When you look at the accomplishments of teenage singer/songwriter Sahara Beck and realise all you accomplished by age 18 was barely surviving high school, you can’t help but be impressed by what Beck has done. In 2011, at the age of 15, Beck had already released her first full-length album and by late 2014 she had another two EPs behind her. We got together to chat about her impressive work ethic, vulnerability in music performance and what can be learned on tour.
So what attracted you to creating music?
Well I actually wanted to be an actress for a long time but my family always was really musical, like my mum just played everything and it was always a really natural thing for us to just sing and play all the time. Sounds really corny [laughs] and then the first time I performed was at my dad’s birthday party when he was 60 and I remember just the feeling of it was so good, I was like ‘I’ve never felt this before with anything, I have to pursue this.’
You seem to have a pretty awesome work ethic, I was reading how many releases you’ve put behind you. where does that come from? How are you able to release so much music so quickly.
I guess firstly I write a lot, and I work really hard to save money for it and I feel like it’s important to just keep putting my stuff out. I used to have this thought that I’ve written all this stuff right, but all I have is little voice memos on my phone or whatever, and if I died no-one would ever actually get to hear the songs the way that they’re meant to be, because it’s still in my head. So it’s like I have to keep releasing everything so it can be a real thing and not just an idea in my head.
Do you ever get any doubts about sharing your music?
Totally, so much. It’s so scary! It freaks me out. At the moment I’ve only shown a couple of people the new album because it’s so intimidating. I’m like “I have no idea if anyone’s going to like it.” or maybe they’ll be like “Oh the song’s alright, but the recordings aren’t what I want them to be.” because, you know, everyone always has an opinion about everything. I feel really good about it but it’s nerve wracking because you’re like “maybe they won’t like it” but I guess it comes back down to just being happy with yourself.
So you recently toured with Darren Middleton. How was that?
Well we’re still in the middle of it actually.
Nah that’s ok, you will be [laughs]. We’re going on Saturday to Melbourne to do another show with him. It’s been really good, all the touring I’ve been doing recently and all the upcoming stuff I’m so excited about it because I love observing how every band works together. Like, every band has their own way of working together and before a show everyone does a different thing that gets them excited or whatever and just seeing how bands interact with each other. You can keep learning on the road, I like it.
What have you learned while being on tour?
I guess the big thing I’ve learnt from everything I’ve watched is that it’s so important to not be rude to anyone while you’re on tour. Like even people who are huge, if you treat the sound guy like shit…
…he can mute you!
Yeah, but that doesn’t make him look bad it makes you look bad. and people like to talk about that sort of stuff.
So I’ve been reading Kim Gordon’s book ‘Girl in a Band’ and one of the things she says is “unlike say a writer or a painter, when you’re on stage you can’t hide from other people or yourself.” Do you think that’s true?
That’s so true. Totally. Wow. I’m just soaking it up.
So there’s a real vulnerability to being a performer on stage?
Well we had all these rehearsals for the Bigsound show last night and there’s a couple of songs where I put my guitar down and Rupert the guitarist starts playing my part and I was practicing in the mirror all these moves I can do. I was like “gotta get this right” you know. And then I realised there’s nothing I can prepare for it, and then on the night it was like you have to just give in to fit into the vulnerability of the whole situation. You can’t act like a certain character because then people know you’re acting. I was talking about it with my housemate the other day, that’s why people go to see live music. They want to see you or your band opening up and being real. Because that’s the unique part about it, watching someone just open up to you and it’s such a hard thing for people to do.
Another great example is Nina Simone. When she performs she’s so raw. Did you see that documentary about her?
No it’s on my Netflix must watch list…
That’s where I saw it! It’s so good. If someone would get up and try to walk out or something she’d be like “sit down. sit down, I’m not kididng.” So not scared to say exactly what she’s thinking but then it’s like things like that and you’re sitting there watching and being like “what’s going to happen next?”
I set up Banshee because I think women in music don’t get enough representation in the media, just based on the fact that there are so many female musicians in Australia that I’ve never heard of. So I’ve been asking this question of a lot of people we’ve been interviewing about whether you have identified an imbalance on how people are perceived within the industry?
Women, both cis and trans, as well as non-binary genders…
I dunno. I’ve thought about it a lot. I think what frustrates me is, well it used to frustrate me because I feel like now I’ve kind of worked my way out of that little box, but whenever I would tell people that I played music, they always instantly assumed what kind of music it was going to be. It’s like “What instrument do you play?” “guitar” “oh.” Then they assume you’re a girl so you must be doing singer-songwriter music. And that’s beautiful too when people do that but it’s a shame that that’s the first thing that people go to. But at the end of the day I kind of think also that if a woman isn’t getting represented as fairly in the music industry like she shouldn’t stop and say ‘that’s because I’m a woman.’ She should keep pushing. Because I know a lot of people that were like “I could have gotten it but you know, I’m a woman.” and I’m like “ahh come one, don’t make us look weak like that! fight for it!”
I want to ask about your “Not On” shirt, what’s that about?
It’s Not On, which is a violence against women campaign. Funded by the white ribbon group and my manager Deb Suckling had the concept, she was telling me about it one night like “What do you think of this: ‘Not On.’ We’ll put a hashtag in front of it, people can hashtag it. oh yes yes, simple.” and she got all these shirts printed up and suddenly everyone’s wearing them and the male ones say “I am making noise to end violence against women #noton” and the whole point of the campaign is that men mainly wear the shirts so that men can be aware of the whole issue and say to each other “dude that’s not on.” Because you need to tackle the problem not the victim.
I think men need to have as much to say in things that affect women as women do because I think the whole point is that we’ve all got to work together to move forward so if men want to get behind something like this it’s like “great! help us get this message out.”
Totally! exactly! A lot of campaigns that are about this would be run by women for women, and that’s good. But you need to also think of the men. Everyone should have a voice.
You said you were working on an album, have you got anything else coming up besides that?
Well we’re supporting The Beach Boys later this year and then we’ve got the Ben Lee tour, I’m so excited for that. I really wanna, one of my next big goals is to tour America and to go past St Louis. I’d love to do that, to go to St Louis for music.