Sloppy Jane founder and frontwoman Haley Dahl discusses her influences, music in the age of social media, Zappa, and the impact of a live performance.
Sloppy Jane’s music video for “Kitchen Store,” off their recently-released debut album, forces audiences to marinate in the stillness of a moment. It’s not action-packed; there are no quick cuts, but in its short run-time, it sets the scene in the first part of a much anticipated four-part video series.
Atwood Magazine sat down with the band’s founder and frontwoman Haley Dahl to discuss influences, music in the age of social media, Zappa, and the impact of a live performance.
Watch: “Kitchen Store” – Sloppy Jane
A CONVERSATION WITH SLOPPY JANE
Atwood Magazine: Tell me about the project, how it started and how it got to where it is now?
Sloppy Jane: I wanted to start a band when I was in high school. I actually wanted to play bass in the band. My idea was that I was gonna write the songs and then have somebody else sing them and I was gonna be the bassist, but that never really happened. It was a three piece band for a really long time in high school. It’s weird when I think about it because of course it was crappy and awkward, but I think in my head it was always what it is now. It was much larger in my head and much more interesting in my head than what we were actually doing and I always took it just as seriously as i do now. I knew that when I started, that it was what I was gonna do for the rest of my life. This band, this project, this is what i’m doing and this is everything to me. I’ve always thought about it that way and I still do.
It’s changed a million times, I’ve had a thousand different lineups. It’s always been my baby so people come and go but now I’ve embraced the nature of the band members being somewhat transient. Especially now that the band is so much larger. It’s anywhere between nine and twelve people so there’s no way that it can be a stable lineup with how much we play, but I wanna do everything all the time. I wanna be able to do as many things as if we were a three piece band. People run in and out of it a lot but I think that that’s nice.
What are some of your influences in music or in life?
Sloppy Jane: My musical influences change all the time. I’m more influenced by moments than I am by one artist as a whole. There are some obvious ones that can probably be pointed at like Frank Zappa, Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson. I love anything that feels like a full thing. I’m a very obsessive person in the way that I consume things and in the way that I consume people. I’m very much somebody that would cut off my hand and send it to somebody that I love in the mail, I’m that style of person. I’ve always consumed music really obsessively with a fine toothed comb. I would listen to the same records over and over again and watch all of he videos very intently. [I would] obsess over interviews and compare interviews to lyrics and try to figure out what everything was about and try to see the whole picture. My favorite artis are the ones that really satisfy that. People that have a lot to say and are very invested in not only promoting music but [also] a story that overarches their entire career. [Artists] that usually have some kind of image packaged with [their work] like an incredible live show or incredible music videos. All the things that I like are very large, very strange, and very committed in the way that they can satisfy a listener that just can’t get enough. The stuff I strive to make is like that as well. I would want somebody like me to feel satisfied when rifling through everything. So I don’t have a particular genre or a sonic power that inspires me. I pull from a lot of stuff but it’s all about really trying to create something that is an entire thing and not just a collection of songs.
Zappa was really formative for me. The thing that I love about him is that he has this boundary-less quality to his body of work. What he did expanded so far beyond one band or one genre. The amount of mediums that he worked with like film, symphony orchestra, rock band, etc. When you hear him talk about it, it wasn’t like he was talking about doing something impossible even though the things that he did should have been so impossible. It’s really inspiring to me when I have an idea that feels too big or too hard to do, remembering that people have done things like that. It gives me permission to think big knowing that somebody like him existed and I think he’s very important to me for that reason alone. [Like Zappa,] I also don’t drink or do drugs so i think that it’s cool watching weirdos exist who break the stereotype of what a “rock musician” should be.
Can you talk a little bit about your choice to be sober?
Sloppy Jane: I had to give up partying very early on. I’ve been sober for almost a year now and it isn’t even because, I don’t know, I never had a drug problem or a drinking problem. It just stopped being something that made any sense to me. I don’t really like that it feels like you have to be some kind of crazy party person to be making music, especially in this day and age. In the 60s and 70s people didn’t know how harmful drugs were and people in music were making a lot of money so there was more of a cushion to be having a crazy time. Now it just blows my mind that people are still trying to fulfill that image because it takes so much money and so much effort and so much time to have a band and to be doing well and to tour. You’re doing everything yourself. You’re driving your own van, you’re shipping your own merch, you’re doing everything yourself for years and years and years so I don’t understand how people do it. I don’t understand how people go on your and drink every night, that’s just insane to me. There’s so much work to be done and everything suffers if you’re tired. Why would you want to feel like that?
[Drinking] just reminds me how tired I am. I stay up for so many hours and work on so much stuff, if I drink half a beer I’m gonna fall asleep. I think that honesty it makes you think things are cool that aren’t cool and it gives you permission to stay in situations that you hate. The one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve stopped drinking is that I don’t stay in places that I hate anymore. I started realizing how much I used to drink in order to just tolerate a situation that I didn’t want to be in. You can just leave if something sucks, and in fact you should. There are so many boring bands and so many heinous social situations that you really shouldn’t support. I don’t watch bad sets anymore. I used to stay [through bad sets] because it was a friend or a friend of a friend or I was with my friends or something, I would stay and watch even if I was bored and I would waste half an hour to 45 minutes of my time. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t support things that suck. I’m not interested in anything that doesn’t amaze me. If I feel like I can look at my phone or if I’m wondering who’s standing near me, or care about anything other than what I’m watching, than it’s not worth it. I feel like the standards for art are terrifyingly low right now, especially in underground music. It’s a vicious cycle because people stay and watch and congratulate people who did something boring and the people who played that set are being done a disservice honestly. They’re being told that what they did was good enough, so they don’t feel pushed to try harder and become better.
