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A couple of years ago, Sabrina Teitelbaum, better known as the red-hot indie darling Blondshell, made what could have been a huge mistake. She agreed to accompany a guy she was talking to — but not yet dating — when he went to adopt a puppy. Blondshell describes herself as a “crazy dog person,” and suddenly, she was in love with the 10-pound German Shepherd sitting on her lap, soon to be named Chinchilla, aka Chilla. Fortunately, both budding relationships stuck. “We like to joke that Chilla sealed the deal,” she tells The Wildest.
Since releasing her eponymous debut album in April, the acclaimed Los Angeles-based musician hasn’t gotten to see a lot of Chinchilla. Blondshell’s headlining summer tour took her across North America and Europe, and she’s spending some of the fall opening for Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville 30th-anniversary roadshow. But, when we talk, she’s home, taking a break from performing her clever, barbed rock songs to relish every Chilla snuggle she can get.
The Wildest caught up with Blondshell in between tours to find out more about her dog’s boundless energy, life on the go, and plans for her second album.
This is a huge touring year for you. What does Chinchilla do when you’re on the road?
He stays with my boyfriend. I can’t [take him with me] because, first of all, it’s just not the right conditions. We’re in a van. But also, he’s almost 70 pounds. He isn't the type of dog to be excited about traveling. He’s very focused on his routine and wants to be in the same place every day doing the same stuff.
How do you keep up with Chilla while you’re away?
I’m constantly asking for pictures. I FaceTime. I’m always like, “Can you put him on?” And then my boyfriend knows who the “him” is. One of the hardest things about touring is just being away from the people that you love.
Promoting an album and being out on the road is still a new experience for you. How would you describe the year you’ve been having?
It’s been really exciting. It’s felt very fast-paced because there’s always stuff going on. I’ve been on four tours in the last year. The first song on this album came out in June of last year, but time doesn’t make that much sense because of not having been home that much. Like, I’m gone for six months, then home for three months.
How did the Liz Phair arrangement come about? Did she call you and ask you to join the tour?
She didn’t call me. She heard the music and tweeted about it when the first song came out. That was kind of crazy for me because it was the first week that I had put this music out and I didn’t know how it was gonna go.
She tweeted about it, and I was like, “Oh, shit; it’s Liz Phair.” I knew she was going on a tour. I don’t know how exactly it came about behind the scenes. I think we probably were like, “What if I open?,” and she was like, “OK, yeah, I like this idea.”
When you are home, what does a day in Chinchilla’s life look like?
There’s not a really specific routine like if I had a 9 to 5, so it changes. But he has his things that he loves doing. He’s a big park guy. He loves going on long walks. He requires a lot of exercise. I’m always trying to learn new ways to tire him out. I learned this the other day — do you know the food-in-the-towel thing?
No, tell me.
So, for dogs, since their main sensory thing is their nose. It tires them out if they’re doing a lot of sniffing because it takes up a lot of brainpower for them. You lay out a towel and then you put dog food on the towel, roll it up, and tie it in a knot so they’re constantly smelling it and trying to get to the food. They have to work to get the towel undone, and it takes a long time. I have learned these smart ways to get around his huge need for exercise and just get his energy out.
What else does he love?
His favorite thing in the world is the beach. We go to Malibu with him. I think it’s just the sensory thing where there’s literally saltwater in the air, birds, stuff like that. When we were there for my birthday in the spring, we took him to the beach and we came across a pack of Golden Retrievers. There were, like, five of them and a family. He tried to join. Some of them were nice, but they were kind of like, “This is our path.” He’s just a really, really sweet dog. He wants to be with everybody.
You described him on TikTok as a “62-pound lap dog.” Is he a 24/7 snuggler?
He’s not by nature, but I wore him down. When we got him, he was really not snuggly at all. He would fall asleep, and I would try to pick him up to hold him while he was sleeping. Then he would wake up and move. He didn’t want to be a lap dog, but I think I conditioned him. And now he is. I think it was like training, like positive reinforcement.
Have you ever written a song about Chilla?
I’ve tried. I think good songs usually have conflict in them, and there’s just no conflict in my relationship with my dog. There’s no darkness. I’ve talked to my friends who are musicians and have dogs about this. It’s like, you always want to write about your dog because you love them so much, but I think it typically doesn’t make for the best songs. And then, is it kind of cheesy?
That’s a good articulation of it. A song, like any good story, needs tension or some sort of arc.
Yeah, there’s no arc. You’ll probably hear him on the next album. He’ll have fun cameos in songs.
Does that mean you’re working on the next album already?
I’m starting to demo songs. It’s really, really early, but I’ve been writing, and in the course of writing, sometimes Chilla pops in. If you’re just talking about your life and what's going on, I mean, I’m always with my dog, so it comes up. He’ll sit next to me and smell the guitar while I’m practicing. He’s a little unfazed by the actual music, which is a good thing. I think when you’re a musician, so much gets wrapped up in identity and the music and praise and all of that stuff. So, having someone who’s such a big part of your life that doesn’t give a shit about it is nice.
You’re on a constant feedback loop when you’re making something for consumption, but Chilla is like a blank slate.
Yeah, I get nervous for shows sometimes. But something that’s helped me in the last year is being like, “This dog would have no idea if it was the world’s worst performance. If this was the end of music for me, my dog wouldn’t care.” I think that’s really comforting.
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Matthew Jacobs is a culture writer whose work has been featured in Vulture, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and The Hollywood Reporter. He has an adopted Chihuahua / Boston Terrier named Gus who likes french fries and sleeping in.