“The Ridiculousness of Feelings”: A Conversation with Sloppy Jane

Sloppy Jane - 2021
Atwood Magazine sits down with Haley Dahl of Sloppy Jane to talk about her new release, signing to an old friend’s record label, and upcoming album ‘Madison.’

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I want people in general with my music to keep an open mind about what “beautiful” means. I’m very often written off as being creepy or weird or unsettling because there is a lot of dissonance in what I make. But there’s beauty in dissonance, and if people are willing to adjust their definition of what is beautiful they might have a better time with the record.

Step into the Lost World Caverns of West Virginia. Haley Dahl treads the ground of the Cro-Magnons in her music video for “Party Anthem,” her stunning new single off forthcoming album Madison, out November 5 via Saddest Factory Records.

Madison – Sloppy Jane

If anything, the track is more appropriate for the walk home after a party. Recount your drunken blabbering and disastrous dress choices to the bold and beautiful sound of this latest single. The rich warmth of Dahl’s voice wraps you in a sympathetic hug, and the high-flown instrumentation is so epic that you scratch your head wondering if the “la la la’s” are validating your fears or mocking them. It’s comforting and convicting. Fans can breathe a sigh of release, for Sloppy Jane always delivers. 

Founder and figurehead Dahl is masterful and thorough in her art. Whether it be her captivating images, purposeful lyricism, or astounding instrumental arrangements. This flair translated seamlessly into her intuitive and illuminative personality, which Atwood Magazine peered into as we ventured into recent news and anticipated endeavors.

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Listen: “Party Anthem” – Sloppy Jane


Atwood Magazine: Thank you so much for your time! How are you? How have you been using this forced-introspection time as an artist and an individual?

Haley Dahl: I’m pretty good. I feel like I’ve been training my whole life for this situation. I hate being touched or touching anyone and I like to spend most of my time alone, so I’ve been fine. I’ve missed performing a lot but my day-to-day life doesn’t feel that impacted, cause I’m mostly just by myself.

You shared some really big news recently. Congratulations on your signing to Saddest Factory Records! How does it feel to be part of longtime friend and former bandmate Phoebe Bridgers’ label?

Dahl: I’m just really excited. Me and Phoebe have obviously been friends for a really long time. I like putting the same ideas through a rock tumbler over and over again, until they’re shiny and smooth and fully realized. I think a part of that is like, kind of having… I don’t want to say the same friends forever because I think more people enter the room, but it’s just nice and comforting to continue to work with the same people who already understand what I’m doing. And Phoebe is definitely that kind of person, we’ve just known each other a really long time. And to be working with somebody who is like a personal friend but then also like with the resources of Dead Oceans is a no-brainer.

Yeah and obviously Sloppy Jane is this huge effort. How would you say that connection and collaboration relate in your music and performances?

Dahl: Well you know, it’s interesting, because kind of like I said earlier, I’m not a very intimate or social person. I guess I’m not when I feel like it doesn’t have a purpose. I think the way I make friends best, and lifelong connections and people I care about, is through doing projects. You know, Sloppy Jane and all of the stuff that happens is my own ideas and the music is fully arranged by me. We have a lot of people go in and out of it, so it’s not necessarily a collaboration conceptually, but there are so many hands on it and so many people it wouldn’t work without: my collaborator, Mika, who does all of our video stuff and has done all of our video stuff for Madison, our old drummer now guitar player, Al, and Bailey. Just people who keep it going and really believe in everything we’re doing.

Sloppy Jane © Sara Cath

It’s got to be great to have how many hands on deck? 20?

Dahl: (laughs) It changes all the time. But yeah, the band is a huge effort. The thing that I like to say a lot is there’s more stuff on stage but there’s also more people to take the stuff off stage and set it up. I think that it evens out. I also think when I see how other people’s bands and projects operate with smaller people, ego plays a really big part in smaller group dynamics, in a way that it doesn’t so much for Sloppy Jane. When there’s so many people, it just has to be really organized. We’re never late to anything, no one is allowed to drink on tour, no one’s allowed to do drugs ever, it’s very machine-like and hive-minded. It runs pretty efficiently.

Would you say that’s by your design, or is this a group decision you all came to for the good of Sloppy Jane?

