She's written for Katy Perry, John Legend, and Camila Cabello. Now the 25-year-old singer-songwriter is getting her own chance to shine.

By Ruth Kinane
October 15, 2020 at 11:18 AM EDT
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Credit: David Od

While some of us spent quarantine making banana bread, 25-year-old Sasha Sloan was writing her debut record. The Boston-born singer-songwriter poured her emotions, insights, and the skills she's learned writing for some of the biggest pop stars in the world into her album Only Child, out Oct. 16.

We spoke to Sloan about what to expect from her debut, transitioning from writing for others to writing for herself, and what song she's had on repeat throughout lockdown.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You started off songwriting and then transitioned into writing for yourself. Was there a moment where you were like, I want to do this or had that always been the game plan?

SASHA SLOAN: I don't really know if I ever had a game plan. It kind of just happened naturally. I got signed as a songwriter off of Reddit and I had this post blow up. It was a photo of my house. My parents were painting the outside of it and they painted "dork" in massive letters with an arrow pointing to my window. I posted it to Reddit it and it blew up everywhere on the front page. Then I got a publishing deal because I put my SoundCloud in the comments. I was living in Boston at the time. So then I moved to LA and I started writing for other people and I kind of got thrown into songwriting bootcamp. I think every songwriter is an artist. It's just whether you want to take the plunge because a lot comes with that. I was just waiting to find the right team — the right producers and collaborators. I met King Henry who produces everything for me now and we write a lot together. I wrote the song called “Ready Yet” and it felt right. It's the first song I ever put out. I felt like I’d found myself and written a song that I didn't want anyone else to sing.

Is there less pressure or more pressure when you're writing for someone else versus yourself? Or are they just kind of equally difficult?

It depends on the situation. If you’re with the artist…I don't know. I think there's more pressure for myself because I'm such a nerd about lyrics and I'm a perfectionist. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I don't really [do] that when I'm writing with an artist because it's their vision and I'm just there to help cultivate that.

Is there somebody you haven't written with that you would love to?

I feel stupid saying all the artists that I would love to write with because they don't need me. But I was obsessed with Amy Winehouse, so if she was still living that would be a bucket list for me, but Oh God, I don't know. I'm really bad at these questions. The Killers! I would die. The Killers and Robyn.

Tell me a little bit about the approach to writing this album. Were some of these songs you've had for years that you just needed to tweak? Or did you come in with this plan to write the album start to finish?

The first single “Lie” was actually written about three years ago. I always loved that song, but I think we never really cracked the production on it. So I kept coming back to that one. Once I found the direction for the album, it made it a little easier for us to seek it out. The rest of the album is pretty fresh and was written in the last six months to a year. I didn't really have a vision for the album —I'm not sure if I can think that far ahead. I wrote probably 30 to 50 songs and narrowed it down to 10 and those 10 are on the album. Some more pop-leaning songs got the cut for more intimate songs. “Santa’s Real” and “Until it Happens to You” are songs on there that are more intimate, which was kind of the whole goal of the album.

Credit: RCA

Is it hard when you have 50 songs to narrow them down? Do you let other people weigh in so that they can be more objective? 

Yeah. I definitely lost a lot of sleep trying to pick which songs would go on. I personally like shorter-leaning albums, especially in today's day and age; there's so much music, I just wanted to keep it short and sweet. I try to keep the opinions limited. I have a few people that I really trust. The people that I showed my music to know who I am and have the same tastes that I do, but once I start breaking that circle, then I started to get really confused, so I try to keep it really tight. It's hard though.

Is there a process you have for writing music versus lyrics? Do you come in with a lyric in your head that you want to build a song around or is it the opposite? Or a mix of both?

So for me, I think it's really funny when people listen to my songs and are like, "Oh I love that melody," because I'm never really thinking about melody. I'm only thinking about lyric. It's actually really hard for me to write a melody and then put lyrics to it — and by hard, I mean impossible. I have like a list of titles on my phone at all times. I always try to walk in the room with the concept at least for my stuff, because it is all story-focused. I don't really do abstract lyrics. They're pretty literal. I like to tell stories and for me it's easier to do that when I have the concept beforehand, rather than the other way around.

If you had to describe the sound overall to somebody who maybe hasn't heard your music before, how would describe it for this album?

It’s a mix of all my favorite genres, like Robyn meets Eva Cassidy meets ‘90s alt, but it’s also kind of genre-less. That was a really hard thing to do, consciously — pick songs that may not go together on paper but — if they're all tied together by my voice — work.

Is there one song on there that was maybe more of a challenge to get out or something that went through a few different iterations and then came together that you're really proud of?

Yes. So I take forever to write songs. Some of them pour out, like “Only Child” happened really quickly... There’s a song on the album, it's the next single, called, “Is it Just Me?” and it was actually written over Zoom, with this amazing writer Nicole Galyon, a great friend of mine. The lyrics in that were really hard to nail because it's kind of an unpopular opinion. So I had to make sure that they were relatively unpopular, but not too unpopular and still stay true to me. I was tweaking the lyrics in that song for three to four months. Once the final vocal was done and it was mixed and mastered, I was like, "Thank god!"

Many of the songs on the album are really open and vulnerable. Is that something you find easy or difficult to do in your songwriting?

It's definitely got its challenges. It’s harder being vulnerable than I thought it would be, but it's a lot easier for me to do it through music than it is to talk about it because I'm the type of person who is a people pleaser and I don't like to kill the vibe in a room talking about how I actually feel. So I think, for me, music is that outlet. It’s easier for me to sing about it than talk about it, I would say. It's still super scary. When “House with No Mirrors” came out, I had like a panic attack for four hours afterwards because of course I'm questioning, "Am I the only girl who's ever felt this way?" In today's culture, there's a lot of empowering music out there for females and I'm just not doing that and that is a little scary. But I think vulnerability is empowering too. So yeah, it's an emotional roller coaster.

I'm sure. But I bet the feedback from people listening to your music is probably reassuring, right? That they're like, I feel this way too, thank you for putting that out there.

Yeah. That is super exciting. I know I'm not alone in that. I think maybe I just release music and it's things that people aren't really talking about, but I know they’re feeling, so it's kind cool. I'm not alone in that.

This story appears in the November issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Oct. 16. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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