Record of the Week: Blondshell’s ‘Blondshell’

Listening to Blondshell’s self-titled debut can feel like a punch to the gut. The relatability in Sabrina Teitelbaum’s lyrics may explain the instant buzz behind her latest project. Channeling the angst of ‘90s alt-rockers like Hole, The Cranberries and PJ Harvey, her sharp-tongued one-liners are backed by riffy guitars and scant drums, highlighting the emotion in Teitelbaum’s vocals.

The coming-of-age record hones in on searching for intimacy while dating sleazy men and partying too much. Written in the midst of the pandemic, Blondshell covers the gambit of fragile topics from addiction to heartbreak and violence against women, but Teitelbaum says it was never intended for a real audience. Perhaps this allowed her to comfortably write these unabashedly vulnerable songs, not even considering (much less fearing) exposure. In Blondshell‘s liner notes, Teitelbaum describes the album’s heavy riffs as a “protective shell” for this vulnerability. One thing is for sure, Blondshell is writing arena-sized anthems for a new generation of angsty alt-rock fans.

Watch Blondshell perform “Joiner,” “Kiss City,” “Veronica Mars” and “Sepsis” off Blondshell live at WNXP’s Sonic Cathedral.

On the Record: A Q&A with Blondshell (Sabrina Teitelbaum)

Emily Young: We are live in our Sonic Cathedral. I am joined by Sabrina Teitelbaum, who performs as Blondshell. How are you?

Sabrina Teitelbaum: I’m great. How are you?

EY: I’m so good. Thank you so much for being here. So you’ve been making music for a decade or so, under a lot of different names and monikers. Could you tell me a bit about how Blondshell came to fruition?

ST: Blondshell came to fruition in the pandemic. It was really like, finally, I’m in isolation and nothing matters, so I’m just going to make the music that I want to make, and nobody’s going to hear it kind of a thing. So all the songs were songs that I was like, “I’m not going to show this to anybody.” And then somehow, I decided to show them to everybody.

EY: Well, I have to say how much I enjoy playing, “I think my kink is when you tell me that you think I’m pretty” on the radio. But obviously these lyrics are quite personal. How has it felt to publicly be this vulnerable, especially since you didn’t think anyone would hear it?

ST: Well, it’s fine with people that I don’t know. That doesn’t bother me. The thing that is difficult is family and close friends, because you have to then look at them and see them and talk to them and they bring up the music, and you have to justify it and explain it. So that’s been a challenge, but also a growing experience.

EY: Yeah, you have to be like, yes, that does say, “look me in the eye when I’m about to finish.”

ST: Which made me exceedingly uncomfortable. But then, I tried to block them on social media, I tried to do the whole thing and I was finally like, they’re just they’re going to hear it.

EY: But that song specifically really skyrocketed you to the public eye, too, so there was really no hiding from that one.

ST: Yeah, it was just this weird thing where I obviously want people to hear the music that I’m making. But I also was like, I don’t know, I wouldn’t hate it if this didn’t go anywhere with the song, because then my family wouldn’t hear it.

EY: Well there’s very clearly some early aughts indie era influences, also some Britpop influences. Can you tell us a bit about some of those musical inspirations and influences you’ve got in your life thus far?

ST: I listened to a lot of those early aughts and ‘90s records growing up, and then I sort of forgot about them for a long time. And when I was in that isolation period, like right around the time that I wrote all these songs, I saw, I think it was Miley Cyrus covering “Doll Parts.” And I just dove back into that record and all of the sort of ones that are in that same subgenre of ‘90s rock. There was a lot of anger that I related to. And I think I felt like I love these songs, but also I want to have songs that are specific to my experience that get out the same kind of anger. And so that was the place that I wrote a lot of them from.

EY: So can we expect some Hole covers during your live show? Now that’s what I want to know.

ST: You can expect a Cranberries cover.

EY: We were talking a bit about this offline, but we recently had Samia in the studio, who you’ve known for years. And she spoke a bit about the influences of the New York DIY scene and now being in Nashville. Can you talk a bit about some of those creative communities you’ve been a part of and how that has influenced your sound or your creative process?

ST: Yeah, I think it’s hard to always draw a really straight line from like this person influenced me to make songs this way. But I just think being around people that I respect a lot as artists makes me inspired to make music that’s authentic to me. I think something with Samia, for example, is I feel like in her writing, she sees a lot of beauty around her and she writes about it so specifically. And listening to her album that came out last week, I’ve been like, OK, I want to write about the love around me and the beautiful things around me, too. And so I think things like that just in these sort of tangential ways it comes out, this sort of community influence.

EY: So now that you’re on the road, these people, all of your fans, have sat with this music for a while, so you’re kind of seeing them for the first time, maybe knowing all the words to these songs. How has that experience been for you?

ST: It’s really cool and it makes me feel more comfortable. I think during these shows when people are there knowing the words and singing these songs, it creates an opportunity for me to get these emotions out and heal from certain things. And it’s just a different kind of thing to try to do that collectively and it feels really special. So I feel really lucky to get to do it again.

EY: I feel like these lyrics really land with everyone. Did you really anticipate that happening? Well, I guess not, because you thought you weren’t writing this for anyone to hear?

ST: Yeah, I thought absolutely no one would hear it, so I did not.

EY: Well, we love to play it on WNXP for everyone to hear. Thank you so much, Sabrina, for being here.

ST: Thanks for having me.