An indie rocker with an emo heart, Sydney Sprague shares her thoughts on the so-called end of the world, the stories behind her new album ‘somebody in hell loves you’, and the raccoon memes that keep her sane and smiling.
‘somebody in hell loves you’ – Sydney Sprague
‘somebody in hell loves you,’ to me, is the idea that, even though a relationship can be terrible, there can still be a lot of love within it and you can still overcome the trauma together… We’re in hell together, but I love you.
As far as Sydney Sprague is concerned, we’re all survivors of a kind of apocalypse.
The pandemic represented the end of the world as we knew it, and “now we’re just kind of existing in this purgatory where everything is pretty horrible, but we’re going through the motions anyway and just living, even though we are kind of in hell,” the Phoenix, Arizona-based singer/songwriter says, a glowing half-grin adorning her face.
Whether she’s smiling out of nihilistic ecstasy or because she cracked the simulation’s code is for her alone to say; Sprague’s website does go out of its way to state that she is “making music for the end of the world” – but wherever we are and whatever you call it, there’s a great deal of truth to her words. Life hasn’t gotten any easier after 2020 – in fact, as we recall, it wasn’t much easier before then, either – but we do all seem to be a lot more numb to the pain these days.
Sprague is keenly aware of – and thoroughly dissatisfied with – this seemingly pervasive societal complacency and malaise; and thankfully, she’s doing her best to snap us out of our collective funk, reminding us how to feel, one song at a time. 2021’s debut album maybe i will see you at the end of the world laid strong foundations as it shook us awake, and now Sprague’s sophomore album seeks to make the best of the world we find ourselves living in today: Unapologetic and unfiltered, somebody in hell loves you shines a visceral, vulnerable light in the dark as Sprague rides a roller-coaster of fiery sound and feverish emotion. Her songs are achingly intimate and furiously impassioned, and whether she’s singing about anxiety, love, navigating change, loss, or anything else, she holds nothing back in exposing the fragility and embracing the raw humanity in our lives.
Out of all the broken birds
You’re the worst one that I’ve hear
You’ve got silly little problems
and I do not care about them
It’s a lot to ask of me
While you’re crying on my sleeve
Just to hand you a solution
That I don’t have one
I don’t have
I don’t have one, if I did
I would run away with it
Like a bullet speed train
Like the wind, like the wind
Like the wind I’d blow away
But you’d still find a way to chase me
Asking me to spare my savings but I don’t have one
Released September 15, 2023 via Rude Records, somebody in hell loves you is a beautifully hard-hitting fever dream from one of indie rock’s freshest voices. An indie rocker with an emo heart, 31-year-old Sydney Sprague makes sonically and emotionally charged music that leaves a lasting mark. Her songwriting style is candid and cathartic: She goes big, all the while holding her anxieties in one hand and her traumas in the other.
“It’s heavy, but in a way that feels just very good,” Sprague says of her new album.
“I try to wrap the bow around it of being a continuation from the first record, but also to me, a lot of the songs on this record are about really toxic relationships and relationships falling apart. And I think somebody in hell loves you, to me, is the idea that, even though a relationship can be terrible, there can still be a lot of love within it and you can still overcome the trauma together. So I think that was kind of the idea for me was like, we’re in hell together, but I love you.”
The resulting eleven tracks are at once refreshing, invigorating, and deeply moving. From energetic eruptions like “if im honest,” “smiley face,” and “god damn it jane” to the darker and more brooding “hello cruel world,” “big star go,” and “terrible places” (which just so happen to be placed in a row), Sprague reminds us how to feel again – even if it means letting others in to our innermost sanctums; even if it means getting our hearts broken; and even if it means having our hopes utterly crushed.
Because then, at least we’re feeling something.
somebody in hell loves you is an emo indie rock album ready to break you down and build you back up again. Dive deeper into this special new record in our interview below as Sydney Sprague shares her thoughts on the so-called end of the world, the stories behind her songs, and the raccoon memes that keep her sane and smiling all the while.
