Regardless of how a song made its way to our ears, we’re always intrigued to find out more about the artist or artists behind it, especially when that song strikes us as especially original or memorable, as is very much the case with Sidney Gish’s “Persephone”—featured on this month’s mixtape—and, in fact, her entire new album, the beautifully inventive + sharp-witted No Dogs Allowed, released December 31st last year. We talked recently with the Boston-based musician and full-time student in an effort to find out more about her background in music, her influences, and her self-made album covers (and the awesome cat one one of them).
raven + crow: Alright first off, thanks for taking the time to talk. I have to admit, until we heard a couple songs from No Dogs Allowed on our local station, KCRW, we weren’t familiar with you or your music, but you seem to have been doing this a while, yeah?
Sidney Gish: Yeah! I’ve been messing around in garageband for a couple years but only started posting stuff on Bandcamp in 2015.
I know you study music business at Northeastern, but what brought you to music and performing in the first place?
I loved listening to music and was curious about writing it. I thought up melodies for a long time and started sharing my ideas more when I got to high school.
Looking at the album liner notes, it reads like you played all the instruments yourself—is that the case? That’s truly impressive, just listening to the whole thing start-to-finish.
Thanks! And yes, everything on the record was played by me. A lot of it is MIDI instruments that I wrote the parts for rather than actual physical instruments.
No less impressive. Is your ideal to focus on writing and performing as an artist or do you have an actual interest in the technical or recording end of things too, or even the business or management end of things?
I’m interested in the whole picture, really. Just seeing what I can do and playing around with whatever makes sense. Writing is my favorite part, since it’s just fun to do. I like learning about recording styles as well, and deciding instrumentation for songs is something I love doing. Performing is fun a lot of the time, but I often get nervous or worried that I’m coming off the wrong way due to being too anxious.
Yeah, that can be really nerve-racking, even after years of performing out—every show’s so different. So, question—you go to school in Boston but you’re based in or from NYC? I couldn’t quite tell from a quick look at your socials.
I go to school in Boston, and, since I’m at Northeastern, we have the co-op program, in which you work full-time for a few individual semesters as an undergrad. So I moved to NYC for my job spring semester, before I go back to Boston for my 4th year classes this fall. I’m here temporarily, until June!
Ah, enjoy—New York’s one of our favorite places on Earth. What do you think of the local music scenes in New York vs Boston? Are they both pretty supportive still?
I haven’t gotten involved in the NYC music scene really, since I just got here. I’m typing this on the way to my first show this year at Brooklyn Bazaar, which is exciting!
The Boston music scene is definitely supportive and I’ve met a lot of friends through playing shows together or attending ones around the area.
That’s good to hear. And, yeah, the Brooklyn Bazaar’s a great time—hope you enjoy. Wondering what your song-writing process is like. Your lyrics are so front-and-center and memorable, my assumption would be that those come first and you build the songs around them, but I’m also often very, very incorrect.
Thanks! I write melodies first usually, and then figure out what words would go with them. I have a lot of words that don’t match any melodies that I could use for something else eventually.
Backup lyrics. That’s handy. Way back when, I, along with many others, was obsessed with Liz Phair’s debut, Exile in Guyville. I totally don’t like playing the comparison game with artists, but your lyrics and cadence and style and just the raw genuine feel to the song-writing make me think of that album so much. Are you a fan of it/her at all or am I just way off-base (see early note about being very incorrect often)?
Yes, I like that album! I had been listening to a few Liz Phair songs this past year but didn’t listen to Exile in Guyville in full until recently.
Alright, so somewhat on-base—I’ll take it. Who are some artists that inspire or inform your song-writing then?
I really like of Montreal, their songs are really interesting to listen to. I was also really into Regina Spektor and Vampire Weekend when I was growing up (and still to this day.) I also got into Dismemberment Plan last year and I think their writing is really great.
Oh, shit—not to name-drop, but our old band played with those guys! So awesome you found them; they’re truly one of the most under-rated bands I know—so unique. Besides just really loving the new album, one of the main reasons I wanted to talk with was to ask about the album covers—do you do those?
Yes! I like making collages.
Awesome. I’m totally into them. Can you talk about the idea behind the cover for the new album? What’s going on there?
It’s a guy walking a dog copy of himself, which was an idea I had after seeing a similar image. It’s just, like, dumb and fun to make. Originally the guy on the left was gonna be pointing at a sign that said “No Dogs Allowed,” and they’d be on a street corner or something, but I ended up putting them on a blank background instead.
And why the toolbar from…what, is that like an old version of Corel Draw?
It’s an MS Paint toolbar. I had them walking around this blank world, and decided it should be a Paint project instead of, like, a void.
Fucking love that. Any reference to MS Paint is a winner in my book. And who’s the cat on Ed Buys Houses? That guy looks wise and awesome.
That’s my cat Schrödy, short for Schrödinger!
Excellent. Getting back to dogs, though, can you explain the title? I know that’s a line in “Rat of the City” but can you break it down more for us or explain the idea behind it or “Rat”?
I thought it just sounded like a title I was into. I actually like dogs, I just kept having ideas for collages/images surrounding a “No Dogs Allowed” sign. I ended up not even using a sign in the art, but I kept the title anyway. I had the album title before I wrote “Rat of the City” and I was like “oh cool it rhymes.”
It looks like you released No Dogs Allowed on New Year’s Eve last month. And the final track is called “New Recording 180 (New Year’s Eve)”. You didn’t actually record that on the night you released the album did you?
I did! It was the last thing I recorded. I then did really rough mastering, went to my friend’s NYE party, finished the art there, and posted it on Bandcamp at his house.
That’s awesome. Another case solved by Raven + Crow Detective agency!
I see you’re playing and played a lot around New York and Boston—any plans to head west any time soon?
Not yet but maybe sometime this year!
Cool—definitely let us know when you do! And thanks again for talking and thank you so much for this album—it’s truly excellent.
And thank you for listening!
You can listen to No Dogs Allowed above and on Sidney’s Bandcamp page, where you can also purchase the record along with Sidney’s other two releases. Keep an eye on that page and her Facebook page for tour announcements.
Photo of the artist by Hester Konrad.