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Interview: Haley Dahl of Sloppy Jane

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 Interview and photos by Julie-Anna George.


After the Sloppy Jane show at Elsewhere a couple of week ago, I had the desire to talk with Haley Dahl, the front woman, without blue paint and with clothes on. A nice moment sharing about music, creation, faith, politics.

How was Sloppy Jane born?

Sloppy Jane is a little bit less of a “being that is born” and is a little more of “a place to go to be born.” We are a hospital!!!

Creatively, the process is ever-changing. I like to write music in whatever way teaches me the most. I’ve been put in a unique position where for the last few months every time I’ve had a big nonsense idea and a lot of people that say “yes let’s do it!” and my hand is forced; it must be done. I whine about not having violin players, three violinists raise their hands, and then I have to learn how to notate all of a sudden because now there are more parts than I can memorize and hum and they are on instruments I can’t play. I feel so lucky.

At Elsewhere it was 11 people on stage, is that the regular formation ? 

We had 11 people at the Elsewhere show and the one at The Glove the following night (actually 12 if you count when our friend Johnny Smackdown who jumped on stage with his saxophone). All of those people are members of Sloppy Jane, but our lineup rotates, those were the first times we’ve had all eleven on stage at once. We needed them all because we were doing a surprise play in the middle of the set—the more, the merrier though. If you want to be in this band all you have to do is show up to practice (we practice, on average, four times a week in different ways) and I promise there will be something for you to do.

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You’re from California so why did you come to New York and how is it different ? 

I was born in NYC and lived here as a little kid and came back here in winters and summers growing up. It has always felt like home, I spent most of my tween/teen life trying to get back here. I don’t like LA. The music community is too invested in the idea of having a product and very few people who make music actually enjoy making music. Of course there are exceptions, and the people I love and have worked with closely there are the people I hold the closest to my heart and admire very much.

Los Angeles is perfect for a lot of types of people, but it isn’t really built for what I’m doing. The all-ages scene is very cool there, a lot of very young kids throwing packed shows and tearing each other apart. I love it. But I also can’t just play shows like that, it’s important to me to  have an audience that is really paying attention and that aren’t so quick to throw a label on something. Ideally, I want people who are invested in the arc of this project and who are rooting for it to get more and more complex. LA shows are a lot of fun, but there is for sure the vibe that people are there to party and it pretty much doesn’t matter what you are playing—your gear is just gonna get ripped out of your hands anyway!

Do you think or feel that the politic context influences your music, your creativity or how your music is received? 

Having that guy elected re-affirmed my need to build myself and whoever is watching a very cool place to go where none of that garbage is even relevant. The music and visuals are strictly apolitical, though. We are a wonderland. Of course, whatever society is going through changes the lens that people are consuming through, so I’m sure that what the world is going through will make people look at what I do differently.

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In the same way, how does the city influence your creativity? 

I am so constantly inspired by this place. Everyone around me makes something I’m in awe of. Everyone has something extremely valuable to say. Every time I go out and see people play music, I scream and run home and try to make what I do better. I’ve had a few people I really respect recently say things to me about how we are “setting the bar really high” or “inspiring them to try harder” or something and I’ve had a big nervous laugh about how I am such a fan. If we can all agree to try to one-up each-other forever, we are going to change the world.

Would you define your band as punk? 

No not really, “punk” is pretty broad, we have a high-energy atmosphere and I definitely scream and get naked and throw up paint. Those things probably fall under the umbrella that the punk genre rains on. But there’s an arc to our set and an arc to our records (none of them are released, so how would you know?!) that has a lot more to do with me trying to make myself so tired that I don’t have any more energy to kick or scream or tell a lie. There is a lot of sonic and visual wretchedness, but it serves a purpose. I am a concrete egg and I throw myself over and over again against the ground and the walls and then eventually I shatter everywhere and yolk spills out and the yolk represents beauty and love and sadness and all of those things that remind us we are alive.

Making something beautiful and honest is challenging, because words like “love” and “hope” and “art” and “happiness” and “family” have all been used to sell us the same products that are making us sick. We are numb to them, and when we hear people say them we think someone is lying and selling us a used car. My hope, is that because we don’t express these feelings until after I’ve already spent 30 minutes injuring and exposing myself, everyone can believe me at the end when I say I have hope for a better tomorrow, and that I still believe in love.

How do you prepare for shows? Do you mostly improvise ? 

There are moments of improvisation in our sets that are earned by hours and hours of rehearsal. The very special thing about the current lineup of the band is that most of the players have not been in a serious band before this one (save for a few) so it has really pushed me to do a much better job of making quick decisions and being aware of the small things that matter to me in what I’ve written, enough to teach them to someone who might not immediately notice or be comfortable making a choice. Like I said earlier, we practice at least 4 times a week (sometimes just rhythm section, sometimes just vocals, but always something!) most weeks. The more we practice, the more we all understand what it is that we are doing, and the more we understand what we are doing, the better we are at making stuff up on the spot. There are no breaks in our live set, even if things get screwed up, that is how we practice as well. We play through the entire set without any pauses and then I give notes on the entire thing, including how hiccups were handled. Then we begin again! “if he were a dog he would be dead…”

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Last show you guys did a sort of play about the nativity, what is your relationship with the bible and more generally with the religion?

