Sasha is a New York City-based recording artist. She has had a number of lives as a musician, writer, and investor. Sasha has experienced every facet of the city, from sneaking into underground music venues in Bushwick as a teenager to making deals with the greediest wolves on Wall Street to spending months under lockdown due to curfews and unrest. Since she was a teenager, Sasha has been active in the NYC music scene. When she was just 13 years old, she appeared in her first Off-Broadway musical. She pursued voice and theater degrees at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She established Lamplighter Productions, a theater company, while still a student, and it received praise for its critically acclaimed production of “How to be a GoodPerson” as it toured the US. Arlene’s Grocery, Connolly’s, The Black Bear Bar, The Red Lion, Parkside Lounge, and many other places have hosted her performances. She met someone by chance over drinks before graduation who offered her a position as an investment manager at a Fortune 500 company on Wall Street. At the age of 24, she was overseeing a portfolio worth over $15 billion dollars and dabbling in music production. Sasha has a keen sense of the world because of the stories she has gathered. Her opinionated and outspoken alternative pop music, however, betrays a sensitive soul that yearns for answers. She has little fear and plans to add her voice to discussions that have a global impact in the hopes that her music will give those who long to be heard a platform.
‘WALLS’ is a genre-defying song with elements of metal, EDM, and alt-pop as well as alt-rock influence. An edgy but catchy alternative sound is created by strong vocals flying over a contemporary and clean production. Thoughtfully written lyrics portray a well-known tale of helplessness and loss over the years spent watching political unrest around the world from behind walls, both literal and metaphorical. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
SASHA ATLAS: I grew up in Brooklyn, in a family that always emphasized music and performance. My parents and brother were refugees from the USSR who came over in the 90s and had little in the way of money or connections, but they nevertheless encouraged me to pursue my talents by putting me in music lessons and programs as far back as I can remember. I started performing as a teen in plays and musicals, then later in bands as I cultivated my love for rock. I thrived in any environment that emphasized music, regardless of style or genre.
Still, the immigrant hustle mentality was hard to shed, as was the pressure to maintain financial stability. I graduated NYU with a poli-sci degree and went to work for a financial services company as a bond trader. The job was very demanding, and drained me of the time and energy I needed to commit to being an artist. While I still wrote music and performed on the side, after a few years in the role, I was feeling quite empty for having given up my passions.
The pandemic was a game changer for me, when my job went remote and I was given back time and energy I was lacking, and new music and creative ideas started pouring out of me. I finally started getting inspired to pursue a path as an artist again after years of shutting those aspirations out to focus on my job. This year was the first time I’d ever taken the leap to start releasing my own music, and it’s been the most satisfying thing I’ve done in a decade. I can’t believe this is only the beginning.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
SASHA ATLAS: I have decades of training in both classical piano and voice, which offer an incredible foundation in music and theory, but don’t do much when it comes to helping develop an individual style and sound. Much of the last few years has been dedicated to finding my own sound, and that requires a lot of unlearning the very same techniques I’d spent so long perfecting. This was fine for piano, as I was never very talented as a classical pianist and found a lot more freedom once I shed the formality and started exploring improvisational styles and a vocal-accompaniment role. Voice, on the other hand, has been an ongoing journey. I’m sure my vocal teachers would be horrified at some of the training I’ve thrown out to give my voice it’s current color and tone, but it’s thrilling for me to find these nuanced ways to express myself while still maintaining the foundations of healthy vocal technique.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences?
