I don’t even – so much has happened since.

    Do you still feel attached to the songs, though?

    Yes. I think my biggest crux in life is that I am attached to memories in such a crazy way that I have a perfume collection of 80 bottles of perfume, because every three to six months, I assign a new scent to that period. So that when I’m 90, I can time travel, so I can smell it and say, like, that was the summer of 2013, that was when I fell in love with this person. I’m like a memory hoarder. So these songs still mean so much to me. I mean, it’s impossible for them not to.

    I don’t know if I’ll steal that idea, but it sounds amazing.

    Take it! It’s time travel. It’s setting us up for time travel.

    At the same time, do you feel eager to pursue new projects and explore different sounds and ideas once the album is out?

    Yeah, oh my gosh. I start recording my second album in three weeks.

    Wow, so it’s already –

    Yeah, it’s already happening. Because also, I came to Nico with about 25 finished songs. And we could have picked 12 and made a 12-song album, but we were really, really picky about what would breathe on this album and then what can go on the next. My plan was to do the next album immediately after, but then COVID. So I was going to tour this album and then record immediately and then tour that, you know, so it was going to just keep going. But hopefully if all goes well, I’ll be recording in three weeks.

    So these are songs you wrote at the same time as the ones on Spoiled Love?  

    It’s funny, there’s still some remnants of Spoiled Love. And I don’t know if I’ll change the lyrics, I don’t think I want to – again, it’s like my perfume collection. The songs that I didn’t record with Nico, if they exist in that time capsule, it’s okay that I pull them out like my perfume collection. It really is the same. So I don’t mind that I’m going to be singing about, you know, an ex who already had a baby in quarantine. [laughs] You know, it’s okay that that’s happening.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Buzzy Lee’s Spoiled Love is out now via Future Classic.

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