The first band we interviewed for the Identical Records Publication was No Sister (read it here). We are very excited to have them perform at the Identical Records + Hysterical Records showcase for Changes Festival this Thursday 5 July 2018 at the Tote. The lineup also features Qwerty, Stationary Suns, Racerage, Shrimpwitch, Swim Team, HoT To RoT and Hysterical Records Mystery Band.
Tiarney Miekus is the guitarist/vocalist of No Sister. She has also recently founded Difficult Fun, a longform music review publication focused on Australian music. Tiarney is a guitarist whose performances leave a lasting impression. It is her focus and power we find most impressive. As a fellow guitarist, I (Lei) wanted to find out more about Tiarney and her music practice. I spent my teen years dreaming of knowing other femmes/gnc/non-male guitarists and talking about nerdy guitar stuff. I am very happy this came true and I get to ask people like Tiarney questions like these:
We would love to hear about your music background. When did you first start playing music?
When I was growing up I played violin for about eight years and even though I haven’t touched a violin in a long, long time, I still feel like it’s been so useful now. Not because of learning about music per se (which can be useful but I don’t think necessary, in fact for a long time it had the opposite effect where I was so used to reading music I wasn’t really hearing it), but because it’s about the nuances of how to use your fingers, hands and arms to get certain sounds.
How did you pick this instrument? What influenced your decision? Any musicians in particular? How did you start playing? Did you get lessons? Learn from friends? Play guitar tabs from the internet? Self-taught?
I didn’t actually pick up guitar until about two and half years ago! Before that I considered myself a bass player and played bass for the first few years of No Sister’s existence. Aside from violin lessons, I’ve never had a music lesson in my life. I basically wanted to be Kim Deal, so I learnt the bass lines to almost every Pixies song. I ended up picking up guitar because No Sister was having trouble finding a guitarist who was interested in creating sounds – from the outset I made an effort to not learn chords or anything that might permit ‘normal’ playing. It just doesn’t interest me. My No Sister bandmate Mino gave me a few initial pointers, and from there it’s just been a case of experimenting.
What did you initially find appealing about guitar? Has this changed over time? What are your favourite elements of guitar at present?
Playing with alternative tunings and making use of screwdrivers, mallets and drumsticks – basically just finding ways to get sounds or moods from a guitar, and incorporating that into song form. (There’s a long trend of guitarists making abrasive, interesting, painful sounds on guitar, and just leaving it at that, which is fine, but can also be really boring and dated in 2018.)
My favourite thing at the moment is what I call a ‘split tuning’ where you have the lower strings all one note, at different octaves, and the higher strings at different, more varied notes – it’s like having the option of two guitars in one. Then once you have a screwdriver mixed in, and the different sounds you get playing the left and right side of the screwdriver, you suddenly have so many more options sound-wise.
I also like how you need certain guitars and set ups to get certain sounds, and trying to work with that. Although I actually barely listen to guitar music these days – I’m more into things like Yellow Magic Orchestra, Mariah, Laurie Anderson and Arthur Russell. But I like taking compositional lessons from these bands/artists and applying them to No Sister.
I have found sexism and misogyny inescapable in my experiences as a non-male guitarist and internalising these views shaped my music practice. Have you encountered these views? Is gender relevant to your identity as guitarist?
I used to feel self-conscious that I couldn’t play well in a technical/virtuoso sense, which I know is this internalised nervousness from a history of rock that’s littered with male guitar virtuosos, but really I find being a typically great guitar player is pretty useless if you don’t have a wider sense of adventure. Ultimately I like how I play and I like what I do, so I don’t really care anymore.
Do you and Mino have a general approach to composing guitar arrangements? What do you find helpful when collaborating with another guitarist?
I only think in terms of ‘offsetting’ with guitar. Neither Mino nor I really think in terms of lead and rhythm, but more about using a sound, melody or riff as a trope, and then offsetting this by playing something strange or dissonant at the same time. But really I can’t imagine how Mino and my guitar parts would work without a strong rhythm section, so a lot more thought goes into how our guitar bits are supported by drums and bass. I’m fortunate that I play with really talented people, and I can get away with bringing my own brand of minimalism into the mix. So guitar arrangement to me is more a question of overall intuition for song structure and mood, and offsetting other instruments, rather than actually writing a guitar bit.
I tend to use jazz chords, bends and slides. What are some of the techniques do you like to incorporate? Are there any you do not like or find overrated?
Is playing on the left-hand side of the screw driver a technique? If so that’s probably what I excel at! And just generally making use of sliding into different guitar parts smoothly – for all my touting of being amateur, it’s important to me that I try and be as in control as possible and have a sense of fluidity to what I play.
What pedals do you use? All time favourite pedal?
Volume, chorus, hotcake and rat. All time favourite is the chorus/hotcake combo.
Preferred type of strings?
Always and forever George Dennis Super 1.25.
Do you use a capo or whammy bar?
What guitars do you use in No Sister?
My favourite is a Fender J Mascis Jazzmaster, but I also have a couple of cheap Fender bullet strats that I popped different Seymour Duncan pickups into. I also use a Fender Mustang, but again I added a Seymour Duncan pickup, because otherwise I sounded a bit too Johnny Marr.
Do you have a preferred brand or type of guitars? Dream guitars (model, make, brand, year etc)?
Fender J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster 2008 Purple Sparkle. I already have the cream-coloured version, but I just really want the purple sparkles.
Thanks Tiarney! See you all the Identical Records + Hysterical Records showcase for Changes Festival this Thursday 5 July 2018 at the Tote. Tickets are on sale now and $10 door sales available on the night.