The Wonderland China star on her heartfelt debut album, Only Child, breaking China, and early inspirations.
Often, artists are a hub of contradiction, and Boston-hailed rising star Sasha Sloan is no exception.
Inspired by female powerhouses of the likes of Amy Winehouse, Brandi Carlisle and Regina Spektor, her music is often melancholic – and her voice, soft and feathery, but the musician’s self-deprecating humour shines on her social media. After releasing her debut album Only Child earlier on this year, Sloan described the release as a major milestone of her life, and shared how the record was inspired about being an only child.
Sasha grew up outside of Boston and spent a great amount of time during summers with her Siberian grandparents. At the age of 3, her parents got a divorce. “For the most time in my life, it was just me and my mom.” A young Sasha had to grow up quickly. “I had no one around who could help me understand my parents’ decisions and no one to tell me the right thing to do in that situation.”
Fortunately, Sasha found escape in another world: music – with her passion ignited by her piano, even penning her first song at the precocious age of 9. At 19, Sasha decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a songwriter, where she wrote “Dancing With Your Ghost” – gaining swathes of global fans and a huge Chinese following.
But even with a few great hits under her belt, Sasha didn’t start her career as a songwriter right away. Collaborating with big names such as Camila Cabello, Charli XCX and Kygo, she finally felt ready to pave her own way, explaining: “One thing I’m sure of, once I found my sound and that person that understood who I was I felt like I was ready to step out with my own music.”
We caught up with the artist on her first single “Ready Yet”, breaking China and her early inspirations…
How was the process of selecting songs for the forthcoming debut album, Only Child?
Selecting songs for Only Child was really tough. I had written about 30-40 songs and then had to narrow it down to 10. I bought a whiteboard at the beginning of the process and wrote out my favourites. As I kept writing some songs got booted from the list because they didn’t quite fit the record anymore or I felt like they weren’t me. I wrote a lot of different types of songs too which made the process more difficult. I ended up selecting the songs that felt 100% me. I really trusted my gut more than ever on this record.
What does this debut album mean to you personally?
A debut album is a big moment but I really tried to not to put that pressure on myself. I think it’s a good time to put out my debut record because I really feel like I know who I am. I’ve released 3 EPs and those helped me figure out what I wanted to say and what I wanted my music to sound like. I’ve grown a lot in the past couple years and I’ve really learned a lot about myself. Besides it being 2020, I feel like it’s perfect timing.
What kind of message do you want to deliver with the title, Only Child, for the album?
Growing up an only child really shaped who I am today. For a lot of my life, it was just my mom and I and I spent a lot of time hanging out with adults which made me grow up really fast. I think it also made me pretty cynical and jaded at a very young age lol. There were parts of it I liked but I have always been jealous of people with siblings. I had no one around who could understand my parents and what is what like to grow up in the environment I did. At times it got pretty lonely and I really wish I had the built-in friend that a lot of people with siblings have.
In August you released the first single, “Lie,” from the debut album. Why did you choose the song to open the debut album?
“Lie” is a song that I’ve been sitting on for a while. I’ve always loved it but I couldn’t quite figure out the production. It really took me figuring out who I am for me to nail the vibe of it. I wrote it right after I broke up with my ex-boyfriend. I’m a very empathetic person and still feel a lot of guilt for leaving that relationship even though it was the right thing for both of us. At the time “Lie” was inspired by my boyfriend’s point of view but I’ve also been in situations where I wanted the other person to like me so desperately I would prefer them to lie than tell me the truth.
How did you come up with writing the lyrics of “House With No Mirrors”? Did you “sleep a little better at night” after finalising this song?
I was about to leave the house to go to a session and I started having a mental breakdown. My jeans weren’t quite fitting the way they used to and I stared in the mirror wanting to cry. I remember not wanting to go to the session because of how embarrassed I was of the way I looked. My boyfriend, King Henry (who’s the sweetest person on earth and also my main collaborator) looked at me and said “we need to get you a house with no mirrors”. We went to the session and wrote the song that day with the incredible Nicolle Galyon. It was one of those songs that just poured out.
Can you tell us something more about the third single “Is It Just Me”?
“Is it just me” is a song I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. I’m obsessed with reddit and there’s a subreddit I frequent called r/unpopularopinion. People post their unpopular view on the world and other people discuss in the comments – it’s quite fun. Anyway, I thought it would be a great idea for a song and the title went from “unpopular opinion” to “is it just me” It was one of the trickiest lyrics to nail on the whole record.
How did you begin to write songs? Are there any artists that influenced you a lot?
I started writing at a very young age. I performed my first original song at a talent show when I was 9. The song was called “Pitter Patter” and it’s quite possibly the worst song ever written on planet earth but it was a start! My mom had gotten a piano off of craigslist and I was hooked. I tried taking piano lessons but always ended up making up my own stuff. I’ve always been obsessed with music and my biggest influences growing up Amy Winehouse, Brandi Carlisle, The Killers and Regina Spektor.
Ahead of your first single released in 2017, you have written a lot of songs for artists like Camila Cabello and Charli XCX, why hadn’t you try to sing for yourself at that time?
When I was 19 I signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell. I then dropped out of college and moved to LA. I was only signed as a songwriter so I started going around town writing with different people. It was really tough but I slowly got into better rooms and started getting cuts as a writer. I knew I wanted to put my own music out but I wanted to wait until I found the right collaborators. A few years in I met my producer and co-writer King Henry. We hit it off and wrote my first single “Ready Yet” and the rest is history. Once I found my sound and that person that understood who I was I felt like I was ready to step out with my own music.
How has becoming an artist changed the way you see the world？
Becoming an artist has taught me a lot. I think my world was a lot smaller before I started putting music out. Constantly meeting different people from different walks of life, traveling to cities I never would’ve gone if it weren’t for a show and meeting fans and hearing their stories has given me a new perspective on the world.
What’s the most inspiring thing to you when you are in the production mood? Do you mind share one of your most memorable experiences of songwriting?
When I’m in the mood to write the most inspiring thing I can do is sit down with my co-writer and find a nice piano or guitar part. I usually make myself a margarita, plop myself on a couch and start brainstorming. One of my favourite memories is writing “Older” with my friend Danny Silberstein (who’s an amazing songwriter) and I were doing promo in Germany. We were at a hotel super jet lagged and had just eaten a ton of KFC. He got out his guitar because we had to rehearse for a performance the next day and then he started playing the guitar part for “older”. It all just poured out.
Your song, “Dancing With Your Ghost”, is a hit on Chinese social media platforms. Do you read comments from your Chinese fans?
Yes! Having a hit in China is probably the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me! I don’t usually like to read comments because I’m too sensitive lol but the support has been incredible.
What’s the story with the song “Dancing With Your Ghost”?
I wrote ”Dancing With Your Ghost” when I first moved to LA. I think I was 19 at the time. My grandmother’s best friend who was like family to me had just lost her husband to cancer. They didn’t have any children and I knew the loss was unbearable fo her. The title was inspired from that situation. I started picturing having spent my entire life with someone and then losing them… one of my biggest fears to this day.
Anything you’d like to say to your Chinese fans who supported your music when they are in a “sad girl” mood.
Yes! Thank you for being in a “sad girl” mood with me… makes me feel like I’m not alone.