Sally in a bag

Sally's dresses backstage on the 'Seeker, Lover, Keeper' tour in Australia; Sally preparing backstage at the Largo in Los Angeles; Sally with 'Tiny Ruins' in Australia; Sally with her friend Paul McNeil in Australia (clockwise)

Sally Seltmann:
To Be Backstage

Written by Sally Seltmann


“But I’m telling you, to be backstage, that’s where it’s at!”

Sally Seltmann is an Australian singer-songwriter. Her most recent album, Hey Daydreamer, was released earlier this year. From 2000-2009 she went by the name New Buffalo, under which she released two albums—The Last Beautiful Day and Somewhere, Anywhere. She is a member of the band Seeker, Lover, Keeper. Seltmann also writes for other artists and her work includes Feist’s “1,2,3,4” (previously known as “Sally’s Song”). She has been covered by many artists, including Bon Iver, with whom she toured Australia.

I’ve always loved the feeling of being backstage before a show. The energy. The sounds. The nerves.

It’s true, I love to write songs and give them away to other singers, but I also love to continue to write, record and perform my own songs. One of the reasons why I enjoy performing is because I love the ritual of getting ready for the show backstage.

Let me paint the picture. I usually bring my ‘show bag’ into the backstage room after sound check. I started referring to my bag with my guitar leads and outfit as my ‘show bag’, after my friend Holly Throsby took a photo of the little bag I had backstage with me on a tour we were doing together. The photo she took of my bag contained a cream lace dress and some red shoes (my signature show get up at the time). Holly titled the photo ‘Sally In A Bag’ (pictured), and we had a little laugh about it.

But anyway, on a regular show night, I grab my outfit out of my stage bag and nervously change into it. The busy chitchat in the backstage area begins to get louder. Why? Because doors have opened and the general public (you), have entered the building! It’s getting closer to show time, and everyone is a little bit excited.

Next comes make-up time! I have to say, most of my knowledge about make-up has come about through sharing mirrors backstage with other girls in bands. I’m serious. It’s how I learnt how to apply blush, it’s how I found out about mineral make-up, and it’s how I came to know about some amazing hair products. It’s also where I learned about anti-static spray, (so your skirt or dress won’t stick to you), and more importantly, it’s where I found out about two brand names of anti static spray, which are Statique, and Exstatic. Both hilariously great!

But I have to say that singing pre-show warm up harmonies with my band members is the highlight of the backstage experience for me. And also listening to other performers singing their vocal warm ups can be pretty amazing. I have particularly fond memories from when I played some shows with Bon Iver in Australia a few years ago. After my show was done each night, I’d come back into my little backstage room, and I’d hear them all singing vocal warm ups, and getting ready to go onstage. One night before they went on stage, they sang the most beautiful rendition of “Towers.” It was to die for, and I will never forget the sound of those harmonies weaving in and out of all the rooms backstage.

“And let me tell you, after the show, in the backstage rooms, woah! The energy is DIFFERENT!”
— Sally Seltmann

But everyone knows that pre-show vocal warm ups are inevitably followed by the Actual show, which of course is often a bit of a blurred moment in time. A ‘happening’ that longs desperately to be over analyzed once the performer returns to the backstage area. And let me tell you, after the show, in the backstage rooms, woah! The energy is DIFFERENT!

That huge sense of relief, the smiles, the detailed discussions about that guitar solo that the guitar player stuffed up, or what about the tempo on that other song, sheesh! it was so much faster than how we usually play it, and Yes, me looking over at you and staring at you was the sign for you to slow down, and what about that crazy thing that guy yelled out! And the girl in the front row who was crying in that song, and, oh, I couldn’t hear the drums in my monitors at All, and your vocal in that song tonight was so incredible, I had tears in my eyes.

Then there are the five cousins of the drummer, who live in this particular city, who come backstage after the show and awkwardly stand there not knowing how to behave or what to do. And all the ‘that was great, ‘great show’, ‘you were amazing’ where you’re thinking, will anyone give me any critical feedback, EVER! And then a guy comes up and says ‘the drum machine in that song totally didn’t work, and the bass was way too loud, and I could hardly hear your vocal’, and then you feel terrible, and he leaves the backstage area. You and the band talk about how you hate what he was wearing, and that it’s good to get negative feedback, and that you never let it get you down, and you pour another round of drinks and all have an internal silent cry for 5 seconds.

Then there’s the lugging of the gear, off-stage, and back into the backstage area, which I won’t go into, because you’ll suddenly realize how unglamorous performing can be. But instead, I’ll leave you with a reminder of how great the backstage scenes are in the film A Prairie Home Companion, and if you have not seen it, check it out. It will remind you once again that Meryl Streep is the greatest, and that people often dream of being on stage. But I’m telling you, to be backstage, that’s where it’s at!

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