Sasha and the Valentines is a five-piece band based in Austin, Texas. Their debut record, So You Think You Found Love? — produced by Erik Wofford — is out now via Oof Records.
(Photo Credit: JB Bergin)
Sarah Addi, Billy Hickey, and John Bergin (along with guitarist Alex Whitelaw and aux. percussionist Tim Zoidis) perform as the Austin, Texas-via-Massachusetts band Sasha and the Valentines; Christelle Bofale is a singer-songwriter also based in Austin. To celebrate the release of Sasha and the Valentines’ debut album So You Think You Found Love? — out now via Oof Records — the friends caught up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music
Christelle Bofale: Well, what’s up?
Sarah Addi: Oh, nothing much. You know, pandemic life.
Christelle: This is the first time I’ve seen you in a while.
Sarah: Yeah. I feel like if I’m not in the music scene or party scene, I don’t exist in Austin. Like, I’m just not here.
Christelle: “Who am I? Do I exist?”
Sarah: Yeah, if I’m not going to shows then, like, where am I?
Christelle: Shows are kind of — well, I don’t know, it’s weird. Are shows back?
Sarah: Yeah, I don’t know. I said this to someone recently — until I feel like everyone who feels comfortable going to a show would come to a show, I wouldn’t want to put on a show. Because I feel like that just alienates people that are like, “I’m not comfortable doing this yet.”
Christelle: For sure.
Sarah: And also I’m not comfortable doing it yet! I feel like it’s a little too soon. But I know people gotta make money and they gotta do what they gotta do. How do you feel about it?
Christelle: I’m OK with smaller shows, or something that’s outside and really distanced. I don’t really see myself at something that’s, like, quote-unquote, “normal” anytime soon. Like a packed show, bumpin’ bodies type thing.
Your first show here in Austin was actually a show that we played together, at a garage in June. Do you remember what year?
Sarah: 2018. So crazy. I remember we were building that bill and it was just like a very DIY thing. A friend had a house and was like, “Yeah, let’s just set up a show, who do you want?” And I was like, “Christelle.” [Laughs.] We met in funny circumstances — I don’t know if you want to talk about it, Billy.
Billy Hickey: Me and Christelle met on Tinder. I’d just moved to the city, and we met and it was awesome.
Christelle: Same birthday.
Billy: We have the same birthday. We were both born on June 29. So as soon as that got figured out it was like—
Christelle: We gotta be friends now.
You said that you had met people who had that birthday, but that was my first time meeting someone with the same birthday.
Billy: That’s crazy. I feel like I know at least a handful of people who are on the 28th or the 30th or the 29th.
Christelle: The only person I know who was born on June 29 is Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.
Billy: That’s sick. And Drake Bell — or “Drake Campana.” Whatever his name is now.
Christelle: Is that his name?
Billy: Yeah, he’s a Latino music artist now.
Billy: But I met you and was like, “I wanna play drums,” and you were like—
Christelle: “I need drums.”
Billy: So I was like, “Alright, let’s do this.” And I knew John.
Christelle: Yeah, you were like, “I have a friend who plays bass.”
John Bergin: But at that show, I wasn’t playing with you yet, right? It was you and another bassist. I remember seeing photos of that show and Billy was like, “Yo, Christelle’s rad.”
Sarah: I remember we listened to your songs on SoundCloud, and I just remember being like, “Oh, this person’s gonna be famous.”
Christelle: Fuck yeah, bitch.
Sarah: I was like, “This is so cool.” So yeah, we put that bill together and then it was a really fun show. It was super sweaty, somebody broke a toilet.
Christelle: It’s so wild how far we’ve come. I feel so nostalgic for that time. We were so like, “Let’s just start playing music in Austin! Let’s do it!” It’s really nice how it all fell together, because I was kind of in this weird space of like, How do you form a band? Then I met Billy and then you all kind of fell into place. Met Jake, Jake started playing guitar. And then it was like, we’ve got a band. And then y’all started playing — we released an EP at the same exact time, same day.
