Words and photography by Siân Irvine
If you are a fan of grungey pop-punk and exploring new and upcoming music, you are probably no stranger to Saltwater Sun. Hailing from West London, the 5-piece are causing a stir on the scene: their debut single ‘Habit on my Hand’ being called the soundtrack to summer evenings by the legendary NME, and now touring with the powerhouse Pop Punk legends that are Jimmy Eat World. We spoke to their frontwoman Jen about being a female lead in a male-dominated industry.
UV: How did Saltwater Sun form?
Saltwater Sun formed from the remnants of other bands the boys had all been in over the years that hadn’t worked out for one reason or another. They wanted to keep playing for enjoyment more than anything else, Dan was doing a bit of singing to give the songs structure but wanted to focus more on playing guitar. We’ve known each other since school and he knew I’d done backing singing for various people, so he asked me along to rehearsals to add some keyboard and backing vocals. However, soon after I joined everyone decided I’d be better placed to do lead vocals and that was that.
UV: How do you find being a female vocalist and front woman for an otherwise all-male band.
In my immediate surroundings, that being the band, I’m very lucky in that I rarely feel ‘other’ as I’ve known most of the other members for over half of my life. They’re my best friends and treat me as such. They’re very supportive of me, even if sometimes they don’t exactly understand my experiences, which in the wider surroundings of music are not always positive. It’s improving all the time, but it’s still a very male centred industry. I’ve been mistaken for a girlfriend or photographer rather than the lead singer several times and we’ve definitely had our struggles in smaller venues with sound engineers who find it difficult to balance a female voice with three guitars, or to listen to a woman’s perspective, but thankfully, those encounters are increasingly in the minority and actually, those sorts of people are generally rude to the guys as well. Those sorts of people with antiquated views are ultimately getting pushed out now, as there are so many successful women coming through and being recognised in music. It’s really encouraging to see festivals like Primavera Sound implementing a 50/50 split between male and female artists.
UV: Are there any struggles?
I find self consciousness around my appearance is the worst aspect of being in a band. There is a lot more diversity now in size and shape but ultimately I think there is still way more pressure on female artists to fit some kind of beauty ideal than there is on male artists. Ultimately it’s a fickle industry where everyone is expected to have some sort of edge be that in their look or performance and invariably with woman that edge is obtained by appearing ‘desirable’. It’s quite gimmicky and when you just want to make decent music that you hope connects with people it can be very draining to feel pressured into conforming to a certain type of look, particularly as in my private life I’ve reached an age where I don’t really care what I look like all that much.
UV: Who inspires you as a female vocalist?
I find Mitski so inspiring at the moment. No only is she an amazing lyricist and songwriter, who makes really daring choices creatively, she absolutely won’t enter into dialogue about her appearance and refuses to be this indie pin up people try and make her. She spills her guts in her lyrics but her private life is under lock and key. She doesn’t want to be a celebrity; she just wants to make songs that make people feel something and I find that incredibly refreshing in an age in which most would sell their grandmother for their 15 minutes of fame. Sharon Van Etten is incredible too, she’s a mum, an actress, a song writer and musician and is currently finishing off a psychology degree. They’re both incredibly powerful women in a really understated way and I look up to them both a great deal.
UV: What was the best gig you have ever played?
Reading festival was a massive moment for us. I’ve been going to the festival every year since I was 13, so to see our name on that yellow poster alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar and N.E.R.D was insane. The weather was terrible but we had a pretty good turn out and everyone was just so happy for us, it was lovely.
UV: What about the best gig you have been in the audience for?
One of the best gigs I have ever been to was Kate Bush at the Apollo in 2014. Often when you see legends of previous generations they can be a let down but she was honestly flawless. She had all this outrageous staging over the top, it was pure theatre really, but even that was eclipsed by her vocal performance and presence. I cried. 6music tried to interview me after but I couldn’t really speak, which was embarrassing.
UV: What has been the highlight for Saltwater Sun so far?
I think 2018 in general was a beautiful experience for us. We’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity in this band, life has throw us so many curveballs as a group of people it’s untrue! I think a lot of people would have given up, but we took a few steps back, did a lot of writing and were absent from the live circuit for a while. I think a lot of people thought we’d split up. So to come back to such a warm reception with our single ‘The Wire’ meant a great deal to us. We honestly didn’t know what to expect. The year just got better and better and we went from strength to strength. It’s an amazing thing to experience with 4 of your favourite people on the planet.
UV: What are your dreams for the future?
To be able to keep making music with my 4 best friends and for that music to reach as many people as possible.
UV: What advice would you give to any female vocalist looking to make it in the industry?
Be kind, but be assertive. Don’t be afraid to be labelled difficult, or bossy, or a bitch, or whatever other words people can find instead of assertive to label you as a woman with your own mind and presence. Be yourself. The one advantage you have over every other person is that you are uniquely you, so don’t be afraid to show people who you are, or to have faith in your convictions. Your opinion over what you create is the most valid opinion of all.