sasha spielberg is making hollywood a funnier place
Growing up in LA, Sasha Spielberg dreamed of singing to stadiums like Mariah Carey and made up funny characters with her best friend – now she’s doing both of those things, for real.
Photography Alex Aristei
Sasha Spielberg does a lot of things. But to save time, she usually introduces herself as "a musician, a writer and a neurotic nut."
She has also been, at various times: the co-creator and star of the first-ever Snapchat show ("Literally Can't Even"), along with her best friend and writing partner Emily Goldwyn. An oil painter, who thought about taking classes at RISD while she studied at Brown. And an actress, whose credits extend from "Girl with Sparkler" in the 1999 comedy The Love Letter - alongside her mom, actress Kate Capshaw - to a named part in The Terminal and an appearance as "Waify Girl" in The Kids Are All Right.
But unless you can conjure a visual for the elfin brunette character listed as "Slugger" on the IMDb page for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you're most likely to recognize Sasha as one half of Wardell, the brilliantly eclectic, buzzy band she fronts with her brother, Theo.
Love/Idleness, their first album, came out in February. And this summer, they joined Ryan Adams for the West Coast leg of his tour. It was the biggest tour they'd done so far. So big that, to their confusion, when they arrived for their first show in Santa Rosa and got ready to unpack their van, a team of six guys materialized to do it for them. "They did it in ten seconds! We couldn't believe it," Sasha reflects, back home in Los Angeles. "It was definitely a different kind tour."
Playing to 2,500-capacity seated venues was also a change. It was not like shows at Brown where "the stage was so close to the floor it felt like a dance party where we just happened to be playing," as Sasha remembers student gigs. Plus, her natural performance style tends towards wildest-girl-at-the-club, arms waving, hair flying.
"I am so weird on stage," she laughs over the phone. "Someone once tweeted that I danced like a rabbit. I responded, 'Hopefully it's more like an Energizer Bunny, but thank you.' Because I am very energetic on stage, and with seated audiences, it's less dancey. By the end of the tour we knew what to expect and turned it down."
But turning it down isn't usually Sasha Spielberg's style. Singing on stage in front of a crowd is one of her favorite things in the world. "There is something so primal about it," she says. As a kid growing up in LA, she dreamed of performing in front of crowds as big as her audiences this summer. "I imagined myself singing "Amazing Grace" like Mariah Carey when I was 11. I would close my eyes and stand in my room and sing like I was on American Idol."
Meanwhile, on the other side of her bedroom wall, her brother would also be making music. "He would be playing his stupid guitar and I'd be trying to write my Fiona Apple type songs on Garageband," she remembers. "Then one day, he called me into his room and said, 'Hey do you want to help me?'" He needed a melody for a track, they wrote one together in 30 minutes, Sasha sang over it, and that was "Opossum," the first song they released. "We played the demo for our family at dinner and our family friend turned to us and said, 'I will stop talking to you guys if you don't record this professionally and start a band.'"
Roughly three years later they have a band and an album. Love/Idleness is an immediately enjoyable synthesis of pop-y melodies and from-the-heart lyrics that treats the idea of genre with joyful abandon. "I think shuffle has totally changed everyone's music taste and has made it less consistent and predictable. Our first album is very our generation I think," says Sasha.
Wardell's second record, which they're writing now, will be more focused, she says, and maybe also a little darker. "The first album, I was in a very happy relationship and [Theo] was in a very happy place. And then this came around and I was going through a breakup." But she's still reluctant to file it under any one genre. "I want to say it's a little Joanna Newsom's last album meets Joni Mitchell meets Tears for Fears." "It's still very eclectic in its own way," she admits.
And writing album number two isn't Sasha's only job right now. When she's not leaving new song ideas on Theo's voicemail (he's currently in New York), she's doing her other favorite kind of writing: working on scripts with her ride-or-die since grade school, Emily Goldwyn.
Emily and Sasha have known each other since they were six, but bonded during school carpools. "This is so embarrassing and nerdy, but we used to come up with characters in the car," Sasha says. "We ended up writing a blog - this is like 2009 - and we'd send videos back and forth to each other in character. Then Emily graduated from college, had an idea for a pilot and asked me to write it with her." They ended up selling the pilot to ABC and have been writing together ever since.
Their smart, weirdo humor and delirious enjoyment of each other's company is exactly why Snapchat tapped them to create "Literally Can't Even," its first show. Filmed in roughly four-minute segments and watchable on "the Snap Channel" for only brief windows of time in early 2015, the show felt like a natural extension of their friendship and hilarious online presences (see: Sasha's Instagram). And, as they recently told the New York Times, "working with Snapchat [felt] very separate from Hollywood."
Not that they're not interested in movies, too. Sasha and Emily's current project is a new feature script. The details are still on lockdown but all signs point to success: Sasha lists the films she wishes she'd written as Clueless, Mean Girls, and Bridesmaids. And while she might create the next Cher Horowitz, she's ready to take it easy on the acting this time. Though she does like the idea of having a "weird, weird bit part," as a barista in a coffee shop or a student in the cafeteria maybe - like the Alfred Hitchcock of high school comedies.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Photography Alex Aristei