︎ GUS DAPPERTON: BREAKING BOUNDARIES THROUGH SELF EXPRESSION
“OMG, Gus, I love you” was a common phrase shrieked whilst serenely walking through the congested streets of Brighton town with dream-pop sensation GUS DAPPERTON . Three minutes into my hour-long encounter with the New York born singer-songwriter and I can already sense sheer exuberance of a star; wailing, passionate fans requesting awkward selfies; A1 style with a hint of Dr. Emmett Brown and an introspective aura.
The occasion? Brighton’s Great Escape festival: just one of many stops on Gus’s current European tour to showcase his limited, nonetheless brilliantly glitzy, 80s-influenced, synth-based catalogue of work, including the highly acclaimed EPs ‘Yellow and Such’ and ‘You Think You’re A Comic!’. More recently, Dapperton has been involved in TV show soundtracks, gifting the edgy Netflix teen-flick ‘13 Reasons Why’ an exclusive, heartfelt track in ‘Of Lacking Spectacle’ for its second series.
Pre-show, pre-catharsis, pre-triumph, Gus handed me the luxury of a conversation to reflect upon his signature, boundary breaking style fueled by defiant self expression, his varied inspirations, debut album and much more below.
So, let’s start off with the basics… tell me a little bit about your background, where you grew up and how you got into music.
Yeah, so, I grew up in Warwick, New York - it’s a very conservative, rural farm town and it was very based around sports and people very afraid of change and art wasn’t that prominent, or I guess art that was new or creative wasn’t prominent. I got into music in eighth grade from a songwriting contest that my music teacher had given to us. I got really into it; I stayed after school, I was just like very excited to produce - I was very obsessed with like J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib at the time, you know, like sample-based stuff - got really good at it, I ended up winning the contest and got to be on the town’s radio station and I was like, “I wanna do this for the rest of my life” it’s super fun.
What was the contest called?
It was just a songwriting contest, it was like for our class basically but I just got really into it. I’ve always had a creative outlet growing up; I used to draw and paint, I would like film and edit and I always wrote things, but when I realised I could create music… I loved that the most.
What did you draw?
Oh, just anything. Lots of surrealism, things inspired by dreams - not that I have extremely vivid dreams, but I’m really inspired by art that is made to fit like a dream world or an environment like that. I really like David Lynch movies ‘cause they feel like dreams; the demeanor of everyone on camera, to how things will be destroyed and appear again because it’s a fantasy world. So stuff like that.
Is that something you try to reflect in your music?
Yeah, yeah. It’s just like a nostalgic sound and nostalgic to my childhood and youth, ‘cause it’s a very hazy memory that I used to have - there is no evil and just pure fulfilment and enjoyment when you’re a child. I’m inspired by the music my parents used to play when I was a child growing up in the household, the kind of clothes that I wore and I guess the time period was just like the late 90s and whatnot.
Obviously, you’re a fashionable guy, and have been since early on by the sounds of it, who are some of your style icons you look up to?
I don’t really have too many style icons. I’m definitely inspired by how David Bowie used to change with the decades and curate his style to fit his artistry on one record to another. I think that kind of mindset’s inspires me but I don’t really have any particular style icons. I’m kind of just like drawn to things that reflect my youth; like how the clothes fit on me and just primary colours, like plain and vibrant colours. I used to have a bowl cut when I was a child too, so just things like that. It’s a little more exaggerated version of my childhood, I guess.
Recently, Kanye’s been tweeting about ‘freedom of thought’ and freedom of expression - do you think there’s a lack of that in society right now?
To be honest, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a lack of freedom of expression but I think that expression is kind of skewed by other people’s opinions, I think too many people are afraid to fully be themselves and fully create what’s in their head or even hone in on what’s in their head. But I don’t think that there is a lack of freedom of expression, I just think that expression by artists is skewed. Some people just have the wrong idea when it comes to pure imagination or whatnot.
Describe to me your creative process when making music.
I’m usually inspired by interesting words or phrases my friends and family and loved ones say around me. I usually like to take those phrases and explain a moment in time for me and an emotion based off that phrase. That’s how I start then that kind of triggers a melody in my head and then when I hear the melody I sit down and I’ll write it on the piano or guitar, then I very quickly come up with the rest of the arrangements.
Who are some of your biggest influences musically and generally?
Generally, I’m inspired by a lot of film-makers, authors, I’m really inspired by Dr. Suess, Malcom Gladwell, I like Paul Thomas Anderson - the director. Musically, I like Brian Wilson - he’s just a musical genius and he can’t help it - I think him having this weird OCD about producing everything, like how everything’s mixed, arranging it, writing all the songs; it’s the fact that he writes every part because he’s a musical genius - back then not everyone was an artist and producer, composer, songwriter and he was all of them. So, I’m really inspired by Brian Wilson.
Do you think there’s a lack of pure, authentic instrumentation in music nowadays?
I think there’s always been a lack of it, I’m mostly inspired by people who... not that doing it all yourself is the best way ‘cause it’s definitely not, but I’m just inspired by people who can produce, write and record all their music basically ‘cause they know what they want - that’s what I do and it’s just relatable. I’m inspired by David Bowie, The Smiths - The Smiths being just as a group; some bands I’m not inspired by particularly musically but just as a group and their demeanor. I love Metronomy too. I used to grow up on J Dilla and MF Doom and their production…
I thought you’d be into Tyler, the Creator and that whole scene…
Yeah, when I was in middle school I was super inspired by them, they were super young, skater kids so I think Odd Future definitely inspired me when I was growing up to pursue music, for sure.
