Before actually sitting down with Haley Dahl of Sloppy Jane, I wrote a quick 200 word preamble to this piece hoping it would focus our interview, and give me some direction in mansplaining to you what the hell happens at a Sloppy Jane show.
I had tried to get really deep with it, and convinced myself that the combination of visual elements and sound textures in the show perverted child imagery with the intention of speaking to the millennial reality of arrested development. You know, the one where our generation inherited a cracked economic system that doesn’t allow us to reach traditional milestones of adulthood. I shared it with her, and with a sharp “nope”, she said “nothing is about perverting anything.”
Between laughs, she continued: “I hate to sit here and play shrink but… it sounds like that’s what you’re dealing with and it’s cool that the show is something you can relate to.” I took a second to swallow that fact.
“But, I don’t think you can misinterpret it" she added. "There’s a lot. I do it cause I want to. Whatever you get out of it is fine.”
On stage, Haley is a conductor and her right arm the baton. She starts on her knees, back to the crowd, slowly rising and whipping her arm up to pull more and more decibels from her drummer. The wretched bass swells and Haley breaks loose. Without their consent, the audience is thrown deep into her mind. She turns, a dark blue vomit-like discharge oozing through her grin, her eyes widen and she rips off her clothes. A chorus of giggling cherubs cut through the wall of booming dissonance and jangly strings.
On the left corner of the stage, a damaged VHS player spits out The Jungle Book through screeching static. Two backup vocalists lean on it, enjoying juice boxes, and smack a marching band bass drum to the rhythm. They’ll switch to slide whistles later in the act.
Welcome to Sloppy Jane. Take what you need.
There isn’t a quippy word, that describes being simultaneously utterly confused and clearly understanding — ‘schadenfreude' for the brain’s logical side — so you’ll have to take my word when I say that’s how it feels. It’s an organism. It lives and breathes.
"It looks and sounds a lot like me arguing with myself. That’s me trying to push together all the things I’m excited about.” It’s a world for her to live in.
Sloppy Jane is a collage made of a decade of self-expression, evolving through pure bricolage. The only constant: the name. It seems superficial; a name is just two sounds, but the continued piling of new ideas over a solid foundation forcing constant reformulation is what makes Haley’s music and performance such a cohesive work.
"I do what I do because I love to have a good time on stage,” she says. “As a performer, make yourself as vulnerable as you can to a group of people, because they're so scared they don’t know how to be comfortable within themselves.” She doesn’t mean physically comfortable or safe, though. She’s proudly punched a crowd member in the jaw at least once.
Despite the chaos, nothing is haphazard. Haley calls herself a disgusting perfectionist monster. The band practices 5 times a week, sometimes at 8 a.m. Her demands from her instrumentalists are acutely specific. She works with them individually to get "the sound of a body throwing itself against something” down to a T. It’s a mystery how, she says, but she’s grateful she found a dedicated group so quickly.
The band has grown up with Haley, and she with it. "I’m glad that I started this project when I was 15 and haven't ever been in another band,” she says, because having many monikers “hurts the evolution of a piece." Her stage make-up remains from her teen days growing up in L.A.
There's always been a rotating cast around her. Now, everyone is fresh. Having recently moved from LA and losing her longest standing bandmate Sarah Catherine in the move, with whom she wrote the material for the newest single Mindy and soon forthcoming album, Haley faces the brunt of fine-tuning and making all those decisions for the first time.
I was happy to find out that I was both totally wrong and couldn’t be wrong about Sloppy Jane but I still wasn’t satisfied - I pressed Haley about intention one more time.
I’ll let her speak for herself:
"I'd like to make music where afterwards I can't help but go to sleep. I have a great time. Doing what's right for yourself and what's right for everyone else is usually the same thing. Thinking about making something that will succeed in a world where success no longer exists is damaging. Fight for whatever is interesting, don't fall into the blender."