Meet Sidney Gish, the 21-Year-Old Singer-Songwriter Opening for Mitski
Twenty-one-year-old singer-songwriter Sidney Gish began her semester-long A&R internship at Island Records the same week that her music first appeared on Spotify's ubiquitous New Music Friday playlist, and her boss was quick to point it out to her -- an experience that she described as being "extremely meta." Despite the success she's seen in the past few months, Gish humbly admitted to Billboard that she was much more focused on finishing her internship and learning about other artists than on pursuing her own music career. As her internship neared its end, she began looking forward to the DIY cross-country summer tour alongside the bands Petal and Camp Cope, which she is currently on. And then her booking agent landed her a spot opening the New England leg of a tour with Mitski.
When asked about how she was dealing with the flood of responsibilities, she replies, “The secret to doing the multitasking is I'm not doing the multitasking. I said yes to doing a lot of things, and I'm still working on the time management section of that.”
Gish is entering her final year-and-a-half at Northeastern University soon, and has spent the last six months on co-op -- a requirement of all Northeastern students. She only dropped her sophomore album No Dogs Allowed on New Year’s Eve in 2017 as a way of refreshing her Bandcamp while she was busy at Island. It had been a year and two days since she put out her first official album, Ed Buys Houses, which had gained her some local coverage following a string of shows in Boston. “That was basically how 2017 went, and that's what I thought would happen with No Dogs Allowed … Then it got Twitter traction. It just ended up in a lot more hands than I thought it would, which is super exciting. That just happened through the internet.”
She said she likes to “think of it [her music] in terms of winter breaks because every winter break I have a crisis about the year that just happened and I do something.” This seasonal anxiety is what spawned her holiday EP Merry Crisis during her freshman year, and the subsequent two albums. One reason why this spontaneous album dropping has been possible is that she works completely by herself. “I find that if I'm recording alone I work very quickly. I can do whatever I want and I don't even have to explain it to anyone,” she said. “And if it's bad I can just delete it.” When she performs her music, she also chooses to play solo with a loop pedal, explaining, “If I was in a band, it would be a collaboration kind of thing and that would be awesome. But for the songs that I've recorded myself in my house, if I was just dictating to somebody how exactly to drum the part, I would feel bad.”
Other than a booking agent -- she recently joined the roster of APA -- and a lawyer, Gish is an island. She doesn’t even have a PR agent, which is especially surprising considering her stellar Pitchfork review (No Dogs Allowed received a 7.7) and steady flow of media coverage on outlets such as Stereogum and The Fader. She does not seek to present herself as some kind of wunderkind, and is adamant that this project is about the experience and not the quality. “I'm not trying to make the highest quality album. I'm trying to have fun making an album by myself because I think it's fun.”
Read the full interview below.
Were you a Mitski fan before you found out you were joining her tour?
Hell yeah! I love Mitski. I've been listening to her since just around the time I got into college. Puberty 2 came out at the end of my freshman year. And I remember wandering around, since I had just moved dorms, and listening to Puberty 2.
What are you most excited about regarding the Mitski tour?
From going to school in Boston for a couple years, I know a bunch of people who just live around the New England area. I'm glad that I'm going on tour around that area specifically because I feel like I'll know a couple people in every city that I visit. And it'll be a fun way to see the places that a lot of people live.
Can you talk about how you got into A&R and this internship, and how your musician self and intern self interact?
That's really interesting to think about because I mainly was interested in the A&R internship at Island because it's like A&R is this vague thing that you don't really know what it is until you do it. I was like, "Oh man, I want to work with artists, so I'm going to try and aim for this internship." And then I knew that I wouldn't have any time to work on music before I got there, so I put out an album just to have out and refresh my Bandcamp presence a bit -- so that I could not do anything for six months, and then in the fall go back to Boston and try playing shows again. I didn't think that it would do anything that it actually did.
The first week of my job, it was on [the Spotify playlist] New Music Friday. We do A&R research by reporting on charts like that, and my boss came up to me. She's like, "What?" We weren't making those charts in our first week, but if I had written it out I would have essentially been scouting myself. So, it was extremely meta.
Did you always want to be a performer, or did you envision yourself on the other side of the equation?
