Interview: Sasha Spielberg on Her Alter Ego Buzzy Lee and the Rise + Fall of That Thing Called Love

“I love love,” Sasha Spielberg tells us as she reminisces on the past couple of years. She’s been through all the stages of it: the falling, the breaking up, the making up. Then doing it all over again with someone new – twice just during the pandemic. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s of course what inspired her new album Spoiled Love, her first full-length as a solo artist otherwise known as Buzzy Lee

It is a moody, textured, melodic listen, heavy on piano (composed and performed by Spielberg), percussive and chilling at times, warm and fluid in others. Just as with her EP Facepaint, her Buzzy Lee presents a more personal, intimate look at her life. (Before going solo, she performed in a band called Wardell with her brother, Theo, amongst other projects.) On Spoiled Love, she went even deeper, opening her diary to a moment in time when she was in love and then she wasn’t. But intertwined in the downtempo sound and self-reflective lyrics is some lightness, a wink at the absurdity of it all. 

Lyrics like “In a bar all made of nickel and dime / That’s where he loves me best,” from “Strange Love,” take us on the road with the couple as they flee the city life and leave it all behind.

“He wanted to wrap me up in woven blankets and have me wear denim on denim and cowboy boots and make me play his 1972 Gibson,” she says of her ex. “I would go up to this place with him – this strange town. We’d go about three times a year and that’s where I could be who he wanted me to be.”

The construct ultimately wore thin. Spielberg didn’t want to leave it all behind. Instead of morphing into a caricature of his ideal, she turned the whole experience into music – and one very funny music video. 

Image by Brantley Gutierrez

‘Strange Town,’ directed by Jeff Leeds Cohn, is meta performance art: a music video about shooting a highly self-conscious music video starring a certain bohemian archetype. Long vintage gown, wading through waist-deep water, arms fluttering in interpretive dance moves…you get it.

“I had the idea, like, that it’s a music video with a deeply inept cinematographer and everything goes wrong,” she explains, Scenes show Spielberg pacing in a parking lot in Crocs, ranting on her cell phone about the shoot, and panicking after feeling something slimy rub up against her in the murky water.

It’s an unexpected spoof, and as the song suggests, what happens when a young starlet refashions herself in the image of others. Self-aware, funny, refreshing – not necessarily what one might expect of the offspring of Hollywood’s most upper echelons. She is, as the name suggests, Steven Spielberg’s daughter. 

She manifested the Buzzy Lee character as a direct response to her familial ties. While being the daughter of Hollywood elite (the man directed Jaws! Jurassic Park! ET!) comes with its privileges and, indefinitely, media attention – it has its own trappings. 

“Truly I started Buzzy so people wouldn’t see the last name first,” she says bluntly, joking that she almost named her solo act Spielberg’s Daughter so the headlines could write themselves. “Of course in every headline, every article is Spielberg’s daughter and then in France it’s la fille de Spielberg. I’m so used to that at this point… but I get very shy and am incredibly guarded and have imposter syndrome and ‘Do you like me for me?’ and that’s been forever.”

She much prefers, in regards to her music or waiting in line at the pharmacy or boarding a plane at the airport, to remain completely anonymous. As Buzzy Lee, she hopes people can stumble on her work by way of a soundtrack or playlist, not just because she’s a celebrity kid. 

“I’m so grateful that people can listen to the music and really relate to it without knowing who I am. To me [it’s] the greatest feat.”

While her parents played a significant role in who she became – she is very close with them to this day – she credits her musical partners with helping find her sound. 

On Spoiled Love, it’s the sonic influence of Nicolas Jaar, a musician and producer Spielberg met in college. His electronic synth-y beats feel soulful, adding depth and nuance to Spielberg’s emotive soprano. The two met their first week at Brown University and started making music together a few years later. 

“We started Just Friends, which was this little tiny duo project. Then he did this amazing five-hour improvisational show at MoMA PS1 in Queens. I was the singer for that. We did Mutek [a music festival] in Montreal. We got to a point where we actually couldn’t not make music when we were in the same room.”

Fatefully, after the official breakup with The Boyfriend in 2018, Spielberg found herself in Turin, Italy, visiting Jaar. Emotionally raw yet creatively charged, fresh off a European tour, Spielberg sat at his piano one night and just sang. 

“I had been in the studio with a bunch of different producers in Los Angeles and New York,” she recalls, “trying to find the one for the album. And I got to Nico’s and… the way he recorded my voice and piano was just so intimate and was exactly what I wanted.” 

Three trips to Italy later and the album was complete. This was in March of 2020. Then Covid struck. She decided to hold off releasing it. She sat on it for over a year, hoping things would change, that she could revisit her plans for a tour; but as we all know, things didn’t change – at least, not fast enough. 

“I needed to release this,” she says, “The person it’s about already had a baby. I couldn’t wait until he was on his second!”

So she put it out into the world and since then has had something of a cathartic release. 

“The second the record came out I actually just felt so happy for him and his life,” she says of her ex. 

I ask if he’s heard the record and she pauses, looking slightly stunned. “I have no idea!” She doesn’t need his approval, surely, but she does hope he likes it, considering it’s mostly about him. “I do really have lovely feelings towards him and I think that’s from the release [of the album}.

She’s already back in the studio, working on her second full-length as Buzzy Lee. She’s also, not surprisingly, in love again. 

“I went through another breakup during Covid,” she reveals, “then I met truly the love of my life [who] I’m with now. The intimacy of getting to know someone during Covid, and I hope it’s the same intimacy getting to know a record, that’s what it’s been like for me. You have no distractions. There’s nothing around you except that person.”

Spielberg admits she loves the beginnings of things – songs, books, relationships – which can lead her down the path to all-consuming romance again and again. It’s what the best songs are written about anyway: love and heartache. Why not collect all the material one life can hold?

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