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Artist Profile: Sidney Gish, from Bandcamp to Boston Calling

By Kit A. Terrey, Contributing Writer

Sidney Gish admits that she spent too much time online as a teenager.

“I was not doing anything. We were all on, and then we would go to school,” Gish said.

A familiarity with the internet, however, turned out to be one the factors which catapulted the New Jersey singer-songwriter to over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Gish characterizes her music as bedroom pop imbued with camp. Many of her songs feature hammy sound effects and striking metaphors — her sophomore album “No Dogs Allowed” begins with “Bird Tutorial,” an upbeat remix of a 1950s recording instructing listeners on how to teach their parakeets to talk. Puns and niche references instill personality in Gish’s music and grab listeners’ attention.

Gish’s success in engaging a generation steeped in online culture comes from her own experience using the internet as a child. She began writing music in middle school and published her works on platforms like Tumblr, migrating from site to site until she found an audience on Bandcamp. From the start, Gish had a unique voice, littering her pieces with noises pulled from all corners of the web.

“In my house with my computer, I could edit whenever I wanted. If I thought something was boring, I would be like, ‘well, let's put in a fun little campy sound here. Let’s go online and find a little spice,’” Gish said. “Just have fun for this next hour, and then see where I’m at an hour after that. It was just fun to edit.”

As Gish entered her college years at Northeastern University, however, she realized that music meant more to her than spinning out “YouTube poops” online. She began to take classes on the music industry and joined a songwriting club with friends.

“I immediately was like, I’m going to take everything really seriously. Every time somebody even honks a car horn, that’s serious to me.”

A change in composition style accompanied Gish’s new attitude towards her music.

“I wanted to pay more attention to song structure — as much attention as I could pay to it,” Gish said.

Gish proceeded by turning up the narrative and cinematic influences on her songs. Plot-driven tracks like “Presumably Dead Arm” from her album “Ed Buys Houses” rose to the top of her listed songs on Spotify, proving Gish’s new strategy a success.

College life also presented Gish with the challenges of performing for a crowd. The artist wrestled with translating pieces composed on a computer to live sets and trained herself for shows. The transition was rocky at first.

“If I played it in front of an audience, it would be more yelling and so much more out of tune because I would be so stressed out,” Gish said.

To overcome her nerves, she threw herself into the Boston music scene, taking gigs whenever they were offered.

“I was first playing random shows: dad bars in the middle of the day, showcases that went on for hours,” Gish said.

Through events at small local venues, Gish was able to get “[her] name bouncing around” and eventually break into the Boston underground scene.

Gish found new inspiration in basement shows and “sludge from the Northeast.” Intrigued by “slow-core” and “dusty” music, the artist began to view her music in a new light. Rather than copying the style of other musicians, she took note of their pluck — their ability to be “deranged enough to take themselves seriously.” As the singer-songwriter started to take her own music more seriously, she ensured it maintained its characteristic charm.

“I always had to spin it with humor,” Gish said.

A “yes-man mentality” has gotten her far. In 2018, the then-21-year-old toured with Mitski and a year later, shared a stage with her at Boston Calling in 2019. That same year, the Boston Music Awards named Gish 2019’s Singer Songwriter of the Year. Gish has collaborated with well-known acts like Cavetown and Jackson Browne, and she toured with The Beths in 2023. Most recently, Gish toured with musician Jeff Rosenstock.

“It’s been great opening for other artists,” Gish said.

The artist finds inspiration and support in living and working with other acts, stressing the importance of surrounding oneself with those more experienced. Rather than “just trying to wing it” alone, Gish prefers to learn from seasoned performers who understand the logistics of the road and large venues.

Now 27, Gish looked back on a young adulthood spent on the road.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel, and to meet new people, and to see how bands go about going on tour. It’s been something that I was so passionate about from a young age. I would always be so curious about what it was like and how they did it. I loved it,” Gish said.

From childhood nights spent surfing the internet, looking for just the right sound to edit into a song, Gish has come far. In fact, the single moment that spelled out her success came to her in the form of a moment online. After going to bed with about 7,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, Gish picked up her phone one morning to find that she now had 80,000.

“I just put my phone down and went back to sleep,” Gish said. “And that was just a moment that everything had been accomplished in my entire life.”

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