Interview: Miss Blanks on defying the term ‘buzz artist’ in making a career for the long haul

At BIGSOUND this year, Miss Blanks emerged as one of the most talked about showcase artists of the festival. In the months since, the Brisbane-based performer has locked down numerous high calibre shows that have seen her grace stages at Melbourne Music Week and Listen Out, while the national Laneway Festival stages are calling in early 2018.

With a debut EP in D.O.A.T (Diary of a Thotaholic) also reaping in the acclaim since its release last month, Miss Blanks – real name Sian Vandermuelen – has been caught up in a whirlwind of success that’s been utterly her own making.

We’re still in the infancy of her career, though. It’s early days for Miss Blanks at the moment but with a brand new year on the horizon, her focus is definitely locked in and set.

“I’ve only been doing music for a year,” she says. “I started music in September last year. Going into it I was like, ‘I’m not going to romanticise the idea of being a struggling artist or a poor artist. I’m going to manifest big projects, big money, big dreams and big goals.’ I knew I wanted to make it happen instead of waiting around. I’ve always been like that.”

“If it wasn’t for my background in fashion PR and brand management, I was doing that before music for about five years, it’s taught me a lot. There are a lot of transferable skills within that, especially brand management. People are obviously buying some music, they enjoy it, but I think that nowadays, you can put anything in front of someone and – good or not – as long as they have a strong message, a strong brand, a strong product…looking at Miss Blanks as a product, as a palatable, consumable product for people, that’s what people are buying into nowadays with music. Creativity and entertainment, full stop. I’ve had to be very aware of that, moving forward, and just do what I need to do to make things happen for myself.”

This self-assurance is the first thing that hits you when you’re in conversation with Miss Blanks. The music industry has the ability to tear shreds of artists’ confidence with ease and as a newcomer to the game, it’s also easy to become overwhelmed by the names and faces who are willing to only ride with you so far. The realities of this business are ones Miss Blanks is hyper-aware of and as she explains, her methods in keeping things real for herself are incredibly important.

“I’m just way too focused on the goal, the end goal.” she says. “A lot of strategy is in place with it. I just keep busy; I’ve never been one to just sit and rely on hand outs. I also realise that now is the time for me to be getting mine and capitalising, elevating things.”

“I think self-care is incredibly important and my community too.” Miss Blanks explains. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my community. The idea of building an infrastructure within that community, redistributing wealth and creating pathways for my community is incredibly important and it is vital to what I do as a musician, and just as a person.”

The plaudits and acclaim Miss Blanks’ music has garnered through this year, for its sexiness, its ferocity and its unashamed explicitness, have positioned the rapper as a driving force in Australia’s new wave of female-driven hip hop. As the gigs keep rolling in for Miss Blanks though, she’s not above admitting she knows there is always room for improvement.

“The EP and the project was quite an interesting thing,” she remembers. “I went into it thinking, ‘An EP is just a collection of songs’, it had no meaning. Naturally, I just focused on the music first, there was no substance to it. It was all surface based. Once I put together the EP and once the songs started to come together, the story and the message developed quite organically, which I really appreciate. It’s actually quite funny because everything up until now with my music has been an organic and free process. There has been no narrow view or vision, sonically or theoretically.”

“What’s helped keep me centred and grounded is having my friends and family around me and also knowing that, as an artist and a person, I have really high standards for the kind of work that I’m willing put out.” she says. “When you know that it can always be better, it’s a humbling experience; knowing that I put out this amazing EP that I’m super proud of, but in releasing it and moving forward with it, I also know that I could have done better with xy and z. That was a very humbling experience.”

Discussions surrounding the emergence of Australia’s strong queer community, the diversity in art being produced by people of colour here and how these different communities intersect as well, have been taking prominence more and more this year. Fans of Miss Blanks have also been introduced to Sian Vandermuelen, the woman behind the Thotaholic, throughout 2017. A proud trans woman of colour (she is of Danish and Samoan heritage), Miss Blanks is assertive when it comes to criticism of her music and her quick rise to popularity.

“Going forward, I’m like, ‘Actually, while all these amazing things have happened to me, there is so much hustle that has gone into it.'” she says of 2018, now just a few weeks away. “While there have been all these amazing accomplishments and contributions, there’s been more push back from the industry than ever before.”

“On a deeper level, while there’s been a lot of general activity-based hustle that happens within the industry for a lot of black and brown musicians, I also recognise that something that most white, cis folk don’t have to go through is this question of identity politics. Having to not only deal with what the general struggle is as a musician and creative, having to deal with constantly having to justify your worth and your contributions as not only a queer person, but also as a brown person. Or not only a brown person or a queer person, but as a person that is a thicker girl, you know? There’s all of these intersections that I offer that also equate to additional struggle.”

In a moment of candidness, Miss Blanks notes the accomplishments of those who have shared the struggle before her, before the industry (and audiences alike) started to open their minds more liberally.

“It’s great that I’ve been able to carve out this space and sound that hasn’t existed before, but I also recognise the incredible queer folk and the incredible people of colour who have come before me and who have tackled the Australian music landscape and whether they’ve succeeded or maybe lost, however you frame it, I am very appreciative. I do acknowledge their contributions because it’s tough enough as it is for me now, I couldn’t imagine trying to do what I’m doing maybe two years ago, even.”

“For me, because I never saw anyone like me doing what I was doing, I never thought it was possible.” she admits. “For so long, there was that hindrance and lot of me disassociating, you know? It was only later, where I had that positive reinforcement from the community where I was like, ‘Okay – I can do this. I now have the agency and the option to do it if I want to do it.’ Before, it was impossible because it’s like. ‘If it’s hard for these white, cis men and women to do it? Oh my God, imagine how hard it must be for me?'”

Talking about the year ahead, Miss Blanks brims with excitement. Not just craving the opportunity to bring her music to larger stages but also, the desire to make new music and solidify her creative direction is one that the rapper finds insatiable.

“I think the biggest thing for me next year is just being able to take what I’m doing and elevate it.” she says. “I think people are in this industry for years and don’t get the kind of support that I’ve received in just a year. To get the kind of festivals that I have over the summer is insane, for someone who’s only been doing this for a year, but I also realise that there is a trend and there is a lot of buzz around me. My focus for 2018 is turning that into a tangible career, as someone who is here to stay.”

Diary of a Thotaholic is out now. Keep up to date with Miss Blanks, here.

Photo Credit: Savannah van der Niet.