When it comes to weaving divine synth-led sonics with gorgeous vocals and heartfelt lyricism, Buzzy Lee is one to watch.
The art of songwriting can often be for some musicians a very vulnerable and honest process. Committing words that resonate so deeply with yourself to a page, for them then to be captured in time during the creation of a song, can prove to be a rewarding and cathartic experience. In the case of Sasha Spielberg an LA-based artist under the moniker of Buzzy Lee, you can’t help but feel the raw emotion she puts into every aspect of her craft. Prior to the inception of the Buzzy Lee project, the singer-songwriter first discovered her passion for the arts in early childhood. Through her teen years and onwards, she cut her teeth by learning different instruments, experimenting with GarageBand, and started bands with a friend and then her brother, Theo. When it finally came time for the creative to start something new as a solo artist, with encouragement from friend and producer Nicolas Jaar, Buzzy Lee was born. An artistic platform that lets the singer bare some of her most introspective tales about the woes of romance, identity, and life. In 2021, Buzzy Lee dropped the debut record, Spoiled Love. A well-received LP that dealt with the aftermath of a breakup. Alongside this, Lee has also performed an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, collaborated with the likes of Denzel Curry, JPEGMAFIA, and supported HAIM on tour.
At the end of this month Buzzy Lee will be releasing her sophomore record, Internal Affairs. Stepping up from its predecessor and acting somewhat of a continuation to it as well, Internal Affairs is an album that is rich with atmosphere and thematically sees the songwriter looking for a foundation in a period of groundlessness. It’s a body of work that manages to balance elegance, wit, and playfulness with melancholic lyricism and vibrant production. Impressively, not only has the artist built a promising music career so far, she’s also spent time delving into acting, writing, painting, and co-hosts a podcast. In every facet of her life, Buzzy Lee is proving to be a thoughtful and razor-sharp storyteller.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole, Buzzy Lee discusses Internal Affairs, putting her internet history in a music video, and more.
Hi Buzzy, your sophomore record Internal Affairs is out March 31st. It’s been described that this new album is somewhat of a concluding note on a chapter of your life as your debut 2021 record Spoiled Love dealt with the aftermath of a breakup, where this new LP focuses on a period of groundlessness whilst trying to find solace in it. So when you started writing this album over a long period of time as some tracks span five years on this second album, did you always know you were going to go down this direction? Some people say that writing the second studio album is often the most difficult….
Oh my gosh, well I almost feel like there was a cheat code because so many of the songs were actually written for Spoiled Love during the time of a previous breakup, and I took them to Nico [Producer, Nicolas Jaar]. I tried recording the ideas with him and they weren’t fitting with the songs I had for Spoiled Love. I always talk about this note Nico gave me on the first record which was: during the recording of Strange Town I was so in it and I was so emotional, I was singing and the words were barely coming out and he actually paused and said “what if you did this next vocal take where you pretend you’re 85 years old and you’re just telling the story of this love affair to your grandchildren. So you’re not weeping as you’re telling it, you’re just telling it, you’re just narrating. You’re just sharing this experience. No feeling, no emotion.” I did that take and it was the vocal take we used and so with this record, I went forth with that sentiment in mind. For this new record, we use more production, I’m singing louder, It’s a bit further removed because most of the songs I wrote in 2017/2018/2019. So it doesn’t feel like as much of a diary entry. If Spoiled Love was more of a whisper, this new album is more of a shout. I think that is how I went forth on Internal Affairs.
When you said some of the song ideas date back to 2017 or 2018, I always find it interesting because sometimes certain songs or song ideas you have sit in the vault for such a long time and then when they finally release, it must be such an interesting or weird experience because I’m sure you’re now a completely different person to when you wrote that in the first place.
Oh, yes. I got married.
Thank you so much. I really fell in love with such an amazing person. These songs have so much anguish and suffering in the lyrics. I was actually making this record before I was with Harry [Buzzy Lee’s husband] and then I finished the record as I was in the middle of my relationship with Harry. So that was really interesting. This is kind of off topic but I do this thing where I collect perfume and I assign a scent to a period of three to six months so that when I’m ninety-years-old I can time travel and smell it and be like ‘oh, that was the summer of 2014’ or ‘that was the winter of 2020’. So I almost treated this record as such because I was so happy and in love with Harry and yet I was going to the studio every day and working on these songs that represented such a different version of myself, but I found it was like time travelling, I could still get back to that version of me and then come home to Harry.
