Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“My diary entries from 1998 are the same as 2018,
and it’s so fascinating to me.
I always try to keep a childlike quality to my music.
I still very much am that person.”
— Sasha Spielberg
Buzzy Lee is the new pop solo project from actress and singer-songwriter Sasha Spielberg. The daughter of director Steven Spielberg and actress Kate Capshaw, Spielberg’s ongoing indie-folk group Wardell was formed with her brother Theo. Spielberg recently released her debut EP, Facepaint (2018), under solo moniker Buzzy Lee. The album is produced by Nicolas Jaar and accompanied by music videos directed by Stefan Weinberger.
Buzzy Lee, better known as Sasha Spielberg, began writing songs when she was eight. While a student at Brown University, Spielberg formed indie dream pop duo Wardell with her brother Theo. Among other musical and acting projects, Spielberg has devoted time to her newest musical moniker, Buzzy Lee. Her debut EP, Facepaint, is produced by longtime collaborator and musician Nicolas Jaar. Praised by Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, Facepaint showcases Spielberg’s unique brand of down-tempo pop. She talks with us about her tendency toward nostalgia, embracing her unique voice at an early age, and how it feels to finally turn voice memos into music.
Where are you from?
I’m from Los Angeles, California.
When did you start making music?
I started singing when I was probably five. I began writing songs and making music when I was about 10.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I went through a big Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Spice Girls phase. Then I got into classic rock when I was about 12 and listened to Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin. I was a really big Led Zeppelin snob. I’d correct people when they spelled it Z-E-P-P-L-I-N and say they weren’t true fans. I was that person when I was 12, so annoying. Then I branched out a bit more. My brother was in the next room listening to punk, so I got all of his music through my bedroom wall, mixed with the pop I was obsessed with. Basically, it was Spice Girls and punk for my early years.
How did you get started and how do you feel you’ve evolved through your different bands and collaborations?
With Theo, my brother who I’m in Wardell with, it’s always easy to finish songs because if I can’t push forward, he sort of takes over. We have each other’s backs. We’re siblings and also bandmates which makes for a very different experience.
“Every time I’d want to get up and distract myself, I would have to force myself to finish the songs because I had about 5000 voice notes on my phone that were just ideas, not fully fleshed out.”
— Sasha Spielberg
Buzzy Lee is very personal, and I really had to finish the songs on my own. Every time I’d want to get up and distract myself, I would have to force myself to finish the songs because I had about 5000 voice notes on my phone that were just ideas, not fully fleshed out. Both projects are therapeutic because it’s music, but this project was extremely personal.
How did you decide that this is what you wanted to do?
I always wanted to be an actress when I was younger. I started doing plays in college, and I did this one Sam Shepard play where I had to sing a Patsy Cline song. I looked forward to that part of the play more than acting, and I realized then that I should probably just do music. I always wanted to be a musician, but when I was 20, I really started pursuing it. Theo and I started working together, and we started Wardell.
Tell me about your debut EP Facepaint and your collaboration with Nicolas Jaar.
Nicolas is my best friend, and I had all these songs that I wasn’t going to use for Wardell. I called him, and he said, “Come to New York, and let’s record the songs.” I flew to New York three weeks later, and we spent two weeks in his apartment making this little EP. I ate a lot of sandwiches. I cried a lot. It was constant crying and constant eating.
“I didn’t really have a plan in mind. I didn’t even have the name yet. I was just in an apartment with my best friend making music.”
— Sasha Spielberg
How did you decide to do this as a new music project?
I wanted to see what would happen if I recorded my personal songs. Then we just did it. I didn’t really have a plan in mind. I didn’t even have the name yet. I was just in an apartment with my best friend making music, and it happened very naturally.
What’s the story behind the name Buzzy Lee?
Buzzy is a nickname, and Lee is my grandma’s name. She passed away last February, and I felt such a kinship to her since we were so similar. We really adored each other. I feel bad I took her name [in that] I feel like I put a flag down. But I mean, to my cousins and my relatives, you can all take her name too. It’s not just me.
What life events have impacted you and your music the most?
Actually, my bat mitzvah. That was really my time to shine. I don’t think I’ve ever been more confident onstage. I think it’s because I was focused on the Hebrew and not my vocal range. Once I got comfortable, I was doing like Mariah scales. Then when I started taking guitar lessons and piano lessons, I could actually make a song.
