Three Kiwi women “killing it” in New York: Part One

Lil Cameron
Three Kiwi women “killing it” in New York: Part One

New York, New York. It’s a place we see out the corner of our eye repeatedly – in the nightly news, in our favourite TV shows and movies and books. Its intricacies have been explored time and time again, by poets and writers, artists and songwriters (you know you want to sing the “New York, New York” song right now).

With so much exposure to New York, it can feel like we already know the city – even if we’ve never been there.

To put this to the test, we asked three Kiwi women currently living in New York – and by all accounts “killing it” – to share their experiences of the city.

What are the unique challenges they face as they pursue their careers in the Big Apple? Is it true, like Jay-Z says in ‘Empire State of Mind’ that if you can make it there you can make it anywhere? Here’s what they had to say.

 

Sarah Gibson - Musician, Streets of Laredo

A quick run-down on who you are and what you’re doing in New York

My main hustle here in New York is being a musician. I moved here four years ago with my husband (Dave Gibson) and his brother (Dan Gibson). They were both in bands in NZ that were drawing to a natural end and so we started Streets of Laredo.

The three of us moved here and spent a year or so playing every dive bar and house party you could throw stick at. Over time, the band grew to six members.

We're now managed by Ryan Gentles, who also manages The Strokes, and are signed to a cool indie label Dine Alone records.

I also just signed a publishing deal with BMG publishing – all of which we could never dream of before moving here.

Streets of Laredo’s video for their new single ’99.9%’. Their full album WILD will be available October 14, 2016.

 

What drove the move to New York?

I was craving a little adventure, and while Dave was in NYC visiting friends and doing some song writing, his preconceived notion that it's impossible to move to New York was challenged by the obvious fact that people are doing it, heaps of them, every day.

The idea was suggested that if we're going to start a band from scratch, why not do it somewhere we can also have an adventure…like New York.

Either way, starting a band is a fool’s errand, why not be a fool in the greatest city in the world?

 

What have been the greatest challenges so far?

When I first arrived in NYC it felt like looking in on an epic party through the window. You know you’d have an amazing time if you could get inside, but you're not sure if you’re invited, or even where the door is.

How do you find a community of your peers? How do you make a name for yourself and book a show with your band?

Even the simple things like correctly ordering a bagel with your mumbling, apparently illegible, accent were difficult. The first six months were very tough like that.

Feeling lonely whilst surrounded by so many people is a very strange sensation. Social interaction is based around events (usually at bars), and I still miss the more relaxed, purposeless way that we spent time with our friends in New Zealand.

Once we muscled our way in though, we found a beautiful community of ragamuffin artists. I think a lot of people here are looking for a community to belong to. 

Sarah with husband Dave in NYC

Have you found any cultural differences in your work environment compared to New Zealand?

I managed to escape some of the cultural differences you might find in a work environment because my band is mostly New Zealanders. However, I can see some differences with our 'team' – management, label etc.

I feel like here there’s an adherence to protocol and the division of tasks that comes pretty unnaturally to us, and has taken us a little while to get used to. 

 

Do you think being a Kiwi has been an advantage here in any way?

I never really understood how deep the New Zealand 'can do' attitude ran in all of us until I moved here.

I'm not sure where it comes from. Maybe our smaller population means we have to cover more areas of expertise so we develop a broader range of skill sets and become natural problem solvers. I feel like Kiwis can find a way to get things done on a shoestring budget and the best of intentions.

There’s been many times that the band had been warned that a tour is unfeasible or a timeline impossible, but every time we've pulled it off and been rewarded with more and greater opportunities.

 

Has being a woman in your field in New York been any different to being a woman in your field in New Zealand?

I feel like my personal experience in New Zealand and in my family was that I can be or do anything and any limitations are attached to my person rather than my gender.

So I wonder if any attitudes to the contrary just roll off my back because they’re so opposed to my fundamental belief system.

I’ve never come across a solid instance of feeling disadvantaged as a woman at home or here.

The one thing that feels a bit more present to me is a greater importance being placed on appearance and an expectation to be young, cool, and beautiful. 

 

Kiwis have a certain perspective of New York – often as the ultimate ‘big city’. Now that you’re here, how would you describe it to Kiwis back home?

I think NYC is everything that you hope it will be. It's as alive, colourful, crazy, fun and relentless as I imagined.

One surprise was that the people here are far warmer than the brash, outspoken stereotype that is often used to describe New Yorkers. Also, because it’s a big city, people get really into their neighbourhoods so there’s a real 'locals' vibe that I didn't expect.

Overall NYC really is the city that never sleeps, the subway rats are abundant and alarmingly large, and countless opportunities are around the corner for anyone who’s looking for them.

It's like a kiss on the check and a punch in the face, the best of times and the worst of times, but most definitely an adventure.

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