Interview: Sidney Gish is in control, because that’s how she rolls

If you’ve been on the internet at all this past year, you’ve probably at least heard of Sidney Gish. The college student quietly dropped her sophomore LP, No Dogs Allowed, on New Year’s Eve and hit the road for her internship in New York, where she didn’t expect to see her own music streaming in Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist or picked up by press outlets like Pitchfork and The Fader.

In just a few short months, Gish found herself on summer tours with Camp Cope and Petal, and then with Mitski. Earlier this month, before it was revealed she was nominated for a quartet of 2018 Boston Music Awards (Unsigned Artist of the Year; Alt/Indie Artist of the Year; Song of the Year, for “Not but For You, Bunny”; and Album/EP of the Year, for No Dogs Allowed), Gish found time to meet with Vanyaland after class on a rainy Boston afternoon. In advance of her appearance at Great Scott in Allston this Thursday (September 27), we chatted about her lucky streak, staying in control, and what we can expect from her next.

Violet Foulk: So, how does it feel to have been getting so much attention for No Dogs Allowed so quickly?

Sidney Gish: It was definitely just really lucky. I didn’t anticipate that strong of a response, but I’m really glad it happened, and I’m excited to keep making art now.

And in addition to gaining so many fans, it’s also incredible how much press you’ve been getting without any help from a publicist.

Yeah, I don’t even have a manager or anything, just a booking agent. Part of it is that I want to kind of step up to the plate and treat this like a job. Being on top of business, making sure everything is running smoothly, coordinating meetings — it’s all stuff I have to remind myself every day to stay on top of. I’ve gotten a lot of practice in navigating this kind of freelance business, and it’s a big goal for me by the end of the year to be more on top of it. I’m already in charge of everything but I’m not necessarily like, quick to respond to emails, and I’d like to work on that.

Do you think you’ll look into getting a manager at some point?

Yeah, maybe eventually. But I do like the idea of doing everything myself. I know what I want. I can hit pause whenever I want instead of someone else running it all for me. And I like being in total control, even if that means hitting pause for a while.

Is it overwhelming doing it all yourself though?

In the beginning of the year when I just got so lucky with all the press and everything, it was a lot to take in. But in an exciting way! I had a ton of meetings with people. It’s all just super lucky, and it could all go away in one second. It’s still, to me, just a weird thing that’s happening.

Yeah, I saw that you were in New York at your Island Records internship and you saw yourself on an official Spotify playlist.

That was really cool. That internship was so educational, I learned so much. I was basically scouting people just like me, which was so weird and so meta, and I got to learn so much about how the industry works.

You definitely have an interesting view of the music industry since you have that label experience, as well.

It was mainly just because it’s a requirement to do a co-op for school, so it was something I was aiming to do from the start, in addition to releasing my own music. I knew I’d be working somewhere to get a taste of the industry.

Let’s talk about the album — how did the use of the parakeet training sample come about?

Well I found this sample online of a parakeet instructional recording. It seemed kinda perfect and I was only going to put in one bar, but then I was like, “let’s go all the way with it!”

What about the album art?

Well, the guy walking the dog copy himself was just a .png I had in a folder. I was messing around with a bunch of images, and decided to use Microsoft Paint on New Years Eve when I realized I needed album art.

And you wrote and produced the album completely yourself?

Yeah, I like to have complete control over every little aspect of it. If I want to try something new, I can throw it in and take it out just as easily if I decide I don’t like it. If I’m working with somebody, I have to first put into words what I want to do in a way that makes sense. And it’s fun to collaborate with people, but if I’m just messing around on my computer it’s done before I even finish with it, since I’m working layer by layer.

What is your favorite track from the record?

I really like “Sophisticated Space” — I like the way that one came out and I had a lot of fun doing the instrumentals. I like them all, but as for my favorites, I think I lean toward the more upbeat ones. I’m just glad I was able to finish all of them and put them out. Not the last track though, that was just like a voicemail. That one was just like, I wanted the song in there but I didn’t record it in time.

How long did it take from when you started writing the first song until you put out the album?

Well I’m continuously always working on stuff, so a lot of the songs had been written by the time I put out my first album and I just hadn’t recorded them yet. So probably at least a year. I was working on and off for a long time, and then building each individual layer of each song.

How do you think growing up in New Jersey, going to school in Boston, and interning in New York have influenced your music, if at all?

Well, growing up in the suburbs, there was a lot of boredom in that which is part of why I started teaching myself audio producing, without really even knowing what it was.

Did you always know you wanted to play music?

