One Joint With Sasha Spielberg of Buzzy Lee
Sasha Spielberg was born into the industry, her father a director and mother an actress, and her resulting fluency in entertainment is evident both in her career (Spielberg and brother Theo performed together as the band Wardell before she created the solo musical project Buzzy Lee,) and her Instagram, where Spielberg posts, along with glam photos, self-written and improvised comedy sketches she records herself. She’s been jokingly referred to as the fourth Haim sister, and the comparison, with Buzzy Lee’s self-reflective, melodic synth-pop is worth considering. Facepaint, Buzzy Lee’s debut EP, produced by her close friend, the composer and musician Nicolas Jaar, is out now.
Sasha Spielberg: I don’t smoke. I mean I smoke every time I’m with you guys. [Gestures to rapper jpegmafia and friend Camille]. I smoke every single night before bed, and on weekends, but this is very early for me. This is so exciting. What is this?
Alyssa Shapiro: That is Lemon Tart. Ooh it smells good.
SS: It smells really good. I’m gonna be slow, I’m going sip it.
AS: Tell me about the first time you got high.
SS: I was with my friends in New York, I was 14, I was in 9th grade. My friends were the fast friends, my mom called them “fancy friends,” because they were always the first to kiss boys, the first to drink, and then my parents found out they were the first to smoke weed.
I went over to my friend’s house, we smoke, and then we hear her mom coming down the stairs, so we walk to the beach from her house. We smoke on the beach, we go back to her bed. Lying in bed… she’s asleep and completely fine. I am paranoid, shaking, I feel like I’m dying, my body is feverish. And then I hear, “Heuuuuughhhhh!” coming from upstairs and I was like Oh no, oh no, I’m hallucinating, I knew marijuana was the devil, I’m hallucinating, what’s happening?! I was literally like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. And I just hear, “Unnnghhhhhhh!” for so long. I am like Ok, if this is weed, I’m done. I don’t want this to be my life anymore. I found out the next day her mom was having back pain and was moaning in pain that whole time. So I wasn’t hallucinating. It was the most guttural, deep, from every scary movie I’d ever heard…
And then my parents found out that I smoked pot, because my brother flushed the ashes of his joint down the toilet but forgot to flush. My parents found it and they went up to his bedroom and they were like, “Theo, we know you’d been smoking.” He said he had. And because I felt so bad, because I had just smoked the week before, I was like, “I did it too!”
AS: How long before you smoked again?
SS: Three years because my parents would drug test me at random after I got caught smoking. So the next time I smoked was senior year because I going to college, I was 18, I was free. I’d have panic attacks every time I smoked in college. And then it wasn’t until four years ago that I actually started smoking.
AS: What do you think the switch was, why’d you stop freaking out?
SS: Maybe feeling free from my parents at last. Also I had a crush on a guy who was a huge stoner, and I knew that if I was going to start dating him, I’d have to keep up. So I started practicing every day. At 3 p.m. I’d smoke, at 5 p.m. I’d smoke, at 7 p.m. I’d smoke, 9 p.m., 11 p.m. I was smoking every two hours so that I’d build up a tolerance because I knew our first date we’d both have to smoke together. And that was in 2014. I’ve been fine with weed. I’m an idiot still, but I’m better at it.
AS: Wow. You trained yourself to smoke for a guy. So now, is smoking a part of your creative process at all?
SS: No. I am so bad when I’m high. I recently got so high, I was like I’m going to write the most amazing, beautiful, heartfelt song I’ve ever written. I went to the piano and started playing an F and I think an hour passed and I was still playing the F.
AS: You were just really getting into the F. You were figuring out F.
SS: I was f’in’ with the F. But then when I work with friends who smoke, I do like laying down melodies when I’m high.
AS: You’ve been a part of a few different musical acts, why is Buzzy Lee, your solo act, different? Do you like working solo?
SS: Cuz it’s just me. I love it. I always had my brother finishing my sentences almost, so he would have a chord progression, and then I’d do a melody, and then we’d both write lyrics. I always had him by my side as a family member, as a partner, and I was so reliant on that.
AS: In a past interview you said Buzzy Lee is you—an alter ego?
SS: It’s not really an alter ego, it just was a different name. I almost wanted to call the project Spielberg’s Daughter, because that was always what it said next to every single headline. Buzzy Lee was my departure from that, I came up with a special name that means a lot to me and represents me. But I think Spielberg’s Daughter would have been so funny! I wanted to get to it first. Everyone wants to create a narrative for your life.
AS: Well, it’s easier to “understand” you that way, right, they think they know your place in the world, that they’ve got you figured out a little bit. So is Buzzy Lee freedom?
SS: It was supposed to be freedom. I sort of thought I could get away with no one finding out, and I could be completely anonymous for the first time. I mean I use the word “tits” in one of my songs, and I wouldn’t have done that in my band, because I’d feel weird with my brother… I felt I could get away with more because my name…. it was my way of escaping. But eventually obviously everyone still found out that it was me, which is fine.
