Sandra Vu on the new SISU record and tour with Dirty Beaches
Has Mario Rubalcaba ever been in a less-than-killer band? John Reis? Ian Svenonious? James Canty? No way, not even sub-par despite surveying a variety of collaborators, genres, and styles. Add to the list of rad musicians in a ton of impeachable bands Sandra Vu. I dug Midnight Movies, love Dum Dum Girls, and am a massive supporter of her psychedelic goth solo gig, SISU. I’m dying to hear her new material live and extra stoked that she and her crew are touring with Alex Hungtai a.k.a. Mr. Dirty Beaches. Dude. That is a rad lineup and I hope this brief Q&A inspires some of you to check it out.
MW: I still haven’t heard the new Blood Tears LP! How does it compare to the Light Eyes EP in terms of recording or even just the sound in general?
SV: We need to get you the LP! We had no budget for the EP, so the main technical difference is that Lars Stalfors didn’t mix it and Ryan Wood wasn’t as involved in making it. He was just too busy so I pretty much made it on my own. There are also no live drums on the EP, which was a limitation of not having enough to make it sound good enough. The EP is just about as lo-fi as I’m willing to go. Other than these technical things, the songs themselves are relatable but different. Blood Tears is more immediate to me, the songs on the whole are tend to be structurally more simple. I worked on the bass guitar more on the EP, and two of the main songs “Light Eyes” and “Two Thousand Hands” are meatier–longer, denser. The songs on both LP and EP were written in the same time period, but the EP was completed after. It came about in the long waiting period of trying to plan the LP release.
MW: During the Dum Dums’ downtime, SISU plays a lot! How has the band been evolving?
SV: We play any opportunity we get! I’m really proud of how the band has evolved. SISU is essentially a studio project, but it’s been really fun to take it further in the live show. Since I switched from playing bass to guitar live, it’s opened up a whole new world. Playing bass for me is more rigid, you’ve got to play it 100 percent correct and on, or else the bottom will drop out. On guitar, I get to wiggle around a little more which is really fun. I add parts that aren’t on the recordings; sometimes I wing it a little. On the other hand, it’s a pretty challenging job for my bandmates, who have been thankfully open to adapting to so many different configurations. We can play shows as a 2-, 3-, 4-, or 5-piece band, with different members on both coasts. It’s insane! Tito can now switch between stand-up drums, second guitar, and bass guitar. We had Jules pick up the guitar when we do the duo. It’s stressful but it typifies the way this band flies. I hate waiting around, and I hate excuses. I am so thankful for Ryan, Nat, Jules, Tito, and Dave. They are all so talented and down for the challenge. I really couldn’t do it without them.
MW: Do you see a lot of DDG fans when SISU plays out? Midnight Movies?
SV: Not too many! Every once in a while someone will tell me or I will see a DDG shirt, and very rarely a Midnight Movies shirt. I think I’m the most low-key Dum Dum Girl. I mean, I’ll play hard but I’m literally in the back and I’m terrible at self-promotion. I feel bad spamming all those people who know me from DDG. It’s okay, though, if they don’t dig it. They can unfollow me or whatever. I used to be very shy about exploiting the DDG thing, but I’ve worked so hard in that band for three years now, so I feel like I’ve earned it. Ultimately, if it gets someone interested enough to give SISU a chance, then I feel no shame. You can’t control whether or not people will like it or not.
MW: I love how your releases are handcrafted. I couldn’t not purchase the cassette and vinyl and CD versions of the EP. Can you fill me in your visual aesthetic and art background?
SV: I love that you love it! I’m a designer by day. I love collage, old psychedelic silk screen posters, Tadanori Yokoo, Julian House, Peter Saville. I am self-taught, so I feel like I have very little structure to what I do. Though I’ve done very little silk screening myself, I think in terms of what would work as a screen print, and like things like overprinting and halftone pattern.
MW: You play every instrument, sing, produce… Is music something that has always come naturally to you or is it something that you’ve had to work your ass off to become great at?
SV: Because these are all things I really love to do, I think I just naturally spend a lot of time on them and never consider it “work.” Apart from piano lessons and some flute lessons, I learned a lot by myself or from my friends. I don’t even know if most of what I’m doing is correct but I do it anyway. If it feels right, then it’s right to me. I don’t really like when things sound too perfect or produced, so I happily continue not working hard on learning my craft as an aesthetic choice. Instead, I spend a lot of time learning things the hard way. I would rather pick up something, fumble around with it, and maybe come up with my own way of doing it, rather than wait for an expert to do it for me. It’s just always been my personality, I guess–impatient? I started overdubbing myself on cassette tape with different instruments as soon as I could strum a chord and play a beat. Having said that, there is a certain level of experience and training that I can never achieve with jobs like mixing and mastering, where I am more than willing to enlist.
MW: SISU has toured with a lot of friends but hitting the road with Dirty Beaches has got to be different. Can you describe the history and chemistry of this pairing?
SV: I met Alex when Dirty Beaches opened for DDG. I had an instant bond with him through some shared cultural experiences–namely racism and food. He is one of the sweetest guys I know, just very honest and real. His latest record is very synth-heavy, which relates with SISU, for sure. I think his point of view and story is pretty different than SISU’s; For the EP and LP, I hadn’t left the house, my own body, whereas he’s had this history of displacement and is out there drifting all over the world. I look up to him like an older brother. He’s worked a lot harder and a lot longer than I have, and he continues working hard. He’s very inspiring to me. We share this struggle of having to deal with that little bit of extra bullshit from looking the way we do. By the same token, we also from have that well of family and roots to draw from, as people who grow up with dual cultures do.
MW: You’re barely home but are you still at that old place in Echo Park? What are some favorite places around the area and do you think your apartment might be haunted?
SV: No, we failed to keep the infamous Echo Park house in the family. I have no idea who lives there now. We’re in Silver Lake now. The house is old enough to be haunted but I haven’t noticed anything particularly supernatural, just lots of yelping coyotes from the reservoir. It’s only a few miles away from Echo Park, and yet the air feels so different. I’m even more of a shut-in there because it’s more secluded. I think people tend to grow into their own bubbles there. Our neighbors are rich, entitled jerks, and they hate us for being the poor renters of the block. Despite them, Silver Lake is a really beautiful and peaceful place but it does lack the vibrancy, soul that Echo Park has.
Catch SISU on tour with Dirty Beaches now, and buy the new releases at their merch tables while you’re at it. Gas ain’t cheap and neither is being a real artist. Look up the dates HERE. I’ll be at The Echo show, for sure.