Photography by Dana Veraldi
Sasha is a musician and writer living in Los Angeles. Her honeyed vocals and deeply felt lyrics carry the eclectic songs by Wardell, the band she and her musician brother Theo started together in 2010. Sasha is enormously witty and down-to-earth, both self-deprecating and thoughtful. Her preferences for books and movies are an honest, balanced medley of highbrow and lowbrow favorites. GAL was curious to know how Sasha finds inspiration for songs – and how she tackles writer's block when it descends upon her. Read on to find out more!
Girls at Library: What was the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Sasha Spielberg: I read The Black Stallion when I was in first grade and loved it. I was recently thinking about how it’s a very intense book for a six year old to read, so then part of me, my current self was like, “Was I a genius?” So I asked my parents if I was really, really smart for my age and they said I was average [laughs]. And I said, “What average child reads The Black Stallion out of school, just casually?”
GAL: Isn’t it a parent’s job to just say, “Yes you were a genius?”
SS: “You were a child genius, you wowed us all.” No, so basically, Black Stallion, that was the first book.
GAL: Are there any other childhood books that have had a strong effect on you?
SS: I read a lot of Judy Blume. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and then Just As Long As We’re Together, Here’s to You Rachel Robinson, and then Blubber. I loved them so much that I spent fourth grade writing my own versions of Judy Blume books. One I wrote, titled Not Sixth Grade!, was about a girl in sixth grade who moves to a new town in California. I also loved If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Good Night, Moon – both classic, great reads.
GAL: Did you prefer reading series as a child? Why?
SS: I did! I read Harry Potter obviously, and I liked Harry Potter a lot, and I read every single book, but I wasn’t an avid fan. My brother read every single book twice, and he finished them all in about two days. I read them slowly. I wasn’t really obsessed with them. I also liked Weetzie Bat, and mythical fiction, like The Mediators.
GAL: Does each book lead you naturally to the next?
SS: Yeah, it was sort of like, when I’m done with horses, I’ll go to periods, when I’m done with periods, I’ll go to mediators, when I’m done with mediators I’ll go to elves and forests.
GAL: You’re like, I’ve had enough of real life, let’s skip to another world.
SS: Escapism, yeah!
GAL: The real stuff can happen elsewhere.
SS: Yes, but I also really love the real stuff. From eighth grade to my senior year of high school, I read all the trashy books. And then in college I was reading real literature, and then I took a hiatus where I just read like, Gone Girl, and all those books, like Dark Places. And so right now I’m trying to get back into teaching myself about other books, just because I feel like I didn’t take enough courses on everything.
GAL: What are you reading now?
SS: Made for Love by Alyssa Nutting. I just finished Middlesex, which I never read. My mom was reading it, and my sister was reading it, and I finally read it, and I loved it so much. I wanted another book that was similar, so I took a survey on Facebook and everyone told me to read Freedom. I bought Freedom and started reading it and my brain was like, I just can’t right now. So I went to a contemporary book that’s, I don’t know—easy.
GAL: Lighter, easier to digest.
SS: Yeah. It’s like going from like Scorsese or Ingmar Bergman to a reality show. It’s Bergman to Housewives.
GAL: What book makes you happiest to read?
SS: I loved Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out Of It. That was my most recent feel good book.
GAL: How do you write lyrics for your music? Do you and Theo each bring a set of ideas to a writing session?
SS: My process for writing lyrics has really evolved over the years. I used to mainly form words to fit my melodies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I still do it! Some interesting lyrics have come from this method, but I would always chalk it up to the subconscious playing alpha which may have been more indolence on my part. I do think there’s some truth in words wrapping around sounds and what we’re forced to work with within that confine. When I do that now, I challenge myself and ask “Does this lyric really make sense: ‘Sideways is not a sly way to fall?’” And then I laugh about it and dig a little deeper.
GAL: If you have writer's block, is there a trick you use to pull yourself out of it?
SS: I actually have writer’s block right now! Ugh. Reading helps. I can either go watch Bachelor in Paradise or read something of importance. I usually choose Bachelor in Paradise but I’m really working on going with the latter. I also watch interviews with my favorite artists, Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush, Bruce Springsteen to help combat writer's block!
GAL: Can you read on a device?
SS: No, never, I can’t. I won’t. I cannot. I don’t have the ability. I notice that when I’m reading a book, I read like 15, 20 pages and then I check my phone. And that has been such a problem I have to put my phone in another room or turn my phone on airplane mode. And it’s so sad that that’s happening! I can’t go, "I'm just going to read." I used to read for hours and hours, and then I remember that feeling after reading for so long, your brain just feels so satisfied and full, and then you need to eat, and then you read some more. And now, I just read 10 pages and it’s like, “Oh, I wonder what’s new on the phone I checked 10 minutes ago."
GAL: Since you have an aversion to reading on digital media, I wonder if you feel the same way about writing lyrics for your songs. Do you have a favorite kind of notebook or pen or pencil you use to write? Or is it easier to use your computer?
SS: Typing notes on my phone is good if I need to remember a lyric or idea. I always wanted to be the “Moleskine Girl.” You know the girl who carries a Moleskine around and sits on park benches and smiles at children passing by? But I choose to be the "tiny purse girl” who can never find her chapstick. At home, I have a songwriting leather-bound journal given to me from my boyfriend.
GAL: Do you read a lot when you’re traveling? If so, do you take physical books with you?
SS: Yes. If I’m traveling somewhere where I’m just sort of dormant, and I’m just sort of sitting down somewhere by the ocean, I’ll read a lot. If I’m somewhere with my boyfriend, or we’re going on sort of an adventure, I don’t read.
GAL: Yeah. You just are there. You’re putting down the book and experiencing what’s going on. That’s hard to do. Especially if there’s the lure of a device nearby. Do you find it difficult to make time for reading during day to day life?
SS: Okay, this is so interesting. In college, you’re reading so much and you’re writing so many papers, and you’re analyzing so much. After college I needed a hiatus of about five years from that kind of analytical reading. Now I’m starting to want to reignite that kind of learning experience though it's not the only way to read books, I just got so used to reading that way and miss it. I’m trying to get into classic books I haven’t read. You know, I’ve never read Sentimental Education, I never read Madame Bovary. My friend is at Oxford doing her PhD on Proust and Flaubert. I’ve never read Flaubert, so I started to, and the font and type was so tiny, and it felt so dense. I was devastated because had I taken a class on Flaubert, I would have gotten a great read on the whole thing, but since I’m not in class anymore it’s up to me and I can’t do that anymore.
GAL: If you could write a song for or about a specific fictional character from a book, who would you choose and what would it sound like?
SS: Gregor in Kafka’s Metamorphisis and it would be a morose two minute piano ballad with a banshee-like hum! Did you just solve my writer’s block?
GAL: Is there a difference between writing lyrics and telling a story?
SS: They’re both very intertwined. With Wardell, we like to tell stories a lot actually. For my solo writing, it’s more of “I feel this, I feel that,” which isn’t as much of a narrative unless it's against 10 other songs in which I evolve and turn into this strong heroine by the last song! We’ll see if I get there!
GAL: Is there a great example of a successful book-to-movie translation that you highly recommend?
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to re-read for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
SS: I return to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past a lot. Also all seven diaries from aged eight to today. I think honoring the child inside is the most important thing for my sanity.
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
SS: I have no reasons for my choices only that I personally loved these books. Can I say five??!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn
There. You just read a book.