A CONVERSATION WITH SYDNEY SPRAGUE
Atwood Magazine: Sydney, we are only one week away from the release of your sophomore album. What does it feel like to be so close to having this record out in the world?
Sydney Sprague: I’m definitely feel pretty nervous about it – you just never know what people are gonna think of it. Especially only the sophomore record is always the one that causes anxiety for people ’cause it’s like you set a precedent with the first record of what your sound is, and then if you vary from that at all, there’s like the worry that people won’t like it as much, or if you stay too similar, they’re like, oh, well you’re not pushing your boundaries. So you never know what people are gonna think. So I’m a little bit nervous, but also just very excited to be crossing the finish line. Finally.
Do you think that you continued where you left off from maybe i will see you at the end of the world, or do you feel like you evolved past it?
Sydney Sprague: I think it’s a little bit of both. I kind of went in two directions on it a little bit. There’s a good half of it that’s a bit heavier than the last record. And then another half of it that’s softer and kind of more like electronic based and somber feeling. So a little bit of both.
You went from being at the end of the world, to being in hell. What does one make of that; is there something to read into there?
Sydney Sprague: I don’t know. Not necessarily. I think to me, the way that the past few years, like post pandemic have felt is that we did all kind of experience a kind of apocalypse, and now we’re just kind of existing in this purgatory where everything is pretty horrible, but we’re just going through the motions anyway and just living, even though we are kind of in hell. So that was kind of my thought process and trying to follow into the next set of songs and just like, well we, the world did end kind of, and now we’re just here.
We’ve just become more and more numb to the pain.
Sydney Sprague: Yeah, exactly. I think we’re burning and we’re used to burning and for some reason we’re still alive.
somebody in hell loves you is, subjectively, a great record. Can you share a little about the story behind this album?
Sydney Sprague: Yeah. I don’t really feel like there’s as much of a through line in the songs on this record as there was on the last one, ’cause I wrote a lot of the songs in 2020, during lockdown. So there’s a lot of songs from that time. I’ve been holding onto this one for a minute, but there’s a lot of songs that weren’t necessarily about like what I was going through at the time, which is what I feel I’m usually writing about – just like, whatever feelings I’m having at that time.
I was really bored during that time, and so I was writing a lot about things that I had still been dwelling on from my past for a long time – just like things that were going on on the Internet, that kind of stuff. I branched out a little bit more in terms of the subjects of my songwriting, and kind of dipped into some other people’s problems a little bit. Like there’s a good amount of gossip on this record. I think it’s a little more like exploratory in theme than in the last record.
You released your debut in 2021. So you wrote well over the number of songs for your first album before that record released?
Sydney Sprague: Yeah, okay, the timeline is kind of funny ’cause I made the first record in January of 2020. So those songs had all been written in like 2018 and ’19. I made the record and then the pandemic happened immediately. And so I started putting out, ‘maybe I will see you at the end of the world’ during the pandemic. I think the first single came out in June of that year. ‘Cause I was like well, we’re sitting here, I might as well just put out a record but I was writing all the new songs during that time as well, so just trying to keep myself busy. But yeah, that record came out in 2021 and I was pretty much finished with most of the writing for the second record at that time. And then we did a bunch of touring in at kinda towards the end of ’21 and ’22. And I just made the record in August of last year.
So there's a little bit of a through line in terms of the writing going on in a similar headspace, I suppose, because maybe I will see you at the end of world was actually written before the end of the world – and then lockdown – happened.
Sydney Sprague: Yeah. I try to stay ahead of the curve.
It was surprisingly prescient, given what would happen. How is your relationship with your debut album changed over the past two years?
Sydney Sprague: I love it. I still love it so much. It will always be, I think, I think it’ll probably always be my favorite. A part of my anxiety with the new record comes from pleasing other people and hoping other people like it. But I think trying to top the first record for myself is always gonna be hard. You love all your children the same amount in different ways, right? [laughs] So I’m trying to do that. But the first one holds a really special place in my heart. And just having my first touring experiences be so incredible… I put out the record during a time when people were sitting in their homes, consuming a lot of music. So I think a lot of people also really bonded with it. So getting out and playing a show for the first time and seeing so many people crying and singing along was so powerful to me. It’s my baby – my first baby. [laughs]
You wrote the second album during lockdown, but then waited to record it until 2021, which means that you probably had played a few shows before going into the studio to record it. Did that experience inform the way in which you recorded this record? I ask because, for something that was written in 2020, it is surprisingly loud!