I just found a video of myself when I was eight showing my parents a song I wrote called “Totally Forgot Me: Left Me In The House.” It’s kind of catchy. There are few lyrics, but it’s basically, “Totally forgot and left me in the house. I was sad. I was mad.” That was a big moment for me.
Another big moment was sharing a song I wrote on the guitar with my family and friends when I was 13. I was so nervous. All I wanted to do is sing like a proper popstar, and I was noticing that my voice didn’t have that quality that Christina Aguilara’s did. So I kind of cried afterwards, and my family friend pulled me aside and was like, “No, no, no. You have to harness this. This is your voice. You don’t want someone else’s voice. You want your voice.”
“My diary entries from 1998 are the same as 2018, and it’s so fascinating to me. I always try to keep a childlike quality to my music. I still very much am that person.”
— Sasha Spielberg
What are some things you like to address through your music?
Self doubt and falling into patterns with people or things that you love but may not be so good for you. I’ve had a diary since I was eight. My entries from 1998 are the same as 2018, and it’s so fascinating to me. I always try to keep a childlike quality to my music. I still very much am that person.
I’m constantly looking at old photos and entries and songs that I wrote when I was 15. I’m sort of stuck in the past and using it as motivation to maybe evolve into something else. But I keep falling back on the way I used to be.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Frank Ocean because he’s Frank Ocean. I’ve been re-listening to Blonde and can’t stop. I love collaborating with friends, so truly any of my friends. It feels safe and protected. It sounds so cheesy, but you can really shine when you’re in a room with your friend, even just in conversation. I would like to collaborate with more friends.
Chloe Benjamin’s novel The Immortalists (2018) presents a traveling psychic’s arrival to New York City’s Lower East Side in 1969, where she tells the four Gold children the exact dates of their deaths. This coming-of-age story follows Simon, Klara, Daniel, and Varya through their lives as they test the nature of destiny and choice.
JPEGMAFIA, born Barrington Hendricks, is an LA-based rapper and record producer. The son of Jamaican immigrants, Hendricks was raised in Brooklyn before living as a teen in rural Alabama. He created music group Ghostpop while stationed with the Air Force in Japan. After moving to Baltimore in 2015, Hendricks started making music as JPEGMAFIA, releasing three albums including Veteran (2018).
Lola Kirke is an English-American actress and singer-songwriter. She is known for her roles in Mistress America (2015) and Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle (2014), and has released three singles and one self-titled EP. She is the daughter of Simon Kirke, drummer for the English rock band Bad Company, and sister to Jemima Kirke of the HBO show Girls. Kirke is set to release her debut album, Heart Head West, later this summer.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I love painting. I have all my paintings from when I was younger. My mom was like, “We don’t want these in the house anymore, so will you please take these off my hands?” So I have all my studies from when I was 15-20 next to my refrigerator.
I did a portrait of my family friends’ nine-year-old, and I was so proud of it. When you’re in the studio, you really kind of forget what something looks like. I showed the child this portrait of her, and she cried. That’s why it’s not in her house, it’s in my house. I really like what I did with the length of her face. I’m taking commissions for children’s portraits.
I love writing and acting. My friend asked me to act in a movie for him recently, and I said “yes.” I got to do improv the whole time and a bunch of accents.
What’s your favorite book, movie, and music right now?
I like to read those contemporary books that come out real hot on the market, so I’m reading The Immortalists. But I always go back to Proust.
I’m rewatching The Comeback, that HBO show with Lisa Kudrow. And I’m watching The Handmaid’s Tale.
I feel like I missed out on seeing so many classic films. I just watched North by Northwest which I’ve never seen and all the Marx Brothers movies. I just went through a crazy Albert Brooks kick. I had never seen an Albert Brooks movie until The Muse, which I saw a couple months ago and then watched every single Albert Brooks movie after that.
I listen to such obscure music, but then I also listen to JPEGMAFIA and then this new girl Ebony. Kate Bush, always. Enya, Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye. I feel like I have so many friends who are coming out with really great songs that I just have to support them and plug them. Lola Kirke has a really beautiful song called “Monster.” I love Springtime Carnivore always, and I’ve been listening to Love The Band, Hall and Oates, and Shuggie Otis.