You’ve been described as blurring gender boundaries, what’s inspired this expression?
I don’t think anything’s really inspired it, since I was 17/18 I’ve just always wore what I wanted to wear. I think that there’s a lot of people who aren’t in touch with their identity and are worried about how they’ll be perceived. At a certain in time it was just a flip of a switch and I just don’t care anymore - whether it happens to be women’s clothes or makeup or painting my nails, I don’t really care I’m just gonna do it. I used to be super not comfortable with my full self and being myself, and I used to be uncomfortable with how people would perceive me. But with Gus Dapperton and when I found my sound, that’s the part of me that’s most comfortable being myself 100% of the time.
Although it’s inconvenient to be yourself because of judgement, a weight will be lifted off your shoulders. I always say I make music to release and put my emotion into it because if I didn’t I would spontaneously combust - like, I need to do it for survival and I also feel that with expressing myself, I need to do that to the fullest for my survival.
Yeah, I definitely feel that. I want to talk about this new song ‘Of Lacking Spectacle’ from the new series of ‘13 Reasons Why’. First off, what did you think of the first series?
Umm, I thought it was quite good. I think it’s the humour and writing and portrait of life as a highschooler that’s definitely based for a younger audience, also because I’m not in highschool. I thought that it’s very well done and the star actors in it are really good like Dylan Minette who plays Clay Jenson - he’s a good friend of mine now and he’s an incredible actor, like super good demeanor on camera. And then another thing I did notice is that I did like the soundtrack - they had a lot of good old 80s tunes from The Cure and Tears For Fears and things like that, Echo and the Bunnymen and people…
How did the song come about?
Yeah, so, I had a friend that put me onto the idea that the music supervisor wanted me on the soundtrack. They asked me if I could send a demo and I was like, “I can’t send a demo I have already for an album that I’m working on.” ‘Cause if I’m gonna write a song for a TV show or movie, I’m gonna hone in and really study it and write the song about that. So, I watched the entire season in Europe and then they were like, “Yeah, we need that demo in by today.” So I wrote a song and recorded it in like a day in the car on the way from like Frankfurt to Copenhagen, then I recorded it in a hotel room in Milan. It came about really well, I’m really happy with the song. I had limited time and equipment but I think sometimes that initiative and deadline sparks something really great and passionate about the project, which I was.
Do you work well under pressure then?
Yeah I do work quite well under pressure. Yeah it’s kind of interesting, I used to be like that growing up in sports and whatnot too - I’d like play well under pressure.
Which character do you think fits you best?
I don’t know, I mean they don’t really have a particular character that I can relate to that was like me when I was in highschool. I definitely grew up in a highschool that was similar but I don’t think there’s any character that portrays me that well *laughs*. I don’t know, I really like Clay Jenson the main character, Alex is cool… yeah.
So, what are your ultimate goals and ambitions for the future?
I just wanna be the best musician and artist I can be. I’m really focused on the present, I always say that. Right now I’m really focused on touring and performing for everyone and playing shows, I’m constantly making music, like after this I’m probably gonna go mix a song in my car. I’m just constantly making songs and music and more recently I’ve been inspired by some person that I met when I went back home recently and I haven’t been able to stop writing songs. Yeah, I’m just really focused on creating the best music I can create really and just evolving on my sound and artistry.
That’s dope. You released your debut EP, ‘You Think You’re A Comic!', back in February - what did you think of the reception for that?
I thought it was great. I’m an independent artist I don’t really have a team of marketing and promotional people working to promote my projects and I’m completely OK with that. I just make music and, you know, if you wanna listen to it, if it inspires you, then I think I’ve succeeded. I feel success is like when you hear something in your head and can make exactly what’s in your head and what you had envisioned, and when you can master that and portray your emotions into art, I think that’s success. I’m really happy with zero to however many people I can connect with.
Yeah, that’s definitely the right attitude to have. What’s in store for the near future? Summer, the rest of the year...
Yeah, I'm meant to be working on a lot of new content over the summer and I’m gonna release an album in the fall I think. That’s the pace that I’m on right now.
Do you have any ideas of what it’ll be called?
No, I don’t know what it’ll be called. Almost all the song names are done but I don’t know what the album will be called - sometimes I have to finish it and look at it on paper or by the time I’m done with it, what has summed up that moment in time?
Is there a whole concept behind it or is it just a collection of tracks?
It’s a collection of the work that I’ve made in the past year, probably. But it’s all new songs, I would say it’s mostly inspired by love and heartbreak.
Last question because we’re struggling for time… What is your definition of creativity?
Hmmm, my definition of creativity. I guess… I don’t know that’s interesting. My definition of art is anything you see in your head and can portray into physical form or sonic form or anything like that but I guess creativity is just pure manifestation of an idea in your head… pure, new manifestation of an idea based upon experiences and things in your life, yeah.
Iconic, thanks so much for this.
No worries, man.
Interviewed & written by BENJI REEVES
Photographed by GIOVANNY ESTRELLA TALENTTI