A Nod to Reality: in conversation with Buzzy Lee
Music — 28.09.21
Photographer & Editor: Inbar Levi
Teeth chats with Sasha Spielberg, aka Buzzy Lee, whilst in preparations for her upcoming show at Zebulon. Listening to her new-ish record, the sharp but sweet voice of hers is a compound for the lyrics that you are hearing and the feeling that crawls in your skin. Although the tunes are diverse, there is a circular unity between the lines and are impossible to miss.
Spoiled Love, produced by Nicholas Jaar, is very grown-up with some parts of the record feel like you are listening in on someone’s stream of thought; an internal and most personal process. On “Strange Town”, which is one of the more upbeat tunes on the record, we learn all about that duality and that a fast beat can be just as tragic.
Our conversation with Sasha uncovers how she freed up space for new energy, the importance of teamwork, and how someone that has an issue with loud noise decides to make intentional noise for a living.
Inbar Levi: How would you describe your music to someone that has never heard it before?
Buzzy Lee: Minimal, reflective, can be a bit melancholic even when there is a beat!
When did you start making music? When did it feel like it was definitely what you wanted to pursue as a career?
I started really making music on the piano or acapella in my bathtub at around five? Six? I lived in my own fantasy where I was the most incredible songstress there ever was with hits such as “You’re Just Like Pie Crust, Dragging Crumbs Around My Life”, at seven, and “I know that he knows that she loves you baby, honey, the feelings that I see, do you love me”, at nine. After all this nonsense, my uncle taught me guitar at 13. In ninth grade, I started recording on GarageBand and making very sad songs in my bathroom.
I always dreamt of it but never thought it was possible because each time I would try to perform for my family, my stage fright would be so debilitating my voice would shake. So I turned to acting and really believed that was what I wanted to do. I acted in this play in college and each performance there was a moment where I had to sing two verses from “Crazy” by Patsy Cline and that one-and-a-half minute of singing is what I really looked forward to each night. That’s when I started to realize maybe I wasn’t in love with acting but rather singing. I joined a band and started performing more. Then, in my junior year of college, my brother Theo and I wrote a song called “Opossum” and that’s when it clicked. This is exactly what I wanted. We started the band Wardell together.
Your album Spoiled Love came out earlier this year, what was the process of making an album like?
The process was a very very long one. I had just finished a European tour and I went to visit Nico in his home in Turin, Italy. I wasn’t planning on recording my full-length with him, but as it always naturally happens, I started playing on his piano, with him recording it unbeknownst to me. What he captured and how he captured it was enough for me to keep returning to Italy all the way from LA to finish the record in three trips. The process with Nico is always incredibly powerful, no phones around, just us, talking through each lyric, each chord, each experience that led to each pause in each song. Also, he cooked every meal for me so I felt very… spoiled.
In the process of creating music, what comes first for you: lyrics or tunes?
Tunes. Always melody. I really hope to someday be a lyrics-to-melody kind of gal for but for now, I’m melody-to-lyrics.
How important are collaborations for you? Do you feed off it always or do you like to do your own thing sometimes?
I completely thrive in collaborative environments. I find that every song I write by myself is extremely slow and delicate. I think the me within myself is inherently melancholic, and the me with others is more exuberant. I also tend to perform more around others. Nico is such a good producer for me because he can see through any time I’m “performing” and allows the me I am within myself to shine through over various BPMs.
As we all know driving in Los Angeles is all about traffic, what do you listen to in order to soften the harshness of the drive?
Okay, please don’t think I’m a complete egomaniac but if I’m going to be sitting in traffic I try to make it productive so I sift through voice notes and see which ones I want to revisit. Also, I listen to the Yacht Rock station on Sirius XM.
Sound is such a powerful tool, it has healing properties and it’s used in many different ways as a mood elevator. Do you ever think about it when writing music?
I think when I’m around Nico I’m hyper-aware of sound and space and how he intersects the two. I do have wind chimes outside the window next to my piano so I do find the notes seeping into my own songs, same with birds. I also have to add that I’m extremely sensitive to loud noises. So sometimes sound can have very negative effects on me. I have to wear earplugs on Thanksgiving! I’m afraid of balloons! I have trouble at concerts! It’s just the most ironic thing that I picked a career in having to hold my ears during soundcheck.
Is there a certain state of mind where you usually feel more inspired to write and create new work? I know some musicians work better when they are in a specific mood, whether it’s up or down – what about you?
Of course normally, and for Spoiled Love, I feel inspired when I’m heartbroken. But I’ve fallen in love and am in such an inspiring relationship (ew I’m sorry don’t hate me) but I really am inspired by my boyfriend. I think working from an extreme high can be the same as working from an extreme low. This kind of love for me isn’t chaotic so the space that’s normally consumed by ups and downs has now been freed up for creative energy.
It seems like fashion plays a strong role in both your personal and professional aspects of life. I’ve noticed that you are attracted to vintage, particularly ’50s and ‘60s items. What is your relationship with clothing and style?
I think I always wanted to conform to current trends but nothing ever looked good on my body type. I was buying vintage here and there in high school but when I got to college there was one shop I would go into every weekend and play around. I found that items from the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s fit so much better and I think in everyone’s quest to feel original, it started that for me.
You grew up and lived in Los Angeles most of your life, and recently you’ve been spending a chunk of your time in New York City. How does the change of scenery affect your work?
I have difficulty with change and transitions so leaving LA is always very inspiring though I have to almost be dragged out the door to do it. On the other hand, nothing is more evocative and gut-wrenching than Los Angeles at dusk when the Santa Anas are in full effect. I find Mendocino/Humboldt to be incredibly gut-wrenching as well.
Now in New York City, I find the hours between 11 pm and 3 am to bring out a different songwriting style for me. It’s smoother in a way and less filtered or overly analyzed. I also keep eating these Trader Joe’s mini ice cream cones while I work so there’s that. Maybe that’s my inspiration right now.
You have a live show coming up at Zebulon in LA on the 29th of this month. How do you prepare for a show? Is a live performance a big part of your work as a musician?
I absolutely adore playing live! I prepare by rehearsing with my band which currently is composed of two very talented musicians, Adam Gunther and Jorge Balbi Castellano. I also am insane about sleep and allergies and maintaining my voice, I take Zyrtec and Flonase if you really want to hear how I prepare. And sleep with a humidifier. And Sinus Cleanse each morning. And Throat Coat each night. And by the way, none of this makes me feel better until I finish the show.
You can also stream her full album, Spoiled Love, below: