North Carolina’s See Gulls will release its debut record — recorded by legendary Mitch Easter — this fall. In the meantime, they will play a slew of shows around their home state. Kelly Rosebud of The Rosebuds recently conversed with Sarah Fuller of See Gulls, and the pair shared that conversation with Walter the Fish.
Kelly: Your vocal delivery reminds me Johnette Napolitano from Concrete Blonde. I love her style and uniqueness, and I think you got that swagger. I’m always amazed by the associations people make when discussing my music. Sometimes, I’m like, “WHO? I don’t know that band!” Does that happen to you? And, who would you want people to hear when they hear you sing? I know lyrics and style are two separate things, so, maybe who for each?
Sarah: I have never listened to that band.
[Time lapse of listening to Concrete Blonde then listening to See Gulls…]
Our breath usage is similar. I’m wondering what songs in particular you are into by them. Give me some suggestions. Large catalogue. Not to be like “never heard of them”, but that is true. On the subject of swagger – I try really hard to have it. I do believe, however, that admitting you try to have swagger isn’t very swaggy. On comparisons… I get Carrie Brownstein from Sleater Kenny and I believe that’s the vibrato coming in, like the vocals of older women when they sing in church. I like to get squeaky with my vocals too! Who do people say you (specifically you, not Rosebuds as a whole) sound like? I really just wish I could sing like Bonnie Raitt and write lyrics like Courtney Barnett.
Kelly: People haven’t compared me to female vocalists, that I can recall. I think it’s because I have zero idea what I’m doing or how to actually sing. In our songs, I’m expressive and weird in creative ways, so I would compare my Rosebud self (my creative self) to some inner-kid version of me, but with a deep, nearly contralto voice. For Concrete Blonde, I really liked the song “Joey,” which was kind of a hit for them. I had their albums when I was younger, but not a lot of the songs or lyrics appealed to me, but something about her vocal approach fascinated me. It was so interesting, and not like the radio. She was daring enough to do something totally different. I can see that in you, in your performative self.
Do you like people to note that you’re a woman in a band? Or does that bother you? It doesn’t bother me so much, I think it’s kind of funny. But I know that recently Neko Case took some people to town for saying it. Her point was, women playing music isn’t a niche. I can see that, and I think she has a valid point. What do you think?
Sarah: When Neko Case said that I felt like rockets were going off and I wanted to do somersaults.
I remember texting you a month or so ago jokingly saying “You’ll never believe it, I saw the most incredible ALL GUY band tonight”. Music promoters who make a musician’s anatomy the first adjective in describing her music (and let’s say “her”, because I will live for 7 days in a dumpster if you can find any man made music promoted this way) instill that you are a female first, musician second. It can give you this idea that you’re some kind of exception. Making music about gender because it’s female made has no purpose – just as it would be silly to make a list of 12 MALE fronted bands and slap that puppy on a blog. What’s the point?
That said, a lot of music writers, male and female do not understand this. The truth is, if a well meaning writer wants to do a piece on See Gulls that relates to us being female, we don’t disregard that. We’ve been playing for less than a year, and I’ve said yes and no, based on the tone of premise for a piece. Still, we were asked to play a show that’s “Going to be a lot of chick bands”, so I asked why not have a show with a bunch of black bands. The venue owner realized what I meant and is a great dude. I think your experience may be slightly different because of the balance of gender in The Rosebuds. What kind of silly shit have people said to you regarding being both female and in a band?
Kelly: My situation is unique because I’m in a band with guys who treat me like one of the guys, mostly. And I’m really feminine and I see them being sensitive to that, too. My people–I’m around people who are interested in Kelly, and how Kelly wants to be, and I forget about gender being part of anything. I’ve always felt special for being a lady in a mostly male environment, like I’m seeing inside a secret world. My band is all guys, and I think they’re so cool and funny and kind. If I were in an all-female band, I’d be like, HEY WE ARE ALL FEMALES! because, well… Not because I think girls in bands should be a point of interest or a cute kinda freak-show attraction (Like, “Well, I’ll be dag… A girl with a guitar”), but because I think ladies bring a special feeling to a project. A heightened identity. I was in an all-female performance art group called Brawdeville, and we pretty much put it on blast that we were women writing and producing our own shows. But this has always been my approach to feminism. I forgot to think about gender supremacy, like ever, and so it’s never applied to my life. I sometimes forget it even exists because I so rarely see it. But I’m also insulated–I travel in a world of my own making where my people, the men in my life, wouldn’t even think of being gender-weird. And the only few times we’ve run into a sound man or someone who talked down to me at sound check, we all laughed at him.
Melody or lyrics, which comes first in your writing?
Sarah: Definitely melody! If I come up with a melody, it’ll usually be right before I go to sleep, and I’ll sing it to my phone. In the morning when I listen to it, I’ll be either elated or disgusted. Lyric writing is such a challenge. I hear people writing in metaphors and I sing along to that shit in the car and really feel it, but I can’t write like that. At this point, I feel good writing more conversational lyrics. I would be uncomfortable singing dramatic metaphors. You’re good at that though – but you are a writer in other realms and not just music. I don’t know how to do it with cachet.
Kelly: Oh girl, you know I love a dramatic metaphor.
Would you ever be a rapper? Do you like rap music? What would be your rapper name?
Sarah: Oh I’ve rapped a time or two. One time was a slumber party at my house. The audience sat on my Lion King comforter, and you better believe I tore up Left Eye’s part in Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls. I like rap, but am a dunce when it comes to rap. Growing up, my sister played Method Man’s “Tical” a lot – his attitude – his swagger definitely left an impression on me. He was so badass. Rap is so complex. I really liked Lil’Kim and Foxy Brown when I was growing up, because they were throwing really sexual content in your face, and that felt empowering to me as a 13 year old. That music is maybe not suitable for 13 yrs olds though. See Gulls played with Sara Autrey’s band Wing Dam and found out she also raps under the name “Glittoris”, so I’m pretty certain any rapper name game is gonna be a wash after that one.
Kelly: Right. No one’s anything is better than Glittoris. Case closed.
How long can you do a handstand?
Sarah: I’ll use this time to brag about beating you AND EVERYONE ELSE ever in a handstand contest. That’s an exaggeration, but pretty much if someone challenges me to a handstand contest (which I really wished happened more often) I will win. You do a lot of yoga now though, so you might win. My endurance can only be measured in the presence of other challengers. The answer is – longer than anyone else in the contest. My handstands are all ego based. Not very yoga.
Kelly: Waaaaaayyyyyy longer than me. I’m working on it, but you’re definitely the master. I put this question to you because I wanted to see how much you’d brag about your insanely long handstands. Aaaaand, it’s still a lot. Respect.
Dolly Parton: love, or just really love?
Sarah: I would really like to hang out with her. She’s got the best comebacks, and seems so genuinely herself. She’s hilarious. I was listening to “Dumb Blonde” the other day. Her delivery is powerful yet delicate. That’s the good stuff. How many books have you read on Dolly Parton?
Kelly: Oh, you know, I’ve read a few (62). She’s a boss. You remember I dressed like her to go to her concert at the RBC Center in Raleigh. Long blonde wig, satin tassle-y top, push-up bra, cowgirl boots. When she came out onto the stage, I lost control of myself, my eyes went teary, and my false eyelashes popped off. Eyeliner went everywhere. It was a mess. Yes. She’s a true original. I’m not a very adequate impersonator, but I sometimes have to do what I can to get closer to her spirit.
Sarah: Over and out. See you at Dollywood!
Some upcoming See Gulls shows in NC:
July 31, Cat’s Cradle Back Room, Carrboro, NC
August 14,, Tir Na Nog, Raleigh, NC
September 6, Hopscotch Music Festival, Raleigh,NC
September 20, Nice Price, Raleigh,NC
September 23, The Cave, Chapel Hill, NC