On a cold, grey Monday morning, I made my way to Old Street Station and walked through the rain to grab a coffee with one of my favourite female musicians. We had agreed to meet up in a cosy cafe in Shoreditch, full of freelancers, brunches and matcha lattes – a welcome retreat from the miserable weather, if not the most likely setting to catch up with grungy singer-songwriter Sarah Howells, who performs under the pseudonym Bryde.
Bryde’s music evokes a feeling of power; a sense of independence and conviction. Her lyrics, backed by fierce electric guitars, deliver tales of heartache, pain and loss paired with triumphant emotional release and defiance. What-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger vibes.
Sarah is an inspiring figure. Having performed in multiple bands, most notably the duo Paper Aeroplanes, collaborated with trance and EDM producers, and establishing herself as a solo artist while also setting up a record label, Seahorse Music, she’s not one for sitting around idly. So it seems more than appropriate that she’s recently been awarded the PRS: Women Make Music grant and been nominated for Best Female Solo artist at the Unsigned Music Awards.
After ordering my own startlingly green matcha latte, I quizzed Bryde on her latest release and her thoughts on playing the games of the music industry…
I’ve been really loving your new single ‘Desire’. What was the inspiration behind the video?
It’s the idea of getting stuck in something that you feel is what you want. I guess I like the idea of sugar and syrup – reaching for things that we want in the moment but then we regret later.
We were inspired by an artist who used honey – embalming figures in honey – there are some amazing photos. We couldn’t actually afford to use honey – it’s too expensive! We ended up using syrup.
Before Bryde, you were in Paper Aeroplanes. How do you find working as a solo artist compared to being in a band?
[Paper Aeroplanes] was a duo… for a while we both lived in Cardiff, but I moved to London years ago, so we were always working remotely and in sudden bursts of time, rather than constantly working together and being able to have a little rehearsal or spontaneously get together to write. So to be honest, the transition to going solo wasn’t that dramatic, it doesn’t feel that different to me. Except that it was a little easier because I could make the decisions myself. I felt that things moved a little bit quicker because I wasn’t having to get approval on all my crazy ideas!
I can bounce ideas off whoever I want now. I’m less restricted, because when you’re in a duo you’re committed to working with this one person and there’s lots of politics when it comes to collaborating with other people. I get to fully immerse myself in the London music scene now that it’s just me.
You’ve worked with a lot of different producers on collaborative projects and, as you say, you’ve been writing with other people. Do you find it important to explore different genres and styles?
It has been quite fun. I got into working on EDM by accident – it’s not something I would have set out to do, but it was a really fun experience and took me all over the world. It wasn’t always the most comfortable of situations for me, because I’m used to very different gigs – playing guitar and live band shows are very different to big club shows, but it was a good experience and a learning curve.
I don’t necessarily set out to try my hand at every genre. I’ve written some songs on a friend’s album that’s coming out later in the year and that’s kind of more soul / Americana, 70’s inspired folk, Motown influence, so yeah, I can turn my hand to different styles. A tune is a tune and I enjoy writing toplines.
The music I’ve always made – the thread that’s running through it – has always been that kind of grungy, indie rock with more melancholy singer-songwriter elements. I’ve always liked the more melancholy, gritty side of music.
You’re seriously good at doing all of your social media and marketing. Why would you say this is such an important thing for musicians to do these days?
I definitely have moments where I’m like, ‘if I wasn’t in a band I’d just delete all these apps right now and go walk in a forest every weekend’, because it’s a little bit of a treadmill you get yourself on, but most of the time I enjoy it. I think when I am good at it is when I’m enjoying it and want to tell people what I’m up to, and then it’s fun and not contrived.
It must be hard when you’re expected to have this constant stream of content…
It’s important to do it because it’s free publicity and it’s reaching out to people. There is so much music out there that it doesn’t matter how good your music is – there’s no reason why someone is just going to seek it out and find it and stick with it, because we live in a really fast-paced society and there’s a million distractions.
Do you think it’s been important for your development as an artist to have those different platforms?
No, I think it’s been detrimental because it wastes a lot of time!
I take that back in some ways… I think that it’s really nice that we’re able to express our opinions. If you have any kind of platform, it’s important to say what you think about things you’re passionate about. I like the fact that on Twitter, I can express what I think about politics, about current affairs, because I’m always gonna do that. I’m not going to worry about offending people that may disagree with me if I’m really passionate about something. I think that also helps attract the right people – I mean, there’s no wrong person to like my music, but I think it’s nice to connect with people who really get what I’m trying to do as a whole.
I’m really into photography now – I love it because there’s no pressure on it as an artform for me, because it’s secondary to what I do. I love being able to share photos on Instagram and it makes me want to take more, because there’s somewhere to put them, like a gallery that anyone can check out if they fancy it.
What’s your plan for 2018? Is there some more music on the way?
There’s a new single on its way. It was mixed by Catherine Marks and mastered by Mandy Parnell, two of the top women in the recording industry, which is is exciting!
And you’re off on tour, too?
Yep, in the UK and Europe, starting 10th April in Ireland through to 19th May in Madrid. I can’t wait, I’ve never played in Spain before!
You’ve recently set up a label – Seahorse Music. How’s that going?
It’s been good so far. There’s four artists at the moment – all women. It’s done quite well. We’ve got Me For Queen releasing an album this year.
What’s been the biggest obstacle for you in your career as a musician?
There’s been a lot of obstacles, to be honest. I think the more everyone is aware of that as a musician, regardless of gender, I think the better you’ll do, because it’s easy to be knocked back a few times and think, ‘oh that’s it, there’s no point’.
As a woman, the most negative experience I’ve had is at gigs, where you get treated like you don’t know how to use your own gear. I’m quite often older than the people on stage around me and they get treated like they know what they’re doing more than I do. That’s very frustrating and happens almost 70% of the time at venues. People are like, “oh, I thought you’d be a cute, acoustic guitar player” – which is fine, because I was at one point, but it’s just that assumption that girls only play acoustic guitars.
It’s just persistence, really. Getting turned down for things is always an obstacle. It’s just knowing that it’s not necessarily going to carry on like that – you’ve just got to persist.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve been given by another woman in the music industry?
Alison Wenham who set up AIM, the Association of Independent Music, is massively inspiring. I saw her do a talk recently and she said that in order to change the balance of women working, visably working in the music industry, you need to put yourself out there, you need to offer to be on panels, put yourself forward. Don’t wait to be asked because you might not be. It’s still the case sometimes that women will be overlooked to be asked to be on panels, or to speak at an event or chair a meeting or something like that, so it’s necessary to elbow your way in sometimes. I felt really inspired by that and felt like doing it more.
That’s a really good bit of advice. What advice would you give to women in music, especially upcoming female musicians?
I think it’s really important to hold your own in many situations and not be thrown by the fact that you’re the only woman. I’m trying to get a female tour manager to come on tour with us in April and May, because I found that the last few tours I was on – supporting some great male bands – were quite lonely. There were no women around and it was just a really different experience.
I think it’s nice to involve other women and that we should champion each other. I guess that’s the biggest advice I would give – to champion each other and not to see each other as competition. The more of us that are doing stuff, the better.
When I started as a teenager, we used to be quite excited that we were the only girl band on the bill, and that would happen most of the time. We’d be like ‘yeah!’ because you feel like no one can be better than you if there are no other women. I now think that’s a really damaging way to look at it.
I think there’s a real sense that that’s changing now and women are starting to celebrate each other.
I feel genuinely really excited for everyone. It opens doors up for us all.
Check out Bryde’s tour dates, photos and latest music on her website.