AS: Did they find out or was it a conscious decision on your part, like here, I can get more people to listen to my music if I attach my name to it?
SS: Oh, no. I’m always trying to hide from it. If they call my name in a line at the pharmacy when I’m picking up something, you know they ask your birthdate and your name, and I’m always like [whispering] “Sasha Spielberg,” and they’re like “SPIELBERG?” And I’m nodding…
AS: Okay, the parents and saying “tits” in a song thing…Do you follow Jerry Saltz on Instagram? He posted something the other day, a recommendation for artists to only talk to your parents a few times a month. Don’t talk to them every day because you limit yourself when you’re worried about what they’re going to think of you, because they have a certain image of you.
SS: I’d never say “tits” around them. Ever. They’ve heard the song, and every time I’ve been with them in the room when I’ve played it for them I’ve been like [coughs] — I get so embarrassed when I say that word. It isn’t even a crazy word, I’m just talking about my own… so I’d rather not have my parents picturing… But what if I didn’t talk to them so much? I wonder what would come of my music. I talk to them every day.
AS: Would you ever cut down communication with them for the sake of your music?
SS: Yeah but I’d do it also to the rest of the world. I’d just turn off my phone for a good week. I talk to too many people probably.
AS: What do you mean?
SS: If I’m feeling anxious about something, I can’t just go to my room and self soothe without reaching out to the outside world. I always need to be connected because I’m so afraid of how I feel when I’m really alone. So I get really attached to certain people and I’ll talk on the phone to them for hours and I wonder what would come of it if I didn’t talk to a single person and just went to the piano.
AS: Nicolas Jaar—this is not the first time you’ve worked with him.
SS: He’s one of my best friends, so he is that person that I call and talk to for hours when I’m feeling sad. So to have that in a producer is really cool, because it translates.
AS: It’s almost like having your therapist produce your music—
SS: When I call my best friends in Denmark and we talk, she is my best friend, but only if she were in the room with me and could work Pro Tools… That is why I love working with Nico.
AS: You grew up with parents in Hollywood. How do you think your parents did with you in relation to other creative and kids of famous people who are growing up in this industry?
SS: I was just thinking about this today, I can’t believe people have kids and they’re famous, and their kids aren’t able to talk, and then they’re able to talk, and then what happens when they tell all your secrets?! Kids could be the death of someone’s reputation, and without knowing it! Teachers should sign an NDA.
But my parents, I really really love them and I really love the way they raised us super out of the spotlight and Hollywood. I did have security guards growing up because my dad had a crazy stalking incident. There was heightened security when I turned eight, and eight on. I knew we had a stalker but I didn’t really understand what that meant. When I was 15, and I was googling, I wanted to find out what actually happened with that, and the story is so awful that it really scarred me. I also believe, coming back to weed, that there is a big part of me that is constantly fearing being kidnapped, or having someone break in.
I was exposed to something terrifying happening to my parents. Even though I didn’t know about it, but you’re still exposed to that energy in the house. I never felt Hollywood growing up, until my friends would come over and they’d be like, “Oh who’s that?” And they’d point to the security guard and I couldn’t say it was my Uncle Ben. That’s Jack. And they’d be like “Who’s Jack?” And I’d have to explain. Which is probably not normal.
AS: So you grew up with security, and then you went to college and moved out—
SS: [sings] It was freedom! I could do whatever I wanted.
AS: Was it like My Date With The President’s Daughter?
SS: I felt like that. Oh my god. It was the best feeling. I got to college and I could finally go to bed when I wanted. My parents were so strict growing up. I was randomly drug tested. I had a crazy curfew that was like 10. My parents would call the parents for any house party I went to, including my senior year of high school.
AS: What are some of the most important lessons your parents taught you?
SS: Never smoke weed.
AS: Especially not during an interview.
SS: They really love anyone in the family doing what they love. That’s what they support the most. One time I was getting B- grades in school and I was also in the musicals. And I was crying to my mom one day, like “I’m never going to be the A student!” And she was like “Be the B- girl who does musicals.”
AS: Wow, that’s how I want to parent. That’s beautiful.
SS: And then I started doing well in school! The stakes were lower.
AS: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you?
SS: That’s a really hard question. I mean, god. There’s so many stages of my life where I had the best things happen to me! One time I got an anonymous gift, a pile of probably 70 records. I was 12, I’d been collecting records, and someone gave my parents to give to me… I fainted. I also fainted when my grandma got me a replica Heart of the Ocean from Titanic for Hanukah.
AS: So receiving gifts is your love language.
SS: No I just did the test! It’s words of validation! But the best thing to ever happen to me…My Bat Mitzvah was probably the best thing to ever happen to me. I got to finally sing for my family and friends, and that was the first time that had ever happened.
Special thanks to 710 Labs for providing flower for this interview.