Photo by Giulia McGauran.
Tall, slender, topped by a shock of platinum, Bec Sandridge stands out in a bar of long-faded ‘80s glamour on the fringes of Sydney’s CBD, where the muscle boys stroll by talking loudly against the high hum of the afternoon traffic.
Not that fading into the background is ever a serious option for her. Take a look at her 2016 single You’re A Fucking Joke with its in-your-face bass and strut matched by the filmclip’s stark red-and-white setting and hyper-realised male models. Or this year’s Eyes Wide with its galloping rhythm and jittery synths leading you to a chorus which is almost ideal sugared pop.
What I love about Sandridge is everything she does is fearlessly in bold: colours, sounds, adventure. And frankness. About everything.
“Music is the one area in my life where I don’t want to be sensible,” she says. “I think it’s an interesting thing for a woman to be seen as too much, especially from my perspective. I’m six foot tall, I can’t help but take up space. I’m not a trained guitarist, things are going to jut out here and there. That’s it.”
Consider these lines from her song Stranger, which will appear on her debut album, Try + Save Me, next month. “I cannot leave my bed today/I’ve got a thousand things confused/I’ve had the nervous shakes all week I’ve had too much to choose from/I thought that I was so I strong I feel it stick/And I feel so small.”
Or the fact that what may become her signature tune about highly inappropriate parental matchmaking, I’ll Never Want A BF is done with an amused eye now (“You give my number to any old man/And hope that I turn a blind eye, but why... “) but hints at the rugged terrain of coming out to her very Christian parents as a teenager.
“When I came to my mum, she did not take it well, and I moved out of home,” Sandridge says casually, though these days “my mother loves my girlfriend”.
Why does she want to talk about these aspects of her life, her sexuality, her family, her body dysmorphia?
“I think because for so long I was able to compartmentalise my life and my family,” Sandridge says. “Growing up in the church, all my friends were Christian and I felt like I had to have almost a split identity. Now this is who I am and what I need is to be a more holistic version of myself in the public space.”
In the public space though the next question has to be, is she comfortable saying “no, this is as far as I go, as much as I reveal” to an audience and a media which will always want more?
“I’ve been digging into the whole [academic and lifestyle change advocate] Brene Brown ‘living vulnerably/wholly’ podcast every morning and I think it’s a fine line between knowing how to protect yourself and look after yourself but living with a transparent skin,” she says. “But I feel more at ease living transparently than compartmentalising and disassociating from myself.”
Compartmentalising became a part of life fairly early, in serious and not so serious ways. Her individualistic guitar technique can partly be put down to learning a folkish style taught by “the guy across the road” who was a Blink 182 fan.
Not surprisingly then, the first song she learnt was What’s My Name Again? on an acoustic guitar (blue, beloved and carried everywhere, from bedroom to bathroom to dinner table), fingerpicking its best known riff. It’s a party trick that may never grow old and came in handy whenever she had to do covers gigs near her home on the coast south of Sydney.
While an album title like Try + Save Me may sound like an outward facing plea, Sandridge argues the songs are less about teaching other people about her and more about learning about herself. Her needs, the lessons she needs to grasp, questions such as whether it’s a good thing or not to want sex with the ex.
“I did a lot of therapy, still doing a lot of therapy, learning about my attachment style and being comfortable asserting what I need, and knowing what I need,” she says. “And when I think about that relationship I sing about, I was very anxious-avoiding. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a matter of being aware of it.”
Some lessons were learnt: her ex is once again her partner.
“With this record I think when I listen to it, top to tail, I can see myself switching from the child to the adult, from ‘me, me, me, my needs aren’t being met I’m running away’ and then realising it’s okay to observe what’s going on and to be uncomfortable,” Sandridge says.
“I think it’s an interesting place to sit and feel okay with because that’s when you’re feeling something instead of being frozen.”
Try + Save Me is out October 4.
Bec Sandridge plays:
The Foundry, Brisbane, October 4
The Northern, Byron Bay, October 5
Hobart Brewing Company, October 12
Cats @ Rocket Bar, Adelaide, October 18
Howler, Melbourne, October 19
Lansdowne, Sydney, October 25
UC Hub, Canberra, October 26
UniBar, Wollongong, November 8