Waltzer isn’t just a band because Waltzer, in fact, is also a TV show.
Waltzer is also a character, a persona, and a songwriting collaboration unit. Waltzer is a one-woman project and even a sketch-comedy routine. Waltzer is nothing that you expect, but everything you didn’t know you wanted. In short, Waltzer may be a moniker, but it contains ever-evolving multitudes.
Time Traveler is Waltzer’s debut full-length album and the end result of years of work by singer-songwriter Sophie Sputnik. As a former musical theater kid who found her armor fronting Florida punk-rock two-piece Killmama for several years, her songwriting has been informed by everyone from Erykah Badu to Roy Orbison. As such, Time Traveler melds a lifetime’s worth of music loving to create a sound that’s a little bit rockabilly, a little bit punk, and all of it wrapped up in an undeniably contemporary style. Its sonic contours may be firmly grounded in rock and roll’s sweat-drenched history, but its worldview speaks to the worried world we all are trying to survive in.
“I called it Time Traveler because it’s about traveling through your thoughts while staying in one place,” Sputnik notes, who often invokes the phrase “future tripping” when discussing the album’s central theme. It’s a made-up term, but one that speaks to our anxious present: that feeling when you’re all by yourself, painting plans in your head that may stretch out for months, years, or decades, and getting lost in the fantasy before crashing back into current shadow-specked reality. Time Traveler embraces all sides of that headtrip and reminds us that we’re not alone in those feelings; in the right context, you may even find a hint of joy in your own future trips.
“Destroyer,” Time Traveler’s closing salvo, ended up being one of the first songs Sputnik wrote that she felt sounded truly and authentically her, its roots dating back to 2011. When she moved to Chicago at 28, she hardly knew anyone in town but was determined to make it the home base for new musical endeavors. Picking the name Waltzer after drawing inspiration from the track “Waltz (Better than Fine)” off of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine (which Sputnik describes as “nobody’s favorite record but mine”), songwriting and shows were soon underway. Waltzer’s sound was far removed from the go-anywhere fervor of her punk days, as Sputnik’s songs were now more focused, more open, and ultimately more honest.
While she had previously attempted a few projects under the Sophie Sputnik solo moniker, “it just seemed so covered in what I thought I was supposed to do,” she notes. “It had no authenticity. It sounded like a people-pleasing record or something.”
Waltzer was notably different in approach. Operating under the framework that disparate elements can coexist if you want them to, Sputnik worked with various collaborators to make Time Traveler a reality. Fellow Chicagoans ROOKIE’s guitarist, Christopher Devlin, served as producer while the songs began to take shape. Sputnik knows her strengths as a performer, allowing for collaboration to be central to the Waltzer process.
While Waltzer may be an entity with many meanings and many guises, Sputnik is still the driving force behind it. She trusts her gut and knows what she wants. While she admits on the strutting rock single “Lantern” that her own attention span swings back and forth, she was doggedly focused on making sure Time Traveler was the best record it could be, fighting for a new mix of the entire album before its release. Still, Sputnik pressed on and eventually snagged Ratboys producer Erik Rasmussen to give the songs another pass, giving her beautifully anxious pieces the haunting sheen that she was going for.
“There are a lot of songs I wrote that are directly related to Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh,” she explains. Although rock music has been in her heart from a young age, she connects deeply with the early-2000s neo-soul revival. Badu, Jill Scott, and Janelle Monáe have been a regular part of her artistic intake. “I saw Erykah Badu like two years ago at The Aragon,” Sputnik recalls. “That was when I realized, ‘Oh, this is what shows should really fucking be.’ You go through all these waves of emotions. I was crying and I was laughing and I was dancing and I felt connected to everyone around me even though they probably didn’t give a shit about me.”
Of course, performing her own live shows proved to be a difficult task, given the hardships that 2020 brought to the concert and touring industries. Sophie was gearing up for SXSW and a gig at Chicago’s famed DIY venue The Hideout when the pandemic hit. “They were like ‘Yeah, the pandemic is happening, so you have to do it online and you have to fill 45 minutes worth of content.’ I’m just so sensitive to boring things and I also have a really short attention span. I think that’s why I get along with Gen Z’s. I’m always like that. I’ve always been so neurotic. And I thought, ‘I’m not gonna go and sing my little songs on my guitar.’ So I went on a walk with Robert Salazar, my friend who directed the “Destroyer” music video, and we mapped out what a project like this might look like. Afterwards, we immediately got to work filming all sorts of crazy stuff.”
That “stuff” became the skits and bits that made up “Waltzer TV”, Sputnik’s born-out-of-necessity live streams that featured Waltzer and several other acts across the country contributing their talents. Each broadcast in 2020 was hosted by a music venue in a town or city with a rich music and arts scene (think Nashville, Austin, and Athens) and featured talent unique to the area. In Sputnik’s mind, Waltzer is more of an umbrella for artists to collaborate under than it is merely a band, and it’s this safe and fun space that ends up inviting so many different voices in. “Collaboration is so vital to Waltzer because it allows for all of the excess to be cut out,” Sputnik notes. “We always have ideas in our head and we are always trying to translate them. You have to keep cutting away at all of the excess to get to the real vision in your head.”
“Waltzer TV” is a breeding ground for artistic cross-pollination, with actors, animators, rappers, and country crooners all coexisting in each broadcast, united by Sputnik’s own irreverent charm and energy.
After years of waiting, Time Traveler is finally showing up in the big wide world, full of six-string swagger and confessional sentiments. “I obviously love making rock and roll,” notes Sputnik, “but I love bringing all of these different facets together. I think that soul music has this from-your-gut feeling, and when that’s in rock and roll music, it produces something really special.”
With the songs of Time Traveler having themselves traveled through well-worn years to get to where they are today, Sputnik is excited to have these out in the world, so much so that she’s already working on new material. Yet more than anything, Sophie Sputnik is ready to have this collection of songs define this chapter of her life. “I’ve been working on this record for so long that I know that finally I created the one thing that I’m at least kind of proud of,” she tells us through laughter. “So if I die tomorrow, it’s cool. If somebody hears it, at least it means something.”