Sasha Sloan, the co-writer of Camila Cabello’s current lovestruck smash hit “Never Be The Same,” used to think pop music was “dumb” and “easy.” Really.
Before the songwriting sessions with Charli XCX and Idina Menzel, before the collabs with Kaskade and Nina Nesbitt, and before signing with RCA Records, Sloan was a jazz piano player from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, studying music business at Berklee and “spinning her wheels” in the Boston music scene.
Amidst gigs at Johnny D’s (RIP) and the Hard Rock Cafe, her tone changed towards pop when a publishing deal from Warner/Chappell landed in her lap at 19 years old, prompting her move to Los Angeles, where she currently resides. Cue an awful “never be the same” pun.
Starting in 2015, the songwriting opportunities piled on, building to include sessions with Steve Aoki, Tinashe, John Legend and, of course, the aforementioned pop deities. But in the background of her collabs, Sloan’s skill set was unfolding in more ways than one. For all that pop songwriting, she got a better handle on both production and herself as a whole — which turned out to be a special brand of millennial sad.
“You think, ‘Am I good or am I going to be someone who really never makes it?’” Sloan tells Vanyaland of living in LA. “You’re just constantly in fear. Even when you do have a big song, it’s like, ‘oh shit, it this the only thing I’ll ever get?’”
For better to worse, the artistic doubts make for great album material; she birthed her EP sad girl in 2018, coupled with signing to RCA, where her labelmates include Britney Spears, Xtina, and Kesha. This Tuesday (July 10), Sloan returns to Boston to perform at Great Scott in Allston for her first-ever headlining show amidst a slew of festival dates and shows supporting Oh Wonder. Vanyaland chatted with Sloan about her journey from jazz savant to member of pop’s royal round table; read on below.
Victoria Wasylak: When you started working for Warner/Chappell, was being a songwriter part of the plan, or did you want to be a solo musicians and the songwriting aspect of it worked out first?
Sasha Sloan: I mean, I don’t think I ever really had a plan, to be honest. I was just going wherever the wind blew me. That’s when I was right around 19, and I was at Berklee still. I moved to LA and I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. I was studying music business at Berklee because I didn’t think I was good enough to actually do music. I tried being a writer, and I moved to LA and it was really hard — I hated my life and I hated writing for other people. Then I started to fall in love with it, and I fell in love with pop music, because I came from a more jazz background. I had a huge learning curve and everything just happened really naturally — I didn’t just wake up one day and [think] “I want to be a writer,” and I didn’t wake up one day and [think] “I want to be an artist.”
What do you think prompted you to go from really disliking writing music for other people to finally starting to maybe accept it more, or like it? That can’t be easy.
I think it’s a very competitive field, and it takes a while for people to trust you and your writing. But at the same time, I thought that pop music was dumb, and I thought it was easy, but then I realized that it’s actually really hard to be simple and still be effective, and once I figured that out, I kind of became obsessed with it. I was like “how do I make this song as simple as possible so everyone can understand it and still kind of be a low-key bop?” Once I was into that, I fell in love with it.
Was what is like writing with people like Charli XCX and Idina Menzel? Is that intimidating?
At first I was shitting my pants — I was so scared to meet anyone famous. I’d sit in the corner and be super quiet. Then, the more people you meet, you realize everyone’s human, and everyone’s just trying to write a good song. Everyone’s insecure, in a way. Once you realize that, it’s kind of like everyone is the same, but I mean, I’ll still definitely get starstruck, don’t get me wrong.
Are you sick of hearing “Never Be The Same” on the radio, or nah?
[laughs] I’m definitely a little sick of hearing that song, but any time I hear it on the radio, I’m not complaining.
That must be hard — you hear the song, and you know that you and a handful of other people are responsible for it, but for the average person, they think that Camila just pulled that out of a hat, and that she’s 100 percent responsible for it and that it’s her song. Is that hard to deal with?
I don’t really look at it like that. I think as the writer or producer, you never expect credit — it’s more [that] the people around you and on your team know you helped, and that’s enough. And every time Camila sings it, I feel like it is her song, and no one who wrote or produced it could sing it as well as she does. I think for me, I don’t really care [about credit] if an artist loves a song. It’s easy for me to tell that song wasn’t for me as an artist, and so I’m just happy to be a part of that record, and any record that any artist sings, and not like “man I wish I kept that.”
When you started working on your own EP, was there ever a time when you felt “hm, I should keep that [lyric] for myself” or “hm, that would be really good for this other project I’m working on?” Is there every a struggle of “do I want this for me, or do I want this for somebody else?”
