A little over two months on from the release of her brilliant, eponymous debut, Blondshell (Sabrina Teitelbaum) talks to whynow during her whistle-stop tour of the UK.
“I feel so lucky to be able to sing about things that have historically been shameful, and have people support me,” says Blondshell’s Sabrina Teitelbaum, fresh from a spontaneous visit to a tattoo studio. It’s her day off from a sprawling UK tour that’s seen her appear at both The Great Escape Festival, a homage to new music, and DIY punk celebration Wide Awake, alongside a string of her own shows. In a few days, she’ll fly home to North America for another run of headline gigs.
“Playing so far from home and have people turn up is crazy. It’s a big deal for somebody to commit to going to a show these days, so that’s not lost on me,” she continues. Every show has felt different, but they’ve all been “so special,” Teitelbaum says. We’d expect nothing less, considering how awe-inspiring Blondshell’s self-titled debut album is.
Released in April, Blondshell is a grungy, alternative rock album that’s as vicious as it is clever. It’s self-deprecating but powerful, vulnerable, yet never afraid to call out bullshit. There’s a freedom to the scuzzy guitar riffs and hammering drums, but there’s also intention to every moment.
Sonically, it’s a world away from the music Teitelbaum was making pre-Blondshell. After graduating high school, she moved from New York to Los Angeles to study pop songwriting but dropped out after two years to focus on BAUM, her shimmering indie-pop project. “I just wanted to make music because it’s what I loved doing,” she explains.
“There’s always an interesting balance because I had ambitions and I wanted to play shows but there has to be enough success for that to happen. At the time, it felt like the only way to do that was to package my music in a way that people would be open to hearing,” with BAUM taking production influence from the likes of Halsey, Lana Del Rey and Lorde. “I didn’t know myself enough yet,” they explain to their 19-year-old self.
Things were going well for BAUM until one day during the pandemic, Teitelbaum wrote the snarling ‘Olympus’, and everything changed. The track instantly felt like a light-bulb moment, which terrified Teitelbaum because it was so removed from everything that had come before. She knew the track would have to be part of an entirely new project if she was going to release it, and she considered running the two side-by-side for a while, “but it just didn’t feel right to continue doing BAUM,” she offers.
With the help of long-term producer Yves Rothman, more songs quickly followed. To begin with, starting over felt like a huge risk, but Teitelbaum got “more comfortable” with the idea of it over time. “I just felt really proud of this stuff in a way that I never felt about my last project,” she says. “This just instantly felt like me.”
Originally planned as a four-track EP [“the smallest amount of commitment you can make to a new project”], Blondshell quickly evolved into an ambitious full-length. “I was hesitant to begin with because it’s a lot to ask of someone to listen to a whole album from an artist they’ve never heard of,” says Teitelbaum. “I ended up wanting more space though because I had the songs and I had things I wanted to say.”
While the sonics of Blondshell take influence from 90’s alt-rock and the greats of grunge, the lyrics explore sex, intimacy and frustration as Teitelbaum reflects on her early 20s. “Everything just felt so big and intense,” the 26-year-old says today. “I remember constantly asking questions about who I was and who I wanted to be as well as looking at my friendships and my relationships,” she explains. “I wanted to talk about all of the intense feelings and situations I went through, without minimising it because there is that instinct to minimise your own experiences,” she continues.
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“There’s that shame about being angry and people dismiss it as ‘there are worse things in the world’,” says Teitelbaum. “I was having a hard time though and these songs were helping me get through that.”
The fact that Blondshell was an entirely new project with no expectations around it meant Teitelbaum could write as honestly and vulnerably as possible. “I really wasn’t thinking about people hearing it,” she explains. “Already, there’s questions about a second Blondshell album and how much it’ll sound like the one I just put out, and there was none of that before.”
From the frustrated ‘Veronica Mars’ to the hammering ‘Tarmac’, Blondshell is a vicious record that never holds back. “My kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty,” she sings of an emotionally distant partner on ‘Kiss City’. “Look what you did / You’ll make a killer of a Jewish girl,” she snarls on ‘Salad’ while the scuzzy ‘Sepsis’ sees Teitelbaum going back to an ex, even though it’ll annoy her therapist. “We both know he’s a dick / At least it’s the obvious kind,” she reasons.
“It doesn’t bother me that people say that that album is angry, because I do think that’s pretty accurate,” she starts before explaining how “anger can be a mask for sadness as well.”
“I tried to talk about the stuff that I am ashamed of and the things that feel hard to say,” she continues. “Hopefully people who are ashamed of similar things can hear it and feel less alone in that.”
After all that cathartic rage, the album ends with the dreamy ‘Dangerous’. “That song is me listing all the things I’m anxious about alongside how I would prefer them to be,” explains Teitelbaum, who also wanted to finish the record with that track because it felt “hopeful” to her. “It feels like I have finally got everything off of my chest and I can close this chapter of the book.”
She goes on to admit that it would have been good if the record featured a couple more tracks that felt a little “brighter”, but she doesn’t regret being true to herself. “There wasn’t much brightness when I was writing,” she offers.
“People have said there’s no hope on the album but there has to be, otherwise I just wouldn’t talk about any of these things,” she continues. “If I didn’t have hope, or think that things could change or feel less intense and get better, why would I bother? The songs themselves might not sound optimistic or positive but the fact I’m saying I need help, there’s hope in that.”
Since Blondshell released her debut single ‘Olympus’ last June, there’s been an undeniable excitement around the project. She appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in April to deliver an almighty take on ‘Salad’ while both of her gigs at The Great Escape saw fans queuing around the block to get in. “It feels like it’s happened quickly, but at the same time, I’ve been writing songs and experimenting with new sounds for ages now. It just took a while to figure out what felt right for me.”
Teitelbaum believes her music resonates because “we’re in a time where there’s a lot of women and queer people in rock,” pulling from the male-heavy scene of the ‘90s and ‘00s, “so people are open to it and it’s just more accepted.”
“There’s also the fact that the discourse around things that I talk about in my music, like going to therapy, having intense feelings and psychological stuff like anxiety and addiction are part of the conversation much more nowadays,” she says. “If the scene was different, I’m not sure people would be as receptive, but I feel lucky that they are.”
‘Blondshell’ may have captured a specific point in her life, but Teitelbaum isn’t worried about what comes next. “I don’t want to make the same thing again anyway,” she shrugs. Instead, she wants to focus on the shows and the fans, for the time being anyway. “I’m just gonna live my life for a bit, and then I’ll probably have more stuff to talk about,” she explains.
Despite how well everything has gone, Teitelbaum admits: “There are still times where I doubt myself. It’s definitely not all confidence, all the time,” she adds. “When I first started making music, I wanted so much success, and I had no idea what it meant. I guess the question really is how much the success of Blondshell psychologically affected me, and it definitely has. But not as much as it would have if I were younger and more impressionable,” she continues. “I have more of an idea of my self-worth than I did before.
“Yes, the doubt comes up, impostor syndrome comes up and all that shit but if I can’t make another album as good as Blondshell, then I’m still solid in who I am.” Still, she isn’t afraid about taking the music where it needs to go, either. “It would be cool to play big shows and have all those people connecting to the music,” she explains. “There’s always been ambition to what I do, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”