Sloppy Jane's Haley Dahl Talks About the Upcoming Album, Fearless Live Shows, and 2017
We were delighted to speak recently with Haley Dahl, who fronts L.A.'s Sloppy Jane. Sloppy Jane have been receiving increased and well-deserved media attention, and continue to build a hard-earned reputation for their unfettered live performances (their October appearance at Desert Daze was one of the festival's highlights). With a new album nearing completion and a couple shows in New York booked at the start of the new year, it was fortuitous timing to be able to catch up with Haley and get more insight into one of the most exciting acts on the scene today.
Bobby Weirdo: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I’m glad we can talk about the kind of things that we at Weirdo Music Forever find interesting, rather than just the routine stuff.
Haley Dahl: Totally! I know -- everybody wants to talk about the same boring shit!
BW: I wanted to start with the concept of Sloppy Jane. From what I understand, Sloppy Jane is a band, and not just one person. Who or what is Sloppy Jane?
HD: Well, people think that I’m “Jane” a lot. People see me at show and say, “Hey Jane!” and I’m totally not Jane. It’s a name I came up with my sophomore year of high school, which is when the band started with its original lineup. I thought it was a funny play on words that would stick in people’s heads, but it didn’t have a lot of meaning behind it. Now it’s grown into a vague character. The universe of the band revolves around the concept of Jane. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s true! [laughs]
BW: I know there have been personnel changes in the band so far. Is the lineup stable at this point?
HD: We’ve had a million band members. Sara Catherine and I are the core of the band at this point. Kathleen and Vyvyan from Loko Ono are usually our lineup, at least in L.A. We’re playing some New York shows in January, and Simon Hanes (Tredici Bacci) and Reiley Ugly from the Pizza Boys will be playing in the band. So we switch members around and have people sing backup vocals sometimes. It’s as-needed, and whoever wants to. I would love to have a stable band, but we’re a demanding project, and Sara and I practice every single day. It’s hard to find people who have the same level of commitment to a project that’s been going so long without them in it.
BW: You and I were both backstage at Desert Daze recently, and I remember hearing you say that you feel things have taken off recently, and that people are noticing Sloppy Jane.
HD: It does feel that way. But that kind of stuff always comes in waves. I want to go back in time and smack myself when I’ve said that sometimes, because then it seems something won’t happen for a couple months! But what we’re doing became more realized a couple years ago, and I think that once we figured out what the band was supposed to be, people started understanding and liking it. It’s always surprising to me.
Both me and Sara had no friends growing up. One time I went to a Marilyn Manson concert, and I sneaked backstage afterwards. My dad picked me up, and wouldn’t let me meet Marilyn Manson. So I was so upset that I didn’t get to meet Marilyn Manson that I tried to starve myself to death.
BW: And I saw that that’s your goal for 2017 – to meet Marilyn Manson.
HD: Yeah [laughs]. It’s just time. So yeah, if you could put that out there as a general statement: If everybody could make it their New Year’s resolution that I will meet Marilyn Manson, it will happen.
BW: Speaking of influences, I wanted to ask about how you chose the old Napoleon XIV song “They’re Coming to Take Me Away Ha Ha” to cover. It’s a great pick, but an odd one.
HD: Kim Fowley did version of that song, and he was a mentor of mine for a short period when I was around 16 years old. He had recently passed away when we recorded that EP, so I wanted to dedicate that to him. It was silly enough and simple enough that I thought we could do a good job on it with the time we had to record it.
BW: I’m glad you brought up recording. I wanted to ask about the process. Does the band record live, all at once, or do you record track-by-track?
HD: Sure-Tuff was recorded live, and we did vocals separately. The record we’re recording now is more complex. We usually record drums and guitar together, and then stack everything else on top. It’s crazy to think that the Sure-Tuff EP took a day and a half to record, and on the new one we’re taking a day-and-a-half minimum per song.
BW: Are you revealing what the new recording is going to be called and whom you’re recording with, or is it a secret?
HD: We’re working with [engineer] Joel Jerome again, because he’s our guy.
BW: How did that working partnership come about?
HD: I had heard about him through a lot of people and really wanted to work with him. Nima Kazerouni from So Many Wizards introduced us.
BW: What's Joel's approach to producing Sloppy Jane? Does he get down to really technical specifics, or is it more of a conceptual thing?
HD: I know it’s different for each artist he works with, but Joel really lets us drive. He’s got really good instincts for what the artist wants. The album we’re working on right now, Willow, is weird and genre-less. He’s good at not imposing, and just making it sound the way it’s supposed to sound.
