Sydney Sprague on Writing, Raccoon Memes, and Her Headline Tour

By Clémentine Vachon

Last fall, Sydney Sprague completed her first U.S. headline tour. It was a two-month journey that gave the Phoenix-based artist her first opportunity to adapt and perform her newly released album, somebody in hell loves you, for a live audience.

It wasn’t an album that was exactly new, though. Written in January 2020, the record came out of a period when Sydney felt a sense of impending doom. However, unlike the one most of the world would feel in the coming months, this one was much more personal at the time. 

Throughout the collection of eleven songs, somebody in hell loves you shows Sydney exploring and grappling with the idea of endings and their ability to be remade in new ways. It is this ever-present sense of change and transformation that provides the artist with the backdrop and space to advance the album’s main focus: relationships–and their importance and growth through times of uncertainty. 

In bringing this deeply personal album on tour last fall, Sydney invited her listeners to reflect on and cultivate their own interpretations of the record and their relationships. It was in this public and shared adaptation that the record was able to take on yet another dimension–one that contrasts with the time of solitude in which it was created.

We recently caught up with Sydney as she returned home from tour, and she opened up about the experiences that shaped somebody in hell loves you and her career as a whole. In doing so, she shared the inspirations that fuel her songwriting, the exhilarating feeling of connecting with a live audience, and the personal discovery that accompanies the creative process.

Read our conversation below, and check out some of her memories from her recent tour.

Slumber : If you had to introduce yourself and your music to someone you didn’t know using one of your songs, which one would you choose?

Sydney Sprague : I think I would probably choose ‘steve’. It’s just always been my favorite, and I think it’s a good representation of my overall sound. I have a pretty wide range of vibes in my songs, and it’s a good middle ground.

“My songs are always morphing in meaning to me over time”

Your albums both have interestingly long names : maybe I will see you at the end of the world and somebody in hell loves you. How did you come up with the titles for your records, was there a certain thought process you went through or were there any specific inspirations?

For the first record (maybe i will see you at the end of the world), the title came from the last line of the last song on the record. I was feeling a lot of impending doom at the time (in January of 2020, I guess I’m psychic or something) and it felt like the thesis of the album. somebody in hell loves you is thematically a direct follow up to the first album, but it kind of feels like the world did end and we’re all living in this weird suspended reality. I wanted the title to capture the feeling of what it’s like to still be navigating weird interpersonal relationships while the world is actually falling apart.

Could you tell us about one of your all-time favorite lyrics? Who’s the artist, what’s the song, and why do you like it?

‘sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound. but while you debate half empty or half full, it slowly rises. your love is gonna drown’ from Marching bands of Manhattan by Death Cab for Cutie.

It’s such a vivid description of a feeling I’ve felt so many times and am always trying to write about, but I’ll never be able to say it as good as this.

What’s it like for you as an artist to channel your personal experiences and emotions into music? Does it feel freeing, or maybe it makes you feel vulnerable? I imagine it could stir up a range of feelings.

 Sometimes it’s really embarrassing, especially when I’m sharing songs with people that know me well. I really put it all out there, so if you know me I’m sure it’s really obvious who/what I’m talking about. But the release I get from it is really the only way I manage my feelings, so it’s worth it.

What was the snack you couldn’t get enough of on tour?

My go-to gas station snack right now is tapatio pickle chips & a coke zero.

Can you share your favorite memory/show from this past tour and what made it so special?

There were so many moments that changed my life on this tour, but I think a standout was in Pittsburgh, we played at Club Cafe and this amazing girl gifted me a leather jacket that she hand-painted with the album title and art and lyrics from all the songs. It’s so beautiful and thoughtful and is truly one of my most prized possessions now. Thank you Gianna!

Do you have any rituals before going on stage? If so, what are they and what’s the motivation behind them?

They’ve kind of changed over time and depend on the show/what the space is like, but the one thing I’m consistent about is that I always do my vocal warmups. It just helps me loosen up mentally/physically and sets me up for a good show.

You’ve mentioned that your latest album was written during COVID, a time of isolation for many. How has the transition been from writing in such a personal space to creating a setlist and sharing these songs on tour?

It’s been really interesting! I do think the new songs are some of the most personal things I’ve ever written but I feel really lucky that people seem to really connect to them and for the most part don’t really ask too many questions about the specifics, which is good lol.

Additionally, do you feel the meaning of these songs evolves as you perform them live or were there any songs that were particularly important for you to perform live?

Definitely, my songs are always morphing in meaning to me over time. Sometimes I’ll be playing a song that I’ve played a hundred times and it’ll hit me in a whole new way. One of the ones that’s been important for me to play live is ‘big star go’, it’s one of the most painful songs I’ve ever written but it helps me so much to sing about it, it gives me a place to put that grief.

I have read in an interview that you really like raccoon memes, which I can also relate to. What do you love about them? And, what’s the last meme that stuck with you (raccoon-related or not)?

I just love everything about them. Sometimes they’re so stupid, its like not even a joke but it will make me laugh so hard. I do think memes have really broken our collective sense of humor in a way that I’m absolutely here for. This is not a raccoon but a great example of something I laughed too hard at recently.

I was particularly drawn to “Overkill” when the album was released. I feel like the build-up to the chorus is perfectly threaded and it scratches my brain in a way few other songs do.

Could you tell me more about the song – how did it come about? what was the inspiration and process behind it?

Thank you so much!!! That song actually started out as a really sad song, I just had a chorus and a little bit of a verse but it was a really bummer vibe. Then I had a writing session (the only one I’ve done for either of my records) with Sam Farrar and I showed him the idea and told him I had been listening to a lot of Remi Wolf and Noga Erez, and we tried to take it in that direction. It feels a lot better that way! I love how light-hearted in turned out.

Where do you usually find inspiration for your songs? Are there certain experiences, people, or places that consistently spark your creativity?

It’s pretty random. Sometimes I’ll be with friends or just sitting doing nothing and I’ll have a phrase or even just like a diary style paragraph that I have to write down in my notes app. Then I’ll come back to the note later and start to string together those pieces into a full thought.

In some of your songs, you explore narratives that are based on other people’s stories rather than your own personal experiences. I’m thinking of “god damn it jane”, which is based on a memory you have from over 20 years ago or “lsob” that you described as a gossip song.

What inspires you to write from someone else’s perspective, how does it compare to writing about your own emotions and experiences?

When I get into a rut or I start getting writer’s block it’s really helpful to me to write about other people. I do feel like it’s extremely nosy and presumptuous a lot of the time to try to put myself in someone else’s shoes without really knowing their full experience, but a lot of the time it does end up kind of melding in a weird way with my own feelings/experiences. It’s more of like a way to jump start a song so that I can dig into some topics I hadn’t thought about writing about yet.

You released a new single not too long ago…Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s coming next?

A lot more touring this year, and more new songs very soon! 🙂

Sydney’s album ‘somebody in hell loves you’ is out now. Listen and pick up a copy below.