Dahl: It’s definitely by my design (laughs). It has its own momentum, though. I’m really neurotic and I need to be on time for everything. I wake up at like five in the morning every day, and I’m just a very structured person. That bleeds into my projects, obviously. Over time, everyone who is in the band is similar. There was a little turnover in the beginning of the mindset, maybe some people were eye-rolly about me not handing them drink tickets until after they played. But at this point, everyone who joins the band already understands the vibe and is looking for that. I think that people can get really fatigued in rock music or indie music when wanting to do something serious and there’s so much partying. For some people that can get really discouraging or tiring, and those people are good fits for something like Sloppy Jane.

This brings us to your new era. Can we talk ‘’Party Anthem’’? It’s gorgeous and so different from what you have done in the past. What inspired the song?

Dahl: It was actually one of the last ones I wrote for the record, but the entire record was written as a grand gesture for somebody who I was trying to make love me. Some of the lines in “Party Anthem” are about that, an unrequited love, the idea that if something never happens then it doesn’t end. Kind of being in this cycle of continuously caring about somebody, because you can’t break up with somebody who you never were with. It’s about a lot of stuff, it starts out being about body dysmorphia, just feeling gross. Wedding pigeons, a lot of times they overeat the rice that gets thrown and it makes them bloat up a giant and explode on their insides.

That’s what the wedding pigeon body thing is about, I guess like eating rice (laughs). The idea of having all of this baggage, inhibiting me from interacting socially or normally — this is from a lot of things in my life. I grew up in a wacky, gross house. I was a stripper in my early adult life, and I just feel like I never learned how to be a normal, clean, person, until kind of now. I always feel really gross and I’m self-conscious about feeling gross. “Party Anthem” is this weird story where going to a party and feeling like the most disgusting person there. Somebody you love is ignoring you, and all of this stuff. The sleeping policeman line is about — I think it’s this word used in the UK for like speed bumps in the road? Every time your car hits a bump, you think you ran over a human being. I guess like dragging this block of cement to a party and begging everyone to forgive you for killing someone. It’s a little bit convoluted, but it makes sense to me.

Sloppy Jane © Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

The chorus centers around this epic apology. You kind of touched on this, and I think it’s really interesting that you use cleanliness in this sense. Was this more of a personal struggle or was this a general, let’s say generational or societal message?

Dahl: Personal. I never really try to write music that is political or societal commentary. I think everything does that by accident because we’re all living in this world that exists. So when you write about your personal experiences, that is talking about the world, I guess.

One thing that stood out to me in comparison to your older tracks is that ‘’Party Anthem’’ has this big, bombastic, vaudeville sound. What were some of your specific influences here?

Dahl: It’s kind of a combination of things. Obviously, we recorded it in a cave because I like natural reverb. I mean, f*** Phil Spector but the “Wall of Sounds” method. That was one of the initial influences. All of that kind of music, there’s a song Phil Spector recorded of Tina Turner’s which is so crazy and huge, like taking the same chord and spreading it out really wide over a lot of instruments. Old pop stuff, like Roy Orbison, is a huge influence. Vegas stage ballad Elvis is a big influence. Also, with all the key changes and chord stuff at the end is honestly super like My Chemical Romance.

(laughs) That’s awesome. So you’re going to lump in Roy Orbison with My Chemical Romance?

Dahl: (laughs) In some ways they’re the same. I’m not saying everything good is the same.

Sloppy Jane © Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

Well, everything good is emo.

Dahl: Everything good is emo.

Can you tell me about your recent fascination with caves?

Dahl: Doesn’t feel recent to me (laughs). I got really into caves starting 2017, when I decided I would make this record and I’ve been working on it ever since. It started off with me listening to a lot of oldies music and I wanted to make something similar. I got really into reading about the “Wall of Sound” and Phil Spector’s recording methods. I didn’t have access to an echo chamber. Like, I didn’t have any money or any resources to do something like that. So I started looking into natural reverb options. I started having this idea of recording in a cave. It sounded obvious to me, almost cliche. The image is so clear, a piano and a cave and that being a super goth and dramatic thing. I did a bunch of research and found out that no one has made a record in a cave. My favorite ideas are the ones you’ve heard a million times but have never been done.

