Blondshell's Sabrina Teitelbaum is getting all her feelings out. One literal lyric and self-reckoning melody at a time.
The 25-year-old New York-raised, Los Angeles-based singer excels at delivering clear-eyed, confessional statements about complicated relationships and the cultural conditioning that primes us to be attracted to them.
In Veronica Mars, the coming of age album's blistering opening track, Teitelbaum drawls, "Veronica Mars, 2000 aughts, Logan's a dick - I'm learning that's hot." The explosive Sepsis opens with the lines, "I'm going back to him. I know my therapist's pissed. We both know he's a dick, at least it's the obvious kind."
There is, she says, a relief that comes with saying things just as she sees and feels them. "There's joy in that because it's stuff you're not supposed to talk about it."
The alt-rock 90s tinge to her output has drawn complimentary comparisons with artists that trod the angsty path before her - Courtney Love and PJ Harvey for instance - but these unfiltered tracks are thoroughly the product of Teitelbaum's own world experience.
We'll be able to see that catharsis for ourselves when Blondshell comes to Laneway Festival in February. This is the type of artist that Laneway excels at attracting - bright talent pressed right up on the cusp of being outright stars. In the same way that people gloat about seeing The XX at the festival in 2010, in years to come we'll likely reflect on this booking as a marvel of soothsaying.
Bookers Down Under aren't the only ones paying attention. In January Rolling Stone predicted that Blondshell would be all the rage this year and the Los Angeles Times called her LP the rock debut of 2023. She was also just announced as the latest brand ambassador for Dickies.
Before she packs her bags to head our way, Teitelbaum dialled into a Zoom to talk about going deep in her own songs and the back catalogues of other artists.
You've talked before about having a realisation when writing the album that you work better alone rather than in sessions, because you allow yourself a rawness. I was really interested to find out how you then approach going on stage and singing these intimate lyrics.
They're really different, I think. If you're performing it's a really different skill than writing. Writing with other people can be very vulnerable, maybe even more vulnerable than performing the song that you've already written.
If you're performing something that you've really practiced, you know what you're going to say, you know what you're going to do, everything's figured out. If you're writing, you're kind of throwing out ideas as they come up and talking about really vulnerable things that maybe you've never talked about before with other people.
It depends on who you are but for me personally, it's kind of weird to write with other people who you don't know that well and be like, "hey, here's all this stuff going on in my life. Let's write about it. Here are all of my feelings..." You have to say it to someone and hear their reaction and all that.
But if it's in the context of, 'we're all just having fun. This is a fun thing that we're sharing with each other on stage', then it's really different. And also, I've played shows for a long time so I'm more used to that.
It's interesting that you bring up the fun element because, quite rightfully, you've had a lot of acclaim for the introspection of your music - but there's heaps of joy there as well.
There is the concept of talking about this stuff. There's joy in that because it's stuff you're not supposed to talk about it, so there's a lot of relief. And for me, relief and joy are kind of similar.
Are there areas that you're still hesitant to touch on with your lyricism?
Not consciously, I'm trying to talk about everything. I think on the surface, a lot of the songs are about dating and relationships but under that, there's a lot more.
If you're choosing complicated relationships, there's usually a reason past the actual dating, it's usually like, family stuff and whatever. I'm trying to talk more about that stuff, that's at the root of it. There's nothing that I wouldn't talk about that in my songs, but I maybe do subconsciously shy away from.
You have drawn a lot of comparisons to Courtney Love, which I totally get, but I've also been really thrilled to see you covering Deceptacon by Le Tigre on stage. I wondered if you could tell me what's the appeal there?
That's the fun that we were talking about. That song is so fun; it's such a good song and I love that whole album. I was listening to that album a lot when I was on tour in January and I was like, 'oh, I wish that I could cover one of these songs'. So when we were in between tours, I was like, let's figure out a way to do this. Now we're covering it live.
It's such a fun song and I think a lot of [my] songs can be, sort of, heavy. It's nice to have that moment of fun energy in the set.
While we're talking about influences - as a New Zealander, I'm sort of legally obligated to ask you about Lorde. I know that Pure Heroine meant a lot to you.
I was thinking about her actually, when I got on this call.
I'm about the same age as her. So, when she was doing all of that in 2014, I was like, 'God damn, there's someone my age who's doing all the stuff that I want to do.' It was kind of a wake up call for me when she became really popular and was doing so well because I had always wanted to be a musician - but in my mind, it was always like, 'that's so far away, that's when I grow up and I have to be an adult'. Then, all of a sudden, there was someone my age doing the stuff I wanted to be doing. It was a big deal because it made me think, 'I have to get better and take it seriously if I want to do that stuff because it's not like a lifetime away'.
I had a personal relationship with that whole album. I was jealous, I think - I knew a lot of people who wanted to be musicians who were my age, who were jealous of her when all that was happening.
I think she's an unbelievable writer. That whole album, I just remember every song being such a distinct perspective on being that age - about being in high school and the social stuff of being around other people who are trying to grow up and figure out who they are, and where your value comes from.
Suki Waterhouse was also on the Laneway bill, who I know that you've opened for. You're also about to open for Muna and tour with Liz Phair. What have these opening slots taught you about your own artistry?
You learn from the artist that you go on tour with because you watch their show every night - you learn from their show and seeing them and what they do.
But I also learned a lot from having to play shows consistently. It takes a lot of energy to play a show and to have to do it every night for a month or six weeks - you learn a lot about how to keep it consistent.
I learned a lot on the Suki tour and that's one of the things I'm most excited about, going on tour with Liz Phair. I feel like I'll learn a lot from watching and talking to her.
[Editor's note: Suki Waterhouse has since been removed from the Laneway lineup as, "due to personal reasons, she can't make the trip to Australia and New Zealand in February next year"]
I was listening to the podcast episode you did with Maya Hawke and I really loved where you were talking about really bonding with someone in a deep way when you're doing something else. I think that passive learning is so interesting.
Yeah, she taught me that in that conversation. I had never heard of that, but it's so true - when you don't have that pressure of having to have a good conversation. It's easier to have a good conversation if you're not trying to say deep things to each other, you're not trying to get to know each other - you're just being yourself, because it's in a different context.
A great and relatable thing about your songs are the pop culture references in them. What are you reading and watching and listening to at the moment?
I'm reading a book called Queer Nature that somebody recommended. It's nature poems, I think by queer poets. It helps me have perspective and feel calm.
And I'm watching Survivor actually. Have you ever watched Survivor?
I did like, back in the day with my family. I fell off the train but multiple people in my life are fanatical about it.
I did too. My only history with it is with my family from forever ago and I didn't really remember that much of it - then I started watching it again, like two weeks ago, and I'm obsessed with it.
I'm also listening to a lot of Bonnie Raitt. There are some songs that I knew, the hits like I Can't Make You Love Me, but there are some songs I didn't know - so I’m going deeper with her music.