Down The Barrel of a Gun: Bec Sandridge on Aggressive Patriotism and Misogyny Within The Music Industry

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Words || Jasmine Noud

Full disclosure here; I was giving gushing ‘I. LOVE. HER.’ reviews of Bec Sandridge and telling all my friends to get on that bandwagon…before I had ever even listened to her entire EP. There was something about that 80’s inspired, colour-blocked turtle-neck aesthetic, that was so damn cool, like the kind of person you would catch on a night out in a bar that’s way too edgy for you. ‘When I (finally) listened to 2016 EP Into the Fog I was kicking myself for not getting into the exact music I had been telling people to get onto earlier.

It’s not often you get the chance to have a conversation with a musician who is the heart of not only the ever-growing Australian indie-pop scene, but also caught in the centre of an ever-raging debate about sexism in the music industry. Bec Sandridge is just that person; the Aussie singer/songwriter has sold out tours across the country, supported the likes of Cub Sport and Montaigne on national tours, and scored a (somehow controversial) spot on triple j’s Like A Version.

Getting Bec on the phone just a few days after her national headline tour- along with a stack of festival appearances- kicked off, I was keen to get an idea of how her shows had been going so far.

“We haven’t done a whole bunch of touring but Secret Garden and Newcastle were amazing. Newcastle was awesome, cause we’d never played in Newcastle before so we didn’t know what to expect but everyone was really warm and friendly. And Secret Garden, everyone was singing my lyrics back to me and it was pretty surreal.”

I was curious as to the difference in the reception she receives as a headlining artist, as opposed to in a supporting slot. According to Sandridge, it takes a whole heap of the pressure off;

“As a support act it’s always an ideal situation because nobody has any expectation for you or of you and nobody really knows your songs so you’re kind of given a blank slate, whereas when people are paying to see your shows they kind of expect the song to be as good as the record- or better. I know when I see a band I want them to be better live than the actual recording.”

As cliché as the question is, it seemed irresponsible not to ask what her memorable tour experiences are. As an artist who spent years based in Glasgow, surely there must be some wild European stories or the like. Instead, it’s a much more recent Australian tour that is the standout.

“Recently Mountain Sounds was kind of cool. I’d had a bit of a rough week with that whole Like A Version conundrum and a lot of really violent comments were targeted towards me, but then we went to Mountain Sounds the next day and I kinda just said to the guys in my band ‘let’s put on a really good show’ and there were people singing the songs back to me and afterwards a bunch of people came up and said hello, so for me a lot of it is just meeting some really cool and lovely people.” After a moment of consideration, she does add with a laugh “apparently the day before they had to cancel the first day, so I think everyone was begging to hear some live music, which kind of helps”.

The Like A Version conundrum mentioned really is the epitome of dudebro music culture; an army of (predominantly) men attacking Sandridge’s cover of John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ (and Sandridge herself) under the banner of patriotism and ‘protecting real music icons’. When asked more about the vitriolic backlash she received, Sandridge is incredibly open:

“I think I knew going into doing John Farnham I was going to cop it a little bit but maybe I didn’t fully realise the extent of it… it was kinda this weird moment where it was like 200,000 people watched it and maybe 60% were hateful and misogynistic comments.” Hilariously, as she does point out, John Farnham came out in defence of the cover. “His manager said he was really into and then the next day John Farnham himself and Glenn Wheatley, who wrote You’re The Voice, said they loved it which is hilarious. I was just like- well there you go.”

Bec is quick to emphasises the importance of this defence; “I think it was really important for someone like John who stands for so much- who stands for so many Australia bros- it was really important for someone like him to say ‘hey, I don’t condone this behaviour’.”

It comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following conversation about harassment and misogyny in the festival scene and music industry that this isn’t the only instance of harassment; “Often I think I get a lot of harassment targeted towards me because of my appearance. Like on the weekend at a festival, these guys came up to me and they were like ‘hey is your hair a wig?’ And I was like ‘no, is your hair a wig?’… I think often as a performer you’re objectified, and people forget you’re human”.

It can seem strange listening to Into the Fog that Bec once toured as support act for Passenger, that kind of warbly male acoustic folk that seems so far from her sound (don’t get me wrong here, I love a bit of acoustic sad man as much as the next person). Bec traces this back to her much more folky start in the music industry;

“I learned guitar in Year Nine and I was just obsessed with it, but I was always too scared to sing. I think I started singing when I was 19 or 20. I was playing in a pretty awful blues and roots band beforehand, just playing guitar.”

After a (one show) stint singing lead in her band as support act for Andy Bull and Owl Eyes- she describes preparing for that as stressful “I was just like oh my goodness … I had no songs. So I quickly put together what I thought three songs were – they were awful.”- Sandridge ran into Passenger while busking, and ended up with a spot on his tour. “I was meant to go be going back to uni, so I deferred for a semester, and I kinda just built up as much confidence as I could in front of a bunch of strangers on the other side of the world.”

When asked about what led to her shift in direction from that blues and roots sound, according to Sandridge it all comes down to her new experiences with music and in the industry.

“I think I wrote in the style I initially did because that’s all I knew. It was really easy to write on an acoustic guitar for me because guitar’s my main instrument. But after you know, travelling for a while overseas, listening to a lot of bands, seeing a lot of bands live and seeing how they do it, I think it was…a lot of watching and learning, that actually it’s not that difficult to put drums to your own song, and its not that difficult to put synths in your song. To be honest it was just an awareness that hit me that the sounds that made me the most excited were disgusting gritty synths from the 80s.”

I had every intention to ask Bec about her favourite song on the EP, but being my selfish self asked about the creation of High Tide, my personal favourite.

“That one I actually wrote last, and it wasn’t going to be on the EP. I finished my EP maybe two and a half years ago, and I flew over to Scotland and I was just sitting on it and not rushing to release anything. Then I wrote High Tide with my acoustic guitar in my flat in Glasgow, and I was like oh, actually, this song is kinda cool – there’s something special about it. I think all of the songs on the EP are quite different, but that one had another facet to my writing. So after living in Glasgow for six months I came home and recorded it with Tony, and I was like yeah, that needs to be on the EP. Cause I wanted the EP to be a taste tester as to what my new sounds was, it’s kinda a showcase of my writing.”

As for the inspiration to include a cover- I Drove all Night– on the EP?

“I’ve always been a big fan of nostalgic kind of torch songs. Something about the song kind of sat with me, and I thought I’d be intrigued to do my own version of this. So I got together with my friend Justin, who’s an amazing piano player.

Initially I wanted it to be upbeat, but it turned into something that was a bit more sinister. Both versions are this power-rock love ballad, in its daggiest form.

Maybe it’s the dag I fell in love with.”

It’s this same nostalgia that inspired the aesthetic that got me into Bec Sandridge in the first place.  When asked about her inspirations for her look, it all comes back to the band Talking Heads. “I was reading the lead singer David Byrne’s book, How Music Works, and he talks about how there’s a real lost art in aesthetic, and how theatrics are this really cool tool that performers sometimes forget to use. I guess I’m inspired by someone like him who embraces the cheese, and uses light and colour and stuff. Aside of that, I have this weird obsession with turtlenecks which came from somewhere like craftworks, or somewhere awful.”

So what is the next year looking like for Bec Sandridge?

“I’ve got my own tour, my first ever proper national tour which is scary. And then supporting Tegan and Sara which I’m super excited about. And then a bunch of festivals. And then I think May to July I’m just gonna be recording my album, which is pretty scary – I’ve never written or recorded an album before…but I’ll definitely be releasing something new this year.”