Sasha Spielberg’s voice commands attention from everyone in the room, and her quirky dance moves make it even harder to look away. As her brother Theo says, her hands do a little dance of their own as she twirls them in the air, “nailing down some sort of witchy, gypsy, conductor” persona.
“That is so true! I do these like weird things with my hands. It’s true, it’s like I’m working on my brew,” Sasha replied.
The sibling duo, Sasha and Theo Spielberg, make up the indie-folk-pop band Wardell, which is quickly gaining recognition, opening up for groups like Haim, Vampire Weekend and The Wombats. Pancakes and Whiskey had the chance to sit in on their intimate listening party at Youtube Space in Chelsea Market and hear some new songs.
Sasha’s captivating voice has a comfort to it as well as some much-needed edge. Meanwhile, Theo oozes a layer of cool with his keen fashion sense and calm exterior as he plays guitar. He said he has moments on stage when he realizes he’s performing and psyches himself out, but in the audience’s eyes he’s a natural.
We had the chance to catch up with Sasha and Theo prior to their performance and talk to them about growing up together in a creative home, their inspirations and their debut album Love/Idleness, which comes out Tuesday, February 10. The Spielberg kids are paving their own path, making a name for themselves in the music industry and listeners should expect a “crazy ride” when it comes to their debut album.
P+ W: Do you both remember the first time you realized you were interested in making music?
Theo: Well for me, it was I guess I must’ve been in 6th or 7th grade. There was a point well everybody loves music growing up, but there was a point that I just wanted to interact with it on a way more in-depth level so I started playing guitar and played along to Green Day songs.
Sasha: Yeah, I totally forgot that I took guitar lessons like seriously for two years. I totally forgot that was a part of my life because we’ve gotten that question before and I’m like, “Oh, I guess I was you know 10 and singing Celine Dion.” But I actually weirdly discovered classic rock when I started taking guitar lessons from our uncle and I was obsessed with all these male classic rock artists, like [Robert] Plant and Cream…
Theo: Remember that one Eagles CD?
Sasha: Oh my god the Eagles was just because our Mom got a cool version of the vinyl. And so I didn’t really listen to classic rock women until someone introduced me to Janice Joplin and I was 13 and that’s when I kind of discovered I wanted my voice to be on a vinyl because I collected all these vinyls. And that’s when I feel I really took guitar seriously.
P+W: When did the musical collab between you two start to happen? Did you ever think you’d create a band together?
Sasha: Only when I was 20. Theo was 22.
Theo: Yeah, it was right after I was 21. It was in that weird space in between our birthdays when we’re just a year apart. And I just graduated college and it just kind of happened fairly spontaneously. Sasha walked into my room and was like, “Hey, let’s write a song.” Literally the first time either of us ever thought about doing that. And we did and we still play that song every show.
P+W: Which song was that?
P+W: When you first created that song together did it hit you like this is working out?
Sasha: Yeah, totally!
Theo: I don’t think we even finished the song completely…
Sasha: I think we got to the chorus and were just like, “Woah!”
Theo: [laughing] Cool, this works!
P+W: When you guys were growing up what were your personalities like when you were younger? Did you mesh well together?
Theo: That’s a really hilarious question.
Sasha: That’s a great question!
Theo: I have no idea what I was like as a little kid.
Sasha: I was a real big personality and I had a lot of feelings. Theo was like in and out of torturing me and like laughing with me, but he definitely…
Theo: [laughing] Yeah, I definitely did…
Sasha: Theo used to like beat me up. I was like 10 or 11 and I remember I had a crush on one of his friends and Theo was like, “Get out of my room!” and I didn’t get out and he pushed me really hard and I then emailed the friend and said, “Sorry, every time you come over Theo beats me up.”
Theo: Wasn’t it an [Instant Message]?
Sasha: Yeah, it was an IM. I was like “Sorry, every time you come over Theo beats me up hahaha!”