It just felt like an obvious one to me, so I decided to do it. I hadn’t been to any caves in my adult life at the time. I didn’t even play piano at the time or know how to write for string instruments. But I made this declaration that this is what I want to do. I’ve visited over fifty caves. They’re incredible. There just isn’t a lot of the world left that hasn’t been seen by people and all of the stuff that’s left to explore is deep in the ocean or way out in space, you have to be a multimillionaire. But you can still explore caves and passages that have been growing for millions of years that no human has ever seen. I don’t explore caves to that level at this point, but that really draws me to them. I feel the same way with music and art, that it’s really hard to find ground that hasn’t been tread a million times. Working in a cave was something new I could do without being a millionaire. I mean, it was expensive to make but most of that was just lodging people. It was something giant I could do without being famous already.

I was really drawn to your theatrics, you can give us a masterclass in all of that! Dance moves, facial expressions, etc. Your live performances, whether they be misunderstood by namely, men or lauded upon, are legendary. Where did this theatricality come from? Are you excited to revive it for shows?

Dahl: I’m so excited for the new show! It’s gonna be different from what I’ve done. People ask me “are you already sick of all this music?” but I’ve never even gotten to make a show out of it. That’s where you learn to get sick of something, after touring it. I’m so excited to be putting together a live performance because that’s one of my favorite parts. All of my theatrics, it’s just kind of naturally who I am as a performer. Not to say I don’t work on stuff really hard, because I do. I started the band when I was fifteen, and I was very performative then. All of my favorite musicians and the people who inspire me are very theatrical and character-based. I think that going into making music I already knew that was how it was going to be.

Sloppy Jane © Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

Sloppy Jane is a very personal project for you. Do you find it cathartic or helpful to use characters or play upon those things?

Dahl: Definitely. I mostly just turn up the volume on the way I already am. My gestures on stage have to do with things I already do or tics I already have. I just turn it up and let it take over. Not to be this guy because I think it’s kind of cheesy, but I think it’s like the highest version of myself to be performing on stage. All of the things people usually find grating about me are now celebrated. I can scream and throw myself around or conduct the band to be dramatic, where I get to be fully in myself. This is super Aquarius, which I am, but I am not very intimate or social, though I do love performing and entertaining. It feels like the only time I can be vulnerable.

My interview prep did not include your zodiac sign, but now it all makes sense (laughs).

Dahl: I know you’re supposed to care about everything else in your chart, but I am the most Aquarius. I feel fully like I match Aquarius. I have a lot of Sag in my chart too.

Well you’re speaking to a Cancer-Capricorn all the way. So your next album Madison is out November 5. What can we expect? What are you trying to, for lack of a better term, accomplish with this record?

Dahl: I think I want to inspire people to do a lot (laugh). Musically, I feel like it establishes the things that are actually what I find signature in the work I make. I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how Madison and Willow are very different. In some ways they are, but that’s also a question of what is definitive about them. For me, the things that are definitive of what I make are not that I make guitar based music or music where I scream, or something. There are a lot of shared elements between Willow and Madison. I write albums in sequence. I map out what I want the arc of a record to be and I write to follow that. I have lists of motifs I’m going to use, sort of like I’m going to write a symphony or something. It’s really structural. That’s true in both records. It’s done differently, but there’s lots of crowd-chattery or choral stuff. The “la la las” in “Party Anthem” are similar to Willow. There’s lots of descending lines and I do play with music that goes in and out of lucidity. Stuff like tempo changes, key changes, or crazy left turns. I think Madison does a lot of what Willow does but in a more polished way, with prettier instruments and grander themes.

All of the things people usually find grating about me are now celebrated. I can scream and throw myself around or conduct the band to be dramatic, where I get to be fully in myself. This is super Aquarius, which I am, but I am not very intimate or social, though I do love performing and entertaining. It feels like the only time I can be vulnerable.

Sloppy Jane © Mikaela Lungulov-Klotz

What do you want listeners to keep in mind or take away while listening to Madison?

Dahl: I want people in general with my music to keep an open mind about what “beautiful” means. I’m very often written off as being creepy or weird or unsettling because there is a lot of dissonance in what I make. But there’s beauty in dissonance, and if people are willing to adjust their definition of what is beautiful they might have a better time with the record. The record is sad, but it’s a melodramatic almost cartoonish sadness. I hope that people listen to it and feel heard in the ridiculousness of feelings.

Right. It’s much easier to get through anything or process it when it’s a commentary.

Dahl: (laughs) Definitely. There’s lots of cartoonish imagery or instrumentation that is crazy and out there. A lot of times we negotiate with our own toxicity. But sometimes the answer in emotional situations is to just let yourself feel something and look at it in all of the ridiculousness.

For better or worse.

Dahl: For better or worse. I only think honesty is only for better.

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