Sasha Sloan Reflects on Turning Personal Stories Into the Songs of Her Debut Album ‘Only Child’

Sasha Sloan is an introvert who, in recent years, has been opening herself up. Still only 25, Sloan is prolific songwriter who has written for quite the roster of notables including Katy Perry, John Legend, Camilla Cabello and Idina Menzel. The Boston native has appeared alongside artists like Kygo in the song “This Town” and Phoenix in “Kaskade.” Sloan’s debut EP, 2018’s “Sad Girl,” announced the very tone of her own solo work in its title, and was cemented even more later that year with its follow-up,“Loser,” featuring the single “Older.” In 2019, the singer-songwriter returned with her third EP, “Self Portrait”

Having now released three EPs, Sloan is making her full-length debut with “Only Child.” Awash in acoustic rhythms and atmospheric production combined with Sloan’s intimate vocals, “Only Child” is a collection of 10 songs ranging from the observant to the downright autobiographical. It is an album-length expression of her deepest melancholies. The lingering shadow of a breakup, personal battles with body dysmorphia and losses experienced by close friends are all present in the sound and lyrics. In a conversation with Entertainment Voice, the singer-songwriter talks about her personal struggles, the impact of the pandemic on her life, and the journey of making her debut album. 

You have been releasing songs since 2017, but “Only Child” is your first full-length. Take us inside the concept behind the album.

My first three EPs weren’t technically that far off from full-length albums but I felt like I still had a lot of learning to do about who I am and the kind of music I want to make. I started as a pop songwriter but I grew up listening to folk and Americana so I think I had to find a middle ground, which I think I kind of did on “Only Child,” kind of incorporating my style of writing with my taste, which I don’t think I did in my previous EPs. “Only Child” started with the title song. I had that title written in my phone for a long time. I took it into a session with my producer, Shane McAnally, who is one of the most prolific songwriters of our time, and he’s also like a big brother to me, so I’m lucky. I didn’t know how to write the song, I loved the title but I didn’t know what it meant, and he said, “oh, it gets lonely being an only child.” I was like, “oh,” and the song poured out. I thought it was a nice theme for the album.

Let’s go from concept to the very feeling of it. From the rise of Lana Del Rey leading to a long line of female doom and gloom pop artists, sadness is reigning in pop music in a big way. You have become known for your strain of this somber, sad girl pop; from your “Sad Girl” EP to your social media handles @SadGirlSloan, and reminding us that you were “sad before it was cool.” What is it about sadness in music that you find so romantic?

You know, I don’t know (laughs). I think Sad Girl Sloan started as a joke. When I was writing music for other artists the joke was that I could only write sad songs and everyone was looking for upbeat, positive songs. For me in general, I’m introverted but I’m an extrovert when I need to be. I kind of hide behind humor, I love standup, that’s all I listen to. I have a hard time talking about serious things and being emotional with people. I think the way I can express myself and have awkward conversations, or get something off my chest, is through music. I think that’s why a lot of my music is emotive. I can articulate things that would be hard to discuss in a normal conversation.

You have a handful of songs on the album that travel inside pieces of your love stories; some sad, some not. Sticking with the theme of sadness, we picked two for you to break down for our readers. Tell us what these tracks mean to you and the personal backstories that inspired them:

Let’s start with “Lie.”

“Lie” is actually the oldest song on the album. I think I wrote it about three years ago. It was written after a very fresh breakup. It’s about my ex-boyfriend. I’m the one who broke up with him. I think I’m an overly empathetic person, and breaking up with someone is not an easy thing to do. You know, both our hearts were broken for sure. I sat down with my producer and he’d also just broken up with his girlfriend and we started bonding over this, like, what we were going through and how it feels. That song was written kind of from my ex-boyfriend’s perspective but at the same time I’ve been in situations when I’ve wanted someone to lie to me, and pretend that they liked me, especially in high school. It’s kind of a mix of those two worlds. It’s interesting because that song was written three years ago and it was supposed to be on the second EP, then on the third, but I just couldn’t figure out the production. It went through so many shapes and forms. By the time it came out I was like, thank God (laughs).

And, the same question for “Someone You Hate,” from the get-go it’s such a blunt title, what does this track mean to you and what is the personal backstory?

Yeah, all the songs are very literal. A friend pointed out to me, “do you know you have no metaphors in your entire album?” And I was like, “oh, shit” (laughs). But that song’s about my ex-boyfriend too, both of those songs are. The whole song is about how you could have this best friend and a person who is such a part of your life suddenly become an enemy in a way, or a stranger, or someone you don’t talk to anymore even though you were talking to them every day. I had that title written down for a while and then I heard the guitar part and it clicked for me. That song, I feel, is very literal for me in the sense that my boyfriend moved out to Los Angeles from Boston for me. Boston is where we’re both from. The first line in the song is, “Told your mom I’ll take care of you / Loaded up the car / Drove into the dark.” Right before our cross-country trip his mom looked at me and asked, “are you going to take care of my son?” And I said “yes,” and then breaking up with him, it kind of tells the story of that. It’s just super weird to me how we haven’t talked in years and we used to talk every day.