Theo: Now, Sasha beats me up.
P+W: Who are your influences that made you love music?
Sasha: Classic rock for me, like Led Zeppelin was my favorite band. And then I discovered Radiohead — “Pablo Honey,” the first album. And I kind of thought it was a little boring but knew I should stick to it and then I discovered “The Bends.” And it was like, “Woah! This is the coolest, most epic music and I want to have the equivalent of Thom Yorke’s voice.”
Theo: I think that probably there was one specific moment, which was watching The Strokes perform on SNL and I was like, “Oh, yeah. I want to be in a band.” Before that, it was just sort of me messing around on guitar, but I think that was the first moment when I was like, “I’m going to try to make this happen.” And then let’s see…Bob Dylan was a huge one for me. That was really great just…
Sasha: Joni Mitchell for me.
Theo: Yeah, realizing you could kind of write a song by yourself and sing it by yourself and have it be a pretty basic thing without having to rely on four other people.
Sasha: Fiona Apple. When I first heard her voice…because I was really into Christina Aguilera and American Idol I was obsessed with and I used to practice my audition in the bathroom…great acoustics. And then I just heard Fiona Apple and I was like, “Oh woah! Your voice doesn’t have to be totally perfect American Idol.” It can have this cool quality to it and that’s when I first started going on Garage Band and I was in 8th grade.
Theo: Yeah, and then there was this whole period for me. Also, the Velvet Underground, but I remember The Pixies, the Replacements and the Clash all came in… I think I went to the record store and got “Let it Be” by the Replacements, “Doolittle” by the Pixies and “London Calling” by the Clash and my world changed forever. It was kind of like well you don’t need to be Jimi Hendrix on the guitar.
P+W: When you write music together what’s your inspiration behind your songs?
Theo: It’s actually really funny because sometimes we’ll write a song and we’ll kind of get a little bit into the song before we outwardly say what we were thinking of when we’re writing it or what we’re shooting for.
Sasha: “Act My Age,” one of the songs we were, I think, in the middle of the song like, “Oh My God this is very Talking Heads-y” or we can make this more [like the Talking Heads], but we didn’t realize until four days later when we listened to the bass line.
Theo: Sometimes we’ll both be completely on the same page and be like “I’m sort of feeling we should take it in this direction” and other times we’ll be thinking two completely different things and it kind of works out because you have a funny juxtaposition of different things.
P+W: When you make music together do you [Sasha] just focus on the vocals and you [Theo] focus on the background music or is it more collaborative?
Theo: No, actually.
Sasha: Lately, I’ve been really into the piano, but my chord progressions are really simple. It’s usually just FGC. You know, a really standard pop song and then Theo kind of…
Theo: Something’s been funny. We’ve been writing for this new album. Something really funny has been happening where I think it’s happened on almost every new song we did where I would suggest a vocal melody and then we would try it and then…
Sasha: No other way around! Theo would do a guitar line or a bass line and I would say, “Oh my God that’s so good why don’t we just make that the melody?” So Theo’s been kind of writing the melody and I’ve been doing the chords, but for the first album it was mainly just voice notes and Theo would send me a chord progression and I would send him a vocal idea back and we’d do this back and forth.
P+W: Do you think growing up with creative parents and having that background helped you become better at expressing yourself and following this career path?
Sasha: For sure.
Theo: Definitely. They’ve always been extremely supportive of any creative endeavor. Although. I mean in a weird way I think I might’ve had some sort of teenage rebellion thing where my parents were like, “You should definitely go to law school.” And I was like, “Nope!”
Sasha: Oh, yeah! Theo was super smart so I think they were really into the fact that you are so smart and yeah they were trying to choose….
Theo: I should’ve gone to law school then.
P+W: Also, having the last name Spielberg…has it ever caused pre-judgments? Can it been hard at times?
Sasha: I think it’s a fairly ubiquitous name.
Theo: Well, usually when people look at me they just don’t even think twice about it. They’re just like, “Oh that’s weird.”
