Faster Than Sound: Falling Hard for Sasha & the Valentines

The Massachusetts transplants debut their dream-pop LP, Daniel Johnston's NFT dustup, and more music news


Sasha & the Valentines (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the five members of Sasha & the Valentines briefly dispersed. Throughout college, the quintet formed an orbit of musical projects to play university parties. Time spent apart inspired singer Sarah Addi to begin writing her own songs and developing a haunting, velvety vocal depth.

"I was out in Hawaii working on a farm, and all I wanted to do was play shows," remembers drummer Billy Hickey. "Separated from my gear and my friends, that time away made me realize, 'Alright, I'm going to go do that.'"

JB Bergin grew up with Hickey.

"I felt this rubber band kind of stretch, where I missed playing music with these specific people," echoes the bassist. "When I found out that everyone was moving to Austin, I thought, 'Well, I'm not doing much in Chicago.'"

Two years after reassembling in Texas, Sasha & the Valentines' debut LP So You Think You Found Love? on Philadelphia tape label Oof Records comes out Friday.

"We had to get out of Massachusetts, because we all grew up there, and Austin surprised me," explains Addi. "It was the right age, and time, for us to give music our full effort. Because it's the live music capital, we've been able to really get seasoned and just play a lot."

The crew quickly made an impact on the local indie circuit; everyone except Addi also plays in Sasha guitarist Alex Whitelaw's garage act Spirit Ghost, and Bergin and Hickey also contribute to singer-songwriter Christelle Bofale's live band. After seeing Sasha perform during Hot Summer Nights in 2019, Cacophony Recorders owner Erik Wofford reached out to the band. Plans to buy a tour bus dashed by the pandemic, the group invested in Wofford's thick, hazy, Cocteau Twins-aligned production instead.

"I've always loved the drama of artists like Blondie, ABBA, Madonna – those power songs of shamelessly expressing emotions, almost kitschy, but also very serious and genuine," enthuses Addi. "Relationships are one of those tropes that'll never go out of style, because it happens over and over again. No one's going to stop writing love songs."

Prepared tambourine parts by auxiliary percussionist Tim Zoidis also impressed upon the album tracking.

"We wanted it to sound as live as possible, but still really grandiose and polished," says Bergin.

Expanding beyond Addi's live keyboard setup, texture from some 10 synthesizers powers the swoony collection, spiked by Bergin's propulsive bass and Whitelaw's surf riffs. Under the guise of a longing, rom-com format, Addi layers sexual identity and codependency. Midway through, a commercial break riffs on late-night talk shows, like the nationally syndicated Delilah.

"I'm very romantically inclined, always in and out of relationships my whole life, and I just poured that into everything I wrote," says Addi. "Sasha & the Valentines happens to be our name, so it made sense to make it an album about love."

True Love Will Funge You in the End

Last week, Austin music waded into the waters of non-fungible tokens, digital art tech, and garnered strong fan reaction and ultimately a lackluster payout. Followers of Daniel Johnston on Twitter weren't happy to hear of the deceased cult icon's art being sold as an NFT. News of the auction, the first post from @DanielJohnston since 2018, was deleted after commenters criticized the sale and format as at-odds with the outsider artist's legacy.


An accompanying CultureMap Austin article quoted Johnston's manager Tom Gimbel.

"I often say, only half-joking, that Daniel was the original file sharer," he said in reference to the singer handing out cassettes on the street.

Overseen by the Johnston family and estate, the single piece – titled "Daniel Johnston Is Alive Somewhere" – sold for almost $4,600, roughly the asking price for a physical Johnston original.

Daniel's brother, Dick Johnston, took to Facebook with a long, bible-verse-packed response to the negative feedback.

"This NFT stuff is small potatoes," he wrote. "[Creating] an expanded appreciation of Danny's legacy is our real focus. The 'spending' on this undertaking continues to exceed what income continues from Dan's music and art. I'm happy to do that until there's nothing left, if that's what it takes to get his message out there."

He said the family continues to focus on unreleased material by the singer, including "thousands of tapes and 150 notebooks," while the estate also announced an exhibit at the Contemporary Austin's Jones Center. "Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" runs Sept. 11, 2021–May 20, 2022, surveying both the visual art and music of the late, great local.

As part of a fundraising series for independent venues nationwide, Mohawk auctioned a Golden Ticket NFT by digital artist Young & Sick. The GIF also bought entry to any show at the currently shuttered venue, with a plus one, for a year upon reopening. Despite an initial reserve bid of around $23,000, the package sold for only $3,100. Venues had better luck with celebrity donations: Shawn Mendes purchased an NFT for L.A. nightclub the Troubadour for $43,000, and Tycho paid over $21,000 to the Independent in San Francisco.

Crosstalk

Jamie Wellwarth, mainstay sound engineer known for work at Continental Club and Nomad Sound, recently underwent extensive abdominal surgery. According to a GoFundMe for medical expenses, "33 stitches and much rearranging of internal plumbing later, he made it through and is on the mend." As previously reported by the Chronicle, Wellwarth fell 45 feet from a fourth floor window in 1995, leading to various complications. Visit the $30,000 goal at "Jamie Wellwarth's Surgery and Recovery Fund."

Musically Fed, a nonprofit providing unemployed musicians and music industry workers fresh food and other necessities during the pandemic, hosts a drive-by distribution event Saturday at the Long Center. Contact info@musicallyfed.org to sign up. Distribution follows a food drive last week in partnership with the Luck Family Foundation. Similarly, the Austin/Bay Area nonprofit Touring Professionals Alliance announced partnership with C3 Presents in parking its roving kitchen locally April 12–29 to pair "nationally-renowned chefs and restaurants in leading music cities across the nation to serve chef-prepared, high-quality, take-home meals to live event industry professionals whose work has come to a complete halt due to the pandemic."


13th Floor Elevators leader Roky Erickson receives a posthumous tribute from renowned archivists Light in the Attic. May the Circle Remain Unbroken gathers new covers by Jeff Tweedy, Neko Case, and Lucinda Williams, alongside locals Gary Clark Jr. & Eve Monsees, Black Angels, Alison Mosshart & Charlie Sexton, and more. The Record Store Day vinyl debuts on July 17 with unreleased Seventies track "Love Hieroglyphics" and a 16-page book. A CD version arrives later this year.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sahsha & the Valentines, Daniel Johnston, Sarah Addi, Alex Whitelaw, Spirit Ghost, Christelle Bofale, Cacophony Recorders, Erik Wofford, Dick Johnston, Mohawk, Young & Sick, Jamie Wellwarth

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