The way I talk is really fucked up. Recently someone asked me what my first language is, even though I only speak English. I’m always thinking myself in circles until I get dizzy. I say a lot of shit out of context, and it’s hard for people to catch the beginning of the thread. On top of that, I have no knowledge of technical jargon, so it’s sometimes difficult for me to communicate with people that I’m trying to work with. But Joel speaks my language, can translate it into ProTools, and help make the record sound like it is supposed to.
BW: What’s your writing process? Do you write the songs before you go into the studio?
HD: For Willow, I locked myself in the moldy garage I used to live in in Crenshaw, and took random notes I had from the last 6 months of writer's block and spat the whole thing out into one 20-minute song on an 8-track. I didn’t leave the garage for a week and then I picked it apart over and over until my skin was covered in bugs and my brain sounded like a sitcom soundtrack. I wrote the entire record probably 5 times until it was 10 coherent songs. Sara is a real champ. She didn’t know how to play drums before we made it, but was the only person who understood how it was supposed to sound, so she learned them for the sole purpose of recording. Now she’s our drummer.
It was important to me that it was sonically icky -- very seasick, very “ears-hurt”. But it was equally important for it to be poppy and catchy and irritating so it is accessible to people other than me. One day I want to release the original one-song 8-track version just so people know where it came from.
BW: A lot of bands see their recordings as a demo of sorts for their live shows. But you’ve mentioned that you almost see it in opposite terms for Sloppy Jane – that you want the shows to be a visual experience that encourages people to then go home and actually check out your music.
HD: Yeah, I feel your show is an advertisement for your album. We take the live show part really seriously. The songs that are going to be on the new record have something like 30 harmony parts, and parts we could never do live that way, but our shows can still match that energy. Live shows can be just as good as recordings, but totally different. We don’t have a problem with live shows not sounding like our records, and vice versa.
BW: I wanted ask you about your merch.
BW: I saw the “spit necklace”. Is that real?
HD: It’s real. I joked about making them, but then I actually did it, still half-joking. I didn’t make that many, and just wanted to see what happened. They sold out immediately [laughs]. They sold way better than anything else we’ve made. And the Haley Dahl is a Mean Mean Whore shirt sells second best. It’s funny -- we’ve tried to make legitimate shirts a few times, but it’s the funny, crappy, weird stuff we make as a joke that everybody buys. So we’ve stopped making legitimate t-shirts, because people don’t buy them as much, and they cost more money to make. We also like making the shitty stuff because we can sell it for cheaper, and we want poor people to be able to have merch.
BW: What’s the elevator pitch when describing Sloppy Jane?
HD: Atmospherically nauseating, melodically catchy, and non-pretentious. We are the world's first adult child stars, and I want everyone to understand what my specific stomachache feels like. We are broken glass that can be digested by the common man. We aren’t edgy or angry; we just really want to meet Steve from Blue’s Clues.
BW: I think that’s a reason that punk is a good home for what you do. There’s an art element to what you do, but it’s also inviting.
HD: Yeah, we just really care about that whole juvenile attitude. We care about kids. Everybody who chooses to be a musician chooses it mostly because they love music, I would hope. But I think about 14-year-old me starving myself because I couldn’t meet Marilyn Manson, and that’s a beautiful thing. I’ll never love another person as much as 14-year-old me loved Marilyn Manson. It’s important to cater your art to young people. We try to stay tuned into the inner child. We do a Teletubbies thing on stage, and that started because we used to watch Teletubbies over at my house. On average, Sara and I watch a couple hours of children’s TV every week. We study children’s entertainment because it’s the purest form of entertainment.
BW: I know that like me, you’re a fan of Harry Nilsson’s The Point, which surprised me.
HD: Oh yeah. Well I was raised in a pretty hippie-dippie environment. People don’t expect that, because they see me doing something aggressive, but I spent most of my childhood in a van going to hippie festivals, either with my parents or with my boyfriend that I ran away with when I was 16 [laughs]. So stuff like The Point, the Yellow Submarine movie, and Dr. Seuss were all things I was into.
BW: Is there anything else that a lot of people don't know about you?
HD: I am militantly celibate.
BW: Did you grow up in L.A.?
HD: I was born in New York, but have spent most of my life in L.A.
BW: Is Willow going to be coming out in 2017?
HD: God, I hope so! [laughs]
BW: So, live shows, and releasing Willow in 2017 hopefully, right?
HD: Yeah, and I actually even have the next album already written! [laughs] I’m really excited. We’re going to play some shows in New York, and not listen to the album, then come back with fresh ears. We’ll do overdubs and edits, and then send it out to the universe.
BW: Well, thanks, Haley. I’m looking forward to checking in again soon.
HD: Totally – thank you so much!
Sloppy Jane Play ALPHAVILLE in NYC on 1/3/17 with DJ DOG DICK, Deli Girls, and Witch Slap. See them again on 1/4/17 at Shea Stadium with Flower Girl Warcries and The Pizza Boys.