On Saturday, Oct. 31, the Horn Gallery presented a virtual performance by singer-songwriter Sidney Gish. The show comes as part of the Horn Gallery’s alternative to in-person concerts, the Horn @ Home series, which allows students to view virtual concerts from anywhere in the world at any time. The Horn @ Home series has featured a variety of popular artists, including indie-pop band Beach Bunny and multi-genre artist Caroline Polachek.
A New Jersey native who now primarily resides in Boston, Gish is a self-produced, alternative pop musician whose music showcases a unique narrative style. She was nominated as one of NPR’s 2018 New Artists To Watch and has garnered over two million streams on Spotify.
At the age of 23, Gish already has an accomplished musical career. She has put out two albums, Ed Buys Houses and No Dogs Allowed, the latter of which won Album Of The Year at the 2018 Boston Music Awards. She also received five-star reviews from music critic publications The Fader, Stereogum and Pitchfork, and other music critics have compared Gish’s sound to the likes of Fiona Apple and Ingrid Michaelson. Gish has also attracted the attention of popular music artists: Two years ago, at just 21 years old, the singer opened for Mitski on tour and secured opening slots for indie-alternative bands Petals and Camp Cope soon after.
Gish opened her set with a performance of her song “I Eat Salads Now,” in which three different video angles of the singer appeared on screen, overlaid on a background of stock images of people eating salads. These angles depicted her lead vocals, backing vocals and guitar, mimicking a band on stage. The set also included Gish’s song “Imposter Syndrome,” in which the artist used the background of a “confused dog” to go along with the song’s lyrics, as well as “Persephone,” in which Gish sang in front of a pomegranate backdrop. The entire set featured other humorous visual effects, like enlarging the singer’s head or tilting the screen upside down.
Touring is a crucial part of Gish’s career, and she noted that a lot of the fun and beautiful experiences she’s had have been on tour. “Now that there’s no more touring [due to COVID-19], I’m thrilled that I was able to perform a digital set at Kenyon,” she said in an interview with The Collegian. “This is the first one that I’ve made in this way, so it was really fun and exciting to put together a set [with] … different constraints than real life.”
As demonstrated in her recent performance, Gish’s music combines humorous yet poetic lyrics with indie-pop instrumentals to create a unique and original sound. Popular songs of hers include “I’m Filled With Steak, And Cannot Dance,” and “Rat of the City.” In another song, “Presumably Dead Arm,” she sings, “my brain’s a toddler roller skating down a hill” and “I’m in love with strangers who I’ve never even seen, in love with weird cut bangs and sweaters swaying.”
Gish noted that many of her songs take form through experimenting and playing with music production. “A lot of times I’ll come up with something while I’m recording it and do a few takes of different ideas and clump [them] together — just really winging it and seeing what sounds like more fun than something else.” Gish said that she wrote “Presumably Dead Arm” mainly in her phone notes when she was “being dramatic,” and that the song is just “a bunch of emo vibes [from] when I was 19.” Gish also said a lot of her inspiration comes from other alternative artists, especially avant-pop musician Jack Stauber.
A recent graduate of Northeastern University, Gish has balanced her music career with her studies over the past few years. The singer was able to practice mixing and recording skills as part of her minor in music recording. “Whenever I would sit down and do the bulk of the recording, it would be [during] a winter break when I was home from school,” she said. “I would think of the ideas at school and work on them there, and then once I got home I would just really drill myself in recording.” Gish said she would try to perform in shows on the weekends during the school year, but scheduled most shows for the summer so as to avoid conflicts with classes. “The past year or so I’ve been getting better at recording gradually instead of just doing it all in two days, so it’s pretty fun to see what I can do,” she said.
Before putting out her second album, No Dogs Allowed, Gish was booking her own shows locally around New England until she got a spike in popularity through Spotify’s algorithm, which allowed her to find an agent. According to Gish, that’s when her career really began taking off. “It was that spike that made me get emails that made me get meetings that made me hire an agent, and that’s how I went on all those tours,” she said. “That’s how I played Kenyon.”
Gish is taking a break from making music now that she’s not on the road consistently and has graduated from college. “It’s sad that there’s no more shows anymore because the social aspect and the creative aspect are one in the same,” Gish said. “But, I know now if I record a song I don’t have to play it live anymore for the time being.”
Gish’s performance is archived and free to watch on the Horn Gallery’s website, as are the other previous fall 2020 performances. Her two albums are available on most streaming platforms, including Spotify and Bandcamp.