Sasha Alex Sloan decided there was no better time to write an entire album about her depression than during a global pandemic. Already a veteran songwriter behind-the-scenes, and with one album as a solo artist under her belt, Sloan channeled her wry, funny, and sad lyrics into a singer-songwriter record that doubles as some of the most depressing pop released this year so far. But if the success of the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Kacey Musgraves has taught us anything, it’s that depressing music can be extremely comforting, too. It’s a reminder that listeners aren’t alone with their difficult feelings, and a more honest expression of what many people are feeling today than the shiny veneer of toxic positivity.
Happy in her relationship, and therefore left with no plans for adding a breakup album to her repertoire anytime soon, a general sense of malaise was lingering for Sloan — so she dug into that. “For a while, I was scared of writing about being depressed,” she admitted during a recent phone interview following the release of the final product, her second album, I Blame The World. “Because I was in this weird state of being happy in my relationship, and not really wanting to write about that. What I was really feeling was depression. So I was like, whatever — people write whole albums about breakups, I can write a whole album about being depressed. And that’s kind of what I did.”
What started off as the inklings of a folk record pretty quickly spiraled off into her “non-hopeful” reflection on what it’s like to be a twenty-something in 2022 — global pandemic sun, mental illness moon, global warming rising. It’s not necessarily that I Blame The World doesn’t include moments of hopefulness, it definitely does, especially on the aptly titled “Global Warming,” which finds comfort in moments of relational intimacy. It’s that Sloan doesn’t deal in aphorisms or easy, optimistic answers that ring hollow.
“These past few years have just made me a different person,” she said. “I’ve always been really cynical, but over the past few years I’ve gotten really angry. Because when you just spend every day inside your house reading awful news it does traumatic things to your brain. I think that’s what I was feeling.” Since Sloan started putting out music when she was pretty young, at the age of 22, it’s also a natural progression that her second album would be more outwardly focused.
Initially moving to Los Angeles to pursue songwriting, Sloan was discovered by music industry execs on the unlikeliest of places — Reddit. After a photo she posted went viral, Sloan did what any good meme creator does, she posted her SoundCloud link. Except with a photo of her parents gentle mocking her by painting “dork” above her room in the midst of repainting their house, a cadre of devout internet fans became very involved in following along with their favorite new nerd. Her music got into the right hands, and that sense of self-deprecation has remained a thread all throughout the process.
After starting at Berklee College Of Music when she was 18, Sloan dropped out to pursue her publishing deal and moved to LA at 19 when her viral moment led to a publishing deal. “I had no idea that writing songs for artists was even a job,” she laughed. “I thought every artist wrote for themselves, because that’s how all the artists I grew up listening to did it — they just wrote their own songs. So I had a lot to learn when I moved to LA. I worked in a coffee shop, and wasn’t getting cuts for a long time. I think the first four years of LA was songwriting boot camp for me.”
That boot camp culminated in her debut album, Only Child, dropped with the not-so-auspicious timing of October 2020. Considering how hard it is for new pop stars to break out even during the best of times — and how many other people were dealing with the fallout of releasing music in what was now a dead-end year — Sloan dealt with the disappointment and got back into the studio. With tour and any live performances on hold, it was the logical thing for a lot of writers. The resulting songs were filled with the disappointment and frustration a lot of people experienced during the pandemic, as well as a renewed appreciation for her partner.
On early singles like the searing title track, or the existential, ’90s-inflected “WTF,” that tension between depression and gratitude comes through loud and clear. Other songs, like “Adult,” deal with just how difficult it has been for Gen Z and millennial twenty-somethings to transition into life on their own, as flailing job and housing markets have altered most people’s ability to take care of themselves. Elsewhere, though, like on album standout “Thank You,” Sloan finds solace in the small, everyday moments that make all the larger issues start to fade away.
“That song was written after my fiance and I were stuck in a house together for a year and a half straight,” she said. “I just wanted to let him know that I really appreciated him being there for me and the highs and lows and you know, when he didn’t have to be, because that’s — that’s love. So that was my one gushy moment on the album. But, you know, it didn’t feel gushy, it felt real.”
As Sloan continues to write and release music for herself, instead of other artists, striking a balance between those darker feelings and the lighter moments might just be part of finding her own voice. “I think with this new record I wanted to have more fun with it,” she said. “I was in such a dark place when I was writing it. When I found myself making it sonically dark, it just felt too heavy. I was like ‘how can I express myself and how I’m feeling, but make it feel more fun?’ I was thinking a lot about the live show. Only Child was a more serious side, and this newest record is more fun. The vibe is I’m rolling my eyes and smiling at the same time.”
Stream I Blame The World here.