Dating just might kill Blondshell’s Sabrina Teitelbaum.
On the Los Angeles-based singer’s self-titled debut album, out April 7, love is a losing game — and she’s the fool who keeps trying to play it. Teitelbaum is just one of a revolving door of girls fighting for a depleting reservoir of affection from her lover on the deceptively swooning “Kiss City”; she thinks she’ll be the one to save him on “Joiner”; she’s intentionally falling for assholes on “Sepsis.” Over sloshing waves of guitar, her voice a thunder clap breaking through the dark, she wonders why this keeps happening and who rigged the game — and when will this cycle finally break?
“I felt like my dating life was going to kill me,” Teitelbaum tells NYLON over Zoom about the tormented period of time when she wrote the project’s nine open-hearted songs. “All these things were going to kill me. These feelings were going to kill me.”
But they didn’t. Instead, they formed the impetus now pushing her to greater heights as a keen-penned songwriter, her songs flowing like a raw IV drip from her heart.
The album came about largely during lockdown, when external outlets shut down and she was forced to process her feelings in more intimate ways. She journaled, putting her basest emotions down on paper. At the time, she didn’t think anyone would hear these lyrics. “I think if I had thought about [people eventually hearing what] I was writing, maybe I wouldn't have written things the way I did,” she says — an explanation as to why her songs are so searing.
Now, Teitelbaum has toured the new music across the country opening for Suki Waterhouse and has been crowned a formidable force in indie rock — a title that gains more footing the longer you spend with her debut album. Below, she talks to NYLON about writing the record, unlearning toxic ideas about dating, and her songwriting journey.
One thing that really stuck out to me on the album is that dating sounds really dismal. Was it really that bad when you were writing it?
It was. Everything that I write is super literal, and I think there was so much healing that I got to do by writing all of these songs and saying, “It's this bad and it feels this intense.” “Sepsis” is my favorite song on the album because it just feels like it's about what everything is about. It sums everything up really well, and I think I felt like my dating life was going to kill me, all these things were going to kill me, these feelings were going to kill me. And to be able to actually say that and be like, “It is this bad. It is this unfortunate,” and not water it down, felt really healing for me.
One recurring theme throughout the record is this way you talk about being attracted to men who we know aren't good for us. I hear it on “Sepsis” and “Kiss City” and “Veronica Mars.” You have this line, “Logan's a dick and I'm learning that's hot.”
Yeah. I think it's just that idea of trying to find somebody who's unavailable because maybe you, yourself aren't actually looking for a real relationship. For me, I'm able to look back and be like, “Well, I obviously didn't want a relationship because I was looking for assholes.” But at the time I just was like, “Why does this keep happening? This is so frustrating. Why am I stuck in this pattern?” It kept coming up because it was affecting me so much, so that's why so many of the songs have that theme.
I also felt like [it was] something that was taught to me by pop culture, TV shows, movies, songs, all of these things. I was born in ‘97, and so I grew up with Y2K CW shows and whatever, where there’s a very clear message that when people aren't nice, they're attractive.
Now it's resonating with a whole generation of women who grew up hearing that message and we're all unlearning it together.
Because it's not an intellectual thing where you're like, “I have made the decision to seek this out.” You just do it because of the subliminal messaging you get. And that is so annoying.
Do you feel like writing the songs helped you with the unlearning process?
I think if I weren't on the way out of that, I wouldn't have been writing about it. This was the ultimate exposure therapy where I had to tell everybody all this stuff on my mind by putting these songs out. Even that part of it, not just the writing, but the process of actually releasing the music, in a way, has also been helpful, like, “Okay, now I'm owning these things too. I'm not embarrassed by it anymore, and everybody's heard me say it.”
How is dating life now?
Very solid and stable and happy. For the first time ever.
Has that been a fruitful place for you creatively?
Well, I am writing, but I think when I was writing this album, everything gets channeled into dating. The dating stuff that I'm writing about isn't just actually about the dating, it's about all the stuff beneath that. Now, when I'm writing, I don't have that to hide behind, so I'm trying to write about the actual things as well.
How did you begin songwriting?
I was really obsessed with music as a kid. We weren't a musical family, but my dad liked music a lot, and so I listened to a lot of stuff he listened to, and he was into rock and had pretty cool taste, so I think I fell in love with rock as a kid. Then my instinct was, “I'm so obsessed with these songs. Why don't I write my own?” Because I understood that there was the concept of songwriting. So I started when I was pretty young.
“Now, I'm owning these things too. I'm not embarrassed by it anymore, and everybody's heard me say it.”
What are some of the bands your dad was listening to that influenced you?
The first band that I fell in love with was The Rolling Stones, and I think people think about their bigger rock songs when talking about them, but I really liked a lot of the more ballad songs that they have because it felt emotional. You can hear that in the guitar tones and the guitar parts, and the lyrics, but it also still had this attitude that I wanted. I think the way that Mick Jagger sings and performs and everything, I didn't know what it was. I just was like, “There's something that I want.” I think it was confidence. But when I was listening, I felt like it gave me a little bit of that when I was walking around in school or whatever and had my iPod.
Do you hear that influence in the music you're making now?
Yeah. I didn't for a long time. It was confusing because I was like, “Here's everything that made me fall in love with music and here's what I'm making, and it doesn't make any sense.” Then I think a lot of the maturing as a musician was trying to figure out how to bridge that gap. I can hear it now because I feel like there's more in the guitar parts and there's more in the melodies and stuff like that. I think with this album, a big thing for me was it doesn't have to be so clean. The harmonies, I don't have to sit down and figure out the math of everything. I'm just going to sing what feels like it sounds right and sounds good.