In 2016, journalist Tolani Shoneye, personal assistant Audrey Indome and singer Milena Sanchez started the The Receipts Podcast, which they describe as “three girls who are willing to talk about anything & everything”. And they do exactly that – from sex to pop culture and everything in between.
“It’s like the group chat, magnified,” explains Shoneye. “I wanted to create a space for myself and other Black women especially. Women don’t have many spaces for themselves other than club toilets.”
There are also episodes, dubbed “Your Receipts”, where the hosts turn into agony aunts and solve dilemmas like, “Should I stop sleeping with my friend’s ex?”, “Is a 20-year age gap too much?” or even, “My sister cut off my eyelashes should I get revenge?” – and their new book Keep the Receipts is no different.
Across different chapters, each host shares their thoughts on everything from careers and family to sex and friendships. I caught up with the hosts-turned-authors ahead of the release of Keep the Receipts, to talk about sharing your life with strangers, online over-familiarity and trying to solve other people’s dilemmas.
VICE: Congratulations on the book! You’ve gone from having a podcast, to live shows, to being sponsored by Spotify and having billboards in London. Was the book always the next step?
Tolly: It’s really exciting. I’ve always written – I was a journalist, so it’s like, a book is the goal. I can’t say that, from the beginning, we knew we would be here, because that would be a lie. But it’s exciting just to see all of the different ways we can tell a story.
Audrey: I’ve always seen having a book as premium. It’s up there. It’s top tier. I never in a million years thought I'd be writing a book, so the fact that we get to do it now is incredible.
Milena: I think it was really nice, like watching it all come together. We actually haven't read each other's parts yet. So when you're saying that you've read it, we're like, “Oh, my god!”
Audrey and Tolly both have writing experience, but how did you find working on a book as your first taste of professional writing, Milena?
Milena: I came across a Facebook status from about seven or eight years ago, like, “I really want to write a book but I don't know about what or how or what that will look like.” So the fact I'm in this position now – it was really, really hard, but I was really excited, because I’d never gone to uni. So, in my head, I’m like, ‘This is my dissertation.’ This is the moment where I get to sit down and tell everyone, “Guys, I'm too busy – like, I'm writing things.” It was difficult, because you have to relive so many things, but it was amazing and I would do it all over again.
There’s a whole chapter on friendship in the book, and the three of you met, via Twitter, for the purpose of forming the podcast. How did you go about getting to know each other well enough to become great hosts and friends?
Tolly: I have a big thing about meeting new friends with a certain curiosity – like, you go in there with intrigue because you don’t know anything about them. I mean, we recently just found out that Milena has a cat. We’ve known her for five years and we had no idea. And we've seen each other in quite different scenarios. We record together, we've gone partying together and me and Audrey have holidayed together. So it's just been doing life together – not, “Sit down and tell me about you.”
Audrey: When we’re telling the stories on the podcast, it’s also us getting to know each other. It’s not even just about giving our audience content, it's really natural. Us building a friendship has been organic. I think that's part of the reason why we’ve been able to be successful, because people really love that. They can see it's genuine.
How have you found it, letting strangers getting to know you so intimately?
Tolly: Sometimes it’s a little bit uncomfortable. Most of the time it’s nice, but I've had people say things and I’m like, ‘How do you know that?” Then it’s like, ‘Oh, of course, I've said it on the podcast.’ It’s weird to arrive before you physically arrive. I think I’ve purposely made myself out to be not as nice as I actually am.
Milena: Yeah, especially if you're having a really crappy day, or you're going through something, and now you have to be like, “Oh my god, hi, how are you?” It’s like: I want to be at home and cry.
Audrey: One of the few downsides is that sometimes people can be a bit overfamiliar, or they feel a bit entitled to you. But then you do have to remember, like, it's not their fault – people literally feel like they know you. So I like to extend a bit of grace, because it's like, no one asked me. I've volunteered this information, and I speak about my life weekly.
Milena: It’s mainly the people that ask mad questions when I’m out or on [Instagram] Live. Why are you asking me why me and my ex broke up? They’re very brave.
You share a lot online, whether it’s the podcast or on social media. Is being online and under scrutiny ever too much?
Tolly: I’m comfortable in the fact that I’m not a dickhead. I have no hateful views or anything like that. I’m also very knowing that I can mess up and say something stupid, and that will be purely out of not knowing – not hate or ignorance. But I'm also cautious of what I put on the internet. The internet is not a safe space, and I want everyone to know that. The internet is not a safe space for anything. Once you're aware of that, you're aware of yourself, and you check yourself – and I have people who check me. And I also check my friends.
Milena: For me personally, I don’t use Twitter, and although I use Instagram Stories, there are things where I’m like” I don’t really want to post that, because of my anxiety. Every minor detail is scrutinised. So I’m working on that, because I get scared.
Audrey: It's a constant thing of re-evaluating how much I want to give. As we’ve become more visible, it's definitely something I’ve taken into consideration more, because it's not just me, there’s two other people who it affects. I used to tweet every single thought that came to my mind. Now I don’t, because I don’t have as much time, but also people are waiting and watching us more. On the internet, a lot of people follow you, but it doesn't necessarily mean they like you. So everything I say is genuine and it's me, but I’m just more selective.
Each of you talk about your families in the book and are generally unfiltered on the podcast too. Have they seen everything already?
Milena: I deleted the Spotify app on my mum’s phone.
