Singer-songwriter Sidney Gish has slowly been building her presence in the Boston music scene since the release of her debut album, Ed Buys Houses. Still, Gish has been prolific in her short career, releasing large amounts of material in a short time via Soundcloud and Bandcamp, while studying the music industry at Northeastern University. Her songs are often catchy and silly, but incredibly well-crafted, especially when you realize that Gish does everything herself. We got a chance to speak to her shortly after the release of Camino ‘84’s new single, “Sounds Fake But Ok,” which she’s featured on.
BAD: What is it like collaborating with a different artist where most of your other work is solo?
SG: It’s interesting, because I do like to work alone most of the time, but it’s nice keeping in mind whenever I work with Camino ’84, it’s for his album. It’s not like we’re doing a combo thing. I’m pretty chill with doing vocals and writing what isn’t written yet. It’s just a more relaxed process, because I’m not responsible for everything, and it’s nice to see what the process is like for people that bring in collaborators. It’s fun to see the other sides of what’s going on.
What’s your approach to songwriting?
My approach to songwriting is that whenever I’ll get an idea, I’ll record it on voice memos and listen to those whenever I’m walking around and figure out what’s good and what’s not. I’ll have a general idea for a song, and then, I’ll usually put the finishing arrangement touches on it, while I’m recording it. Lyrics: I’ll put them in there somewhere, but usually it’s melody first, and then lyrics to it, while I’m arranging it.
How do you come up with ideas for lyrics? I know with Ed Buys Houses you had the album cover before you had actually written it. Was it just going along with that?
I used to write lyrics that were just complete nonsense or made up situations, and I sometimes do. Mainly, it’s voice memos, or whenever I have an idea, I’ll record it in voice memos, like a melodic idea that goes with the pairing of words to melody. Or, I’ll just write random shit in the notes app also. I’ll comb through that to see what’s good, also put that to the melodies I’m coming up with.
Going along with Ed Buys Houses, having read that you made the album cover before you actually wrote the album, did you find that it was easier or more difficult to write with that? Or did it not really affect your process at all?
I liked having the album cover kind of be manipulative. I had the general idea of shelves, but knowing that I could just put more stuff on the shelves. It wasn’t set in stone like “write an album around this cover.” It was more like a mood board for the album that I wanted to write. Then, I just looked at it whenever I was recording, and I was like “oh cool, this is the image that reminds me of what I want to record.” It was more of a mood board than anything. There’s just so much stuff that I was putting in there. It’s helpful to have something like that to give visual inspiration. Even a normal mood board, my little sister is really into making mood boards even just for her school years. It’s fun to collage stuff together.
What are your influences? What elements of your influences do you think shine through in your music?
I’m really influenced by the- I don’t even know what to call it-all the modern artists like Frankie Cosmos, Mitski, Girlpool, Ó (formerly known as Eskimeaux), and Waxahatchee. All of them! I don’t even know what they’re all called together, but all of them are in this one scene together. Also, the local Boston music scene is kind of an extension of that. Not really an extension of that, but stuff that’s happening in music now that really inspires me, in terms of the vibes of it and really inventive songwriting. Also, other creative artists-I’m really inspired by of Montreal, because their melodies are really interesting and not repetitive. I don’t really get bored of listening to them.
Do you feel that studying the music industry affects your songwriting at all or just in the way that you release your music, play shows, and things like that?
The music industry major has been super helpful. I applied to every school as psychology or sociology, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and then, at Northeastern, they had music industry. So it was like “Oh cool, business is a practical major,” but I also like doing music by myself, so I could figure out something if I major in that. It has been helpful, because a lot of the stuff that comes with releasing music, and understanding even a little bit of how things work is great. Being able to be on the other side, I help out with Northeastern’s student record label-Green Line Records. I do marketing for them. It’s good to see the other side of how a label would work and the things that need to go into a release usually, and then just applying that by myself to what I put out. Other than that, the music industry major has been a completely different thing from the local Boston music scene [laughs]. How things are done with smaller bands, seeing that outside of school has been really inspirational too, because there’s a different process for when you’re a smaller band, maybe not even working with a label, as opposed to the big business lens of Northeastern’s music industry major. Going through all levels it’s good to see how people are putting stuff out, and then pick and choose what I want to do from that.
When I first heard your music, I saw a super DIY-aesthetic, but with that in mind, do you feel like you merge aspects of DIY and a major record label approach to the way you put out music and handle all the business side of things?
I really like the DIY approach, not even for the “aesthetics” or whatever [laughs]. I really like doing stuff by myself, because I didn’t really like collaborating with people, because I just wanted to do everything by myself. I like having control of everything, when it comes to music that I’m writing. Also, it’s more convenient, because I don’t have to organize anything, because I’m doing all of it. Technically, since I made the music myself, it is DIY, but I am trying to aim for a sound that is less noticeably DIY a lot of the time or cleaning stuff up a bit more. And, I’m trying to learn mixing and a more conventional approach too. I’ve been working on that as opposed to-I’ve put voice memos on the internet, but not any on Ed Buys Houses, except “Presumably Dead Arm,” but that was still through Garage Band instead of my phone. And then, not really [having] the approach of a major label, but having that perspective instead of just “LOL here are my voice memos on the internet,” which I kind of did for a while. Even when I was putting out kind of dump-albums, I want to put out a more real album in the future, not just keep putting out dumps. So, that’s why I put out Ed Buys Houses-“I’m gonna clean this up a bit more.”
You kind of touched on Boston already, but how do you feel that both New Jersey and Boston have affected your music and how you’ve been performing and writing?