Sydney Sprague: Yeah, I agree. Definitely. The first run of shows that we did was with the, the band from The Front Bottoms, who are just a huge favorite band of mine. I love them so much. And playing those shows was definitely like a kick in the ass. A little bit of like, okay, so this is, watching them is like, that’s how you put on a show. And the way that I feel when I am watching them play is how I want to feel. I want everyone to feel when like I’m playing a set. Like I just, there’s a joy to it and there’s like, it’s heavy, but in a way that feels just very good. So I think that I took a lot of that into the studio with me. I’m just like, okay, I need to think a little bit more about like, what it feels like to play these songs and what it feels like to listen to them live when I’m in the process of recording them.
And that definitely didn’t happen for all of the songs ’cause a couple of them are like, there’s two songs in particular, “nobody knows anything” is one and “sketching lessons,” which is the last song on the record, that I wrote without a guitar, which is something I’d never done before. And so like literally there’s no guitar in them. And I have had to kind of like, reverse engineer how I would even physically play that, or like, what do I do? I just hold the mic. I don’t know what to do. So there’s been some figuring out of that. But I think, yeah, just getting to play to these crowds has definitely made a difference in how I think about production.
If you weren't necessarily making them on guitar, were you making them on piano? Do you have a second instrument, or were you working with a melody line and lyrics?
Sydney Sprague: I wouldn’t say I “play” piano. I can like pick it. I can keyboard cut it. But it was mostly, mostly like, like synths and loops. There’s this thing called Arcade that has all these little cool loops in it, so I was playing around with that a lot ’cause I’ve had nothing else to do, and so it came from that.
It definitely informed the sound a little bit. There's almost some Killers-esque vibes to those songs.
Sydney Sprague: Oh, thank you.
What inspired the title, somebody in hell loves you? What does that title mean to you?
Sydney Sprague: I try to wrap the bow around it of being a continuation from the first record, but also to me, a lot of the songs on this record are about really toxic relationships and relationships falling apart. And I think somebody in hell loves you, to me, is the idea that, even though a relationship can be terrible, there can still be a lot of love within it and you can still overcome the trauma together. So I think that was kind of the idea for me was like, we’re in hell together, but I love you.
It's a great concept; I do appreciate that. You introduced the album with “smiley face” earlier this year; why return with that song, and what does it mean to you?
Sydney Sprague: I think I just love that song. It’s to me the most fun song on the record. It’s just so bouncy and it makes me happy to listen to. I figured, why not start off with like a good time little jam, you know?
Not to mention the line, “I'm fine, you’re fine, it's fine.” It reminds me of the meme that was going around of that dog in the burning house.
Sydney Sprague: Yes! There’s a lot of meme inspiration on this record. That one in particular. And then, I was really obsessed (and still am really obsessed) with raccoon memes, so, I just feel like that sense of humor is kind of infused within a lot of the songs, and also in the surrounding content I’ve made for the record. I hired a raccoon to be in a music video. Like I wanted to have fun with it. [laughs] It’s so good. I feel like I’ve really trained my algorithm to feed me a lot of raccoon memes.
Well, in addition to “smiley face,” you have ten other tracks on this record that hit hard and and leave a lasting mark. “if im honest” is the opening track, and you literally open the record singing, “I didn't mean to let you down or be cold. Hope I see you around when I'm old. Running out of options.” Can you share a little bit about this song and why you chose it to be the opening track on the album?
Sydney Sprague: I feel like of all of the songs, it has the hardest hitting opening riff. That was kind of the thought process there. Where originally when I wrote it, I had the, like guitar riff that happens at the top as a horn section in my head, which is something that happens a lot. I have these vivid horn melodies come to me and then when we get into the studio, everybody immediately vetoes. [laughs] So, my guitar player Sebastian turned that into a very, very sick guitar riff, and it just felt very right to open the record that way.
