Three years ago, Bec Sandridge was on the road to becoming Australia’s next queer pop icon. Their debut album, ‘Try + Save Me’, arrived independently on October 4, 2019 and – thanks in no small part to earworms like ‘Eyes Wide’, ‘Stranger’ and bonafide sapphic anthem ‘I’ll Never Want A BF’ – was an underground favourite before it even came out.
Sandridge planned to ride the high well into 2020, dropping new music sooner than fans would expect. But of course, as it did for most artists who are staunchly DIY (but not staunchly rich), the pandemic upended those plans. And as Sandridge tells NME, “it’s really fucking expensive to make music” when there isn’t a global crisis to contend with.
Eager to keep busy, Sandridge shifted their focus to a theatrical passion project, linking up with the Brisbane-based Dead Puppet Society to score Ishmael: a gender-bent reimagining of Moby Dick as “a contemporary space saga” that “recasts Earth’s no-longer-vast oceans with the immensity of the universe, and the endless possibilities and terrors it holds”.
Sandridge (who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns; NME uses only the latter set in this story with their blessing) beams when they talk about the play, which is primed to tour nationally in 2023. The scoring process was “so fun”, they gush. “It was like, ‘How do we make the sound of a space shuttle on an arpeggiator? What about an electric guitar?’
“I was getting really deep into exploring those kind of fucked-up sounds – it just felt like being a huge kid. And it was a nice relief, during lockdown, to not sing about my own feelings.”
“The more comfortable I became in my sexuality, the more I realised that it’s just a part of me”
By 2021, Sandridge was pretty tired of mining their own emotional trauma. ‘Try + Save Me’ chronicled two separate breakups, and they went through another one in the wake of the album’s release. “I was in an on-and-off relationship for five years,” they say, “and the last time we were together, we gave it a really good swing: we went to couples therapy, and we really exhausted ourselves into the relationship. But it kind of got to the point where we were both pouring so much of ourselves in that, that it became more about the relationship itself than about who we are as individuals and celebrating that.”
This led Sandridge to face a loaded yet pivotal question: What is the cost of love?
“There was this push and pull,” they explain, “between the ‘self’ and the ‘other’, and working out the boundaries between them. ‘Who am I in this relationship, and who would I be if I wasn’t in this relationship?’ That sense of identity within a relationship – which is something I’ve always kind of been fascinated by attachment theory and all that nerdy psychology stuff.”
In that period of romantic turbulence, it was inevitable that Sandridge would turn to their trusty Fender Mustang. They wrote ‘Cost Of Love’ – the lead single from their just-released ‘Lost Dog’ EP – in a bid to reckon with the end of that aforementioned relationship. Songwriting can be a good tool for self-exploration, they’ve concluded.
“I like doing that ‘stream of consciousness’ type of writing… when I’m just playing some chords and singing something, and I just have my iPhone’s voice memo [app] going, and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was a really weird thing to say – I didn’t realise I felt like that.’ And then exploring what some of the words mean. I think songwriting really helps you to identify your core values.”
One of Sandridge’s biggest core values is authenticity – particularly with regards to their queerness. Songwriting helped Sandridge explore that side of themself, as they explain: “For a very long time, before I came out, I tried to compartmentalise, which was obviously not great for my mental health, and also not great for representation. But I think the more comfortable I became in my sexuality, the more I realised that it’s just a part of me. Practise the norm, and the norm will follow.”
“I’d been a fan of Andy Bull’s music since I was in high school… when we were in the studio, he was like, ‘Do you mind if I have a sing on it?’ And in my brain I was like, ‘Do I MIND!?’”
Musically, Sandridge draws from the well of guitar-tinged synthpop made legendary in the ’70s and ’80s by iconoclasts like David Bowie, Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper – all of whom, they say, have had a notable influence on Sandridge’s own songwriting style. “I love how gross some of the stuff that Bowie did is. And even though those artists might not be queer, per se, what they did was kind of warped and weird and it carved out this space where anyone or anything is welcome. I think if I can represent – or create music that facilitates – a space where people can show off as their weirdest selves, then my job is done.”
On ‘Lost Dog’, Sandridge aimed to take that ethos and dial it up twice as high as they did on ‘Try + Save Me’. Core to that was working with producer Dave Jenkins Jr. (Daniel Johns, Vera Blue) and embracing their shared love of “fuzzy, glitchy sounds” made with drums and guitars, and then ultra-glossy sounds made with synths. “We threw a lot of ideas at the computer, and whatever stuck out in a bad way, we just removed,” Sandridge recalls. “No idea was a bad idea – it was like, ‘Let’s just have fun and see what works.’”
In addition to Jenkins, Sandridge co-wrote most of ‘Lost Dog’ with Lucy Taylor (Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding), linked back up with old friends Gab Strum (aka Japanese Wallpaper) and Tony Buchen, and welcomed the first artist to guest on one of their songs: alt-pop luminary Andy Bull, who sings and plays synth on EP highlight ‘The Jetty’.
What makes that song so brilliant, Sandridge tells us, is the looseness of the session that birthed it. “When Andy came in,” they explain, “he was like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I was like, ‘I actually don’t know! Do you want to just have a play and see what happens?’ I’d been a fan of his music since I was in high school, so I just messaged him on Instagram to ask if he wanted to come in and play some synth tracks. And then when we were in the studio, he was like, ‘Do you mind if I have a sing on it?’ And in my brain I was like, ‘Do I MIND!?’”
Another thing that makes ‘The Jetty’ so memorable is its strong, steady beat – something Sandridge gleaned from their studies in music therapy. “It’s this concept of rhythmic entrainment,” they say. “You see it in a room at a gig, where if a beat is weak, people don’t clap in time – but if it’s bang-on, everyone should be in sync within, like, 30 seconds.”
Sandridge is about a year into their master’s degree in music therapy, which they say has given them a whole new appreciation for the art form. Working a placement in a dementia ward, they learned how music can be used “to bypass brain damage and bring back memories”. Therapy, they say, is “just such a beautiful space to use music… Music is universal, and so powerful, and it’s so cool to see that in action.”
Though they’re keen to explore a career in that field, Sandridge also has their mind set on a second full-length album – the first material from which should arrive “early next year”. What does it sound like? “The dream is to have it go from a hyperpop track to a country track, then a punk track, a slightly metal track, an indie-rock track… I would love to do a record that’s just complete chaos.”
Bec Sandridge’s ‘Lost Dog’ is out now.