Sasha: Yeah, with me it’s I guess….
Theo: A lot more obvious.
P+W: Sasha, I feel like you have this beautiful, captivating voice. Did you ever have a moment when you were younger when you got on stage and performed and thought, “I’m good at this. I’m meant to do this.”
Sasha: I had really bad stage fright until my sophomore year of college. And every musical that I would get and I would try out…I think the first time I was like “Oh, this is something I like!” was actually at my Bat Mitzvah when no one knew that I sang and then I sang my Torah portion and I feel like I was heavily into Joni Mitchell then so it was like “Ahhhh!” It was a very falsetto…
Theo: I actually remember that. I remember being in the audience and everyone…I always knew Sasha had a great voice mostly because we shared a wall and I could hear it at all times, but I remember sitting there and being part of a huge crowd and everybody was so proud and surprised. I was really proud, but I wasn’t at all surprised. It was maybe just as much as a realization for everyone else as it was for Sash.
Sasha: I always wanted to sing. I just never knew…I just didn’t have the confidence.
P+W: And Theo for you…you play guitar, drums, piano?
Theo: I play…it’s actually funny a lot of being in this band has been becoming a guitarist. Guitar was my first instrument. Technically, I played piano a little bit. I’m not great at piano. But I was a drummer for most of high school. So I would kind of in college go back and forth between drums and guitar and by virtue of knowing guitar I could pick up the bass.
Sasha: Basically, Theo knows every instrument.
Theo: I think that being in this band has me really having a better relationship with the guitar and becoming more of a guitarists. Because I’m not really sure I ever considered myself a guitarist really until we started doing this.
P+W: Do you think you just have this natural ability to pick up on instruments or would you say it’s more determination?
Theo: It’s definitely a mix of both. I could be a lot better at piano if I had one and if I played it.
P+W: What’s it like working together as siblings? Does it get hard at times or is it just the creative process flows better because you know each other so well?
Sasha and Theo (in unison): Yes.
Sasha: It’s definitely easier because we both get to be honest. I think everyone’s always tip toeing around the other collaborator and saying, “Yeah, we could try that. Um let’s try it for a little.” And then it just takes up so much time. And we write our songs in like an hour, two hours. I really like that aspect.
P+W: Have you ever had a freak out moment on stage?
Theo: Like “Oh my god I can’t believe this is happening?!”
Sasha: Or… “Oh my god this is going terribly wrong…”
P+W: Tell me both.
Theo: Stubb’s was a big “Oh my god I can’t believe this is happening.”
Sasha: We opened for Haim and Vampire Weekend in 2013 outside in that big area at Stubb’s and that was crazy. That was surreal. It was also like our fourth month playing live. So we were still getting used to it so it really hit us. And there have been weird, amazing moments where we see our parents or our siblings. And that’s always surreal and being on stage and finding someone you know in the crowd.
Theo: There’s a weird one. Last August, where I was playing and I looked and I saw Win Butler from Arcade Fire and he’s like so tall there’s no way to not see him. And then for the rest of the set I was just totally in my head about it just like, “Oh my god. Oh no.”
P+W: Your new album, Love/Idleness, can you tell me a bit more about it?
Sasha: There’s two songs from the EP and then the rest are just new songs we’ve been working on over the past two years.
P+W: What can people expect when it comes out?
Theo: You can expect 10 songs written by Wardell. Um, I think…Sasha do you want to take this one?
Sasha: I think you can expect…we’ve been actually trying to find out how to describe the album because every song is kind of so different and represents something so different. I think you can just expect a crazy ride. I don’t know. We didn’t know what to expect and we ended up really liking it.
Theo: I think that it’s maybe a little bit more “poppy,” less “folky.”
Sasha: A little darker in a weird way. A lot more falsetto, on my part, and lot’s of weird vocals. I was really exploring my voice during that time.
Article by: Liz Dennerlein