It’s always a struggle, but I think it’s obvious what songs are for me and what songs aren’t. When I’m like “maybe I should pitch this,” I know it’s not for me.
How long had your sad girl EP been in the works?
I wrote “Ready Yet,” and that was when I thought “I need to start putting my own music out,” because no one else could do a song that’s really personal to me. It took around three months – it was a no pressure, gradual process. I never felt like “I need to get this done.” No one knows who I am, I can kind of just do whatever I want.
That must feel nice, in a sense.
Yeah, I mean it’s still kind of like that. I can kind of just be a weirdo. People like it and pay attention, or they just don’t, and that’s fine.
I think you had said in Facebook that you’re already working on a second EP?
Yeah, I am. I think it’s mostly written.
Is there any more pressure going into that one [EP]? You had Billboard writing about you signing to RCA, so that’s no small feat.
I mean, yes and no, but I think I would feel pressure if I honestly wasn’t signed to RCA, because I think they completely get me as an artist. They want me to just be me and do these things that I love — so there really isn’t any pressure. As long as I love it, and feel 100% [confident] about putting it out, if people don’t like it, then at least I didn’t have cold feet about it. I’m just going to put out things that I love, and I guess that’s all you can do.
That must be a good feeling to know that they just want you to be yourself, because I feel like that’s not something you typically hear from bigger labels.
Yeah, I’m super lucky, and I have a great team, and that makes such a difference.
How did that [signing to RCA] come to be?
I think I had just been writing, and as a writer you get to know people who work at labels and management companies — it was a really natural process for me as well. I kind of knew Chloe from RCA, and from day one, she was like “you need to be an artist.” That was two years ago. I just needed some time to figure out who I was, and where I shined. It was kind of like signing to my friends at the end of the day. It really helps that I started writing before the artist thing, because you [get to] know people and kind of get to figure out who you are before.
Now that you’re working on your solo material with RCA, are you still going to be writing with and for other people?
I’m definitely not going to sessions [for other people] as much as I was, but I still have so many songs that I’ve written the past three years that I have floating around, and those are starting to come out. If it’s a really amazing session with an artist then I’ll say yes, but I think my music has become my project now. Whatever I write and I don’t want to keep, I can just text to someone and ask “do you like this?” and they’ll say no or yes. It’s kind of no pressure both ways. I feel like I just write better in general when I’m not thinking about another artist.
Before you moved to California, you said you went to Berklee. Do you have any formative musical memories of living in Boston?
I think I mostly felt trapped there — I felt a little like I was spinning my wheels in Boston. I felt like “okay, I can play this gig, but what is it really going to do at the end of the day?” It was kind of discouraging, in a way, but I probably would have never moved to Los Angeles if I never got offered a publishing deal, because I had no reason to move there at 19. I didn’t know anyone, so unless I had an opportunity waiting for me there, it just would have made no sense to move. I got lucky, but I think looking back, part of me feeling that there’s such little opportunity here actually made me take the leap at the end of the day and be like “okay I’m going to move to LA.”
That’s really scary when you’re 19 years old.
Yeah, I don’t really think I thought about it when I did it. You’ve just got to bite the bullet sometimes.
Have you found that it’s really competitive in LA?
When no one believes in you, it’s kind of hard to believe in yourself. You think, “Am I good or am I going to be someone who really never makes it?” You’re just constantly in fear. Even when you do have a big song, it’s like, “oh shit, it this the only thing I’ll ever get?” I think it is competitive, but it’s mostly about work ethic at the end of the day.
If younger you — maybe 17 or 18, playing jazz — could see what you’re doing now, what do you think that she would say?
I don’t know — I was so confused when I first moved here, I don’t know what I would think. I think I didn’t realize how important production was until I moved to LA. I would just put out an album that was just me and piano, which people would not have listened to, I promise [laughs]. And I think learning the value of production helped me become a better writer, so old me think old me would be like “woah, these are crazy songs.” I never really understood why drums were important, it was just all about the song for me [before]. So I think old me would be like “This is weird as fuck, but cool.”
Where did that jazz background come from originally?
I think it’s mostly from piano lessons, I just learned jazz music and jazz standards. I loved Amy Winehouse, which was kind of in the same world. I just liked old shit, which is kind of what I grew up on and listened to — and still do.
When’s the last time you played a show in the Boston area?
God, it’s been a minute. Probably when I was 18, right before I left.
SASHA SLOAN + TOMI :: Tuesday, July 10 at Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave. in Allston, MA :: Doors at 8:30 p.m., 18-plus, $15 ::Advance tickets:: Facebook event page :: Featured photo by Nicolita Bradley