mc: What were you like as a kid?
Miss Blanks: I was organised chaos. While I was definitely inquisitive, creative and adventurous, it was in a way where I was a performer, a true Leo: loud and rambunctious. It was giving chaotic energy all the way through, like peak Leo. But, at the same time, as much as it was chaos, the way in which I would engage with others as a child, I was very much that kid that was always willing to make new friends, outgoing and wanted to help and be present and be part of something. I had a strong sense of self really early on, it gave me the ability, I believe, to be chaotic in my own way, in a way that was also understood, and people took her, and felt her, and maybe took it as, "This bitch is loud. This bitch is fun. This bitch is whatever. But she means well." The intentions are good.
Where do you think that confidence came from? Who were you surrounded by that meant that you always had that really strong sense of self?
It was a combination of things. I had a lot of strong women around me. I come from a matriarch: strong women that raised me, right down to my teachers. In primary school, I only had female teachers. I never had male figures in my life. I didn't have a father, and a lot of the males that do exist in my personal background, and even to now, they just didn't understand, at least on a cultural level, really so much, of my womanhood and femininity, especially how that tied into my trans-ness, and how it played out over the years.
My ability to quickly navigate these spaces, and it's a lot for a young person to navigate these spaces, and to have this representation of strong women was important. Women that were empowered to be completely and ultimately feminine in the ways in which they would turn up and present, like my mum. Growing up, I would see her in the morning getting ready for work and she would take the time to do her face, there was an investment there for herself. I saw that from a young age and I would say that it was those key moments that really empowered me to take the time to understand who I am and understand how I want to present to the world and how I want to exist in this world. Whilst also, like I said earlier, as a kid being naturally inquisitive and asking questions and looking around, and figuring out what is missing, and what part of the puzzle am I, what puzzle am I included on. How big is my piece in the puzzle.
As you said, it's a lot for a young person, so you demonstrated from a young age, this resilience and strength and a sense of self, which is really unique for someone so young. Tell me a little bit about growing up in Brisbane.
A huge part of my childhood was, whilst it was supportive, whilst there was moments of joy and those moments of joy don't get as celebrated as much or discussed as much because we focus too much on the trauma of minority kids, and young queer kids, and young brown and Black and Indigenous kids. We never get the chance to talk about, "What does queer happiness look like?" and "Happiness with young people, what does that look like when you come from particular backgrounds?" So the flip side of that supportive environment would be I also grew up in a poor neighbourhood. We grew up poor, single-parent household. I'm half Dutch. I grew up with my white side of the family. My mom raised me. I didn't have that access to my culture, and because I didn't have access to my father; I really saw my father as a gatekeeper to my culture. There was a sense of not feeling allowed to access my culture, and also geographically where we grew up, I grew up in Logan Village in Beaudesert. It's maybe 40 minutes to the suburbs, I would class it a regional area and it's a farming area. I was only surrounded by white kids, white teachers, and they weren't bad, but I couldn't ignore the fact that I was so different.
So, because of that experience, growing up in white spaces and conservative spaces, the conversation of my brownness or my queerness, or everything that sets me apart from everyone else in these spaces, it quickly dawned on me that, "Yeah, I am different, so I'm going to have to, out of survival, assimilate in these spaces." But at the same time, because of that strong sense of self, I knew eventually I would get to a point of reconnecting, but not right now because I need to prioritize things as a young person who is still trying to figure themselves out and also trying to live life as a kid.
So then moving into adulthood, how did Miss Blanks come about?
I was at a house party with my friend Hannah. Lil Kim came on, and when the instrumental started playing, all of a sudden I just started freestyling, just for fun - a little party gag. Hannah was blown away and she was like, "Oh my God, you need to perform at my next event." Because she runs a club night called Fempress.
She eventually convinced me to do it but on the flyer it just had ‘blanks’, as my artist name, because she couldn't come up with anything. I was like, ‘that's respectful, thanks’. But I performed. I didn't have a producer, I didn't have tracks, so I ended up ripping off instrumentals from some Busta Rhymes track and a bunch of others. I went up, performing to these instrumentals, these random raps that I wrote for the 10 - 15 minutes set and there was like a shit ton of people in the crowd. There was maybe 300 or 400 people. It was crazy and I ended up meeting a couple of producers after the show.
