Armed with loop pedals, a drum machine, and impeccable vision, Sidney Gish’s No Dogs Allowed remains one of the most albums of 2018. A student currently at Northeastern, Gish has been releasing music on her Bandcamp since 2015. Mixing and indie pop sounds with abstract samples reminiscent of the Avalanches, her music manages to stand apart in an ocean of independent internet releases. Through the irresistible hooks of “Sin Triangle” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends” to the lo-fi ear-worms “Good Magicians” and “New Recording 180”, each song sounds fresh and makes the 41 minute runtime breeze by.
I had the opportunity to talk to her shortly after coming off of her debut nationwide tour, opening for Camp Cope and Petal throughout most of July. Incredibly laid-back, we talked about the whole gamut, from the Twilight saga to accepting imperfections in you work. While her charisma and charm are apparent, it’s her output that makes it clear that No Dogs Allowed is only the beginning.
So you just came off of your first nationwide tour. How was it?
I just got back on the plane yesterday [July 22nd], the last stop of the tour was in Boston on Saturday, and so I flew back to New Jersey, where my parents live on Sunday, and now I’m just hanging out, driving around, doing some errands, so it’s pretty relaxing.
And the tour was amazing, I had such a good time.
What were your takeaways from the whole experience?
It was really inspiring to tour with Petal and Camp Cope, because both bands have touring experience and they already know what works for them on tour. I was the only real novice in the touring party and they were so sweet and helpful. I could learn so much from watching what they were doing, taking away tips like how to set up a merch table and what it’s like to settle at the end of the show at the venue each night. They were already confident in doing things like that since they had years of experience, so it was great to just learn from them.
Do you think that becoming more of a performer rather than solely a singer-songwriter has become more natural over the past few months?
Yeah, especially as I’ve been playing more shows, its gotten a lot easier to find my routine for doing a show and what comes naturally to me and how to emphasize what I naturally want to do. For something I can do on an opening set, and especially on this Petal/Camp Cope tour, just doing show after show every night really helped me settle into a routine with what setlist organization looks like for me, and what helps to play a show that often. They’re really just good habits to get into.
Did you find yourself creating a set setlist as you went along, or were you experimenting the whole time?
I had a solid set list that I would stick to because I’ve performed solo and a lot of my loops are preloaded into the pedal I would like to try and organize them, spacing out energetic vs. more lowkey songs and also the ones I have preloaded drums for vs. the ones I don’t have preloaded drums for, and it’s so dependent on different settings of pedals, I’d like to kind of pick a setlist and stick to it if I’m going to be shows every night. If I’m hanging out in a certain city for a while I like to spice it up every show, but for being on tour, I like to have a set thing that I can just do every night.
Were there any cities that surprised you on tour, just with their general aesthetic?
I love aesthetics! I was going city to city, like, “Look at the mountains! We don’t have those on the East Coast.” It was just awesome to see, every city was lovely, especially the ones I haven’t been to before. The most surprising thing to me was that I had people that had been listening to my album all the way out on the West Coast and the Southwest, places that I had never been before. It made me really happy that people enjoyed my album all the way over there and were excited to see me. I was kind of expecting it to be a chill opening set, but the fact that people had already listened to my album and were happy to see me was really exciting.
What makes a good audience, do you have an ideal crowd setting?
As long as they’re showing up I feel fine. Something that helped me that I realized pretty late into the tour was that if I could see the audience, that helps me be less nervous, because it makes it feel less big and I can see everybody’s faces, but all the audience really has to do is show up. In a few cities people sang along and that made me really happy, but as long as people are hanging out and watching the set, its all good. Its just fun to perform for a lot of different people.
In a chicken or the egg scenario, what came first, the album title No Dogs Allowed or the No Dogs Allowed in Rat of the City?
So, I had the idea for an album called No Dogs Allowed for a while, I dunno, I just liked the name of it,even though I like dogs. I put it in Rat of the City while I was writing it because it was one of the last songs I finished and I knew the album was gonn be called that, so I just put in that line because it rhymed. Originally, it would’ve made way more sense; the album with the album art and be kind of like a pun, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s all chill. The way that I ended up doing it, it’s just not really clear, it’s basically a guy walking a dog that’s a copy of himself and there’s a sign that says ‘No Dogs Allowed’ but he’s fine with that because it’s not a dog, it’s a copy of some other weird shit.
I never really got that, I’m gonna be honest with you.
It’s not clear at all. I was planning on making it clearer in the art, but then I made it last minute and I just put the guy and the dog with the leash in the title and was like, f*** it, I’m allowed to do whatever I want. It’s not clear as I would want in the final product, but I’m still good with it.
Did you feel that finishing No Dogs Allowed in 2017, was that a goal for you?
I did. I recorded it [New Recording 180] right before I went to my friends New Year’s party, I wanted to have the album out before the year change. I put it off until the very last second, but I did it.
Do you think if you never nailed down New Recording 180, would you have delayed the album or would you have set that song back for a different time?