People congratulate themselves for nothing all the time and I think it’s a symptom of this large problem that we have right now in a society that’s based around the internet where the emphasis is on producing content. People feel pressured to put things out and to have things be released. I think that people forget that making something is the good part. Releasing something feels crummy. It doesn’t actually feel like anything. It’s turning something that was a giant effort– extremely emotional, extremely involved, a lot of money, and a lot of time– and now it’s wedged between a picture of the crappiest president and a picture of someone’s crappy breakfast and it’s meaningless. Allowing your heart to be in releasing something is really poisonous to making something because it gives you no incentive to make it good. You should be making things based on what is satisfying to make and you should drag out the process as long as you can because that’s the part that’s important. After that it’s just numbers, it’s crap. I think that’s why a lot of stuff is bad right now because people aren’t trying to affect themselves they’re just trying to put stuff out.
The music video that was just released for 'Kitchen Store' is very deliberate and drawn out. Do you think it’s sort of your way of combating the nothingness of putting something out? Making your audience sit and marinate in the moment?
Sloppy Jane: Absolutely. I’ve had a few conversations with people when I would send them the videos where they would say stuff like, “There’s not enough going on”. I think that catering to the extremely short attention spans of the internet bred generation is not something that i’m interested in doing. All you have is your story and your feelings. That’s it. All that you actually own are the things that have happened to you and the things that you feel and those are the points of being alive. You don’t need to sell them short. Part of [the story] is in the stillness and this feeling of being itchy. I read a review once where someone was saying mostly nice things about the record, but they said that “Kitchen Store” felt unnecessary, like a long drawn out sketch. But that’s how it’s supposed to make you feel. Otherwise I would have made it more developed. I’m making choices that are there for a reason. I spend a long time on what I do, it’s all intentional. There’s a reason it’s just the same lyrical phrase over and over again and that there’s weird things threading in and out. It’s trying to create a sonic atmosphere of a certain emotion and a certain experience and the video just underlies that. It’s not supposed to overstimulate or sell you something. I’m not a salesperson. I’m just showing you the information. It’s shot well, the shots were thought out and we spent a long time on them and talked about them a lot. You’re supposed to pay attention to it, you’re supposed to sit there and watch it even though it’s not action packed. If you watch any great films or listen to any great record, they take a long time to set scenes. To me that kind of stuff isn’t a problem and it’s always kind of disturbing to me to get that kind of criticism that there isn’t enough going on. It’s not a commercial, I don’t want it to be, I love how it came out.
This project has so many different styles and themes weaving in and out, coming together to make this record, what does the writing process look like for you?
Sloppy Jane: My process really changes all the time. I don’t have one specific [writing process]. For Willow, all of the lyrics were taken from journal entries from a couple of years of my life. I had a soundscape that I wanted to work with. Me and Sarah (a friend, and former bandmate) worked on it and neither of us really knew what we were doing but we knew how we wanted it to feel. I wanted the record to have an arc before the songs were written. I had all of these weird charts that I drew all over my wall of the progression that I wanted it to have and the different things I wanted to include. I messed around with different orders and ways of doing things. My process depends a lot on the intention and I generally write in a way that will teach me the most. If you leave me alone with any instrument or software i’ll figure out how to make something with it.
How important is the performative aspect to you in terms of getting the meaning of your work across to audiences?
Sloppy Jane: It’s really important to me. Once in a while we get slapped on a label of performance art which I don’t like because I don’t think that that’s what we are. We’re very much a band that’s musical, but the performative aspect is really important to me. I think it should be more important to everyone. It used to be the standard that a band would have a stage presence. If you look at James Brown, his stuff as meticulously choreographed. There was a man that he had in his band for almost a decade that was his “cape man”. During “Please, Please, Please” he would come on stage and throw a cape over him like a tired bull at a bullfight. That wasn’t seen as performance art. That was just having a good show! I think people are losing sight of the live element of having a band right now and I think that’s sad because live performances are kind of all that we have right now to affect people. As great as recording can be everything is on a computer right now. It’s so accessible and people can spend a thousand years and pour their hearts into [their music] and people will listen to it with one ear on a crappy headphone while they’re stalking someone on twitter and doing twenty other things. It’s hard to get people to actively listen to you on a computer or on a phone, but you can do it with a live show if you do a really good job. So a live show is really the only half hour window you have with an audience to make people care about what you’re doing in a real way and to get across what you want to say without being interrupted.
Our live show right now is a version of the record that runs about 40 minutes and there’s no starts and stops whatsoever in the entire set. I can try until my face turns blue to tell people they should listen to the record all the way through start to finish without distractions but people are not necessarily gonna do that. But I can make sure that everyone who comes and sees us live or whoever walks in on accident, hears the record start to finish without interruptions and has a visual element that brings them into it. So the performance aspect is very important to me and I care a lot about it.
A big reason why I make music is because I’m very overactive in my brain. It’s hard for me to be calm and I love playing shows because afterwards I’m so tired. I like to work ‘till i fall asleep. Playing shows is awesome because I throw my entire everything into it and my goal is to go so hard that afterwards I just have no energy left. I feel like people are missing out on how fun that is. It’s a really good feeling to tire yourself out. I think you’ve done yourself a disservice as a musician if after you play a show you have the energy to chill out and drink a beer and stay up all night.
:: stream Willow here ::
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