Then before I knew it, over the summer I’m in the studio, making music and then in March or May 2017 I released my first track ‘Clap Clap’. It was just meteoric from there. And that was my introduction to music, the music industry, everything. It's been crazy.
Do you remember the first time you ever heard one of your songs on the radio?
Yeah, it was a radio premiere for ‘Clap Clap’ on 4ZZZ, the local Brisbane station. I had done an interview and then they played the track. After interviews normally, they're like, "Oh, thanks for coming in." But as soon as I heard the track start playing, I was just sitting there and they're talking to me and I'm like, "No, no, no, stop, my song's playing. I haven't heard it on the radio yet!" That was my first-time hearing that on the radio.
You've been vocal from early on in your career about issues within the music industry, and that’s a huge testament to you. You’ve always been 10 steps ahead of the conversation, whether it was supporting Thelma Plum through her experience with Sticky Fingers or just addressing problems of sexism, transphobia or racism – you’ve always spoken truth to power. It's definitely a privilege to be educated, to be able to understand, to have the tools to articulate why things are wrong, and also to have a platform. But I also imagine, it wouldn't always be easy. Can you talk me through what that's been like for you?
It's definitely had an impact on me. People want palatable, nice, submissive women, brown and Black women, and Indigenous women. They don't want a woman that is loud or willing to stand up. I guess the cost it's had on me is people just think I'm too radical, at least back then they did. And a lot of people - and I experience this still to this day - a lot of people in my industry think this profile that I've built was me acting and behaving in a way that was uncouth, that was not ... I wasn't being the polite, submissive person that I should be. And we haven't seen that in music in quite some time. Especially from this young gun, out the gates, at the start of their career, all of a sudden swinging their weight around.
Touching on the cost it's had on me, the perception of me and me being so radical and all of these things, it's really telling and interesting now that we're having these larger conversations around harm and sexual assault and violence against women, and we're having a conversation of MeToo, we're having a conversation of Black Lives Matter, but yet deaths in custody of Black people have been happening for years and my industry's been silent. The Black and brown women - and men, even - and the queer people in the music industry and community have been disproportionately impacted by the unfair treatment and access by record labels and industry heads for years, this is nothing new.
So for it to be a conversation now, it's really telling you that there are certain people in my industry that have imported these conversations and politics from the States or other places around the world, and now get to make a decision about whether they're going to act how they have in the past and completely ignore it, or they can be performative and actually say something. And the lesser of two evils is to be performative and to say something. So now you see people in my industry and sector that are being more vocal. If you look at the huge outcry that we've seen in my industry has against Black Lives Matter, we saw everyone come out with those little black tiles, #BlackoutTuesday. Ask those labels and those key industry heads, what have they changed in their organisation or in the framework to propel and champion for their black and brown and POC talent, or staff? Let's have a conversation about that, because I can assure you, they've done nothing.
There's a lot of lip-service and little actual support.
Totally. They'll have a token Aboriginal person on the board to show diversity. Now that I've gotten older and my thoughts have evolved, I'm not okay with just having a female CEO for the sake of having a female CEO. Women are also capable of being agents for patriarchy, too. I want to see action. Representation only goes so far; I'm trying to see cultural and industrial transformation and restoration.
What does that look like to you? What do you think needs to change?
My issue is that I don't believe the music industry, the people that operate in it, can exactly make that change. What we need is a complete overhaul of the system.
The framework needs to be completely dismantled. I want to see a team of abolitionists come in. The very people that are trying to instruct change are also some of the key figures that are doing this horrendous harm. The focus was way too much on punitive action and not restorative justice. We need to really reach down to the root of the harm that's being done. I'm also mindful that we're talking in these binary gendered colonial terms when talking about these topics. Additionally, I've seen a lot of men experience harm.