No, I had an entirely flushed out and arranged version of New Recording 180, but with the same lyrics and melody and guitar part. I made it in September and it sucked, and I was sitting on it and was like, "What if I just do a f***'n voice memo because it’s New Years Eve?" So it was just this last minute call, because this melody won’t even exist and the perfection is lost in the flushed out recording so I’ll just do a voice memo to throw it on there. I was just at my wits end, like, whatever, it’s time to just post it because I’m pretty sure it’s done.
Were you surprised by the general reaction that No Dogs Allowed got, especially with outlets like Pitchfork reviewing it early on?
Yeah, I was pretty surprised. I knew the production quality was better than !Ed Buys Houses! [Gish’sprevious release], but I didn’t think I’d get a reaction of this scale. I’m really glad that I did, and it also gives me confidence in what I want to do next. When I put No Dogs Allowed out, I felt like it wasn’t flushed out at all. I felt like I could’ve made it so much better than it was, and it was just something to be a placeholder on my Bandcamp. The fact that it was seen as a new release by so many people gave me a lot of confidence, and on a project that felt, in a way, half-assed, then I feel totally confident in putting out stuff that I’m not confident in. Perfectionism that holds you back from putting out your work is never going to be beneficial. It was so validating, to put out something that I thought was so flawed and then have it be received well anyway. If I was a perfectionist and stuck to everything that I didn’t think was good enough and kept it only for myself, then I wouldn’t actually put anything out, and that’s worse than putting out something flawed.
Do you have any set plans for the next three months or so, or are you just playing it by ear?
I have a leg of a tour that Mitski’s doing, she’s doing a few dates for a week in the Northeast, I’m going to be opening for her on that, and I’m so excited. I’ve looked up to Mitski for years, and it’s just so exciting that I’m going to be able to tour with her in a month, so I’m looking forward to that. I have three headlining dates in the Northeast, in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, in August, September, and October. Other than that, I’m going back to college in the fall for my fourth year of classes, so I’m going to go back to living in an apartment with my friends. It’s just going to be the same life I had last year, not having to do an internship full time or anything like that. I’m just excited to finish school.
Have there been any songs or just pieces of audio that you’ve tried or wanted to sample but haven’t gotten around to yet?
It’s crazy that you asked that! One thing is the opening drums in “Our Secret” by Beat Happening. I need to sample those at some point. Like, so bad. They’re so good.
I haven’t heard that. I’ll have to look it up.
Oh, if you look it up, it’s just like this cool, simple drum beat that I could make it with samples, but it wouldn’t sound the same at all. I just really like it a lot, like I’d love to sample it, so I need to somehow get my sh** together and reach out and see how that would work.
Have there been any albums this year that you’ve particularly liked?
Yeah, there’s been a bunch of albums that I’ve liked a lot. Jack Stauber’s releases I’ve really been into. HiLo, and then also Pop Food, I don’t know if they both came out this year, but they’re both amazing. Jack Stauber is such an inspiration to me, he makes all his own music and his own animation, and he just does whatever he wants. Kind of like Bill Wurtz, a different kind of style but the same setup.
And how is the Boston DIY scene?
It’s great. There’s been a lot of turnover even in the past seven months since I’ve been gone. There’s been a lot of new bands that I haven’t heard yet. I just was involved in it for a brief year. I met a lot of great people, there’s no way I could know everything about the Boston DIY scene. In terms of the bands and the people that I’ve met, I’ve had a really good experience playing house shows and booking shows. It’s been a great way to learn about things like booking shows and the layout of a set on a much less professional and intimidating scale. It’s different going into a venue where the person who owns the place is like 40 and knows more than you. When you walk into someone’s house and they’re basically your age, it’s just more inviting.
So you’re still more comfortable for a house show, or is it just a process, becoming more comfortable on a bigger stage?
The more people I play to, the more nervous I get, it’s always been that way. Starting with smaller audiences helped me ease into it a little bit more.
I know you’ve been compared to Regina Spektor and Frankie Cosmos as predecessors, but how do you feel about being labeled as a bedroom pop artist?
I think bedroom pop is super accurate, the core of the bedroom pop genre is, maybe there are some sonic things that tie them all together, but it’s more of a setup than a genre. I think the setup of bedroom pop is something that I do, making music in my house by myself. It’s interesting that it’s technically anybody that makes music in their house by themselves. Like, is Bill Wurtz bedroom pop? I mean maybe, I dunno. I don’t really know what bedroom pop means, but I’m chill if people that want to call it that. I’m just excited that they want to label it something in the first place, so just go for it.
Was there any watershed moment over the last six months where you thought that this could potentially lead farther than just putting stuff out on Bandcamp’?
Once the Pitchfork review happened and I got a load of other press, it was just like ‘Seriously? I can’t believe this is happening,’ and then a few people were emailing me as if I was an artist instead of a random person doing stuff on Bandcamp, it was like, "Oh, sh**." It was funny that a lot of what I was talking about on the album was impostor syndrome, just in general, but then I had a lot of impostor syndrome about being an artist, because it’s literally just me in my house, except now that some people think it’s legit, a few more people think it’s legit. I had to re-evaluate how I think about that, and I had to grow confidence in what I’m able to create, and toning down perfectionism in a bit, just to roll with it. It’s been a great year so far, I still want to keep on the whole capital and music business side of things a purpose still, at least in terms of my own music, and keep putting stuff out directly to the internet and just see what happens.