Sasha Spielberg on New Buzzy Lee EP and Acting in Her Dad's Movies

Steven Spielberg's daughter also talks adolescent 'Titanic' obsession and why she finally feels people are taking her music on its own terms

Steven Spielberg's daughter Sasha discusses her new musical solo project under the name Buzzy Lee and what it's like to act in her father's movies. Credit: Brantley Gutierrez

"I can kind of be a chameleon," says Sasha Spielberg. At 27, Spielberg has been making music for nearly a decade – first in Wardell, an indie-folk act with her brother Theo, and then in Just Friends, an electro-pop collaboration with her friend, producer Nicolas Jaar. Yet she's a woman of many talents: Spielberg has acted in several films (with roles like "Woman with Package" in The Post and "Young Israeli Woman Watching TV" in Munich, both directed by her father, Steven) and become a micro-influencer on Instagram, where she shares mini-improv sketches for her 35,000 followers (her most notable series, hashtagged #gearhead, features an Australian woman obsessed with musical equipment).

On April 27th, Spielberg – working solo this time – dropped Facepaint, her first EP under her latest alias, Buzzy Lee. The five-song release is filled with smart, introspective synth-pop that recalls Haim and Lykke Li. "I've kept a diary since I was seven years old, and I still write in mine," she says. "This just felt like me being nine years old again, writing about, like, Leonardo DiCaprio. Just, you know, personal, I guess."

Considering your name and background, do you feel like people have been receiving your music on its own terms?
This is the first time it's really happened. People on Instagram have been messaging me and saying the nicest things about the music. It feels completely separate from me. It's been my goal forever to have the music speak for itself, and that's kind of the response I've been getting from people, which is just really, truly, all that I can care about – that people respond to it, and are less so like, "OK, Sasha Spielberg's putting out music, let's see what this is about." It's been great. It's just been so warm. And people are just so nice. God, people are so nice in the world.

Were you having trouble with people taking your music seriously before?
When [Theo and I] put out music, everyone was so supportive too, but it is just really different doing it alone. I can't just say, oh, Theo wrote this song. This is about Theo and a girl, or this is about Theo and his – whatever – all his stuff. Now it's kind of just me, as an only child, in a way.

How was the creative process for Facepaint different from recording music for Wardell?
It was totally terrifying. In Wardell, we always wrote songs together. I would write a melody line, Theo would write the chord progression, and then we'd both come together and write the bridge and the outro. I always resorted to the idea of, "I'm going to send this voice note to Theo, and he's going to finish it." Around two years ago, I saw that I had about 5,000 voice memos [in my phone], and I was like, oh, I have a problem. Some of them are 20 seconds – just me humming – and the others are like, 10-minute-long jam sessions with myself.

I wanted to finish a song alone, by myself, just to do it as an exercise – to see if I could do it. Once I started doing that, the songs just became so personal.

In the scheme of all the characters you've played, who is Buzzy Lee?
Buzzy Lee is me. That's more me than even me, in a way. I think my whole life, I put a lot of energy into pleasing other people, and trying to make jokes, and trying to make people laugh. That does bring me joy, but at the same time it's obviously really draining. It's a bit narcissistic, actually, to be like, "I'm gonna make everyone laugh." So I feel like it's a test to work on this project. I've been a bit more subdued in myself and not feeling the pressure to please others, which is really hard to do.


Was Buzzy Lee a rebellion against that?
Yeah, it kind of was a rebellion. Or it wasn't a rebellion, but rather a challenge. I feel like it was more just, let me take off my shoes and take off my face and stop trying to be funny all the time.

I remember during the writing and recording process it was hard for me to then go out after a day in the studio. I was like, wow, this feels so good to just be only myself for 10 or 11 hours. And then to then go meet up with a bunch of people at a bar ... that was really hard for me. But truly being with myself, oh, God, it was such a gift to have that.

Was music a big part of your life growing up?
Besides my bat mitzvah – that was my coming-out party – I was obsessed with Titanic. I would sing "My Heart Will Go On," and then I'd make my dad video me singing it over and over again.

I would put on shows for my family and my family friends, and I'd sing for hours.

Did you ever consider trying to break into the industry as a kid? You grew up in L.A., and – obviously – around a lot of people in the entertainment business.
When I was much younger, I used to practice my Oscar speech in the mirror. I used to beg my parents to be in movies. I begged my parents to let me audition for Teen Idol – I think I was 13 – and my parents said no, and it was heartbreaking. I was constantly trying to get myself into little acts like that, but my parents were so strict. I think they wanted to protect us, and they kept us all out of any spotlight except their own. That was where we grew to love performing – just in front of our family.

I love that your big-screen acting roles are all such random parts. How did those come about? Did you try to audition for bigger roles?
Of course, I tried to audition for bigger parts. A lot of the movies that I played tiny roles in stemmed from me auditioning for a bigger role in the movie, and then the director being like, "OK, you're not right for this role, but I kind of want to still put you in the movie."

If you see my IMDb, it's pretty obvious that a lot of them are my dad's movies, and he would always just find these little parts for me, and be like, "Hey, I need a favor, do you want to be in this little role where you punch Shia LaBeouf?" They were so little – I'd take a day off from high school or middle school to shoot, and I felt so cool. It was just a cute, endearing bonding experience. It's a very specific father-daughter–bonding thing.

When you were writing and recording for Facepaint, were you working on other film or writing projects?
I haven't auditioned seriously or acted seriously in a really long time. I've been so, so deep in music. I always do love [acting] when I'm doing it. But in terms of where my heart is, it's always been in music. That's the cheesiest – that's literally like a Celine Dion lyric.