sasha spielberg gets personal with her band buzzy lee’s debut video for 'coolhand'
With acclaimed producer and childhood friend Nicolas Jaar, the 27-year-old musician has created her most intimate work yet
Photography Brantley Gutierrez
Sasha Spielberg just found out she’s allergic to dogs and she’s devastated. “I started crying so hard in the allergist’s office because I couldn’t believe it!” she laughs ruefully. The 27-year-old adopted a second dog in July, so she has reason to be upset.
Fortunately, Sasha has a number of good things going on in her life. Having acted in movies, collaborated on musical projects, and co-created the first-ever Snapchat show, Literally Can’t Even, she is the quintessential Hollywood multi-hyphenate. Naturally, as the fourth child of director Steven Spielberg, she was exposed to a lot of great movies, TV, and music growing up.
“I actually just watched North By Northwest the other week, and it reminded me how I used to look at the screen and then turn to my dad and say ‘I wanna be her.’ And then a new actress would come on-screen and I’d say ‘No, actually I wanna be that girl.’ And then another actress would come on and I’d say ‘No, sorry, I wanna be that one!’” she laughs. “I feel like I kind of do that with my life, in a way, like ‘OK, I’m gonna screenwrite for a while. And now I’m going to be in my friend’s movie.’ But music has always been a constant. That’s my everything.”
Last time i-D caught up with Sasha she was celebrating the release of her indie rock band Wardell’s first album, Love/Idleness. Now she is gearing up to release the debut EP of her new musical project, Buzzy Lee. Named in part after her late grandma Lee, it includes the most personal work Sasha has ever created.
Today she premieres the video for “Coolhand”, the slinky first single which lays bare her anxieties around social media and self-esteem. Directed by Stefan Weinberger, it juxtaposes scenes of Sasha sleepwalking in her pajamas at home with scenes of her dancing on stage at an opulent old theater in the desert. At one point she is shadowed by another dancer, played by Jennifer Nairn-Smith — a veteran of the New York City Ballet, who danced in All That Jazz and Cleopatra. Sasha says she represents “a person who’s telling me to be something I’m not and to come with her, and I’m trying to hide from that.”
Self-doubt and uncertainty is all over Buzzy Lee’s debut EP, Facepaint, which will be released on April 27 by Future Classic. “I think every single song touches upon that feeling of unbridled insecurity. Just not feeling secure in whatever state I’m in,” she says.
“I have actually made it a goal to write songs that are not about heartbreak or feeling jealous or feeling insecure in a relationship, or feeling insecure as a person, and trying to write a story about someone else. Actually one of the songs is about my brother, so that’s different! But otherwise it’s basically just the ‘me show’,” she laughs. “It’s really fun to be my friend,” she adds sarcastically.
Sasha has been writing songs on piano since she was 12, and until Buzzy Lee she was used to doing so with her brother Theo, who she started Wardell with in 2010. But in recent years she started writing songs that didn’t suit the band. So she turned to another close companion, acclaimed downtempo dance music producer Nicolas Jaar.
“I had like 30 songs and I knew I needed to do something with them, so I was talking to Nico and he said ‘Why don’t you just come to New York, and we can record all these songs together.’ So I flew out to New York and then we did that for 11 days, every day from 9am to 11pm, just sitting and talking and crying and reworking the songs, rewriting lyrics. It was a really incredible experience.”
The resulting EP, Facepaint, is a blend of both of their personalities – Sasha’s insecurities emoted through vulnerable, luscious vocals; Jaar’s cool jazz and classical-influenced electronic beats and warm synths. The sparse, intimate arrangements mimic their close friendship, which began when they were freshmen in high school and bloomed while both were studying at Brown University.
Sasha recalls the fateful day they went from friends to collaborators. “I went into his dorm room and he was working on music, and I started humming over something he was working on, and he goes ‘Oh wait! Let’s record that!’” Their first project, Just Friends, grew out of this casual musical partnership, Sasha says. “We noticed that we really had something, and so throughout the years we just kept working on things together.”
Sasha says she’s always been a very guarded person, so Buzzy Lee is a cathartic project. “I’m printing my diary right now,” she says of the lyrics on Facepaint. “It’s like I’m xeroxing my diary, and throwing every piece of paper out into the world, like ‘come to this party on Saturday!’” she laughs. “Like in Ten Things I Hate About You, when they throw all the flyers, that’s what I’m doing with this EP and it’s completely terrifying. Because I keep people at a distance from my true feelings – of feeling not good enough, and feeling like this and this and this. I try to be funny and entertaining, and I do that definitely as a guard. So this will be really interesting.”
She’s right — the most interesting music is often the most vulnerable and honest. Spielberg has grown up in the spotlight, and after trying to hide from it, she now seems ready to embrace it.