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March 4, 2019Feature

For the cover of February's issue of GUIDE we had a conversation with Gus Dapperton about how he's no longer influenced by external opinions, plus how his rural hometown shaped him as an artist. Photography is by Elsa Brightling.

“Now if I hear something inside my head I can sit down and make something exactly how I want to make it.”

 

It takes a special person to manifest small town dreams into reality. But with New York City just under two hours away from his home in Warwick, on the bus, Gus Dapperton had an escape route. Every weekend he’d pack a small bag and set off for the city. He was able to integrate into the Big Apple’s vast creative scene, becoming part of a tight community where he honed his sound and expressed himself in a totally free way. A liberty that is perhaps unavailable to those with similar fantasies of artistic escape in more remote areas of the USA.

Gus began drip feeding tracks online in 2015, first up releasing the addictive ‘Moodna, Once With Grace’ which set the tone for a musical direction that enticed a generation of fans who were brought up on SoundCloud. His tracks soon went viral, with ‘I’m Just Snacking’ and 2017’s ‘Prune, You Talk Funny’ racking up millions of listens and views.

Fast forward to 2018 and ‘Of Lacking Spectacle’, a track which Gus recorded the demo for on his phone, was featured on the wildly popular Netflix series ‘13 Reasons Why’. He then shared a video for ‘World Class Cinema’, directed by his longtime collaborator Matthew Dillon Cohen complete with what’s become his signature dancing style.

As he sets off on his biggest European tour to date, with sold out shows all over the continent, people are now finished talking about Gus’s haircut, clothes, earrings and eyeshadow. They’re now realising that we’ve got a genuine alternative pop superstar on our hands and his visions and ambitions are turning into a reality. We caught up with him for a shoot in New York City and a subsequent video call interview to discuss the idea of fantasy and growing up in Warwick.

In a lot of your music videos you’ve got headphones on, or in ‘World Class Cinema’ it’s set in a daydream. In these videos you’re enjoying the music you’re making, as opposed to performing it. Is that representative of anything? Do you make music firstly for yourself?

I definitely make music for myself, in the respect that it’s the only art form that I am fully embedded into. I think I make music for emotional release and I make music so I can let my feelings out in a healthy way. I definitely like to say that my music is representative of dreams and fantasy, because in general everyone lives in the dimension within their own mind and I would like to imagine that inside my head is a place of acceptance and open- mindedness. So in those videos we try to create a world that I would exist in.

That idea of fantasy and surrealism always reappears in your music and visuals too. Do you dream and fantasise vividly? Does that have an impact on your creative process?

Honestly, it doesn’t that much. Dreams don’t affect it that much, I don’t dream that vividly. It’s more about my imagination and how it affects my creative flow, that’s what I mean when I say ‘dream world’.

How do you go about manifesting those imaginations into reality?

It’s taking what’s inside of you and all that you’ve learned over the years and using it as a whole to create original things. So instead of looking for influences and references that are around you to create something, instead it’s straight from inside of you. From what you already know… What you subconsciously already know. Just trying to make the truest interpretation of what you hear inside your head.

Has that process changed over the past few years as things have gone well for you?

Yeah, in general the more I’ve made music, and the more I’ve been able to interpret my art sonically and visually, I’ve gotten more used to doing it. Now if I hear something inside my head I can sit down and make something exactly how I want to make it. As opposed to in the past, I used to have to try and find it.

“Nowadays I just do me and don’t let it affect me, but I used to be heavily affected by other people’s opinions.”

I wanted to talk to you about your hometown. In terms of New York state, Warwick is pretty close to NYC. Was that a benefit for you growing up? Having a small town feeling, but knowing this hub of creativity was relatively close by?

I think that growing up there was definitely one of the biggest factors that makes me who I am. I grew up in a rural town that was super isolated. Although it was only an hour and a half from New York City, it felt like it was in the Midwest. No one really got out, everyone did the same thing, copied each other, mimicked each other’s lives, and I thought that was so harmful. I wanted to get out of there and do my own thing. Everyone from Warwick looked at the town like it was the whole world.

I’d take the bus to the city every weekend. That idea drove me even harder, because I was going to the city and meeting people, creating opportunities for myself, so it was definitely beneficial being as far away as I was, but also as close as I was.

Was the duality of beautiful surroundings and small town mentalities challenging growing up? On the one hand it looks like such an inspiring place to be because it’s such a picturesque part of the world…

It wasn’t too much and it wasn’t too little, I think it was the perfect balance, to be honest. I definitely got a lot of inspiration from my hometown, it’s such a scenic and beautiful place. But I think the motivation, drive and passion to get out of there was because I was close to the city.

What was the initial reason you wanted to go to school in Philadelphia?

I went to New York a lot, I lived there over the summer, I’d sublet from people’s apartments. Then I started studying in Philadelphia because it was the best music school that I got into, it just so happened. I didn’t have a great experience in school, I never liked school. I think the best time in Philly was when I actually dropped out of school and lived with a couple of friends in this big warehouse apartment for a year. I got to make music whenever I wanted and I think that was a more beneficial time for me.

You mentioned before that your music and style inspirations derive from when you were a toddler and the influences you had growing up. What is it about that childlike way of thinking that inspires you? Was it a somewhat untainted wonder?

That’s exactly what it was. Just a pure fascination. Not being surrounded by evil, knowing that pure learning and pure fascination is supported as opposed to when I got older and I got judged. You’re not judged as a kid. Everything derives from that very naive sense that I’m not going to be judged and I can conquer the world and do what I want, how I want to do it.

Speaking of being judged, now that the media has had their initial buzz around your fashion sense and artistic vision, do you feel writers and critics are now focusing more on your music? Have the questions about wearing make-up and ‘women’s’ clothes ceased a little?

In the music scene it’s starting to die down a little bit and people are just like, ‘Gus can do his thing, whatever’. But there are some people who just don’t get it and will ask me weird questions… That’s the thing though, when I was in Warwick and I was in this weird funk it was very tough for me to be myself. I still did it because I didn’t give a fuck, but I definitely let people affect my feelings. Nowadays I just do me and don’t let it affect me, but I used to be heavily affected by other people’s opinions.

How did you make that change?

It was literally the flip of a switch. I was going through a really dark time in my life and it was probably the most depressing moment in my life. Something sparked in my head and I said, ‘Fuck it. From here on out we’re doing it all out, 100 per cent of the time, putting in the work and don’t stop until the work is done’. I was coming out of a really rough time and I had a big opportunity to… For example, you could be at a really level place with yourself, where you’re really just content with your life, but then you can be a person who has really happy moments and then really depressing moments. Really happy, then really depressed, those are more influential then being gradually content. I think I was so deep down that I had a big opportunity to go right up.

Gus Dapperton plays Button Factory on March 4 & 5.

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