Like most teenage girls coming of age in the early 2000s, Josie and the Pussycats was a formative viewing experience for San Cisco’s 27-year-old drummer and singer Scarlett Stevens. Unlike the majority, though, this movie—and Tara Reid’s character in particular—provided the impetus behind her now decade-and-a-half-spanning career as one of Australia’s most talented drummers.
Growing up, the musician and DJ (who goes by the moniker Beryl Streep behind the decks) split her time between Fremantle, Western Australia and New York City, explaining her laid-back yet open-minded and creative disposition. Born to creative parents involved in the music scene, it’s little wonder that her musical palette has been strong from day dot, with posters from the likes of The Ramones, The Strokes, PJ Harvey and The White Stripes adorning her walls as a teen.
To celebrate both the arrival of San Cisco’s latest single ‘Skin’ and their recent signing to US label Nettwerk, we dressed Scarlett in head-to-toe Chanel (and a lick of Barrie knitwear for good measure) and spent a sunny morning in Sydney hanging out together in a red car named Ruby. Her good pal Kitty Callaghan was on-hand to capture all the fun, and we took the golden opportunity to peep into her sparkling mind, asking all manner of questions from how she dodges creative ruts to the insurmountable power of young people in changing the conversation around climate action. Get to know her better below while you listen to ‘Skin’ (and then San Cisco’s entire back catalogue) on repeat…
How do you think your upbringing helped to shape your worldview?
I spent a lot of summers in New York as a kid and I think that played a huge part in shaping my worldview and my style. My dad was working in the office of a record label and mum and I would go exploring and go to all the galleries and vintage stores. I eventually went to primary school on Avenue B, opposite Tompkin Square Park, which was an amazing experience, having come from a very homogenous place like Perth. It was a Catholic Dominican primary school and I definitely stuck out! The early 2000s were an incredible time in the East Village and Lower East Side. Every night there would be open mic nights and poetry readings, or free concerts in the park. I think being in that environment was very freeing. It made me open-minded from a young age and also showed me the power of art and individuality.
Where would someone visiting your hometown for the first time?
I would first take them to Best Wishes for coffee and to Old Values, my favourite vintage shop, then to the Local Hotel for beers. Later, we’d go to Numero Uno for the best italian food outside of Italy and then to Mojo’s bar in North Fremantle to watch bands.
When and how did you get into drumming?
I started drumming when I was ten-years-old. I saw Josie and the Pussycats and begged my parents to let me take drum lessons—I wanted to be like Tara Reid’s character... Not long after that, I was on tour with my parents. (My dad manages the John Butler Trio and John was supporting Jack Johnson on his Australian tour). We were at a BBQ when Jack Johnson’s drummer came over and showed me a basic rock beat. I got to go onstage with Jack at his Melbourne show then at Bonnaroo festival in front of 10,000 people. My parents finally let me take drum lessons!
What was the first ever band you played in?
The Flairz! Dion, John and I started jamming when we were eleven. Our biggest song was ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Evil’. Steven Van Zandt (Sylvio Dante from The Sopranos and guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s band) was a fan and featured it on his radio segment ‘Coolest song in the world’ [laughs]. We always put our schooling first, so never got to tour much. However, we did get to play at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2006 and we filled in for Blink182 at RockIt festival in 2004. We split in 2009 to focus on other musical projects. My friend Georgia Wilkinson (who now plays in Body Type) joined the band in 2006 and we have been besties ever since!
What band posters did you have on your wall as a teen?
The Ramones, The Strokes, PJ Harvey and The White Stripes.
I hear you just got signed with a US label. Congrats! How did that come about?
Thank you! We just signed to Nettwerk records in the US—they have been fans of the band for a while and were given a sneak peak of the new album (which we plan to release next year) and really loved it. We got to meet with them in New York before our gig at Central Park this year and signed with them not long after that.
Are there any cultural shifts you hope will happen in the next 10 years?
I think we are already seeing the beginning of a cultural shift that is so important—young people are critically changing the debate on climate action and soon enough our governments will have to show up for them and start enacting policies to reduce emissions before it’s too late. I think it’s so amazing to see young people, especially young women like Greta Thunberg, leading the charge.
How has the industry changed since you started out?
When the band started touring a lot, it was hard. Men really thought they owned the scene. It definitely felt like you had to be ‘one of the boys’ to fit in or to be respected. I experienced a lot of sexist behaviour and internalised a lot of that commentary from that time. Now I know that I am good enough and I don’t doubt myself as much. Women’s voices are finally being heard and believed in this industry, and that gives me so much hope that it is changing for the better.
Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
I’ve been practicing yoga for seven years now. It’s the only form of exercise I’ve been able to stick with and I think that’s when I feel most spiritual. I think practising stillness is really important. I also believe music has the power to move us in a spiritual way. I think Aretha Franklin has that effect on almost everyone. Her voice makes you feel alive.
When are you most content in life?
When I’m eating pasta!
How do you pull yourself out of a creative rut?
Take a shower, have a stretch, take a long walk. Embrace the lull, don’t fight it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That it’s okay not to have everything figured out. I think we spend so much time in our twenties worrying about where we are going or where we’ve been rather than living in the present. Also, don’t compare yourself to others.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I usually hit snooze on my alarm a few times (not really a morning person) and then I get out of bed, throw on my favourite embroidered silk robe, put on a playlist and make coffee on the stove.
What are you most curious about in life?
Billie Eilish. Where did she come from? How did she get so cool? I think she’s an amazing songwriter.
What books are you reading at the moment?
Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist. Also, I have just started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Talking To Strangers. My favourite ever book is Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Favourite album ever?
That’s a tough question! My taste varies a lot. Maybe OutKast ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ or Fleetwood Mac ‘Rumours’. At the moment I am loving Thelma Plum’s album ‘Better in Blak’ and ‘Golden Hour’ by Kacey Musgraves.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Essential viewing for anyone who’s been in a band.
Why do you think friendships are so important?
I think they are so important because they make us feel understood and loved. I’m an only child so my friends have always been like extended family.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of 2019?
I’m excited to be releasing new music with San Cisco and to be going on tour again at the end of the year. I can’t wait for people to hear what we’ve been working on. The first single ‘Skin’ is a huge departure from anything we’ve done before—in a good way. I’m also excited for this shoot to come out. I love dressing up!
What does ‘cool’ mean to you?
Living a creative life on your own terms, having a strong sense of self and standing up for what you believe in.
Special thanks to Jamie and Ruby.