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En route to Royale, Sasha Sloan reflects on her Boston roots and her sad, sonic ‘Self Portrait’

Sasha Sloan, a product of South Boston and Hopkinton, returns to town to play Royale this Saturday.Kate Biel

While no two pop stars have exactly the same experience entering the music industry, Sasha Sloan’s big break was particularly uncommon — and deeply funny.

In 2014, the Boston-born singer’s parents decided to prank her while painting the front of their family home in Hopkinton, fondly scrawling the word “dork” in big letters and adding an arrow pointing to Sloan’s bedroom window. Amused, she posted a photo to Reddit, where it went viral.

“I woke up the next morning, and it was No. 1 on the front page,” says Sloan, 24, speaking by phone ahead of a show at the Royale this Saturday. “I thought it might be the only time I’d ever get recognition from the Internet, ever, so I posted my music.”


Not long after, Sloan was approached by Warner/Chappell; her SoundCloud demos had turned heads at the label, which recognized her knack for observational, left-of-center songwriting. Sloan, at 19, was offered a publishing deal and dropped out of Berklee College of Music, where she’d been studying music business, to move to Los Angeles.

It wasn’t an easy transition. “I didn’t know a soul,” Sloan says, looking back on her first three years there, throughout which she held side-jobs at coffeeshops and gyms around writing sessions. “Almost every day I was about to move back home,” she recalls. “I was so lonely, it was really hard, and I felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.”

But gradually, Sloan settled into a rhythm, co-writing Camila Cabello’s massive electro ballad “Never Be the Same” and working with EDM wizards Kygo, Kaskade, and Odesza. “Things slowly started to work out,” she says. “I had a lot of faith in the universe.”

Those collaborations helped Sloan find her voice as a solo artist, which she’s channeled into a trio of EPs, each emotionally richer and more sonically assured than the last. Her most recent, “Self Portrait” (released Oct. 18), is stacked high with confessional pop gems she’s dubbed “sad girl” anthems, unified in their blunt yet poetic professions of vulnerability.


HBO’s teen drama “Euphoria” used one, “Dancing With Your Ghost,” to soundtrack a pivotal scene involving one of its desperately sad, self-destructive protagonists. That series’ hyper-stylized world isn’t entirely foreign to Sloan, who’s been open about her own anxiety and depression. But songwriting’s been a useful tool for coping with both.

“Every time I’m having an emotional breakdown, I can’t write,” she says. “I write my saddest songs when I’ve gotten through something.”

Take “Older” for example. Over ghostly piano chords, Sloan explores her parents’ divorce, opening with a bruising flashback — “I used to shut my door while my mother screamed in the kitchen” — before making peace with the ordeal on a surprisingly hopeful chorus.

“I tried to write that song a million times,” she says. “It took me going through my first real breakup and being an adult, learning how to pay bills and do [expletive] that’s not fun, for me to look at my parents and say, ‘OK, I can’t write a bitter song about you guys [expletive] me up. I know you didn’t mean to.’ ”

Sloan grew up in South Boston, split between one parent near Andrew Square and another on Broadway, before moving to Hopkinton in fifth grade once her mother remarried. She’s been singing for as long as she can remember. By age 6, she was taking piano lessons from a teacher at St. Mary Elementary School, practicing with an upright piano her mother bought off Craigslist. “I just started to fall in love with music,” she remembers. Relocating to Hopkinton was a “culture shock,” she adds.


“Everyone there did track and field, or soccer, after school,” says Sloan. “I had this piano in my bedroom, and instead I would just go home every day and write songs to record on GarageBand.”

Despite that, Sloan contends that she was never fixated on making it as a musician, per se. “Music was always just something I couldn’t stop doing,” she says. Even now, she doesn’t feel all that different about her songwriting — her music is therapy, processing, a chance to unpack her experiences and reckon with how they’ve impacted her. It’s often highly creative, but it always comes from the gut.

Taking music so personal on the road has been a strange experience for Sloan, who’s still getting comfortable in the spotlight. “I feel bad if anyone does anything for me,” she says. “The fact that people are calling Ubers and going out for the night just to see me, it freaks me out. I won’t even let my boyfriend pay for coffee.”

But as anxiety-inducing as touring can be, there’s nothing quite like having a room of people sing your lyrics back at you. “I feel less alone when I’m on tour, if that makes sense,” she says. “Other people are going through it too. And I’m sad that they are, but I’m also happy, because seeing that makes me feel better.”


Sloan’s looking especially forward to coming home this week. “Going back to Boston now, I notice the Boston accent,” she says. “When you’re around it all the time, you never do. I’ll walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts — oh, I miss Dunkin’ so much — and there’s a guy with basketball shorts on and a calf tattoo, in 5-degree weather. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I miss this vibe!’ ”