Audrey: My dad has been asking for a link since we started. He has not received a link. I was thinking about this the other day – like, I’m grown. I can’t come and die because my mum knows I had sex. When I was writing the book, I was conscious of that, because I want my family to be able to read it. On the podcast, I say what I want to say, and they will never hear.
Milena: My mum will be shocked at how open I am about sex, because my mum is exactly the same way, but I'm so pained in front of her. Anytime she mentions sex, I’m like gross, but these times I’m on the podcast saying the absolute most. Lowkey, she might be proud of me, maybe?
Tolly: I'm less worried about my mum hearing the content – I’m worried about her knowing that I’m talking. My mum is very private, and from when we were young she wants us to show ourselves to the world in a certain way. So I'm more concerned that she's going to be like, “You’re just on the internet, talking.” If I tell her I get paid, she might be happier, but still, she’ll be like, “Out of all the jobs in the world, you chose talking?”
Did committing elements of your personal life to paper feel different to when you’re on the podcast?
Tolly: It feels so much more permanent on paper! When we were reading for the audiobook version of it, I felt really vulnerable. I felt like I had opened myself up to people a bit more.
Audrey: I feel like, when you're writing, you're just more conscious because you want your voice to come across correctly, because people can't necessarily tell your tone. So I feel like you're just a lot more intentional with how you word things. With the podcast, I know that I have to go out of my way to give my family a link, which I'm at liberty to do or not do. Whereas, with the book, I don't really have any control of that.
Milena: Also, we don't have any other books that this book can hide behind. Whereas, with other episodes, we can say something, but because we have so many coming out, it's just like” I hope no one heard that bit. It was difficult at some points for sure.
Milena, you speak about childhood sexual abuse and eating disorders, and Tolly you discuss your father's passing. How did you find discussing those kind of deeply personal issues in the book?
Milena: I think, for me, because these things aren't spoken about in my culture, I really, really wanted to make sure that, if anybody else that was reading had gone through similar things, they felt that courage to speak on it, or they felt at least “not as alienated” or less alone.
Tolly: I mean, yeah, I think it’s the first time I've publicly talked about my dad's passing. In terms of that chapter, I wanted something that was exactly how I felt in that moment. It wasn't necessarily all pretty.
Was Keep the Receipts always going to be in the format it is now?
Tolly: Well, we all sat together and thought, ‘Is it going to be that someone takes this [topic] and someone takes that?’ But it didn’t feel right, because everybody has their own voice and I can’t speak for Audrey or Milena. The chapters centre on who we are as women, so it was important to go into them.
Audrey: We didn’t want anything to be too far fetched from what we do and who we are. I think cohesion is really important with what we do. When we knew we were going to be doing a book, we definitely played around with a few ideas. We had an idea of doing a novel, and all sorts of things were thrown around. This one made the most sense. Sitting down and trying to do it together would have been really hard and messy.
Lastly, thinking about “Your Receipts” – and the way that’s like an agony aunt column in podcast form. What were your favourite columns growing up?
Tolly: I used to make them up for Sugar magazine. There were letters – god, I’m ageing myself, but it was all letters, no emails. People would hand write them and they would all be crap – like, “My friend doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.” None of it had juice for me. I don’t even know if it’s allowed, but I wrote them myself, just by thinking, ‘What are the issues that young people around my age go through?’ It was just like reworded versions of what my friend's issues were. But to this day, nothing beats [Denise Robertson on ITV’s This Morning]. I love her. People would call in and she would be very firm and funny. She holds a special place in my heart.
Audrey: I lived for those problem pages! I was such a magazine head. I spent at least £20 a week on magazines – Mizz, Sugar or More. But I liked the darker, sinister problems.
Tolly: Of course you do.
Audrey: Just ones that are like, “I was at school and came on my period and everyone laughed at me.” If I saw relationship ones I wouldn’t really read them. I don’t care about relationships – I wanted gory details. I’ve always loved gist [gossip].
Tolly: It is the gist of it all, isn’t it? Just being in people’s business. The Sun used to do cartoons with it, right? That was elite.
How do you all keep your reactions so calm when you’re reading wild dilemmas that have been sent in?
Tolly: Sometimes you can hear that I'm quiet for a bit, because I'm trying to work out, ‘How can I say you’re a dickhead without saying it?’
Audrey: We’ve kind of seen it all now – just so many wild things that I never thought I'd hear. So we know how to manage our reactions a bit better. But every now and then we might we get a really, really crazy one. And we can't help it, because we're reading it in real time. I don't think I'll ever get bored of hearing people's dilemmas, and they don't get bored of sending them in.
Are there ever dilemmas that you can’t read out on the podcast?
Milena: Definitely ones that are above our pay grade.
Tolly: We’ll start reading it out and then have to stop. We’re like: first of all, that’s a crime. For some, it would be irresponsible for us to read it.
Audrey: Yeah, sometimes it’s for the authorities, police, social services, a therapist.
What have you learned from being 21st century agony aunts?
Tolly: People are really going through it, and straight men are mad. Every issue is about them.
Milena: Sometimes it gives you perspective on what you’re going through.
Audrey: I’ve had some really strange things happen to me in my time, so when dilemmas come in and it’s something similar, it’s like rah, the things you thought were exclusive to you, people are going through all over the world.
Keep the Receipts: Three Women, Real Talk, No Filter by Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez is out now, via Headline.