Sidney Gish is a Boston-based artist who released her second album last December. She is currently a student at Northeastern University and plans to work on a third album during her next Winter Break.
Dominic Anthony sat down with the artist earlier this month. The interview will be rebroadcast on Indie Overnight this Saturday, Oct. 27, at midnight. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Dominic Anthony: To start out, I was curious about your musical background. If I understand correctly, you started writing, recording around 2011. I was wondering if you could give me some insight into when you first started playing music and when you first started writing music.
Sidney Gish: Well, I first started writing music on paper in middle school, and then I had GarageBand on my computer a bit later into that, so I started learning how to work with loops and stuff, and then once I got to high school, I started taking a music tech class. So I learned a bit about DAWs and like, how to use GarageBand better, and then through that I kept using GarageBand up until 2016. And then I started using Logic. So it’s kind of just a steady slope of practicing gradually over time and just having fun with that whenever I had the time to.
DA: You put up a large release with a number of tracks on it, I think it was 2015, on Bandcamp. What made you decide to upload the music? Since then, how has your approach changed over time in terms of writing and recording?
SG: I put that one up in 2015 because I had all this basically unfinished stuff on my computer, but it would never get finished, and I wanted to just like, release it to have a starting point to improve upon whenever I could, and by starting kind of small, I’d be able to be... I found it not intimidating to put out a second album after I’d put out a first album of, like, half-finished material because I was like, “Oh, if this is up there, all I have to do is do better than that one.” And so, that really helps a lot. Just trying to share what I’ve made instead of sitting on it until I felt like it was perfect. Because it’s never going to feel like it’s perfect. I just had a bunch of songs from high school that I just wanted to kind of like close a chapter on, like, “Here they are. These are the songs that I basically worked on in high school.” Just to have those out there felt pretty good as opposed to sitting on my computer not doing anything.
DA: In 2016, your album Ed Buys Houses was the first one that ended up on Spotify. What made you decide to distribute this one a little bit more widely?
SG: So I decided to put that one on Spotify because it was kind of more like an intentional release, like I put all of the songs together more on purpose than kind of dumping them out like I had with the other two, and also I just felt like it was more put together. And I realized that an account was only like $20 a year, so i decided to just go for it and put it on Spotify then.
DA: Can you take me into the recording process you use? If I understand correctly, you play, record, mix everything yourself — a super impressive DIY ethic. Is that important to you? Is that a necessity?
SG: I think it’s just really fun to record everything myself, like producing is my favorite part of making a song. Most of the time, I just make an instrumental and add vocals over it, just because I like having control of every little thing that happens. When I listen to music, I like to listen to the music itself in addition to the lyrics, which is like, totally the most normal answer that anyone can give. I really like thinking of sonic landscapes and the way that instruments interact with one another in terms of music theory and chord progressions and stuff. I really love that stuff. I’m not totally closed off to working with other producers, but I just think it’s really fun to be able to say, “Yeah, I did this all myself on my computer. All the chord progressions and guitar parts, that was my idea.” ‘Cause that’s the part that’s most fun for me to write, like all the guitar stuff.
DA: Whenever you perform live right now, you use a looper pedal. Would you ever think about transitioning to a live band at some point in the future?
SG: Yeah, I think about it all the time. I’m kind of just an organizational mess, but I’d love to play live with a band at some point. I just have to get them together and figure out who should be in the band and all the really base-level stuff of starting a band. I also like performing with a loop pedal for now while I can, kind of like, take apart the songs and rearrange them into that because it’s like, self-sufficiency. I can just travel anywhere and play a show, and I don't have to have anybody else agree to do it or have to be free that day. I can just go and do it if I want to. I also like the visual aspect of being able to play all the parts I wrote one after another even if it takes a bit longer. I think the very pared down, base-level reproduction of the arrangements, like at least have three layers over one another is really fun.
DA: I wanted to talk about your last release, No Dogs Allowed, a little bit. Was there any difference in your approach to this album compared to other albums? You mentioned that the 2016 album Ed Buys Houses was your first deliberate release. Was this similar to that and did you approach it in a similar way?
SG: Yeah, it felt like, after Ed Buys Houses kind of got a bit of recognition in the local Boston scene, I always had this thought of like, I want to keep one-upping myself. So I tried to make the production a bit better on No Dogs Allowed and fit a bit more instruments into it, instead of doing the same thing. I started using a different DAW. I started using different techniques and using more samples and just kind of exploring more things I was interested in. Not just in a malicious plan to get more attention, but in a way that’s like, “This is fun, and I want to expand whatever I’m doing into a more nuanced approach.” That was kind of what I decided to do. Then, I kind of just finished up a couple ideas that I had and put that one out.
DA: You mentioned that you didn’t plan for this to get a lot of attention, but it absolutely seems like it’s a breakout album for you. Pitchfork’s picked it up. There’s been a lot of media attention on this album. What’s that been like, and now that you’re starting to write and record for a release in the future, are you starting to think, “People are going to hear this”? Has that changed the way you write at all?
SG: Yeah, like I’m definitely super happy and super grateful for the way things have gone this year. It was definitely a lot of a shock in the early months, and it’s definitely the luckiest kind of shock that could happen. Definitely just a lot to think about. And I learned that a lot of bands and independent artists have teams built around them, so I started thinking, “Should I be looking for booking management?” Like PR and that, and I still don’t have a full team built and everything. It’s definitely a confusing thing. I still have a lot of the mindset of I want to keep one-upping myself. I’m still working on new stuff really, and just gonna see how it turns out and keep putting it on Spotify.
