A week before Sabrina Teitelbaum released her debut single as Blondshell, she shared a short message about the nature of the new project: “It’s the music I’ve always wanted to make, but have been too scared to.” Days later, ‘Olympus’ followed - a grungy, melancholy portrait of the aftermath of a relationship, with the embers of love still glowing orange as the heat dies down. “I’d still kill for you,” she sings. “I’d die to spend the night at your belonging.”
In that song and the incredibly personal, often cutting singles that have followed, it’s easy to see why Sabrina might be afraid. “I had a lot of concerns, like being judged for talking about these subjects, or I was worried that people would be like, ‘Oh my god, is she OK?’ because the subject matter [in these songs] is so heavy,” the New York-born, LA-based musician explains. “It’s stuff that everybody feels but I felt like if I talk about the most heightened, intense things that go on in my head, people are going to be taken aback in a bad way.”
Fortunately, that prediction was wrong. In the eight months since ‘Olympus’ was released, Blondshell has swiftly become one of indie’s brightest new hopes. It’s largely thanks to the part of her music that she previously shied away from – laying out her most extreme feelings, flaws and issues with effortless relatability and wry self-deprecation. “I’m going back to him / I know my therapist’s pissed,” opens ‘Sepsis’, later adding: “I think I believe in getting saved / Not in Jesus’ validation, in some dude’s gaze.”
If Blondshell is instantly clicking with those that hear the project, it had the same effect for Sabrina when she began writing these songs. Previously, she worked under the moniker BAUM, but something wasn’t quite right. “I finished an EP for [BAUM] and I was like, ‘OK, that’s gonna come out at some point – now I can write for myself’,” she explains. “Then I started writing all these songs and they felt like a different side of me, or like I wasn’t performing. They’re just like journalling.”
The singer-songwriter’s metamorphosis comes down to, she says, the simple act of growing up. “I just hadn’t figured out things about myself that I had figured out when writing these songs,” she notes. “It was just by the nature of being younger that I didn’t have the same clarity.”
With things a lot more lucid, Sabrina is ready to go all in with music: a relationship she describes as “the most consistent” in her life. Now signed to Partisan, home to the likes of IDLES and Fontaines DC, she’ll release her self-titled debut album in April. It’s a record that blisters and burns, its creator stepping into her personal power and shrugging off onlookers’ stares.
‘Blondshell’ the record, meanwhile, might not have happened without the encouragement of collaborator Yves Rothman - a member of Yves Tumor’s collective. After meeting a few years ago in sessions for BAUM, Sabrina showed him ‘Olympus’. “His reaction was like, ‘Can we make an EP like that song?’,” she recalls. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can write more songs that are like that song…’”
With the producer’s encouragement, she tapped into a well of biting indie-rock gems, following his advice to be authentic to herself. Between showing him the latest tracks she’d come up with, the pair would sit and watch Smashing Pumpkins videos and listen to Depeche Mode. “It was this very immersive thing where he was showing me the things he loved from the style I was pulling from. I learned a lot from him,” she says.
Being authentic to herself manifests on Blondshell’s forthcoming album in the form of radical honesty in spite of society’s expectations. If women are rarely given permission to get angry or spiteful, or to speak candidly about the intimate details of their sex lives without reproach, Sabrina thrusts two middle fingers up at the world and gives those thoughts and feelings a loudspeaker. “I think I’d had a lid on a lot of those emotions which made them more intense, and not being able to air them out made them so much more so,” she reasons. “When I was writing about all these things, it was a huge relief and I was able to let go of a lot of things that way.”
The album, she hopes, will be a guide for others to let go in a similar way. “I didn’t hold back on the size of my anger, my sadness, my longing and all these things, so hopefully people who hear it can feel less ashamed of those things,” she smiles.
‘Blondshell’ is out 7th April via Partisan Records.
As featured in the February 2023 issue of DIY, out now.
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