Sarah: Which is funny that we all knew each other but didn’t talk about it. [Laughs.]
Christelle: So we share a debut EP release day, and also your first show, we played together. I think that’s really awesome and cute and special.
Sarah: Yeah, super special. I remember — I mean, not to compare EPs, but your EP was much anticipated and beautiful, and I was very much like, “Let’s put something out there so we can have music online.” So we didn’t overthink the date or anything, it definitely just happened by accident.
Christelle: Yeah, it was wonderful.
John: I have a question for Christelle and Sarah: Going back that first show that we played, knowing that three years have gone by and we’re where we are now, what would you tell that person?
Sarah: I’d probably be like, “Don’t get caught up in the social scene of it.” I think it was important to meet people and be friendly and nice, but I think I was so concerned with, like, who was paying attention. Because I think the Austin music scene, as much as it can be very open and there’s a lot of opportunities, there’s so much cliquiness sometimes. I got really caught up in it right away, and I was like, Oh, no, the cool kids don’t like my songs. So if I could go back and tell myself, like, “Relax. Just follow your gut and you’re going to be fine.”
Christelle: Yeah, that is one thing I would also tell myself, because it was really daunting for me, like entering the scene. It’s very clear that there are certain bands that are really established in town and they’re all friends with each other, and there’s different groups that you’ve gotta kind of infiltrate and be like, “Heeey, you wanna be…?” So it’s super weird.
Something I would tell myself is to be OK with moving at my own pace and taking my time with things, and that not everything needs to be on a certain schedule. I used to get so caught up in, like, OK, well, I have this EP out, now I need to be doing this and this, and I’ve seen other people and how it’s worked out for them, and clearly, I’m not doing the right thing. But now I’m kind of in a place where it’s just like, No, whatever you need to do for you is perfect. So, yeah, I would just affirm that for my however-old-I-was-self — maybe 21, 22.
Sarah: I agree with that.
Christelle: I wanted to ask about the album. How did y’all decide on the order of the tracks? Was it all of you together? Was it intentional, or did you just put them together? I like how it flows, so I’m always curious about that when I listen to an album.
Sarah: I remember sitting down and kind of organizing the demos, and the way I was listening to the demos was the way I was hearing potential orders for the album. I talked about it with John a lot — John was very involved whenever I’d write setlists and stuff too. So I feel like we were getting an order from playing out and seeing how they felt next to each other. But then it kind of just fell into place and we were like, “This feels right.”
And then the other day, I was a little high and I came into the kitchen and was like, “John. Our album order is like a musical.”
Christelle: That finale.
Sarah: Yeah! Like, we open with, “What’s the plot line? What’s the conflict? What’s the history? We open really vague, and then you introduce the protagonist, and then it’s like the townsfolk song. [Laughs.]
Christelle: OK, so you’re kind of speaking to something that I was curious about, which is like, if this album is like a movie or a show, what is it about? What’s the plot?
Sarah: I think the plot — it’s almost like how I was kind of writing songs, too, I was thinking through my relationships chronologically. I was like, Let’s think about this relationship that I had and what I learned, and then this problem that I had that I grew from. Right now, I feel like I’m the healthiest in relationships I probably could be in terms of how I think about myself and how I value myself. But going through the album, I kind of think of it as some of my deepest, darkest issues and relationships and the hardest times I’ve faced, and as you move through the album it gets a little bit more abstract, a little bit lighter. And then at the end, there’s kind of the big finale track of like, Oh, I’m discovering myself and my sexual identity and who I am as a person, and everything that shaped me, and just focusing on me. So it kind of naturally came that way.
John: I think that’s really cool and special, because I think there’s also a lack of linear movement throughout the album. Even thinking about the last track being like a finale moment — and a very evident final moment musically — but then lyrically, there is a lot of discovery, but I think there’s also a lot of darkness still, and a lot to learn about. Like, Billy is always like “‘I See the Light’ is the darkest song.”