I always liked writing since I was little, but I wanted to be an author or a cartoonist or something. Then I hit a theater phase in middle school, and then in high school I started getting into science and psychology. Then I declared music industry going into college and just never changed it. I didn’t really have a set career goal, and I like doing a lot of creative stuff, so I knew that would be a part of my life in some way, whether it was like, trying to make viral internet content for the rest of my life or just doing it as a hobby.

And now, I definitely feel more confident than I did this time a year ago. Whatever I’m doing during the day, whether music can support me or not, the fact that I know I can put something online now and people will check it out feels really good. When I was putting out my first album, I didn’t know if anyone would like it or even listen to it. Now that I’ve put out two albums, when I put out a third, it’s not like I need to meet some kind of quota or goal or even push it. Maybe people will like it, and as long as some people are into it and keep thinking what I’m doing is interesting, then that’s good. I’d like to see how far I can go.

When did you play your first show?

The first show I ever played was two years ago in Somerville. I played a 45-minute set, and I actually divided it all out to see exactly how many songs I could play in that time frame. I showed up like, all shaking with this list of thirteen songs I would play. But it was really good. I kept playing shows that year and once I put out my first album was when I really started getting a lot more show offers. Then when I put out No Dogs Allowed, I was in New York taking all these meetings and getting all these show offers.

It was lucky that you were in New York when the album really took off!

Yeah, it was! I thought releasing it would be an afterthought but it ended up being a defining part of moving to New York. It was well timed by the universe. I didn’t think I’d be so focused on that release. But after going through that, as accidental as it felt to me at the time, I feel like I know more about what I want to do now.

Are you working on a new album now?

I’m always working on music. Given the pattern of the releases I’ve done, with like one a year, I might try and do one again soon. I want it to be casual though, like I’m just gonna slip it out.

I like that that’s your style, just putting it out there like that.

Yeah, I hope it comes across as a style, and not just like, debilitating social anxiety.

How did the Camp Cope / Petal tour come about?

I knew I wanted to go on a summer tour after my internship ended, before the next school year started. My agent booked me on their tour and made sure Petal were cool with me riding in the van with them, and they were really nice about it. I just rode with them and they were all super nice people.

“For now, I’m just operating basically the same way I have been. I’m just alone on my laptop and I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”

I designed my own merch and I was selling it at all these shows since I didn’t bring a merch person along with me. I’m setting up a merch store online that’s coming soon, too. Every indie band is running a small business, and I want to effectively run that small business myself someday too, but a big part of that is delegating work to other people and I still don’t know what needs to be done and how to actually delegate it. I’m trying to do as much of it as possible by myself, and I’m learning a lot about it along the way. I’m super lucky that it’s even a question, because I wasn’t thinking about business at all when I put out those two albums. But now I’m thinking toward the next step like, what should I do?

But for now I’m just trying to maintain control. Wow, I keep saying that — I sound like a super villain. I’m just so unsure of how it all works, so I’m very reluctant to start working with people.

Have you had any label interest at all?

I have talked to a few, but it’s really not in the front of my mind right now. I’m still so confused about how this has all happened. I’m really excited but really confused and I just want to make sure that I know I’m doing the right thing before I start working with anyone. And still having it be, at its core, just me uploading stuff to the internet. That seems the most natural.

I hope I don’t come across as being malice, because I’m just being really careful.

No, it doesn’t seem that way at all! No one knows you better than you.

Yeah, I just don’t really know anything. I’m totally unsure. For now, I’m just operating basically the same way I have been. I’m just alone on my laptop and I don’t know what the fuck is going on.

But it’s working!

It worked last year, and I want to find a way to make it less uploading a post to social media, and more of an actual release. I have plenty of time to figure it out, and I’d much rather just keep laying low for a while and playing shows, and then once I have a better idea of what I’m trying to do, I’ll work with more people and start building a bigger team.

So you’ve toured with Camp Cope and Petal, and Mitski too, plus a ton of one-off shows around town. What’s been your favorite show you’ve played?

I played a house show in April in an attic and everybody was standing up and everyone was really sweaty, so I had everyone sit down on the floor. I started playing my first song and they all started singing along with me! We were all singing together in an attic, it was really sweet. That was one of my favorite shows.

What do you like better, house shows or venue shows?

I like both kinds. They’re all fun to go to and fun to experience. I’m just glad I get to play shows at all and that people come to them. That’s pretty much it! Like, oh shit, people are into what I’m playing at shows and they want to come to them.

SIDNEY GISH + PRIOR PANIC + SQUITCH :: Thursday, September 27 @ Great Scott, 1222 Commonwealth Ave. in Allston, MA :: 8:30 p.m., 18-plus, sold out :: Bowery Boston event page :: All photos by Violet Foulk

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