SASHA ATLAS: Whenever I ask someone to describe my sound/genre, I usually get a response like “it doesn’t have a genre” or “it sounds like a lot of things blended together,” which tracks, because my influences are extremely eclectic. As a child, it was impossible to avoid loving Y2K pop divas like Britney and Christina, but I was notably drawn to the alternative aesthetics of P!nk and Evanescence and the radio emo/scene era. As a teen, I prided myself on the depth of my taste in rock music, and Pink Floyd, Yes, Muse, Radiohead, and the Strokes reigned supreme. In college and as an adult, I went full indie, and my playlists consisted of whatever Discover Weekly artist I’d found that week, genres ranging from folk and bluegrass to indietronica and hip-hop. Throughout it all, I’ve been a theater kid who could never pass up an opportunity to belt out a Broadway number at karaoke. You’ll find all these styles in my music, and it makes me happy that these influences are obvious enough to my audience that most of them do end up saying it doesn’t sound like anything they can necessarily put their finger on.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
SASHA ATLAS: I put a lot of emphasis on storytelling in my music, which is probably that Broadway influence coming through. I use a lot of alliteration, word play, and metaphor in my lyrics, and I really am most proud of my music when lyrics are at the forefront of the work. That said, storytelling is important through the music too, and I try to incorporate tonal and melodic shifts to reflect the mood of whatever story I’m telling. I struggle with writing short, catchy songs that stay in a single vibe. Usually, there is a blend of genres or a shift from one to another, and I have a penchant for drama too. I guess I’d describe my sound as broadly alt-pop, but if “cinematic alternative” was a thing, maybe that would be it?
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
As both a New Yorker and a poli-sci grad, I’m an opinionated person have trouble curbing my desire to express my thoughts. It’s hard for me to ignore cultural conversations in my life and in my art. My first release, “WALLS,” was a pretty explicit commentary on the state of the world in 2020. As someone who works an office job and yearns for creative expression, a lot of my work reflects my frustrations with on hustle culture, the American Dream, and the immigrant experience in New York. I used to think I wasn’t really an artist because I couldn’t seem to get inspired by creating art for art’s own sake and not for the sake of commenting on a topical issue. However, I’ve grown to appreciate that my purpose for creating is to tell stories that I think are important, and not necessarily to emphasize beauty, aesthetic, or technical achievement, though I do greatly value these qualities in art.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
On a spiritual level, making music is just about the most fulfilling way I can spend my time, outside of cultivating relationships with my loved ones. I wish it were enough for me to simply take pleasure in creating for my own personal satisfaction. However, I’m too competitive, ambitious, and conditioned by capitalism to let go of the dream of making a real career out music. Right now, it’s a huge money pit to create, produce, and market music of the quality I want to make. The finance oriented/trader side of my brain makes me approach this project as much as a business as a means of expression, and I’m viewing this as an investment in myself as a venture. If I’m as serious as I claim to be about this, I need to be prepared to put my money where my mouth is, and make art that’s good enough to justify the investment of my time, money, hopes, and dreams.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
Honestly, it’s random. I think most of the time, I start with lyrics. I’ll usually think of a line I really like, then build a verse off of it, incorporating melody as I write the words. Then I’ll build a chord progression, and by that point either I’ll have a clear idea of how I want the production to sound, or I’ll send it to Konstantin for him to experiment with and come up with his version of the production. Sometimes I’ll actually dream a whole song and piano accompaniment into existence, wake up and run to the piano to get it down before I forget it. Other times, Konstantin might send me some music he’s working on, and I’ll write topline and other vocals. That’s been the most fun, as it challenges me to work outside of my direct style, and so far our collaborations have yielded some of my favorite songs we’ve made together.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
SASHA ATLAS: For a long time, I felt very ashamed that I had waited so many years to start releasing music. As a woman, I felt I’d squandered my best years to make it in the music industry by not starting when I was a teen. It took me a long time to validate the reasons I waited until now. Financial stability, chronic battles with my health, and unhealthy relationships were real pressures I was dealing with that took away from my ability to pursue this, and I had to learn not to be ashamed of myself for not trying to push through these things. Everything happens for a reason, and I thoroughly believe that I wouldn’t be releasing music that I am as proud of if I had rushed it.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
SASHA ATLAS: I know that my song, “WALLS,” has helped at least one person overcome a major, lifechanging obstacle, and gave them the strength to push through what they were facing. I never thought I could make an impact of that magnitude on anyone, let alone a stranger through my first song. No achievement or award can really stand in place of the true, human connections we make through art. If I can continue to touch people, however many or few, through my music, honestly, this will all be worth it.
KEEP IN TOUCH:
Photo credits: Carlos Rodriguez