DA: I want to circle back to the actual music on this album. You mentioned you used a lot of samples on this, on songs like “Bird Tutorial” and “Sin Triangle.” Can you tell me more about these samples?
SG: Yeah, so the sample on “Bird Tutorial” is a recording from this thing I found online, and it’s like “How to Get Your Bird to Talk,” and it’s some vinyl from the 60s. That came out in the 60s, or it sounds like it’s from the 60s, and I found that and saved that to my computer, and I had this instrumental, so I just put that over it because I didn’t have any vocals for it. And then on “Sin Triangle,” it’s from a video called “Improve Your Personality,” which is like an instructional 50s video on how to be a better person. There’s all these 50s videos on how to get your child to become popular at school. It’s so fucked up. But it’s a whole YouTube loop you can get stuck in. It’s definitely really fun. I had one of the videos bookmarked, and I just clicked around and found a chunk of speech without any music behind it.
DA: On this album, I feel like there’s this really well-crafted pop sensibility when it comes to the song structure. Can you talk about that? Like, what influences your songwriting and the way you approach structure and melody?
SG: I’ve always really enjoyed music theory and chord progressions and maybe not thinking about them super intensely, like sitting down and sweating, writing sheet music thing, but just like, I really enjoy writing melodies that I think are fun and layering them over each other, and that’s always kind of been what I like to do, with like samples and electric guitar tones. That’s always been what I really enjoy doing, first of all. It’s definitely just like, any melody that I think is more fun than another, I’ll include that one.
DA: Speaking of layering melodies, I think that one track that really does this is “Not But For You, Bunny.” Can you take me through the writing process behind this, both on the music side and the lyric side?
SG: With that song, that was the last one I recorded for the album because I had just a few songs that I knew I wasn’t going to finish in time or put something into, so i decided to make a whole new one. I recorded the top guitar part through my Apple headphones actually and kind of like phased it. So when one take is in one ear, the other take is in the other. I either played it twice or dragged one, so it’s kind of different, and once I had that, the headphone recording made it sound a bit janglier, which I thought was fun. Then I recorded a baseline for it and did vocal parts for it. I kind of made it up as I went along and wrote the guitar part and came up with vocals afterward.
DA: Can you talk about the lyrics for this tune a little bit?
SG: So the lyrics for that tune are like utter bullshit. I was making the song up on the spot, so I was really just like hanging out, whatever vowel sounded good I was gonna sing. And “glitter, candy and perfume” were just three fun things, like I just had a note that said that in my phone, so I decided to make that the chorus. And like, “careers are on the phone” was a hook that I was trying to write into a totally different song that summer that I never did anything with, and then I realized it fit into that song, so I just put it at the end.
DA: On another tune on this record, you reference a Frankie Cosmos tune, “I’m 20.” That’s on “I Eat Salads Now.” Frankie Cosmos, there are some parallels that could be drawn between where you're at in terms of your trajectory with this breakout album and prior to this a lot of bandcamp releases. Frankie Cosmos right now — touring nationally, signed to Sub Pop Records — do you see yourself going in that direction? Where do you see Sidney Gish going as a music project?
SG: I love Frankie Cosmos, I think she’s awesome. I saw her live before I put out the first of my dump albums, and I realized that she had been putting out dump albums or these quick EPs, and I thought, “Wait, that’s so cool,” how she shared all these draft-kind of work publically. I thought that was really cool, instead of keeping it secret or whatever, which was what my approach was going to be. So that helped me a lot, and I still really love her music. I don’t know what my plan is. Mainly, I’m just really excited that people enjoy what I’ve done this year. And I’ve put out both of my albums over Winter Breaks, and I have another Winter Break coming up, so I think I’m just going to try to swing it again and put out another album alone over Winter Break. And then after that, I’m going to graduate college like next winter, I believe, so then, I don’t know what the plan is far in advance. A lot of the stuff that I put out on No Dogs Allowed is still basically mostly finished on my Logic thing, so I just need to kind of get going and make some more stuff, mix some more tracks and see how that’ll go. I really liked mixing No Dogs Allowed myself, especially really not knowing what my plan is and not having to commit to anything in advance really, and then I could just decide what I wanted to do as I did it because I didn’t have to report back to anyone on how it was doing. It was kind of my own project. And I know that’s not a realistic approach to go on forever, especially if I want to expand it, but it’s something I kind of want to stand by for the next album. But that’s kind of just a big sketch because I want to do something totally different in the next few months. Like right now I’m literally writing an essay for my class. I’m just trying to make it through each week over and over again until winter break happens, then I’ll try to put another album out, but I’m not sure yet.
DA: A little over a month ago, you opened for Mitski in the New England leg of her run, are you planning on doing any tours yourself or supporting anyone on any tours soon? And could we expect to see you in San Antonio maybe?
SG: Maybe not San Antonio directly in the next couple of months, but I’m definitely trying to go on tour again because I had a great time this summer. I mean, I’m in classes in spring and fall, but during the summer, I’m trying to go on tour again. And there’s some stuff in the works for like weekends and stuff around the Northeast, which’ll be really fun. Overall, I booked three headline shows in Boston, New York and Philly, and the Philly one already happened, the Boston one’s this week, and there’s a New York show on October 7th at Rough Trade. That’s mainly what I’m focusing right now, and also doing classes and maybe putting out another album. It’s really just a weird plan that doesn’t exist.