Sarah: I have this tendency to kind of have this repetitive, cyclical nature in my themes and my lyrics. Like, human nature is not linear — you’re going to have growth, but you’re going to go back to your old habits, you’re going to think about your old insecurities. There is a little bit of progression, but you’re right, there are dark themes kind of throughout, and you’re still tapping into those insecurities and fears and stuff.
Christelle: I don’t know if this is a question, but I have a statement: I was listening to the record — I listened to it a bunch of times — and the song is called “Don’t You Love Me.” When I heard the song for the first time, I thought I knew what was going on with you vocally, and then I was like, Oh, I guess I have no clue. Because it sounds a lot like Robyn. Did y’all think of Robyn?
Sarah: When I went to write the song, I was like, I want to write my Madonna moment, like my ‘80s opus. And then after writing it and thinking about what I wanted the music video to be, I was like, Oh, my God, Robyn, “Dancing On My Own” — that’s what this song is kind of like.
Christelle: It’s literally just the vocals — and not in a way that’s like, copy cat. It was just really cool to hear your voice do that. Even on So You Think You Found Love, I’ve only really heard that live, and I feel like your vocals are different.
Sarah: Oh, yeah. I get into my falsetto.
Christelle: It made me miss seeing Sasha live. I was like, Dang, it’s been so long.
Sarah: That’s so nice. Yeah, my vocal chops aren’t where they were when I was in the throes of doing live music every weekend, but thankfully we got to record this album right when the pandemic hit, so I feel like we were fresh off of playing all the time.
I feel like my voice has evolved since I was in high school, like me trying to find my voice and my range. When you’re not, like, a classically trained singer, or singing musicals or even just singing really pretty ballads, you have to find your stamp and the way you enunciate and the way you choose to sing tones. Which I’m sure you think about a lot too, because you have a very distinct way of singing also. So this is definitely the culmination of my voice.
Christelle: I mean, Green is great, but it was so nice to hear the difference. It really sounds like the songs are more realized, and it’s some of y’all’s best playing yet.
Sarah: Thank you.
Christelle: So this is maybe a corny question, but I know that y’all have been playing music together for a really long time, seven years. I’m curious about how y’all started playing together, but before I get into that — you all have mostly played Massachusetts, right? Like, Northeast vibes?
Christelle: Do you feel like there is a piece of Austin on this record? Do you think Austin has influenced how y’all play at all? Or do you think it’s still, like, Mass Gang energy on the thing?
Sarah: [Laughs.] I think stylistically and melodically and the way the songs are written probably date back to, like, four or five years ago for me, when I was starting writing full songs on my own, demoing them in my room and stuff. And I’m pretty slow to get to new music and get new inspirations, so I simmer on the stuff I listen to for a long time. So that’s probably where a lot of that comes from.
But in terms of us being seasoned and really tight, that is all due to Austin.
Christelle: The gigging.
Sarah: Coming here and seeing other people play and going to shows and being like, Oh, everyone is so tight and knows what they’re doing and is just really put together.
Billy: Yeah. I think we evolved as a band and as musicians — because we’ve all been playing together for a long time, and out in Massachusetts, we were kind of two bands, and then here we became one. The style of the bands that myself and Sarah and John have been in in the past play live — we’ll write the songs and then play them live before we record them for a while, like a few years. Our last band, Calico Blue, did it and now we did it with Sasha. We were playing the songs for at least a year for the most part live.
And so in that way, Austin definitely is on the record because that was where we were playing the majority of the time. So the song gets written, and then it continues to be written throughout the live performance process.
Christelle: That’s so true.
Billy: Calico Blue was very dark, reverb-heavy, super drown-y because we were playing all these shows in these dark, dingy basements.
Christelle: The environment really informed that energy.
Billy: In Austin, things are a lot nicer. Just weather-wise, there’s not as much mold here. That’s a big part of it. That more vibrant, vivacious kind of energy, I think. is definitely present in the album.
