Make mistakes, no one will judge you as much as you think. Being a recovering control freak and perfectionist myself, I think we all need to relax and make way more mistakes, publicly and privately. No one cares as much as we think they do. No one’s watching as closely as we think they are. Be bold, do your own thing, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sasha Smith, a self-made artist born in San Sebastián in the Basque Country in Northern Spain. Smith was brought up speaking English at home, Spanish while playing in the street, and Basque at school. “I’m a mix of all these different cultures that come from my family and where I’ve lived,” says Smith. “I have family spread out across the globe, from Australia to Argentina.” After receiving his first electric guitar at the age of 13, Smith was hooked. He fell into the craft of songwriting and felt deeply inspired by legends like John Frusciante. He released two EPs with his indie rock band BASIC in 2014 and 2015. He then went on to release solo work: Hyperpop 1.0 in 2018 and #pinkfridays vol. I in 2019. Hyperpop 1.0 is an EP of 5 tracks while #pinkfridays vol. I is a collection of singles.
Currently based in San Sebastián, Smith spends his time creating art and dreaming of a slower-paced life. He says music is his way of calming his mind. “I’ve always got so much stuff going on in my head, that I think the actual focus of making music relaxes me,” says Smith. He enjoys building a world around music and creating something magical from nothing. “There’s always a story in my songs,” says Smith. “Even if I’m writing a fictional lyric, I’ll always throw in some detail that I know to be true in my life.” His current musical style relates to that of Phoebe Bridgers, The 1975, and Bon Iver. The artist struggles to fit his sound into a box. With so many inspirations and influences over the years, Smith agrees to just let his music speak for itself. Smith is already prepping for his next project: an EP centered around the angst of the millennial generation.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in San Sebastián, a beautiful city in the Basque Country, Northern Spain.
My parents are both English. Dad’s from Brighton. Mum was born near Manchester but grew up in Argentina till age 15 — she then went to boarding school in the UK and ended up becoming a hippie, but that’s a story for another day.
I was brought up speaking English at home, Spanish in the streets, and Basque at school.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When it really started for me was around 2007, when I was 14. I got my first electric guitar for Christmas. I received some lessons and I quickly realized I wasn’t into lead guitar and soloing. I’ve never been one to sit and learn scales and focus on fast technique. I’ve always been much more comfortable playing rhythm, it comes very naturally to me.
Not destined to become the next guitar hero, I soon wanted to get my hands on an acoustic guitar. I wasn’t really sure why but something in me wanted to give it a try. I saved up and I specifically remember going to a local music store by myself as a secret and buying my first acoustic guitar.
One of the following days I just sort of stumbled into songwriting. I didn’t know I was doing it. I didn’t plan on doing it. I didn’t even know it had a name. I was just playing around, having fun. I naturally wanted to create my own chord progressions and stories.
I remember starting to sing on my own at that point. I wasn’t good, at all. But I think I didn’t realize I wasn’t very good. So I just kept going. I wrote songs for years that way. I had no intention of playing them for anyone or forming bands or any ulterior motive. I just enjoyed it. In my room, on my own. It was great.
I learnt from my influences by watching thousands of hours of live performances on YouTube, tutorials, and interviews. I listened to a lot of records on loop. I guess I was putting in the 10.000 hours without really knowing I was doing it.
Once I finished school and went to university and dropped out, I started taking it more seriously. When I say “taking it seriously” I mean it in the sense of working more diligently on the actual craft of songwriting, singing, playing instruments, and producing. I try not to take myself too seriously or put too much pressure on making the art because I find it makes it stale.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve done a lot of busking, both by myself and with my previous band BASIC. I’ll share a couple funny stories.
I think the memorabilia we gathered over the years is quite bizarre. We’ve had all sorts of things deposited into our guitar cases: golf balls, a pair of new socks, tons of different currencies, sausages, kid’s drawings, flowers…
We were playing in the Boulevard of our city one evening, and a huge crowd had gathered around us over a couple hours. This is when I busked with my band, so we had drums and guitars and were very loud. As we were playing the police came and stopped us to check our permit. Then as they were checking it the whole crowd started booing them and shouting for us to keep playing. And sure enough they left and we kept on playing to the most engaged crowd we ever got. That was quite thrilling.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It has to be the crazy gigs you take when you’re starting out. The ones where you drive 3h, set it all up yourself, get paid in food, 3 people show up, and you drive back home.
Those were great learning experiences. You soon learn to be more protective of your own time and value your work more. Like many other lessons in life, there’s no shortcut; you have to go through it and learn from experience.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently releasing new music under my project #pinkfridays vol. II. The #pinkfridays volumes are series of songs — released on Fridays — that I collect in these mini-projects (you can find them on my Spotify profile). It’s how I keep releasing new material when I’m in between bigger releases. It’s a great way for me to explore ideas as an artist and blend all the genres I like making music in. That’s why I can go from an r&b-pop track to a rock song or to a lo-fi bedroom pop release, and it still works.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
1. So we can better comprehend and learn from different life experiences.
2. So we break down world barriers.
3. So we get the best possible art.
I hate thinking about all the great art we’ve lost because of discrimination and racism in the past. I don’t care who made it, just let the people with the best ideas and art shine.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Slow Down.