Black men in my industry who have experienced harm from white women, but there's no space for them in the conversation, yet men are the highest rate of suicide. When we bring up those figures and have that dialogue, people think that it dilutes the conversation and it's regressive, because it's a quick and easy way to say #NotAllMen. But I'm not focusing on the individual in this conversation. I'm focusing on the actions and the behaviours that led to that, and everyone is capable of those behaviours. We grow up with punishment and punitive action. As kids, you're put in time out, in high school you're given detention or expelled. Essentially in all those systems, you're removed from community. There's no space for growth.
You're spot on. White women are capable of violence and historically have been incredibly violent, sometimes just as violent as white men, because they adopt the same tools of harm, of oppression, in order to accrue power. I mean, Audre Lord put it best, "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." These conversations require so much nuance.
So much nuance is missing from the conversation, and unfortunately, people in the industry have some pretty conservative views. My views are considered radical, not forward-thinking. People like to think that my views are emotion-based, whereas they have a logical approach.
I mean, that's just sexist.
Totally. The disappointing thing is that it's definitely impacted my business and my ability to create music and release music. Right now, my biggest struggle is finding producers that want to work with me, finding outlets that want to support my music, not to take away from how good the music is.
So, there's definitely been a direct impact from me being vocal. And also not even just me being vocal, with me being a woman and trans and brown. But I'm also really happy and excited about the new music and having the support that I do have from those that do care and do get it, and that are on this ride with me.
Are you an optimist? Are you hopeful about the future of Australian music?
Yeah, but I'm also a realist. I'm very hopeful and we have come a long way. For us to be having these conversations now so openly when yes, even though I was having them three, four years ago, I'm glad that they're being had. Representation matters, visibility matters, and my presence has also meant seeing more trans people, seeing more women, seeing more Black and brown women step out and feel comfortable to rap, to include explicit lyrical content. If they're interested in sex and want to talk about it - talk about sex, talk about your womanhood, talk about your femininity! Talk about and embrace it with complete autonomy and agency and be proud!
On that note, talk me through the new music. Where did you start with it? What did you want to say? Because it has been two years.
I can't ignore the fact that we've been in a pandemic and this was terrible time for the artists, especially artists that are releasing music. But the silver lining really for me last year was actually just being able to take a forced break and really having to unlearn my approach and attitudes around success and accomplishment because they were so tied up with wanting to outdo myself and wanting to garner, not just quick results, but lasting results. And through COVID, everyone was forced to slow down. Everyone's still forced to slow down and reapproach life, I guess, and it taught me to find balance.
With the new music, it also meant, taking a moment; let me get back to having fun with this, let me create, let me just be in my own space and see what I come up with. And Oh Boy sent me the beat for ‘Fly High’ early to mid-last year. And there was so many times where he was like, "Oh, send me what you're working on." And I was like, "I will, I will." And it just never happened, because I was pre-occupied and I wasn't really working for the deadline. I just want to have fun with it.
Then also, I couldn't access any studios in Melbourne because they were completely locked down and closed. So everything was like a slow burn. When it came to actually writing the music, I was like, well, what do I want to say with this? I actually ended up getting a lockdown boyfriend and one thing he gave me is the space and freedom to really feel myself. Even though we're in lockdown and no one can get their hair or nails done, this boy hyped me up to the nines.
And that's what the beat of ‘Fly High’ was giving me. It was giving that energy. It was giving me all those good feelings of being taken away, being supported, being loved on and just not having a care in the world. The process of writing that song really gave me the feeling of being able to escape what was going on in the real world. All those great feelings, I really poured into this track. When it became a conversation of, ‘oh, maybe I want to release this and maybe I want to continue releasing music and make my return’, that conversation was pretty easy to have because the song was written with good intentions. It’s a feel-good track. It's also a track that I believe production-wise and lyrics-wise is so inherently Miss Blanks, you hear it and you're like, ‘okay, that makes sense.’
And it's a reflection of where I'm at. It's a step up from anything I've released in the past together with the visuals that support it. I was really lucky that Beats by Dre hit me up to be part of their new global campaign. We filmed the music video and the campaign back in February and just because of timelines and the state of the world and different factors, we released it in July, which was kind of perfect timing because my birthday is end of the July and I'm like, this song is not a Leo song.
