It’s a scorching LA day when we meet Sabrina Teitelbaum – AKA Blondshell – in an Eagle Rock pinball bar in the late afternoon. It’s an odd choice of spot for the sober New Yorker (also not a pinball wizard), but as with most bars in east LA, it’s a vibe. We’re here to chat about life since the release of what is undoubtedly one of the year’s best debuts: Teitelbaum’s self-titled LP under her new musical moniker, Blondshell. The record taps into Teitelbaum’s love of 90s grunge and alt-rock: the likes of Nirvana, The Cranberries, Hole and Liz Phair. “I remember hearing Nirvana when I was a kid and being like: ‘I don’t want to listen to this’. He was scary to me,” she recalls. “This was my first time actually connecting to that era of music as someone who could not be terrified of it. As a kid, I definitely didn’t have the words for that intensity. It hit me again as an adult in a time where not only could I process it, I was like, I need this right now.”
Blondshell has channelled a similar intensity into both her record and her live show. Through stories of shitty relationships, addiction and young adulthood – told through some brilliantly cutting lyrics (“he wears a front-facing cap, the sex is almost always bad”), she is amassing a coven of Gen Z fans, discovering the genre for the first time, Teitelbaum as their Kurt.
A week earlier, at a Blondshell show at famed Sunset Strip venue, The Roxy, young women line the front row. When it comes time to play early single, ‘Kiss City’, they collectively yell “I think my kink is when you tell me that I think I’m pretty” back at the 27-year-old. They say all musical trends are cyclical, but with not one aged Hollywood rocker in sight, we like the 90s better this time around.
You finished up your first headline tour a little while ago. I know that you wrote much of the album alone. What was it like having these quite personal songs, sung back to you?
Surprising? I knew people were gonna go to the shows, because I was privy to ticket sales but then it’s a different thing when people actually show up. It’s one thing getting to talk to people on social media, which is still nice. But then it’s another thing to be in the room of people who have connected to the music. It’s really special.
The album touches on a lot of heavy themes. Do you manage to disassociate from the traumatic memories associated with them when you’re performing the songs live every night?
I don’t feel like I’m always singing about the thing that I wrote it about, right? So if I’m singing any of the songs on this album, more often, I’m singing about the stuff that happened that day, or whatever’s on my mind. I’m not thinking about that breakup, or that person or whatever it is – I think it would be difficult for me to try to conjure that up. Someone told me a long time ago that it’s easier to just put whatever you’re actually genuinely feeling now into the performance rather than trying to find an old emotion.
You’re about to release a deluxe version of the album including three new tracks – ‘Street Rat’, ‘It Wasn’t Love’, ‘Cartoon Earthquake’ – and two demos of ‘Kiss City’ and ‘Tarmac’. Where do these songs fit in the Blondshell story?
I wrote ‘Street Rat’ the day after we finished recording the album so I wanted to put it out because it’s very much part of the same world. There’s a version of ‘Tarmac’ on the deluxe version that’s coming out on the Deluxe that’s really gentle. That’s the one I’m most excited about because it shows a different side to the song.
‘It Wasn’t Love’ was later. I think the album feels like: ‘Isn’t this what love is? It’s painful and it’s really hard and yeah, it can be horrific’. But that song is about looking back and saying, ‘I thought that that was love but that’s not what that is.’ It can be a little painful, but it doesn’t have to be this twisted thing. That’s its own kind of heartbreak, in a sense, looking back at a relationship and realising you weren’t in love.
I loved your cover of ‘Charm You’ by Samia. It seems that a common theme in both your and Samia’s music is saying the ugly thoughts out loud – sharing things that others might be ashamed to say. I wondered if that was something you’d bonded over?
I don’t remember talking about that but something I do remember talking about with her recently is, when you’re someone who’s written about heartbreak so much, how do you continue to write songs when you’re in a stable relationship? She and I are both in relationships, but then I realised, well, [Wilco frontman] Jeff Tweedy has been married for so long. And they put out an album every year, so…
I think women get a harder time with that. People want you to fit into a Sad Girl box.
They don’t want you to be on a beach, loving life. But they also don’t want you to be devoid of any joy. It’s a hard balance. There’s not a lot of joy in the songs on my album because I was having a hard time when I made it. I could understand if someone felt like maybe there should be some more uplifting songs. That’s why I was so excited to cover ‘Charm You’. You it felt like such a fun opportunity. It felt like a joyful song. But the biggest thing for me, when I was writing this album was just that I had to take all these things seriously. I was allowed to feel really intensely.
With everything that’s been written about the album to date, do you think there’s anything that’s been misunderstood about you or the music?
Part of the point of doing this deluxe [version of the album], is that I get to show what the songs were like as seedlings. Sometimes, because of all the guitars and production, it sounds really bold and confident but the songs I sat down to write were more fragile. They’re both true, just in different ways. So I felt like this was a chance for me to be like: it ended up here because this was how I wanted to make a record, but it started out here – this was the feeling that inspired the album.
Are you writing at the moment or thinking about the next album?
Yeah, I’m going to demo [the second album] this week. It took a while between making and releasing the first album because I wanted to get all that stuff right. I can’t tell you much about it now other than on the first record, I wrote about a lot of different subjects through talking about dating and now I’m just trying to talk about those subjects directly.
‘Blondshell’: the Deluxe Version is out October 6, via Partisan Records.