I love the next song, “lsob.”
Sydney Sprague: “lucky son of a bitch” is a gossip song about some people that I know in a situation that they were going through that kind of like affected everyone around us.
You later end the album with “sketching lessons,” which has the lyrics, “I set myself on fire to keep it light. I pry open my eyes to see the brighter side.” Can you share a bit about ending on such an epic note?
Sydney Sprague: Yeah, that song is actually in a lot of ways kind of a direct response or like, a continuation of the first song from maybe I’ll see you, which is, “I refuse to die.” So that song I wrote about feeling like I was spinning my wheels in life and trying really hard to do a thing, which was make records and tour, which is what I really wanted to do. And it was just kind of like, I’m gonna do it. I’m not gonna stop until I do the thing. And then pandemic happened… I’m like still trying and hoping that there’s a chance, even though I’m like maybe the most pessimistic person that I’ve ever met personally.
“sketching lessons” was my attempt at trying to write a positive song during maybe the worst time of my life, which was that I set myself on fire to keep it light. Like I’m literally making my whole life a joke, and I’m like trying to laugh at myself in the situation to try to get through it and just keep going.
One of the things I think a lot of people gravitate toward, when it comes to you and your music, is how unapologetic and unfiltered you are in your writing. Songwriting seems to be your form of self-therapy. It's very diaristic writing. Has this always been the case for you? Does it come naturally, or is it concerted effort to throw yourself, bones and all, into these songs?
Sydney Sprague: It’s always been like that. I was actually writing songs and playing them when I was 11. And even at the time, my parents were like, “Are you good? Are you okay?” Just because, yeah, it’s kind of where I go to communicate the things that I have an issue or I struggle to communicate with into like, conversation. I’m not the best communicator, personal, personally, person to person. I’m not a good talker. And, so I go to my songs to get all that stuff out and it’s definitely, it just has to happen. Like you said, it is like therapy to me. It sometimes can be very embarrassing. [laughs]
Well, this conversation's been full of laughs and smiles. Speaking of, I think one of my favorite tracks on the record is, “god, damn it jane.” This is a fun song. Are you “Jane” – are you the subject of this song?
Sydney Sprague: No! So, it’s a true story, which is not something I’ve ever done before. Like a story that’s not about myself –this song is about a Valentine’s Day, and I think it was in 2010 if my timeline is right, but it was in the mid-early 2000s. I was hanging out with a friend of mine, it was Valentine’s Day, we were both single, so we were like, “Hey, let’s watch a movie at your house.” We were gonna watch scary movies and hang out. So I went over to his house and we were watching a movie, and his neighbors next door started having a screaming argument and he had very thin walls, so it was like we were in the room with them.
And so we turned off the movie and we were just listening to this argument unfold. And they were both very clearly just super drunk. And the things they were saying to each other were so insane, because she was too drunk to do anything and he really, really wanted to go dancing. And so, at one point in the argument, he screamed at her and he was like, “God damn it Jane, I just wanted to dance on Valentine’s Day.” And we were screaming, laughing so hard. And that I just, I never forgot it. I’ve always wanted to write a song about it. I finally just found the time to do it. And, yeah, I love it. All of that stuff really happened.
So for 15 or 20 years you just held onto that line and you've been waiting?
Sydney Sprague: Just been waiting for the right time! [laughs]
Another one of my favorite tracks is “big star go,” and I'm very curious about that one.
Sydney Sprague: This is probably the broodiest of the bunch on this record. It came from a friendship that I was in that was just very… I wouldn’t say codependent, but I was giving a lot into a friendship and not ever receiving anything back. It was a very, very painful time. Somebody that I just cared about way too much and it wasn’t really reciprocated. And so that song was just like a “go away from me” kind of song.
Another song that holds nothing back is “terrible places,” which comes right after that. That song is just a gut punch. I appreciate the lack of a metaphor – that you tell it like it is. It strikes me as one that might have been hard to put on the paper just given, what you're sharing… Is it easy to be that vulnerable? Is it something that you work on and learn to embrace?