John: I would say also that, I feel like we went on stage and played new songs before they were written — like we were playing new songs to write those songs. Sarah was writing lyrics while she was singing them, notably, for a lot of those songs. I think that’s really valuable and makes a beautiful product, and I think that we kind of came to Austin and started playing with Sasha and felt more like, “OK, let’s write the songs and then play them and then play them out and play them a thousand times, two thousand times, and change the little details that come up as you play them live. But let’s first write them.”
I think that was a notion of maturity that bled into how we recorded them, where it was like, “Let’s really know what we want when we go to the studio.” And when we had the opportunity to be in a studio space with somebody who we really trusted, like with Erik [Wofford], who we felt like knew what we wanted and was providing us ideas, but not forcing those ideas, but they were good ideas. So we brought in fully formed ideas and he was like, “OK, I have something to add to that that will make this song that you want.”
Christelle: Do you want to talk more about that, the experience of recording this project versus other projects?
John: It was lovely. We spent a whole week right at the beginning, in the throes of quarantine — we all got tested and I stayed at their house and we would just go to the studio every day for four or six hours. We had done a trial date with [Erik] about a year before, and then did another song with him because the trial date was just really good, and then going in for a week with him and letting our stuff stay there the week, letting songs grow over days, bringing in ideas and seeing them realize the next day. It felt like we were building something together. It felt very mature and positive for all of us.
Sarah: Want to hear a fun fact about out recording days?
Christelle: Yeah, give me the fun fact.
Sarah: So — I was starstruck — we were recording one day, and there’s a photo studio next door that’s really bougie and expensive. And Antoni [Porowski] from Queer Eye was having a photo shoot and we had to move our cars. Erik told us and was like, “Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t go outside. Sarah, chill out.” And I was, like, buzzing. I was like, I have to see him.
But we were doing my vocals and I was like, I have to accept the fact that I probably won’t see him. [The studios] were kind of connected by a porch, so everyone else was like, “Oh yeah, we saw him.” And I was like, Oh, fuck, like in the vocal booth.
And then we were all chillin’ outside listening to the mix, and Antoni comes over and is like, “Excuse me, can I take a photo on your side of the balcony?” Because there was like a bunch of bushes and trees. We were like, “Yes!” And our song was playing while he was posing. And in my head, I was like, He’s gonna remember this song. He’s gonna be like, What was that quirky, awesome band?” He definitely didn’t remember.
Christelle: He needs to be in a music video.
Sarah: Oh, my god, I wish. He’s so much bigger in real life — just, like, built and really tall. And I was like, You are so handsome.
Christelle: Oh, my god, I love that for him.
Sarah: It was a fun recording experience.
Christelle: So, I have a little bit of a beef with y’all, because one of my favorite songs is “Like It Is,” and, um, it’s nowhere to be found on this album. I was just waiting, I was like, When am I going to get to it? And then I just didn’t. So, you know, it’s not really a question. It’s just me telling y’all that I’m beefing.
Sarah: [Laughs.] I mean, it was a very specific decision to let “Flower” be on the album and rerecord that, because we were also simultaneously doing a video for it. So it was like, “OK, let’s just rerecord it and give it attention,” because I think that was our most popular — or, at least on Spotify. But “Like It Is” is definitely one of those deep favorites, and I hope it’s one of those songs that years from now people are like, Oh, Sasha and the Valentines — “Like It Is.” Like, they just completely ignore our albums.
Christelle: Like, where we stand right now, there’s room for forgiveness. But if it’s like a thing where you never play it again, then the beef might turn into something else.
Sarah: For a long time I thought that was a very forgotten song, so I’m so glad.
Christelle: No, Christelle has not forgotten about that.
It’s interesting that we have so many firsts together. Like, I’ve never done a Talkhouse, y’all have never done a Talkhouse.
John: We keep starting things together.
Christelle: Yeah, we keep starting things together! It’s really cool that, like, the internet brought us together in this weird way — shout out Tinder, I guess. [Laughs.]
(Photo Credit: left, JB Bergin; right, Jinni J.)