“See me now, wish she could see me now,” Sasha Sloan sings on the closing track High School Me of her debut album Only Child. The 25-year-old musician has spent a lifetime reckoning with her past - she’s considered a pioneer of ‘Sad Girl Pop’ - but in the fading moments of this album, she allows a rare moment of optimism shine through, celebrating her achievements.
There’s plenty to celebrate too. Not only has Sloan recorded and released an album during a pandemic, but her accolades are also plentiful. She has over 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify and writing credits on songs by the likes of Camila Cabello, Katy Perry and Charli XCX. On Only Child, however, she hits reset, rediscovering the sort of music she wants to make and tapping into exactly what she wanted to say.
She spent the last seven years in LA - a city she says she “kinda always hated” - but she speaks to The Interns on the phone from Nashville where she’s bunkered down this year. Sloan grew up listening to Americana passed down from her Mother and the Nashville writing scene feels like a natural fit for her.
“I think I strayed away from my gut instinct on my first three EPs, but I kinda just said ‘fuck it’ on the album,” she says, continuing, “I’m just going to stick to my roots and listen to my own taste.”
You feel that immediately with Only Child. It’s a folk-rooted album that places songwriting at its core. From the unashamedly honest opener Matter To You to soul-searching closer High School Me, she prioritizes story-telling. The production surrounding her words is effective but subtle. Gentle guitars, warm keys, and atmospheric synths build a sonic world that’s essentially bittersweet.
While Only Child wouldn’t be categorised as a cheery album, Sloan quotes Kacey Musgraves saying that she wanted it to be, “happy and sad at the same time.” When the lyrics are particularly bleak the music is brighter. On lead-single Lie she sings, “I want you to lie right to my face,” as the production dances with waves of triumphant synths and leaping beats. She explains that each song was born bare-boned and many went through multiple iterations to arrive at their final, produced form. There was a “really dark, The Weeknd-esque version,” of Lie somewhere along the way but she thought it was just, “too dark”.
In that sense, she was inspired by the work of The Killers, Robyn and Musgraves - pairing light and shade together. “[Robyn]’s Call Your Girlfriend, for example, if you sat down and played that on guitar it’s so sad,” she says.
“But she masks it in the production. It’s incredible.”
If you’ve followed Sloan since the beginning, that’s what will strike you first about Only Child. The sun peaks through at numerous points - an important development considering this is the artist that gave us projects titled Loser and Sad Girl. That’s not to say there aren’t sad moments on the record, there are just more layers.
“I remember going into the album and just really wanting it to be multifaceted rather than just some songs about a breakup I went through and how in love I am right now,” she says.
“The world’s so big and I’m so small,” she sings on opener Matter To You which is a good starting point for how she positions herself in this album. There are raw, deeply personal moments that deal with body image (House With No Mirrors) and her upbringing (Only Child) but she also uses a wider lens. Given that everyone on earth is dealing with this pandemic right now, it’s somewhat impossible not to think about the world at large.
“The world’s bigger than me and my anxiety,” as she puts it.
Sloan considers this in different ways. On Santa’s Real she puts herself in the place of a child right now. “I was talking about how jealous I was of kids during this,” she says.
“You can’t fully understand when something is really catastrophic.”
On Until It Happens To You she delves into “empathy versus sympathy” singing, “somebody loses their somebody every day.” It’s an acute exploration of how you comfort someone when they’ve lost something. The album’s most unfiltered moment Is It Just Me?, meanwhile, dishes all her unpopular opinions in one place.
It was inspired by the Reddit subgroup ‘Unpopular Opinion’ and has her declaring that she thinks, “PDA is creepy” and “religion is a business.” In many ways, it’s a call-out for a common-ground community. And she’s found that in her fans, something she truly understood when she released 2018’s Older - a song about her parents’ divorce.
“I didn’t really expect it to resonate because it was such a true story for me,” she says but it went on to become one of her biggest songs. At the time of writing it has close to 150 million streams on Spotify.
You get the sense speaking to Sloan that finding fans that connect with what she’s saying has helped her slowly dismiss the insecurities she gained in high school.
“High school really shaped who I was or am,” she tells me, continuing, “
“I feel like I'm still like holding on to bits and pieces of me that I started to not like during high school that has been like, kind of following me ever since.”
She’s growing out of it slowly and the album closer High School Me is a perfect example of that. She’s learning to celebrate her successes and noticing that she’s achieved what teenage Sloan dreamt of.
“All I wanted to be when I was 14 was an artist and, you know, it's hard but I actually did it, which is cool.”