In New Jersey, there is a nice music scene based around Montclair, but I didn’t really grow up as a part of a scene or playing in bands. I just did choir, which was fun, and if I was doing anything when it comes to writing-I started a songwriting club with my friend in twelfth grade, and that was fun, but it was still a small thing. I was mainly layering stuff in my basement, over itself, because I wanted to do all this stuff, but I didn’t study any jazz instruments or anything, so I had to figure out how to layer my voice, if I wanted to get a chord together, because I couldn’t really play it on anything, other than piano if I tried really hard, but never in time with the music. So I’m like “cool, I’m just going to write parts for this, and then sing that.” If I grew up playing in bands, I’d probably be more about collaborating, but I grew up doing everything myself, so that’s how I want to keep doing things.
When I moved to Boston, it was cool to see people that were down to be all creative and stuff [laughs]. There are people that are writing songs, playing in bands, and putting shows together. When I first started going to house shows, I was like “Yo, this is so cool,” because if I was just doing recordings in my basement, people are doing other sides that usually happen professionally in their basements. Just like I don’t need a recording studio in my basement to record music, you don’t need a concert venue to have a show. Doing everything and being resourceful with what you have is cool to see in Boston.
You mentioned in another interview that you wanted to release a new album, by your twentieth birthday, but that you probably weren’t going to.
Have you been working on that?
Yeah, no it’s so annoying! I think what it is is that I have to breathe for a bit after I put out an album and play shows for it, and then start recording a new one. Technically, I could have recorded songs if I hadn’t been so lazy. I don’t even know what my plan was earlier on in the year, because if I had just sat in my basement for fourteen days, I could put enough songs out to make another album. I could do it, and I don’t know if I would like them. I could put them out. I was like “cool, I finally put out a full-length album. Now, I need to stop being lazy, and I could put out another one.” It seemed feasible in February saying I could put it out by March, by the time I turned 20. Then I turned 20, and I was like “LOL.” So instead of doing that, I was half-assed-ly writing a lot of notes on my phone, maybe coming up with some melodies. In the fall, before I put out Ed Buys Houses, playing shows was a one-off thing that I didn’t really do, but then I started playing a lot of shows this spring in Boston. I went down to Connecticut for a show. I just started booking more shows, playing more shows, paying attention to that a bit more. That was a fun experience, and it’s good. I feel better playing shows now, than I did before, when I was like “Yo, what the fuck am I gonna perform.” Right now, I’m in my basement. I’m trying to make a collage for the next thing, because I love making collages. I’m trying to work on that now that I’m in my basement in New Jersey for a month. Hopefully, I’ll get it done now: if not, I’m going to be so annoyed when I go back to school.
Do you feel like playing shows has helped you as a songwriter?
Yeah, it’s helped in terms of seeing what it’s like to deliver lyrics to an audience, because I’m still kind of half-assing it. I play solo, and I feel like I want to play solo for awhile. I’ve been jamming with some people, and it’s really fun, but I don’t know if I want to get band together, because I don’t want to coordinate anyone’s schedules. I would get a band, maybe, eventually. Now, I’m going to try to use more loops, because I do that sometimes. In addition to loops, I’m trying to record stuff in August. I ordered a bass-pedal off of Guitar Center that’s going to get mailed here soon that I’m going to fuck around with and then I can play bass and drums and guitars all in one set. Hopefully, that’ll work out-bass and drums and guitar-a drum machine, an octave pedal, and a guitar, and a loop pedal, just trying to expand a live set up and how to be more of a practice thing. Even when I practice for 30 minutes before I go on, I feel way better than literally putting the guitar in the case and taking it out at the next show I play, which was terrible and not fun for anyone involved. I have a lot more respects for bands that can play a really interesting live show now. If you can have a cohesive story behind it or have it be really interesting, that could be good, as opposed to just playing the songs.
Right, do you have any live acts that stand out to you?
I just went up to Boston to open for Jeffrey Lewis this July. He’s the main songwriter in everything, but he has a drummer and bassist, but he had this thing, where he had drawn a comic book of the lyrics to one of his songs that he stood on a chair and sang and flipped through the comic book as he sang, and people were dying it was so great.
There’s a musical, vaudeville thing that happens in Boston called Mogo. It’s this awesome, basically an opera by Eli Roberts, but it happens usually in house shows, and nobody expects an opera to happen. It’s fantastic and really entertaining. Stuff like that.
It’s really fun to watch as opposed to just a band playing, so I don’t know what eventual gimmicks I want. Stuff like that is really cool to watch and expand. I was super into Bo Burnham when I was like 16. Still love him, I don’t know what he’s up to now, but the whole multi-media mental breakdown that he has on the stage. It’s really fun to watch. Even if it’s just a band playing-this band Dazey and the Scouts from Boston does this thing called “Fuck, Marry, Kill” in between their songs. It’s so hilarious. They yell out these bizarre, surreal things and you have to “fuck, marry, kill” them. Even stuff like that is more interesting than going up and saying, “Hey, we’re gonna do some songs.”
Lastly, is there a particular message or emotion that you aim to have people take away from your music?
I like writing stuff that’s concise. Whenever people are saying nice things about my lyrics, I’m like “Yo, thanks, I just put them there to take up space, because I mainly wanted to do a bunch of melodies.” I’ve gotten more into train to write lyrics intentionally that rhyme and have an iambic flow or whatever. If I’m having a thought, that I need to spend maybe a few minutes explaining as opposed to two seconds, I’d rather flesh it out in a song, and have someone be like “Yo, what the fuck, me too.” Stuff that would take awhile to explain, I want to distill it down and present it in a more, easier fashion to understand. If I’m trying to express something to someone, and I’m like “Yo, what the fuck? Yo, what the fuck?” If I can’t explain what I’m trying to say, I’ll write it down for a while and then I’ll try to take away what I’m trying to say. Just trying to explain myself to people, when I don’t even know what I’m doing.
Ed Buys Houses is available on Bandcamp.