Sally Boy’s Debut Single Was a Lifetime in the Making [Q&A]

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Philadelphia-born artist, Sally Boy, released his self-titled debut single on Wednesday, June 30. After playing countless late-night gigs in the city's DIY basement scene, Erez Potok-Holmes, AKA Sally Boy, now lives in Los Angeles where he left behind his childhood alt rock band to pursue something more. The self-titled single, "Sally Boy," proves to be the young writer's true introduction, unadulterated and honest. No longer playing within the confines of basement rock or by anyone's rules but his own, "Sally Boy" is a track that was a lifetime in the making.  

Written about a year after he moved to Los Angeles, the song shows the writer's reckoning with his identity and childhood, fixating often on the physicality of change with lines like "break my back and leave my skin out to dry." The production of the track itself also manifests the same sentiments held in his lyrics, descending into and out of chaos but anchored by acoustic guitar. Despite his changing life, there appears to be a constant through it all.

We had the opportunity to talk with Sally Boy about his debut single, growing up in Philly, and how quarantine has affected his music.

Ones To Watch: Your name is Erez Potok-Holmes, but you are now releasing music under "Sally Boy," what is the story behind the new artist name?

Sally Boy: The song came first. It was really written as a stream of consciousness in the summer after my freshman year. A lot of times I have trouble understanding what I'm thinking and feeling, so I like to write a stream of consciousness to reflect back on later. So, when I was trying to come up with a name to use… Erez was taken… and I immediately thought about Sally Boy. It just worked because the song was about the younger version of me, looking back on myself and questioning whether or not I was ready to let go of childhood.

The way I look at it Sally Boy is the version of me who has come out later in life. In grade school, I felt like I was constantly suppressing certain parts of me like my weirdness or any femininity I felt. Sally Boy is the part of me that was always there, but I didn't always allow to come up. Looking back at it, it made perfect sense.

Is this stream of consciousness style of writing something you do across most of your music, and do you like to keep your first drafts? Or do you usually go back and edit the lyrics later for clarity?  

My process has changed a lot. I used to only do stream of consciousness. I'd turn on a voice memo and just play for five minutes and go back a while later and take the parts I liked from it. But for a long time, I had this notion that my subconscious was better at writing music than I was. Now I feel like I've grown to have a lot more intention in my lyrics, to understand myself a lot better, and to know what I'm trying to say from the beginning.

You used to be in a band that was pretty successful, with a record deal even on the table at one point. How did you decide that being a solo artist was a better fit for you, and how did you transition out of the band?

It happened recently. During quarantine I officially let them know that I was out. There was a record deal on the table that they wanted to take, but I had to be the bearer of bad news that it just wasn't going to work well for me. It's an alt/indie rock band and I felt like stylistically speaking I had moved away from that. I also felt like I had such a good team with me here and felt really confident about working with them. The band is based in Philly and I live in LA now, so it was too hard to straddle the both projects.

You grew up in the suburbs of Philly, but you've been living in LA for the past few years. How did your upbringing affect the music you've been making? It seems like reflecting on your childhood was really influential for you making this record.

Philly did a lot for me as a kid. Playing music in the basement scene and seeing how people expressed themselves got me well on the way to determining who I wanted to be. I've been living in LA for the last two years and working on this record really made me have to come to terms with who I am and who I was back in my childhood.

Did your parents encourage you to play music or were you mostly self-motivated?

I think when I was young, they had some influence because I was put in piano lessons since I was, like, two. But with writing, I think that came from me entirely. Neither of my parents wrote songs, but my mom and grandfather are writers so maybe that was somewhat influential. My mom writes novels and my grandfather was a pretty famous Jewish writer.

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Originally, your plan was to record these upcoming songs during your college Spring Break week, but coronavirus hit around the same time, allowing you a lot more time to work on your music. How has the pandemic changed the music you are releasing now?

First of all, I think I had way too high of goals for myself at the beginning. When this first hit, I told my manager, "I'm going to give you an album in one week" (laughs). I really thought we could do that. I had a lot of drive in the first week to complete the record and then we hit a wall. I think, in the end, the vision I had for this music before quarantine though pretty much came through in the final product.

I think that what will be affected more are future projects from me. We made a lot of the album in the desert and did some tripping with friends. It took me to places mentally that I hadn't been before. I think every album after this one though will be drastically different because my mindset as changed, and I'm more confident and open now.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but "Sally Boy" sounds like it was written with just an acoustic guitar and the production came later. Was that the process for creating the song?

Yes, "Sally Boy" was the first time I ever recorded with Cole Mitchell who I work with a lot now. We made the demo of this song in our shitty apartment with just my vocals, background vocals, and guitar and that was it. I loved that demo and thought it would be a beautiful start to an album. So, I sent the demo to Rob (AKA Hong Kong Boyfriend) just to see what he thought about it, and I didn't hear back from him for a few days. Next time I saw him he told me to come over, and he had essentially produced out the whole second half of the song and played it for me. It's almost exactly the way the final song is now. Hong Kong Boyfriend is also on another song, later in the album. This song has such a long life, we've worked on it for like a year-and-a-half and other collaborators like my friends – Joe Avio and Cam Lee – helped out on it too, so the story is super long, but basically, that's how it started out.

Which song are you most excited about releasing?

"Kane." It's a later single of mine. I've been rooting for that song since the beginning. It was one of the first songs I ever really tried to produce by myself. I was horrible at production back then and so it's changed a lot, but it was a big moment for me. The second I wrote this song, I really believed in it, but everyone else was against it: my managers, my friends… everyone. They didn't like it at all. And now, it's a song that people often point out to me as one of my best.

Who are your Ones to Watch?

Raissa, Jhune, Joe Avio, and Contradash!

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