Meet the college student behind one of the year’s most refreshing DIY albums
Sidney Gish on the Boston scene and her breakout record, No Dogs Allowed.
Sidney Gish is a 20-year-old college student whose music blends the jangly anxiety of anti-folk with the formal melodics of more conventional singer-songwriter-core. She has self-released two full-lengths so far, the most recent being No Dogs Allowed, which dropped via her Bandcamp page on New Year’s Eve. Shortly thereafter, it started to spread around DIY rock circles and beyond.
Though not technically a debut, No Dogs Allowed is one of the more genuinely refreshing breakouts in recent memory. A lot of this has to do with Gish’s knack for turning the chronic self-awareness of the post-adolescent psyche into lilting, lyrical gold. Her breathless poetry strikes a good balance between indulging insecurities and laughing at them; it’s very serious about taking nothing very seriously.
I recently met up with Gish in Manhattan at a spot near her internship at Universal Music Group — the very same spot, she tells me, where she sat in trepidation months ago before the job interview. It was almost surprising to hear her talk about nerves, because based off of what I can imagine her resume looking like (“skills: making good-ass music, etc”), she probably could have answered every question in Elvish and still gotten the job.
How are you liking New York so far?
It's been fun. I've gone out to shows a few times, but I'm mainly just like, working a lot.
Are you from the Boston area originally?
No, I'm from New Jersey. I moved up there three years ago for school. This is my first time spending a whole semester away.
Do you have any siblings?
I have a younger sister. She's 18 right now, a senior in high school. She is the drum major in marching band — so she conducts everybody. She's so cool. She plays the flute.
Is the whole Gish family pretty musical, then?
We weren't particularly raised to be musical. It just kind of ended up like that. My dad plays guitar — he just started playing when he was older, and then he got a bunch of gear in the house that I learned to play on. I learned ukulele first. I think I was around 12 — so being 12 in 2009 and learning to play the ukulele...
Oh my god, Zooey Deschanel is weeping.
Zooey Deschanel isn't even dead but she's rolling in her grave.
When did you start writing music?
I started writing ideas for melodies in 6th grade or so. And I would write them in like, a journal, and write the notes that they were and point to the syllables that they happened on — since I couldn't really play any instruments.
But you knew the notes?
I learned recorder in elementary school... I was very, very much of a dork when I was younger, so I loved the recorder. I was like: "These are the notes. On the recorder. This is what it is."
Did you consider yourself a musician first, or a writer?
I was super insecure about the whole music thing for a long time. I liked writing music in my head, but I had not learned any instruments. I was kind of teaching myself the instruments to get by, but I still could not play on-key, and I couldn't sing perfectly on-key either.
But you've become more comfortable now?
Yeah! Now that I've been able to finally get to a point of recording where I can put out my own albums and stuff, I can point to something and be like, Well, that's music, so I guess I'm a musician.” I'm definitely still learning guitar.
You’re a music business major. What made you choose that?
I was lucky enough to be in a position where it was like, “Okay, you're gonna go to college even if it's undeclared" kind of thing, just from the environment I grew up in. I was planning to major in sociology or psychology or something. I liked the human-based sciences, and I was really into being a dweeb and getting good grades. I was like, "I like getting good grades, I like science videos on YouTube, so I might study sociology, blah blah blah." And then at Northeastern, they had "music business," so I was like, "Oh cool, I love music. Also, business just makes sense as a major that's practical." So it was kind of a crap-shoot when I chose it, but I never changed it! And it worked out.
You've released all of your albums around the same time — right around the new year. Is that intentional?
It's mainly due to panic rather than intention. It's kind of based around when I have a lot of free time to be in my house and finish up whatever I'm working on. I'm always like, "Oh my God, I'm gonna record an album this summer, put it out, and then do a release cycle when I go back to school. It'll be perfect!" And instead I don't fucking do that. I worked on it a bit over the fall, then just came home over winter break and finished it kind of panic-y in the days before Christmas and New Year's.
Do you think your approach to songwriting has changed significantly over the years?
When I was younger, I would try and write the songs that I heard or whatever. So when I was in 6th grade I started writing songs that sounded like the High School Musical soundtrack. But I did not share anything. I was like, writing in my journal about heartbreak that I'd never experienced, just because every song I heard was about heartbreak. I was like, "I gotta write about heartbreak even though I'm 12."
I definitely put a lot of myself into the albums, but at the same time, it's kind of just a hodgepodge of whatever I can will myself to complete. Usually before I make something, I'll have a great idea in my head of what it's gonna be like, and then I can never make that. Eventually what I end up putting out is more just like... whatever I could finish in time for the deadline that I've arbitrarily set, which happens to be the new year, or something. Then after I put it out I'm like “Ew, what the fuck, I can't believe I just did that instead of the actually good shit I was thinking about.” Then I'll come back a month later, and I'll listen to it, and I'm like, “Wait, this is an album that I made.” [laughs] And it's like, I actually like it a lot!
What were you listening to in 2017?
Emergency and I by Dismemberment Plan is an album that came out a while ago, but I started listening to last year in its full album form. Also, Dazey and the Scouts from Boston put out a fantastic — it's either a big EP or a small album — in February last year that's really good. And so did Cosmic Johnny, another Boston band, that I actually did backup vocals for.
What has the Boston music scene been like for you?
It's been really cool to have so many people around who are in bands and all that. I've met a bunch of people who, like, we've played shows together or I've been to their shows or something. It's really fun to see all the cool shit that's going on. It's been helpful to have a space where there's not really that hard of a line separating "this is who's making the art," and "this is who's here to see it." It's kind of just, like, "Oh, maybe tomorrow you can go play something, and if it sucks we don't care, 'cause we're all in a friggin' cool place together."
When I was in high school, I was really serious about it. No, I can't put out anything until it's exactly the opus that I am trying to create. A freakin' 17-year-old asshole being all, “I have to write a symphony." Like, no, you can't straight-up write a symphony 'cause you're a fucking shithead kid. You have to put out a shitty album just to have it be out. And then just keep on doing that.
Listen to No Dogs Allowed:
Lead image by Ian Blau.