I know the album single Cinderblock has been out for a little while now but I want to talk about its music video because it’s so great. I think a lot of people often try to strive for perfection when going through a turbulent time as it can be a source of comfort as you’re distracted and so focused on trying to achieve something to the highest standard ever. But then that desire to strive for perfection is a bottomless pit as it’s basically unattainable and I feel the video comments on that in a way. it seems like by the end of the video you’re a lot happier after accepting that nothing can be perfect? It doesn’t matter that the dogs weren’t well-behaved or things weren’t going to plan in the video…
Thank you so much, that’s exactly it. It’s impossible to get a dog to act, actually it is possible. There are some really great actor dogs and the naughtiest one was the pitbull, the black and white spotted one who I think was in the front, next to me. That was the naughtiest dog on set and that’s the one I loved the most. I think again, it’s the perfectionist thing but you have to let it go. I actually just saw an NPR article and I think I’m a ‘messy perfectionist’ is what I’m learning. I love beginnings and I’m so in it, I put everything in it and then once I have to actually work at the rest of the song or rewrite something or record something… I have demoitis forever. So I love the beginnings of things and it’s so hard for me to finish ideas with the same intent or the same excitement that I had at the beginning. And so with this record that was actually encapsulating the idea of owning imperfection. In the studio, I get so crazy and I think I changed my mind a billion times. I start really intently and I’m like ‘this is what we’re gonna do’ and then the second we do it, I’m like ‘Okay, wait, can we actually strip this back now?’ I’m flip-flopping constantly and in that flip-flopping, there’s so much anxiety. With this record, I actually did just let go of that towards the end. It was really cathartic in a way.
Following on from that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist show some of their internet history in a music video, where did the idea come from? And you have to tell us about what led you to search ‘what are sea-monkeys?’ and ‘cowboy couple’.
Every tab was real except the first one which is ‘dog sitting for a portrait’ and the ‘flamingos’ search but other than that everything was really my searches. Okay, did you have sea-monkeys as a kid?
No, I didn’t.
I had them as a kid. They’re almost like a formula as you put them into water and they turn into these little things but they look like micro-shrimp. Anyway, I just did not understand how that was possible how you could put something from a package into water and it turns into a living micro-organism. I was just fascinated. It was in my search history since the pandemic, I was just having one of those daily walks and I just had to find out what they are. The ‘cowboy couple’ search came from when my friend was having a birthday party and the theme was country western. Harry and I were like what is a cowboy couple? So we looked it up for costume ideas. We ended up not dressing up we just went as us, so that’s not that exciting. I just thought that was a really funny search.
As a creative that first began learning their passion for music at the age of five/six when you were learning to play the piano and sing, you then started learning guitar at thirteen. Yet what I’m curious to know about are your first experiences learning to use Garageband to record ideas/demos and then your experience of stepping into an actual recording studio for the first time…
I’ve never been asked that, that’s a great question. I started actually recording when I was seven on a recorder but it was all a capella because I thought I was a brilliant pop singer and I didn’t need the backing instruments [laughs]. So I would do a capella songs that I made up. My parents got me a record when I was probably seven or eight. I wrote an entire musical at ten years old on this recorder it was called ‘Wow it’s great to be a girl’ and it was about a bunch of girls who hung out on New York City stoop and just sang about how great it is to be a girl. I still remember all the songs. I have my lyrics though which I just found, I would write on Microsoft Word and Clippy would come up and help me with the grammar. I then got a guitar from my uncle when I was twelve or thirteen. The first song he ever taught me was Stairway to Heaven. I was almost auditing classic rock as a listener, I became immersed in it all when he started teaching me Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles, and I was just learning all these classic rock songs on guitar. I started getting into Fiona Apple and indie bands in ninth grade, and that’s when GarageBand maybe even came about. So that’s when I started teaching myself how to use GarageBand and recording with a piano or guitar. I was also obsessed with Courtney Love and Hole at one point. I remember trying to write a song like that and I will never post it anywhere. It’s so embarrassing. It just didn’t work for me.
Yeah, so I started teaching myself GarageBand when I was probably fourteen and then used it religiously. I then got to Brown University and I started working with Nico he had this other setup on his laptop. We started recording together, that wasn’t a studio but that was kind of more of my first experience where I felt ‘oh wow, this feels so real’ because it wasn’t GarageBand with the metronome and just really horribly recorded piano. After that, I was in a band with my friend Gus and we went into a recording studio in Midtown in New York City to record three songs with his guitar teacher, who allowed us to use the studio and then that was really cool. I just remember being obsessed with the idea that I could go down to a Bodega and get a tuna melt mid-recording session, and to me, that felt like a ‘Yeah, I’m a real musician’ moment. I loved this idea of recording and then getting a tuna melt which actually as a singer, that’s the worst thing you could ever get. Then finally my brother Theo and I started a band which was very casual. I walked into his room one day at the age of twenty and I asked him if he wanted to record a song and we wrote Opossum which was our first song as a band. We recorded it in a studio. Our parent’s friend very graciously lent us their studio and that felt very real. The studio had candy machines, it felt like I was in the movie Big, it almost felt like a playground but in a studio. Theo and I were just so excited to be doing that.