Sydney Sprague: That song actually came out so fast, because I was in such a… I was in a panic spiral because it was a situation where somebody that I loved was somewhere and that they weren’t answering their phone. And I was like, “Well, they’re dead. They’re for sure dead.” And so I was just like, this could happen, this could be happening, or this could be happening. Or they’re like in a car accident or they’re like with somebody and they don’t wanna talk to me. Or something horrible is definitely happening right now, which is kind of like, I think my default response to anything ever is just like, worst case scenario is for sure what’s happening right now. So that one was pretty easy, ‘cause it’s something I do every day.
It sounds like a lot of these songs came out very naturally. Would you say this record fell out of you, or were some of them longer in the making?
Sydney Sprague: I think all of them felt pretty easy. When I have to try hard to write a song, I feel like those are the ones that don’t make it for me. For whatever reason, I get mad at them for being so difficult, and they just never quite feel right. The ones that really stick with me are the ones that just kind of happened.
That's awesome. I've shared with you any number of my favorites from beginning to end. What tracks are you most excited for folks to hear?
Sydney Sprague: I think the first and last songs, “if im honest” and “sketching lessons,” are the ones I’m most excited to see what people think, ’cause I feel like they’re kind of opposite ends of the spectrum of the record. And maybe just the most different from what I’ve done before in some ways.
Do you have any favorite lyrics that continue to resonate you off of this record?
Sydney Sprague: I think those “sketching lessons” lyrics are my favorite. They definitely feel the most intense and very true to how I was feeling, and how I feel a lot of the time.
That's a heavy way to feel all the time.
Sydney Sprague: But it’s good. We stay light. It’s fun. To me, that was again the reference to “I refuse to die,” which is, “all I want is a big long road, and a while to go.” I just wanna be on the road. I just wanna tour and be with my friends and play songs. And that was kind of just my dream.
What's it been like getting out there with this record? How have you found playing them, live to be so far?
Sydney Sprague: So much fun. Actually the most fun, especially, “lsob” has been just like, it’s so fun to play. And I finally have my band, like, the arrangement of everybody is great. I love the people I’m playing with. They’re very talented. And I just feel like we’re really honing it in right now. So I’m super excited.
What do you hope listeners take away from, somebody in hell loves you?
Sydney Sprague: I think I mainly just hope that it takes them out of their own problems for a little while. I think that’s what I go to music for lately, is just to put myself in something so I’m not freaking out about my own shit. Just maybe a little bit of an escape.
What have you taken away from making this album and now putting it out?
Sydney Sprague: I think I’ve gone through a rollercoaster of emotions through the whole process. And where I’m at now is, I think it’s important for me to keep writing songs that I love, obviously, and to try to not take it so seriously. It’s always been something that I’ve struggled with is like, everything has to be perfect. I have to nitpick it to death. And I think I really learned on this one that like if it’s, it will come across better and it feels more natural to just do the thing and let it be what it is, versus just agonizing over every detail of it and trying to make everything very polished and perfect and look professional.
It’s more important for me that I like it, than it’s perceived as expensive or in any particular way. I think especially in the release part of the record with music videos and stuff like that, I always just drive myself insane over those parts of things ’cause I just want them to be really good. But I think it’s maybe more fun for me if I think that they’re funny and that my sense of humor comes across. So there was a lot of learning in that department this time.
Yeah, more raccoon memes!
Sydney Sprague: More raccoon memes is the bottom line of all of it. [laughs]
In this interest of paying it forward, who are you listening to that you would recommend to our readers?
Sydney Sprague: I’m gonna say Pool Kids. I just did a tour with them over the summer. It was their first headline tour, and they’re just the sickest band that I could ever imagine. They’re so good, and I feel like in some ways, kind of a similar vibe to my music. So to the people that are reading this, or if you like my music, you’ll probably like pool kids! They’re a good bit heavier. They’re pretty mathy. But also Christine, the singer, has a beautiful voice and they put on the coolest live show ever.
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