Back in 2017, Gus Dapperton (aka Brendan Rice) broke into the charts with ‘I’m Just Snacking’, with many a fan falling in love with his soppy 60s synth-pop tunes on debut LP ‘Where Polly People Go to Read’. Indie kids hopped on his dreamboat going through a landscape of heartbreaks and highs. Quickly this green-haired, sci-fi-meets-Wes Anderson looking, New York singer-songwriter has become a human-size symbol of blurring lines and exceeding limitations for the new generation. Today, his iconic bowl cut went buzzcut and his collab with Benee on ‘Supalonely’ are TikTok viral, and his new album ‘Orca’ sees him confronting his old self and locking away his demons.
“I wrote it when I was on tour,” he says. “Basically all of it is me reciting on the trials and tribulations of us being on tour for so long and leading the unhealthy lifestyle in terms of eating habits, drinking habits and not getting enough sleep. Just having these huge emotional highs and touring also having huge emotional lows.”
Gus speaks volumes on the often tuned out another side of ‘making it’ in music showbiz; the side that sometimes reminds more of a survival camp or a prison than any musician’s ultimate fantasy. The image of a caged orca and its yearning for freedom became for Gus a recurring analogy for not understanding the mental state of something. “I’m relating that to humans and how depression makes you feel like you’re sort of trapped in your own mind, in your head. It’s supposed to be a metaphor for the consequences of trapping everything you’re feeling and then finally getting out of your comfort zone,” he shares.
“His name is Bren, don’t forget,” sings Gus in ‘First Aid’, the first single from the new album. His moniker, Gus Dapperton, rose from Brendan’s need to break through his own mental barriers and have an outlet to be his most authentic self, with no compromises. “I’m not really missing my old self, but it’s talking about how I was as a kid, how I am now and how I’m merging the two. Maybe I’ve trapped parts of my youth away in my head,” he explains.
As any small city kid growing up, Gus had to pave his own way. “I was feeling a little discouraged by adults from pursuing art the way I wanted to. I resented that, and I really wanted to prove it to everyone that I can do something that is far greater than what we’re taught to do,” he says.
Greatness it is. Gus is that miracle kid who went beyond the bedroom pop box and keeps on shedding artistic skin, as soon as we get used to it. On ‘Orca’ he adds dreariness to his dreamy state of mind, writing on an acoustic guitar and drawing inspirations from the 90s and early 00s giants like Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins. Spike Stent, a Grammy-winning producer who mixed for Lady Gaga or Frank Ocean, gave the record a dry, organic feel that Gus was after. “It was a dream come true. I’ve never had someone mix my music before. I’ve always just done it out of necessity because I didn’t really have the budget to get it to mix, so I would do it myself. It was really nice to hand it over to someone. I’ve never had my songs sound like that before,” he says.
If Dapperton does team up, it’s always with someone special, like Stent or recently Benee on ‘Supalonely’. This time, he wanted collaborations to hit even closer to home. “I love working with people I know,” he says. On starship ‘Orca’, he found space for the whole crew, his sister on back vocals, friends playing instruments and Chela, who supported his Australian tour, performs on ‘My Say So’. “It just makes it even more personal because they were around a lot of these experiences that I’m writing about,” Gus shares. His newest video for ‘Post Humorous’ was made with a bunch of his mates, like Remi Wolf and Cruel Santino, bouncing and fooling around before webcams to his beats.
Besides bringing his squad together online, Gus hasn’t pushed himself during quarantine and set music aside, ignoring outside voice preaching toxic productivity on social media. “I found it a good time to reflect and just step away from the music for a bit. Luckily, I had finished the album, and I didn’t have too many commitments to things during this time. I think a lot of people were encouraged to be really productive during quarantine and get a lot of work done, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the best case. I think that if it’s not an inspiring time, I don’t think anyone should force themselves to make art unless they feel like it,” he explains.
Stepping aside creatively, he’s been staying in touch with followers. “I love connecting with fans, I love talking to everyone at the shows. It’s hard to connect with everyone over social media in an organised way, but I think there are new ways to start doing that. I want to give back and do music workshops, but we can’t all connect right at this moment just because of COVID,” he says. Stay alert, online gigs are on the way.
Releasing new stuff right now is tricky. You can’t tour it; you can’t promote it properly. Gus is aware that not everyone might have the headspace for checking out new tracks in the middle of the pandemic, although for many art can help keep us sane. “I think that after the reactions from the first song I put out and seeing that the kids were saying that they really needed music in this time and they thought that this was helping them and did make them feel like one, I felt like I have a responsibility to keep releasing music now. Especially the music that talks about new subjects,” he shares.
New subjects he talks about in the album, struggles with depression and identity, anxiety about future and death, have been particularly prevalent during the last few months. “I think that just the fact that I’m locking these demons away, I’ve already got a lot of people who’ve reached out and been able to relate to them. I always try to be as honest as possible so people can also relate to these songs and hopefully find them therapeutic like I did when I was writing them,” Gus explains.
‘Orca’ takes us to dark places where raw lyrics match raw sounds. At the heart of this emotional storm is Gus stripped from protective mental barriers and at his most vulnerable. “It’s definitely been difficult, but it’s really rewarding at the end of the day,” he shares. Showcasing the solitude of depression, Gus brought his community together. “That’s all it takes for me to understand that what I’m doing is somewhat important. That’s all I need, just one person reaching out and saying that it’s helped them and changed their life. That’s just solidified that music is so much more powerful than just like something you hear,” he says.
Despite that, we won’t be able to experience magic of Gus’ music live for a while. Asked for his dream gig destination, he doesn’t hesitate – he’d rush to his hometown of Warwick, New York. “I feel like this album is me kind of coming to terms with everything that’s happened in my life and it feels like I’m forgiving everything that’s happened in my past. I’d want to come back to Warwick and play in front of these people that I grew up with,” Gus shares, ready to make peace with past. All it took was a world tour and an album.
Grown-up Gus might’ve swapped stylistics, but he’s still here for blurring all the lines and bending the walls, inside and outside. “With fashion, it’s kind of sad. I understand why, but it’s sad that everything is separated by women’s and men’s clothes. I just don’t really care about that; I would rather not have those boundaries,” he says.
Gus Dapperton has come a long way from Warwick. He’s been ours, in and out of love, next-bedroom pop boy, Generation Z indie sensation and finally emo-influenced demons slayer. No matter how many faces he has, foremost, he’s a seriously skilled musician who found a way to tell his story and create his own universe, nostalgic and exciting at once, through art.
“Art shouldn’t be differentiated by any particular genre or era; it should live universally between everything. Music is categorised in genres, but there are not many boundaries. Anything is possible,” Gus says. Tune in to ‘Orca’ to see how many boundaries he’s crossed this time.
Taken from the October issue of Dork. Gus Dapperton’s album ‘Orca’ is out now.
Words: Aleksandra Brzezicka