I’m a big huge fan of God and of fate as a concept, I made a decision long ago to give myself over to the idea of everything having meaning and of there being a big plan and a big man in the sky. I love it. I’m into it. I wasn’t raised in religion, I’m very aware of how much nastiness these systems have caused. I just love to hear an organ and a choir and to look through stained glass and think about eternity. I want to be a good man, I want to go to Heaven.

I’m also just a big fan of doing something fun with my band. Mostly I wanted to experiment with writing choir arrangements and was especially excited about the sort of musical impressionism aspect of having the choir sing “Silent Night” backwards. It was fun reversing the audio and memorizing and writing parts for the reverse version and then trying to figure out how to make it sound like something “rewinding” even though obviously it wouldn’t be. Adding in some of the vocalists making very specific “nyyeeahh, wraaaww” in decided harmonies over the normal reversed stuff was a blast. A few people have asked why I didn’t just use a sampler or use the actual reversed audio in the recorded version and the answer is very easy: it is more fun and better to do an impression of what rewinding sounds like than to play a backing track. There were ten people trying to sing backwards in my tiny bedroom and we were all laughing. 

Would you define yourself as a feminist? 

No, I wouldn’t define myself as a feminist in the same way I wouldn’t define myself as anything. When you start defining yourself, you are finished. It is all over. All society and internet culture want is for us to be putting ourself in boxes. By asking me, you are falling into a trap, and if I answered, I’d be falling right in there with you! We are being bred to demand polarization of ourselves and of everyone around us, and it IS so that your targeted ads will be more specific. I resent the idea that being born into a body obligates me to care and fight for an entire group of people with my words and with my work. I care about myself and I care about my friends and I care about every individual thing that I care about, and I don’t owe women anything.

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When I saw you last week performing naked, I didn’t find it sexual— it’s more like a sort of openness, a strong vulnerability, like a naive warrior… Can you expand on that—what kind of feeling do you get being naked on stage? 

Thank you for noticing that it’s not specifically sexual. You are one of the good ones! I love the idea of a “naive warrior.” That’s a great term. A little kid fighting for the right to do whatever dumb thing I feel like. The nudity is a lot of things; there is personal crap behind it, it is also for attention—which in it’s own way is even more personal. It turns an audience of 10 into an audience of 100 very quickly, and I won’t pretend it doesn’t, and I’ll hope that people stick around because they like everything else too!

There’s also a lot to be said about making yourself look stupid or vulnerable in front of a group of people, so that they feel safe to take risks too. If I do it first, maybe one other person will. I’ve had a few people come up and say “I almost stripped down and came up there with you!” and to that I say “why didn’t you?”

If you are at one of our shows and want to do something, do it. I don’t care. I don’t have a yes or no rule about being touched, if I don’t like it, I’ll hit you. But I also put my hands in people’s mouths without asking all the time. I don’t think that curiosity is disrespectful, and I don’t think that an honest reaction from me is disrespectful either. If you touch the stove, it will burn you, I know, because I check every single day to make sure it is a fact.

Last question here, what is your obsession right now in term of music? Is there a current band that you really like or who inspire you? 

I like a wide range of things, they are all big and strange.

Obvious: Frank Zappa, Brian Wilson, The Residents, Courtney Love, CAN, Faust, Phil Spector, Kim Fowley, James Brown, Wagner.

Less obvious (for me maybe?): The Mamas and the Papas, The Carpenters, Love, Les Baxter, Scott Walker, Harry Nilsson, George Tipton, Yip Harburg (writer of the two best songs in the world: Somewhere Over The Rainbow and It’s Only A Paper Moon), Roy Orbison

People who are right near me: My own band (my favorite band, and if yours isn’t you are doing something wrong), Joel Jerome, Tredici Bacci, Palberta, Poppy Jean Crawford, Eyes of Love, Phoebe Bridgers, Sammy Weissberg’s secret music that he doesn’t show people, Dog, Model/Actriz, Climax Landers, Ember Knight’s music even though she says she’s not a musician but she is, Loko Ono, Matter Room, Shimmer, Diane Coffee, DRUGDEALER, SunPack—pretty much everyone I miss from LA and every band I’ve seen since I moved.

Soundtracks to fantastical technicolor children’s stuff: The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T, The Wizard of Oz, The 7 Faces of Dr.Lao, The Singing Ringing Tree, Schoolhouse Rock, The Point (Harry Nilsson), Fantastic Planet, the 60’s french live-action Adventures of Tintin, Strawberry Shortcake Berry Blossom Festival Movie (special surprise inside if you watch this movie.)

Also probably literally everything else. I don’t believe in bad ideas, especially in music; just in contextualizing ideas incorrectly. All music has something to teach you if you keep an open mind. There aren’t that many notes; your favorite song and the song you hate are very VERY similar.

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