In Their Own Words: Blondshell On Headlining For The First Time, Learning On The Fly And Reading In The Van

Suki Waterhouse In Concert New York, NY
Sabrina Teitelbaum of Blondshell performs at Webster Hall on January 28, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Astrida Valigorsky/Getty Images)

It’s been a whirlwind, breakneck kind of year for Sabrina Teitelbaum.

Performing as Blondshell, she released her debut single “Olympus” in June 2022 and since then she’s opened for Suki Waterhouse, Porridge Radio and Horsegirl, appeared at an enviable clutch of festivals, played on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and released a full-length.

That self-titled album is grunge-flecked, candid, incisive, literate and earned critical acclaim.

It evokes the ‘90s, a decade Blondshell – she’s 26 – can barely remember, but the inspiration from Hole and P.J. Harvey is impossible to miss. There’s hints of Depeche Mode, The Cranberries and Britpop, too. 

Yet it’s still music of the present, relevant and raw.

Blondshell headlined a tour for the first time and, in the fall, she’ll open for Liz Phair as she celebrates the 30th anniversary of Exile In Guyville.

Here’s Blondshell in her own words, edited for clarity and length. First up, she talks about playing songs she never expected to be recorded, let alone performed.

Getting ready to start playing these songs live was kind of gradual so it wasn’t like, “I’ve just been doing these in the studio and now I need to get ready to play every song for everybody.” It was, “OK: How do I try to translate this as much as possible to a live setting?” And that was just figuring out, for example, what the guitar parts are going to be live, because I’m not going to have a million guitars on stage. 

I played my first show as a one-off and figured out some stuff from that and then did a little support run. Every time I’ve gone out on tour I started figuring out more and more of what I want the show to be like.

I’m always figuring stuff out while it’s happening. Something I’ve realized in the last year is that your sound check at a festival is very different from a headline show or a support show. (At a festival) you’re just kind of standing side-stage talking to somebody and being like, ‘Yeah I want guitar in my ears and I want vocals in my ears,’ but you’re not on stage for an hour making sure everything is exactly how you want it. If you’re supporting somebody, you get the time that’s left over – which is fine, because they’re bringing you on tour and that is such a privilege to open for somebody because you get access to some so many people that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise get in front of.

Touring musicians have different ways of coping with the hurry-up-and-wait life that is performing on the road (some methods of coping are healthier than others), but Blondshell says her schedule didn’t really allow for the kind of ennui immortalized in songs like “Turn The Page.”

I think when you’re doing one of these small headline tours where the rooms are between 250-500, there’s not a lot of time for anything other than playing the show or getting to the next show. We wanted to play the show and then have just enough time to get to the next one safely, do that, play the next show, so there wasn’t really anything going on other than that and sleeping when I could sleep. You get to the venue at 4, you set everything up, you sound check, you go get dinner, play the show and then you drive for an hour after the show and then you sleep and you wake up and drive to the next venue. There’s so much that goes on on tour because playing a show is such an eventful, crazy thing but, at the same time, there’s not that much variation.

I always bring a lot of books on tour but I never read a lot of books on tour because I can’t read in the car.  The guitar player in my band read “Grapes of Wrath.” I’m always jealous that they can all read in the car but I know that if I didn’t bring any books I would suddenly find myself with time and wanting to read. 

People always talk about how it’s physically exhausting to tour and I didn’t really take that seriously. I was kind of like, “maybe if you party, but I don’t party.” I’m not doing all that unhealthy stuff on tour; I’m treating my body well and it is still exhausting.

She says she learned a lot out there – that the relatively short drive from Nashville to Atlanta can be more taxing than the 10 hours from San Francisco to San Diego, for one. And to take care of your voice, for another.

It’s just about four hours so compared to all the other drives we did that were like 10 hours it shouldn’t have felt bad. What I realized was that the difficulty is not always directly proportionate to how many hours you are in the car. It’s how everything else is feeling that day. Tour time is a different kind of time than normal time.

Something I learned towards the end of the tour was that I probably shouldn’t use everything I have in my voice every single night because by the end, it’s in and out and a little huskier than normal.

Among the stops on her tour, a play at The Bowery Ballroom in her hometown of New York. 

I have seen so many shows there and I was always going there and hanging out around there and seeing new music that way. 

It was a sold-out show and my friends from high school were there and my brother was there so that show in particular was really meaningful.

To be able to put on your own show is so cool, instead of being a part of somebody else’s show – which is cool in a different way. But having people know the songs was kind of creepy.