GUS DAPPERTON is probably cooler than you. There, I said it. He’s a 21-year-old from the rural town of Warwick, New York with a knack for all things quirky — from his fearless sense of fashion, which has been recognized by notables such as Vogue, to his seemingly random song titles (“I’m Just Snacking”, “Prune, You Talk Funny”) and ageless dance moves.
But when it comes to his music, he does it all. Gus writes his own lyrics, layers his own instrumentals, and produces every song he can. Though he finds value in the DIY method, he ultimately chooses to be so hands on because he wants to be in control of his own art. Seemingly, among the few he trusts are his bandmates — his sister and two hometown friends — as they are the ones he originally called upon at the beginning of his career to help take his material out on the road.
We met up with Gus at the beginning of Austin’s SXSW Music Festival in March to discuss his start, his need to create, and the personal epiphany that led him to embrace his true self. He’s adopted his own interpretation of the adage “without the rain, there can be no rainbow” as a personal mantra, and it’s clear: he’s too busy with perfecting his craft to give a damn about what anyone else thinks.
Do you think music is reinvented with each generation? Or are new sounds and genres just the same ideas but applied differently?
I think music is definitely reinvented from time to time. The ways in which it is created is different now — meaning there are more opportunities for everyone to showcase their abilities and when more people can make music, the result is more of a meshing of sounds. I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s currently a “recap” of a specific fragment of time or generation, but in the last five or six years music has gone through a revolution.
You began songwriting through a competition, but do you remember the moment when you realized making music was something you seriously wanted to pursue?
Yeah, it was that moment (laughs). I actually wrote songs from time to time when I was younger — just messing around when I was 10 years old — and I played guitar a little bit, but I didn’t really know how to play. In eighth grade, we were allowed to use GarageBand and I didn’t realize how production worked. I always loved Timbaland and Pharrell and J Dilla and Madlib, but I thought you had to be kind of a special person to be able to do that. Then I realized anyone could make music if they wanted to. So I got super into it; I took it home and as soon as I finished the song, I knew I wanted to do this forever. I’ve had that mentality ever since. I want to do this for the rest of my life.
You’ve said you draw inspiration from the phrases people say — from the time something catches your attention to the time it becomes a song. What’s the process like?
My songwriting process begins with me coming up with a melody and a chord progression that’s based on the phrase and the feeling – not necessarily the feeling that the phrase gives me, but more like how I was feeling during that moment in time. That becomes the “chapter” for that moment in and I build the song around that. I always write phrases down in my notebook. Like “I’m just snacking” was a direct phrase that someone said to me and “prune, you talk funny” is describing someone or comparing them to something.
Does writing usually take you a while? Or does it come quickly?
It ranges, and I know a lot of people say that if it doesn’t happen for them really fast, they’ll forget about it. But that’s not necessarily how it is for me. Some songs just happen to take longer than others. If in the first place I thought it was a good and natural idea, then it’s something that I’ll definitely pursue until it’s finished. Some songs have taken me years to finish, while others I’ve made in a day. “Beyond Amends” — which is a song off my latest project — is one I wrote when I was 18, and I’m 21 now and I just finally finished it. Others just happen in a day.
Many publications are calling you an “artist to watch”; do statements like that put pressure on your creative process?
No. I’m just really focused on the present and when people make predictions and try to foreshadow things, it doesn’t really phase me because I’m so focused on the moment. I haven’t even had a lot of time to think about it much. Like I said, I grew up mostly producing and I didn’t even start singing until I was 18, so I’m really focused on performing on this tour — giving the best performance I can and getting better as a musician. When I’m not doing that, I’m extremely focused on making music because if I didn’t, I think I would spontaneously combust.
What’s your ultimate goal for your music? And how would you define a “successful release”?
Any music I put out, if it reaches one person and they can connect through that piece of music — and I’m happy with the final product of my song – that’s success to me. Even if I don’t put it out, just having the final song done, mixed and mastered, and I can say that’s exactly how it was in my head and it came out exactly as I had envisioned — that’s success to me. I’ve put in enough time where I can do that now.
To me, you seem to be incredibly confident and self-assured. Was there ever a time in your life when you weren’t?
I’m still not that confident. I’m just surrounded by people who make me feel comfortable. I was never confident at all in high school. There was this really deep, deep pit of despair that I was in when I was 17, and it felt like the end of the world. I’m sure that happens to everyone at some point. But after that, I realized I had a huge opportunity to come out of this in a rewarding way and from that moment on, I was like, “Fuck everything else, I am who I am”. I’m happy with my imagination and my creativity, and I can do what I want.
There were a lot of things that happened to me at the same time and it all built up, and then I was able to get in touch with reality. I say this a lot, but it’s kind of what I live by. But if everything was pleasurable there would be no such thing as pleasure — it’s as simple as that. The time preceding a really bad time in your life can be the most pleasurable moment you can have, and that goes for anything. The inconvenience of being yourself — I feel more pride.
You just released your second EP, You Think You’re a Comic!. Is there a track that is especially important to you?
Probably “Beyond Amends”. I’ve made it three different times and I finally made what I wanted to make. They all mean a lot to me, but that song was something I wrote in those moments preceding that bad time in my life in high school right before I turned 18. That song has latched onto my brain. I think the other songs will too as time goes on, but that song is really nostalgic to that time in my life. I think I can confidently say that song is my favorite.
Is maintaining the DIY attitude something that’s important to you? Or did it begin out of necessity?
It did begin out of necessity. I have trouble trusting people with art, but there are a few people I do trust. But when it comes to music, I have to do it all myself. It’s this OCD thing. Nowadays, I think the DIY attitude relates to being an independent artist and I just can’t come to terms with anyone, apart from me, owning my music.
Is your music supplemental to your art? Or is your art essential to your work?
If I wasn’t making music, I would definitely have another creative outlet to portray my emotions. I have to do that to survive. As soon as I put my energy and emotion into something sonic or something physical, I feel like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders every time. I feel like I’ve captured that and put it in a glass jar, and it’s there and I can access it whenever I like. If I wasn’t making music, I would definitely be doing something else. I love all types of art — film, fashion, writing.
You have said Yellow And Such is the “truest interpretation” of your sound. Do you consider your sound to be something that’s developing and changing? Or have you found something that’s undeniably you?
By the time I finished that record I think I found my true sound. When I say “the truest interpretation of myself”, I use the word “interpretation” because I don’t have access to all of the equipment and gear I would like to. If I did, then maybe my music would be exactly what I wanted it to be, but for now it’s pretty close. I think I’m constantly evolving as a musician. However that EP is where I found my sound and it’s something that I feel is true to me.