The lyrics from your single “House With No Mirrors” were inspired by your struggles with body dysmorphia. It is an incredibly vulnerable track. What do you think a song like this would have meant to you if you had heard it when you were younger?

Yeah, it’s really funny you say that because I felt like, I dunno, I’m always conflicted when I hear songs like “Beautiful” by Cristina Aguilera or all these songs about feeling insecure but the message is you’re beautiful. For me, as a teenager, and even as an adult, I love that song but it doesn’t help me, if that makes sense, because I don’t feel beautiful. I don’t really think there are many songs that openly talk about having an eating disorder or talk about what it’s like to live with body dysmorphia. I think I have a lot of young girls who follow me and I just hope they know body dysmorphia is more common than people think, or that having an eating disorder is anxiety-based and not vanity. It’s a real mental health problem. It’s not just about “oh I want to be skinny” or wanting to look a certain way. If a song like this had come out when I was a teenager I think it would have helped me out a lot, because a lot of people have eating disorders, especially people in the spotlight, but don’t talk about it. If you don’t talk about it then you don’t really know. It’s unnatural for girls to think people are just that naturally skinny, because they’re really not.

“Is It Just Me?” touches on random thoughts that you are having while you are “high,” where you wonder if anyone shares your sentiments. With lyrics like, “I hate holding babies,” “Weddings are outdated” and “Religion is a business / Where you pay for God’s forgiveness,” what were your intentions with this song and where did the inspiration come from?

I love Reddit, it’s one of my favorite websites and I basically spend all my time on it and one of the subreddits on there is called Unpopular Opinion. It’s like a nicer version of Twitter where people have actual discussions, it’s kind of refreshing. And, so I always wanted to write a song called “Unpopular Opinion.” I had it written down on my phone as a song title idea. I turned it into “Is It Just Me?” It was kind of hard to write honestly. I wanted to make sure they were all generally unpopular opinions but also my opinions, without taking it too far, which I apparently did by saying “Friends is overrated” (laughs). We live in a hypersensitive culture, which is great in a lot of ways, but I think there’s also not a lot of room for normal discussion anymore, just a lot of hatred fueled by just wanting to bring a lot of people down. It needs to be balanced out a little bit. 

“Santa’s Real” took on a whole new direction for you as the pandemic became a worldwide crisis. You sing the lines, “I wanna live in a world / Where peoplе don’t get hurt / And everybody’s got еnough money,” in a song where you yearn for youthful fantasies like superheroes and Prince Charming. Since writing this particular track how has Covid and the chaotic state of the world personally impacted you emotionally and mentally?  

It’s an emotional rollercoaster, every day is different. I think it’s crazy we’re still in it. I thought it was crazy when they said “quarantine for two weeks,” and here we are six months later. But it’s definitely taken a toll for sure. It’s just been my boyfriend and I together every day, all day, because we work from home and we do the same thing. I think the hardest part for me is that I’m not as introverted as I thought. I do miss seeing people and being around people. It’s also hard because of how divided it’s made people. You have people now divided over wearing a mask or not, or whether they take Covid seriously or not. I feel it’s just caused more division than there’s ever been. Hopefully there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. I keep saying I miss my normal depression.

Several of the tracks from this album are your personal stories and others you sing are relatable in different ways. “Until It Happens to You” is a story of loss, but not your own. Take us inside your friend’s story that inspired you to write this and what it felt like to pen these lyrics.

My boyfriend and I have a friend and he has a cousin that he’s very close to. One day he said, “she’s been diagnosed with leukemia and is in her early 30s.” We knew her, obviously not as close as he did. And, one day she passed away. I remember him texting my boyfriend and saying, “my cousin’s passed away.” First of all, we were sad and grieving, not as much as our friend, obviously. But it was this moment where you want to offer sympathy but not fully empathize. It got me thinking about how you really won’t know what it feels like until it happens to you. That’s kind of where that song was born. I’ve never really lost anyone that’s close to me. I’ve been to funerals, but nothing like a close relative. I feel like I wrote that song to my future self for when something tragic happens, which eventually it will.

You have co-written some popular songs for artists like John Legend, Katy Perry and Camila Cabello. Writing songs that reflect your own story can be quite therapeutic. How does it feel different to you when you’re writing your own music compared to songs intended for others?

It’s almost like wearing two different hats. When I’m writing for other people I’m mostly just there helping them tell their story and helping them say what they want to say. When I’m writing for me it’s all about my story and what I want to say. You have more creativity when you’re writing for yourself, but it’s fun writing for bigger artists because so many people hear them, as opposed to me putting out a song about my life that maybe not that many people would hear.

Only Child” releases Oct. 16 on Apple Music.