All I want now is to be the same as I've always been, but just a step up. Before, I was fresh, so much was going on around me that no new artists typically have to go through. When it came to creating the music, I felt pressure to pour in all of this messaging that was reflective of me and my intersectionality and not so much about the music. Now, when they talk about me, let it be about the music.
Let the music be the talking-point.
This whole experience with this track has been really interesting because, especially with press coverage and radio, airplay and playlisting, I would get everything and more before when it was so focused on my identity. Now that people have had time to sit with Miss Blanks over the years, have had time to sit with these conversations around representation and visibility and they're not new to the conversation of trans people or Black and brown people and people of colour, weirdly enough, I'm not getting as much coverage with this new release. But I'm okay with it because at least those that are covering me now, it is completely and totally about the music and not about my identity, not about the controversy. It's meaningful and it's honest. It's a weird way to look at it, but I love it. There's no pretence.
You've released Fly High, what's next? What can people expect? You said you want the music to be ‘elevated’ - what does that mean?
Elevated for me is just strengthening and tightening the output, everything just needs to be of quality now. Not to say it wasn't before, but I feel like because I was... You're pushing the ball up a hill, but then the ball falls on the other side of the hill, and now you're chasing after it. I feel like I have just been in a constant state of chasing after this ball. And while I'd had all of these amazing ideas, sometimes I'll admit, they fell flat and they just weren't executed the way they were intended to be executed.
But now, I'm an independent artist. I have an amazing team around me that we have intentions on exporting, the Miss Blanks name and music overseas. And right now, it's just about building the brand again, the name and getting people familiar with music again and the amazing imagery. The messaging is, "Hey, Miss Blanks is this amazing artist who releases amazing music."
And it's true. You mentioned you love Lil Kim. Who were some of the influences for the new music?
Oh, influences for the new music? Lil Kim, always, Remy Ma, Trina, a lot of old school 90s. The beauty of the music I'm working on now, it has this nostalgic feel, but it's still very relevant and modern. They're all kind of my key artists, also Azealia Banks and a bit of Kaytranada. Production-wise, lyrics-wise. My music is also just for the fun girls, the cool girls, the misunderstood girls, the problematic girls, the round-the-way girls, the wear long nails and like to get their lashes done girls.
Which of your achievements do you feel most proud of?
No singular achievement trumps the other, but I'm really proud of baby Sian and my journey - the younger me who remained inquisitive, ambitious, staunch, and never took no for an answer. It's what got me to where I am today and I hope to never lose that essential part of me that makes me, me.
If you could narrow it down to a single goal, what is the one thing you hope to achieve or change over the next 25 years?
I hope that in 25 years, my children won't have to be loud to make their presence in the world known. I hope that the efforts of their very loud mother affords them the future to be seen and held, equally and with respect. I hope that the current social and cultural climate (and shift!) we're in and seeing brings positive change and impact that benefits every pocket of society and community.
Who inspires you, and why?
Women. Flawed women, problematic women, Black and Brown women, trans women, round-the-way women, the kind of women to knock some sense into you but embrace you with all of their being. These are the women that raised me, embraced me, taught me how to be a better woman, a stronger woman, how to be a woman with a voice, showed me how to have agency, and that my liberation is bound up with the liberation of ALL women, so it cannot be experienced until ALL women can be empowered and free.
Do you have any words of wisdom or inspirational quotes that you live by?
"Closed mouths don't get fed". I learnt early on that no one was going to hand me anything on a silver platter. I had to work really hard to get what I wanted in life - especially coming from where I came from. I quickly adapted to the realities of life/my life and knew I had to navigate things with a 'hustler-type' mentality. I figured that if I wanted something, wanted to get something done, or needed to communicate any concerns or queries, I had to open up my mouth and voice it! People aren't mind-readers, they're not going to have your best interest the same way you know what's best for you, and it's 2021 - we're time/energy poor! Voice what you want.
'Fly High' is out now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.