Sabrina Teitelbaum has seen every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” every episode of “House,” and every video she can find on TikTok where you try to diagnose a patient’s illness based on a certain set of symptoms and lab results.
“My algorithm thinks I’m a medical student,” says the 25-year-old singer and songwriter who performs as Blondshell. “I am fascinated by all those things. I love learning how to properly put on latex surgical gloves.
“But I’d be a really bad doctor.”
Medicine’s loss is music’s gain: a bruised but darkly funny set of jagged, riddled guitar rock, Blondshell’s upcoming self-titled LP is 2023’s most impressive debut yet. Singing in a cool deadpan Gen Z that occasionally spirals into a wistful falsetto, LA-based Teitelbaum reflects on social anxiety and toxic sex — “I guess my nod is if you tell me you think I’m pretty” , she admits in “Kiss City— amid fuzzy-crisp arrangements that echo ’90s classics from the likes of Liz Phair and Belly.
The album, out April 7 on Partisan Records (five of the nine tracks are already available to stream), marks an immediate place for Blondshell in a young cohort of talented female songwriters — think Phoebe Bridgers, think Soccer Mommy, think of Olivia Rodrigo — extending rock’s emotional grammar with sophisticated ideas about empathy and vulnerability. But it also shows a distinctive voice shaped by Teitelbaum’s Jewish cultural heritage and by her interest in all things medical.
Take ‘Sepsis’, one of many tracks on ‘Blondshell’ with a basis in her many hours of amateur research. “You read about these stories where someone didn’t know something was going on, then suddenly they go to the hospital and two days later they’re dead,” she says of the dangerous infection response that gives “Sepsis” its title.
“I was like, hmm, that’s kind of like my dating life.”
The confidence and thrust of the tunes she started posting last June on platforms like Spotify – starting with the hypnotic”Olympus‘, which she says is about ‘the chaos of being 21 or 22’ – can give the image of an artist who came into the game knowing exactly what she wanted to say and how to say it. In fact, Teitelbaum had to figure it out.
For Blondshell, she ventured into a slicker electronic pop style under the moniker Baum, eventually racking up over 2 million streams of a Halsey-esque track called “F-boy” which came out in March 2020. the pandemic forced her to rethink her approach, in part because she wrote mostly on her own at home rather than with professional songwriters, as she had been before COVID; all this time alone led her to chew through heavy themes of betrayal, addiction and self-destruction and rediscover the music she loved as a teenager.
“I listened to Hole a lot, to get to know the attitude and its relationship to anger,” Teitelbaum says over a cup of coffee in Highland Park on a recent morning, her curly blonde hair falling over a faded sweater to a denim jacket. “Women are so often told, ‘If you don’t get this person’s interest, it’s because you did this, this, and this wrong.’ But a lot of those songwriters in the ’90s said, ‘There’s not necessarily something wrong with me. There’s something wrong with you. And get over yourself for treating me this way.'”
Producer Yves Rothman had completed an EP with Teitelbaum in her earlier guise and recalls getting a call telling him she no longer wanted to release the music. “So I asked her what she was working on and she played this heartbreaking acoustic demo of ‘Olympus,'” says Rothman, known for his work with Yves Tumor and Girlpool. “It literally floored me, especially compared to what we had been doing.” Other friends of Teitelbaum agreed, she says: “They were like, ‘Finally, you’re not trying on an outfit. This is just you.'”
Rothman, who went on to produce “Blondshell,” asked her to write more songs in the same vein, which she did, filtering her confessions and her outrage through a sense of humor that Teitelbaum says “runs throughout this history of Jewish singers.” songwriters going back to Carole King.”
In Blondshell’s “Veronica Mars,” Teitelbaum distills the fraught gender politics of that early 2000s teen soap opera — “Logan’s a dick / I’m learning that’s hot” — while “Joineroffers a vivid snapshot of a damaged life: “Think you watched way too much HBO growing up / Now you’ve cut an arm / And when you eat, you throw up.” On the record, she accentuates that line with an exaggerated gag.
Says Teitelbaum with a shrug, “That’s how we talk about painful things.”
Teitelbaum, who identifies as bisexual, grew up in New York, one of five children (including a twin brother) of a hedge fund magnate father. (Teitelbaum’s mom, who died in 2018, wasn’t around when she was a kid, she says.) Her dad took her to the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Cher; “Jersey Boys” was a formative musical influence — “I saw it on Broadway and was so moved,” she says — as were Adele and Amy Winehouse, whose respective albums “19” and “Back to Black” she learned to play on piano from sheet music.
She attended the exclusive Dalton School, where she encountered The Strokes and the Killers and sang on talent shows as a captured on YouTube in which she is joined on guitar by Jasper Jarecki, whose father Andrew Jarecki directed HBO’s “The Jinx”. Songwriting, she says, became “a way to talk about my feelings because I felt like I couldn’t talk.”
After high school, she moved to LA to study at USC’s Thornton School of Music, but dropped out after two years to pursue her short-lived pop project. In interviews she gave as Baum, she talked about how the music reflected her strange identity. Does she feel the same about Blondshell?
“That’s a tough question to answer because I don’t really think about grouping songs by sexuality,” she says. “There’s all sorts of stuff online — articles about queer artists, playlists by queer artists — and it’s complicated because on the one hand, people need to be able to go on the Internet, ‘Okay, I’m queer and I want to see other people.’ singing joy about their sexuality or about its difficulties.’
“But at the same time, every artist is so much more than their sexuality,” she adds. “There are Blondshell songs where it’s in and songs where it’s not that common. It’s just part of who I am.”
Success came quickly for Blondshell, whose music sparked a bidding war of sorts last year after a SoundCloud link began circulating among a mix of major and indie labels. Zena White, chief operating officer at Partisan (which is also home to Idles and Fontaines DC), says she and her colleagues typically steer clear of busy situations.
“There’s a lot of great music and a lot of great artists,” she explains. “But we just couldn’t stop listening to Sabrina’s songs.” When asked what she answered, White says the first album she owned as a 10-year-old was Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” which became “a gateway drug to all kinds of music” for me. And I think as an alternative rock artist, the stories that Blondshell tells — it’s just the kind of world experience that a teenager could benefit from.”
Teitelbaum, who lives on the Eastside with her boyfriend and their German Shepherd, just wrapped up a month-long tour for Suki Waterhouse, including a stop at El Rey, where she complemented the tunes from “Blondshell” with a cover of the Cranberries’ “Disappointment.” .” And next month she and her four-piece live band will head to Austin, Texas to raise awareness for her album at the annual South by Southwest festival.
Her twin-brother aspiring real estate baron thinks “all the music stuff I do is hilarious,” she says. “For Christmas he said, ‘Can you give me one of your merch hats?'” (Blondshell sells a bucket hat with the band’s name displayed in the font from the movie “Clueless”.) “He wanted all his friends to to see .”
Teitelbaum herself is getting used to thinking of music as her career. She was too late to see the need to post her own TikToks — “It’s cringe,” she says — and she finds it odd how people in the industry want her to be professional when they want her to keep the romance of being embodies an artist.
“It’s like: be on time. Do not be nervous. Don’t be tired,” she says. “But be a rock star.”