Simply, what particular tracks from Internal Affairs are you excited for fans to hear from the album? My personal favourite is When Can I.
That’s my favourite track [laughs]. Thank you. I was going to say that one and then I think The Last Time which is the last song on the record, those are the two I’m most excited about.
Outside of music, you’re also passionate about acting and have appeared in numerous projects over the last two decades. As your family works in the film industry, do you think you faced any self-imposed pressures or expectations to pursue acting full-time as a career when you were growing up?
Oh, definitely and from a young age you know. My thing is music and I always joke that I do acting roles as favours for friends [laughs]. Like my friend Sam Boyd who created the show, Love Life. He puts me in everything he does. He has since seventh grade. It’s just so fun for me but yes as a kid, I wanted to be an actor so badly. My mom was an actress. My older sister is an actress. My dad had a video camera all the time. So I was performing constantly like a little child maniac like I was on stage. One of my earliest memories of my performances was when I wrapped my arm in a paper towel, taped it and then got a red marker and drew on it as if it was blood. I then went downstairs to my dad, who was sitting on the couch and I started fake crying that a raptor had bitten me because there was a whole Jurassic Park upstairs and I was dealing with raptors and one had bitten me. My dad got out the video camera and filmed me fake crying and acting. He was of course like any proud father and was like, ‘Oh, you’re brilliant!’ [laughs].
So I think he started putting me in all his films. It was like a cute little tradition we did. He would cast me in little bit parts and I would always have two or three lines and it was a very sweet thing growing up. So I definitely wanted to pursue acting and with the older I got, music was always my thing, my passion, but I had such stage fright. So in my mind, acting was easier and a way to get that music part of myself out just in performance but there was a gaping hole when I got to college because I didn’t actually want to be acting. I really wanted to be doing music, but I was too afraid. And then when I started working with Nico, and then my friend Gus, it really helped alleviate stage fright and once I started performing on stage, I was like, ‘Okay, no more acting, this is it.’
Alongside music and acting, you can now add to your CV that you’re a podcaster! It’s great that you and one of your friends, Alana Haim, created the Free Period podcast series last year. How long had it been in the works? Sometimes you chat with friends and plan to work on something but it never comes to fruition because you’re busy with life or things get in the way.
I love working with my friends, I kind of mainly work with my friends. During the last album cycle, I was asked to do the Talk House podcast, which is a great podcast for creatives where they interview other creatives. They asked me to choose who I wanted to interview and I chose Alana. She said yes and then ten-minutes before we got on the podcast, she asked ‘what are we talking about?’ And I was like ‘I think we got to go rogue and talk about seventh grade’. Alana and I, when we first met, we just spoke about how nerdy, weird, and uncool we felt in seventh grade. We had both wanted to be Penny Lane from Almost Famous but we were more like Patrick Fugit’s character and we both just bonded so much over that. So we did this Talk House podcast and we peppered the interview with musical creative questions but it just kept going back to our experiences in seventh grade.
Afterwards, Alana was just like ‘that was so much fun, I want to talk about seventh grade and middle school forever with you. How do we do this?’ and I felt the same way. We met Cadence13 which are our producers, and they were very into the idea of talking about middle school, I just get to hang out with her and talk. It’s just what we normally talk about anyway, so it really doesn’t feel that different. That’s how the podcast came to be.
I’ll have to properly deep dive into it soon anyway, there are a fair few episodes available so far.
We had Dolly Alderton on the podcast who is one of my favourite writers. She’s UK based, she’s a brilliant writer. We talked a lot about London.
Some people love London, some people hate it, it’s sort of like marmite. But anyway, what would you hope listeners take from Internal Affairs once it releases at the end of this month?
Oh man, I love talking to people about shared experiences and that’s always through love for me. I just love that topic of heartbreak and relationships. To be honest, I think when I was in these past few relationships I felt so alone and I would kind of soft-pitch what I was going through to whoever would listen. I still felt very alone and then when Spoiled Love came out, the amount of messages that I received that were so encouraging and like ‘oh my gosh, I felt so alone and then I listened to this’. That sort of thing is what I always hope with any record, just to be in this together. Even though these past few relationships happened in the past, they’re still so ingrained in me, I’ll still always have this pain from them and so I just hope people can feel less alone, I guess.
Finally, if you can manifest one thing for yourself this year what would it be?
I would pick ease and serenity If that’s cheesy enough! I would pick just peacefulness. I can be so hard on myself and I want to manifest just letting everything go this next year. I already feel better at it after meeting Harry but I want to feel it even more, where I can let things go. If anything happens that’s horrible or great, either one, letting them just pass over me and not being so affected by the extremes of either, something horrible happening or something amazing happening, and just remaining very balanced.
Buzzy Lee’s sophomore album Internal Affairs is out March 31st. Follow Buzzy Lee @buzzytunes
Interview by Cameron Poole
Photography by Dana Boulos