Realizing big ambitions and singular visions in a D.I.Y. fashion seems to be a criterion for Dahl, 26, who started Sloppy Jane 11 years ago as a high school student in Los Angeles. A boyfriend back then gave her a Roy Orbison CD that was so well loved it became scratched to the point where a peak in “Only the Lonely” fell into distortion. It was anguishing yet inspiring: “I was like, ‘That’s what I want to make musically,’ something that has the highest high and the lowest low, that goes in and out of lucidity, where it’s like this beautiful thing that just unravels,” she said a few weeks ago during another interview in Williamsburg, this time at Bar Blondeau.
Rather than seeking formal training, Dahl opted for self-direction. “Ideas are the things that are important,” she said. “You just need to walk around and trust yourself.” So she did her time on the Los Angeles punk scene, and in 2015 released Sloppy Jane’s first EP, “Sure-Tuff,” six songs of rock ’n’ roll high jinks that feature Phoebe Bridgers, the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter who has been Dahl’s friend since high school, on bass.
Following the EP’s release, Dahl started work on the band’s first full-length album, “Willow.” She wanted to not only base it around a narrative theme but also expand beyond the bass-drum-guitar sound when performing the songs live. Dahl recalled that Bridgers told her, “Go get your orchestra.” So after recording “Willow” in Los Angeles with Sara Cath, Dahl headed to New York in 2017 and found Nardo, Wollowitz, Rothman, Brennan and others. Once she had the band she desired in place, she released “Willow” in March 2018.
The opening musical passage of “Madison” references the final piano outro of “Willow,” beginning where the other ends, but the two albums differ. Musically, where “Willow” is more of an alt-rock opera, “Madison” is a wall of sound with poppier leanings that key in a spectrum of emotions — the uplift of “Party Anthem,” the delightful weirdness of the wordless “Bianca Castafiore,” the wistfulness of “Wilt.” And thematically, where “Willow” is about “numbness” and “touching but not being able to feel,” “Madison” is about “loneliness” and wanting someone who is just out of reach, Dahl said. “It’s like you figured out how to have these feelings, but you have nowhere to put them.”