I didn't really know. I picked the music industry as kind of a crapshoot on Common App [the online college admission service used to apply to undergraduate programs], and only at Northeastern and no other schools. I just never ended up changing it because then I thought about it more. I was going to be a sociology major at every school. I was obsessed with music and everything, but I was only just obsessed with listening to songs and multi-tracking in my house and doing choir. I didn't know what the music business was.
I wanted to do something that wasn't opera singing. I was like, "How do I be a music major without being in choir again?" I loved choir, but I was like, "What else is happening?" So, I decided to do music industry because there was that whole thing, like, "If you apply as undecided on Common App, they won't accept you into the school and it makes your chances better if you choose a major." Now, I'm about to graduate in a year and a half and I'm just going to get a degree in music industry. It just happened somehow. So, I'm still not even sure of it, but I'm graduating with it. It'll be good.
You’ve picked up so much speed, which is especially crazy given you’re basically your own PR agent. Did you do a lot of self-promotion with your albums? How did it get on people's radars, like Pitchfork?
It got into the hands of Pitchfork because Nina Corcoran writes for DigBoston. She did a profile on me last spring about Ed Buys Houses. She also writes for Pitchfork, so she reviewed No Dogs Allowed for Pitchfork. And so that's how I got the Pitchfork review. And then once it gets a Pitchfork review it's like, "Oh, this has a Pitchfork review, I guess it's a real album." Even though it was still the same setup of me in my house, trying to make things look more legit than they were. I was recording an album in my basement next to my rabbit the whole time, but now that it has an external thing like a Pitchfork review, it just became more legit.
It was a good score, too.
I am really happy about it. I'm glad that it worked out like that. I didn't really do any promo or do any publicity or anything. I feel like maybe just like the fact that it got written up a few times made people think that I had a publicist and then they decided to write about it. So, I just lucked out super hard and I'm confused, but I'm excited about it.
What are some of the challenges, and what are some of the benefits of being completely solo?
Some of the challenges were like the quality is way lower than it would be with a professional mixer, like a professional person who knows about microphones and has a studio and knows where to put the microphones to record snares and all of that studio knowledge. I find that if I'm recording alone I work very quickly. I can do whatever I want and I don't even have to explain it to anyone. And if it's bad I can just delete it. I don't even have to be like, "Hey, what did you think about this? Because I don't actually really like this part.” Even if it's bad, I like knowing that it's all mine and I can literally do whatever I want to it.
Do you see yourself adding on band members anytime soon?
Eventually, if I ever dive headfirst into it and wanna go all in, then maybe I'll think about it. I'm always doing something during the day. I like still having executive control over the performance, even if it's not great. Even if the drums are coming out of a guitar amp, like who cares? I'm here to have fun. I'd rather just take the risk on my own and have fun doing it.
Do you remember when and where you played your first show?
I played my first show at P.A.'s Lounge in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was a dad bar during the day. I was playing right before my friend Jacob Seeger, who is a singer-songwriter from Boston, and his friend Shannon, who works a floor above me at Universal Music Group. I was a freshman; she was slightly older than me. She was like, "Hey, Jacob is playing at P.A.'s Lounge do you want to open?" So, I got on the bill and it was just so exciting to me to have 45 minutes to do literally whatever I wanted. I loved that.
My a cappella group had a show at Brown University later that day. So, I had my guitar at the show and the a cappella girls were there, too, and they were like, "Okay, we've got to get in the car right after your set and we've gotta drive down to Rhode Island." It was really sweet and wholesome. I played a few other shows at that venue that summer too, but the first one I ever played was my favorite probably.
As a performer, do you feel different when you play now? Were you more nervous the first time?
Yeah, I used to get really, really nervous playing house shows, but now they're just so fun to me. I get nervous in venues now. I've gotten used to playing guitar in front of anyone who's alive, but if I'm on a stage, then it still feels scary. If I'm sitting on a floor with them, that's not scary to me anymore. It used to be. So, I'm happy about that. I think that's good.
Sidney Gish & Mitski - 2018 Tour Dates
8/12/2018 Providence, RI @ Columbus Theatre
8/13/2018 Portsmouth, NH @ 3S Artspace
8/14/2018 Portland, ME @ Space Gallery
8/15/2018 South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground - Showcase Lounge
8/16/2018 Holyoke, MA @ Gateway City Arts