PAM NASHEL LETO // Publicist
TAYLOR HAUGHTON // Publicist
When you share a home with another person for close to 30 years, you can expect to share sensibilities in addition to memories. This is certainly true in the case of Sasha and Theo Spielberg, the brother/sister duo who make up Wardell. While the band draws from a wide range of influences, the music on their debut album Love / Idleness is enlightened by both the duo’s collective history and what now sets them apart as adults.
The seeds of Wardell were sown in early 2011, when Sasha and Theo recorded their first song “Opossum” together. The sun-drenched, shimmery track became what Theo describes as the band’s “mission statement” in terms of both their sound and the way they approached the writing and recording of the band’s first EP, 2013’s Brother/Sister EP, on UK-based label National Anthem. It was not only their first taste of critical acclaim from outlets as wide-ranging as NME, Vogue, and NPR, but the backbone of their creative direction moving into the full-length album. Says Theo, “The idea of forward momentum and progression within a song has always been important to us, and in that respect ‘Opossum’ is very much architecturally the manifesto of our band.”
Following a string of performances at SXSW 2014, the band spent most of the past summer in the studio recording their first album Love / Idleness. What began as a series of bedroom demos on Brother / Sister EP evolved, and together Sasha and Theo expanded their sound with the help of friends who understood their creative direction. The bulk of Love / Idleness was written in the pair’s childhood home, giving the album just a hint of nostalgia mixed with the differing opinions that come with age and perspective. Sonically, the album builds on the sunny tones of The Brother / Sister EP and refines that sound, bringing just a hint of grit to the mix. The duo drew upon a number of personal influences, including shared memories, musical loves ranging from The Misfits to Kate Bush, and the lack of niceties afforded two people who’ve known each other their entire lives.
In the course of the album’s creation, Sasha and Theo found the perfect convergence between sharing a childhood and becoming distinct individuals as adults, even mastering the art of bi-coastal communication.
“We’re incredibly honest,” says Sasha. “I don’t tiptoe around my choice of words with Theo. This can start some fights, but in a very healthy way.”
Adds Theo, “It helps us to be a little more direct. It’s easy for me to say that I don’t like what Sasha is singing or for her to say she doesn’t think something is working right musically. We can get to the heart of the problem.”
Just prior to releasing their first album, Love/Idleness, in 2015 Theo moved to New York City to book music for SNL, while Sasha continued to write, sing, and act in Los Angeles. Despite the geographical separation, Wardell remained very active with Theo flying home virtually every free moment to continue writing and playing live. The band did several tours and crisscrossed the country. Very quickly after their first album, Wardell began writing songs that would eventually become their second album.
However, in the spring of 2016, after many delays, without warning and only weeks away Wardell’s recording session was canceled due to the producer needing to take some personal time. “It ended up working out for the best actually,” reflects Theo, “We had only given ourselves a week to do it and it was to be our New York album, using mostly first takes and recorded mostly at night, something just felt a little bit off – it didn’t feel like us.”
Wardell took the setback as an opportunity. They scrapped many of the songs that were to comprise their second album and decided to start fresh. They returned to the remaining songs with an exacting sense of self, choosing to journey straight into the heart of who they were, rather than trying to see what would come of pushing well outside their sense of self.
With this honesty in mind, in the fall of 2016 they entered the studio with Chris Coady and a handful of songs and spent over a month recording what would be the foundations of Impossible Falcon.
However, they still felt something was missing, and they had more songs they wanted to record. In 2017 Sasha began her solo project, Buzzy Lee, while Theo began work as the director of programming for the then-new Public Arts in New York City. Things finally snapped into place in April of 2018 when Theo ran into childhood friend Adam Gunther at The Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles. “I basically asked Adam if he wanted to produce this new album, that we wanted to keep it tight and close to home, that we wanted the comfort of friends.”
Over the course of the next few months, several dinners and emails later, they set-up the sessions that were to complete the album. They started with a song that they’d written right before going into the studio with Chris, “Domestic Sweater.” “It ended up being perfect because by the time we went into the studio with Adam we had looked at these songs from so many different angles, demoed and re-demoed them, we were pretty intimately familiar with them.”
“We tracked ‘Domestic Sweater’ live as a full band. It had been a while since we had even performed so in doing so, a sweet innocence arose, as though we were playing in our garage again” says Sasha.
Sasha continues, “During our sessions with Chris, I was going through the death of my “step-dog,” Poncho. We lit a candle for Poncho and continued the record. In our sessions with Adam, I was going through a breakup with "Poncho’s dad.” Both Chris and Adam shared our sense of humor, so while there was a heaviness to tracking around that time, we were constantly laughing.”
It was in this spirit that Wardell finished the album. Both Theo and Sasha were going through breakups, the band was being pushed towards different coasts, yet they both found the beauty in building something new with the understanding that things fall apart.
Some things have wings yet still do not fly; or sometimes, after four years, you can make an Impossible Falcon.