I used to rush and stress out a lot. As an indie musician, there are so many things you have to do yourself, that I’d just end up being paralyzed by not knowing what to focus on. Over time I learnt that slowing down and approaching each task mindfully is a much better way of operating. It’s also the key to learning new things, be it in music or any other discipline. Slow down and focus, break things down to the smallest actionable items and start doing.
2. It’s not a marathon, it’s an ultra-marathon.
I had a vague idea of how hard a career in music would be, just from hearing all the horror stories from artists and what people around me would tell me. But man does it take way longer than you optimistically expect! We’re bombarded by success stories from younger and younger artists that explode into fame and success, but that’s the 0.1% that got lucky and met the right people, in the right place, at the right moment in time. If you’re part of the other 99.9%, you need to understand that most people are going to give up over time, and if you’re able to keep going you’ll end up finding your audience.
3. No one can do you better than you.
It’s hard not to want to emulate artists and trends that are hot. It will only hurt your artistic integrity and brand in the long run though. The main reason those artists are hot is because they showcase their uniqueness. So bet on your own taste and keep evolving.
4. Make mistakes, no one will judge you as much as you think.
Being a recovering control freak and perfectionist myself, I think we all need to relax and make way more mistakes, publicly and privately. No one cares as much as we think they do. No one’s watching as closely as we think they are. Be bold, do your own thing, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going.
5. There’s nothing more than today.
It’s easy to get caught up in the destination as an artist. The acclaim, the millions of fans, the sold out tours… It’s a trap. Until you realize you only have this moment, the now, you’re living a fantasy. So instead of focusing on what tomorrow might bring, enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing today. Enjoy that songwriting session, that web update, that nice comment you got… Dr. Michael Gervais put it best on Lewis Howes’ podcast when he said that there isn’t such a moment as “when it matters most”. There’s only now. The moment is now. And now again. There’s no moment later that’s more important than now. When we focus on other moments we let anxiety, worry, and doubt come through. When we’re in the now we can feel flow and our mind can become one with the speed of life.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m totally against the hustle/grind mentality, even though I know it’s a very popular thought these days with social media and the super fast pace of life we’re used to. To me it feels unsustainable in the long run, and I’d argue it hurts your art and brand quite a lot in the process.
I think a healthier approach is one of balance and control. Building your own career on solid ground using time to your advantage, and staying in control of both your music and your business. Total ownership. If you want to do this for a long time, it’s pretty obvious once you look around that you’re going to have to take really good care of your art.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’ll risk sounding like a broken record but I’ll say “slow down”.
Slow down in your work.
Whatever it is you do, find pleasure in the process. Even as I type this, I can slow down and be more intentional about it. Suddenly I can think more clearly and stop thinking about the other 6 things I need to do before lunch.
Slow down in your interactions with other people.
I’ve often made the mistake of rushing through conversations and interactions with the people around me, so I can keep working. Is that life though? Who are you going to share your successes with? Slow down, listen, there’s gold in every person you meet.
Slow down talking to yourself in your head.
Seriously, I think we can all do with a little less talking in our heads. Next time you’re out on a walk, try to consciously stop talking to yourself. Take in the world, nature or the city. Just be for a while. Also, bonus movement: put your phone on airplane mode for most of the day. It changed my work completely. You switch from reacting to how the world wants you to feel and what other people want you to do; to actually being in control and doing the work you know you need to do.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My family. They’ve supported me throughout my career and have always taught me to work hard for what I want to achieve in life. They’ve also taught me to always find the positive side in any situation, and that’s helped me tremendously in navigating the music industry. I couldn’t be where I am today without them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” ― Epictetus
Stoicism has helped me become the person I am today. This quote in particular is one I keep coming back to. Understanding what’s in my control and what isn’t, both in my work and in the people I come across, has helped me focus more and worry less. Every time something’s bothering me or something unexpected happens, I try to think to myself “Is this in my control or not?” If I see it’s external, I accept it and move on to something that’s in my control.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There’s so many! To continue my Stoicism trend of the last few answers, I’ll say Ryan Holiday. I’ve been using his journals for the last 4 years, and I’m a big fan of all his work and books. I’d rather just go on a walk with him or help with his farm work instead of breakfast though!
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m @sashasmithxyz on all socials. I’m most active on Instagram and Facebook.
I’m also very active on my own website and go deep into every song’s songwriting process, production, etc. That’s at https://sashasmith.co.uk
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!