Nine Songs: Gus Dapperton
“You don’t have to be naturally gifted to pursue music. I think everyone should pursue music if it makes them happy and you’re passionate about it, just be open to everything.”
Gus Dapperton has been busy pursuing new passions during lockdown, joining the ranks of people exploring new creative pursuits, from digging into the depths of video creating on Adobe Premiere to playing soccer to pass the time. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun to get creative in different ways.”
With a new album, Orca, on the way, Dapperton tells me he diverged from the traditional process of record releases for the follow up to last year’s Where Polly People Go To Read. Orca’s writing process started when he embarked on a European tour nearly a year and a half ago, but now, with touring on hold for the foreseeable future, he explains he’s not fazed by the hiatus. “I had plans, but I hadn’t announced anything, it was still in the works. I was fortunate enough not to have anything booked and have to move it. I’ve always toured, but this year I decided to take a break,” before adding, “It’s been obviously a longer break than I had anticipated.”
In his downtime Dapperton has been producing beats, including some for his sister, also a musician and an encouraging force in his life, who encouraged her brother to keep following his passions. They were raised in Hudson Valley, a rural town outside of Brooklyn, where “There weren’t many concert halls, there were a couple house shows around once in a while, but there wasn’t much without venturing into the city”.
In the absence of live music, the two siblings would play gigs around farmer’s markets and other spots in the town. It was during this time that Dapperton discovered a love of skateboarding and the early editing culture surrounding it online, which introduced him artists including Arcade Fire and Metronomy.
Dapperton’s Nine Songs include touchpoints from that time, as well as discovering songs through films from Spartacus to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. But underpinning each of them is a desire for discovery, that anything can be achieved if you put your mind to it. “I actually started making music in middle school when I was fourteen. I didn’t try to learn music, it was just in me and that inspired me to do it.”
“I don't really like musicals and musical theatre and I don't even give musical theatre songs a chance, because they're these perfect arrangements, sung kind of soulfully. But with The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and older musicals, they don't sing in the over-enunciated musical theatre way, they just sing in their regular voice.
”Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was probably one of the first movies I saw when I was a kid. I think there's certain emotional states that you're in, and when you hear something when you're in that emotional state, it stays with you. Every time you hear that thing or see that thing, it brings back a memory and this feeling.
“When I watched that movie, I was really taken away with it and probably just a youth experiencing pure joy. That's what I took away from it, and every time I hear it, it's comfort. There’s the one section where it changes: “If you want to view paradise / Simply look around and view it.” When they end the verse and go into that, it’s so dope, that whole section."
“I’ve always known that song as just a one-hit-wonder karaoke song. "You Get What You Give" is one of my favourite songs, but then I watched this movie Begin Again, with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. It’s not a musical, but it’s a music movie. For some reason, I was listening to it and I was like, ‘Why do these songs sound so familiar to me?’ I looked it up and they were all written by this guy Gregg Alexander, who was the lead singer of New Radicals.
“All of his songs sound like different variations of this song. I started doing research and this dude, Alexander, wrote tons of hit songs - not tons of notable hit songs, but a lot of really good songs. He has really big writing credits, there’s this Santana song with Michelle Branch and he wrote that. In every single one, you can hear his influence in all the ones he’s written.
“I started to get really into it, and it has a pretty crazy story. He did the New Radicals, did that album, and it was really good. "You Get What You Give" was a one-hit-wonder and then he was, ‘I don’t think this is the right career path for me.’ They didn’t even tour [the album] all the way. He did a couple appearances and they just went away, and he stopped making music for a little bit.
“He comes back every now and then and writes songs for people, but he’s really under the radar. I thought it was really interesting.”
“I’ve always been super keen on new music that comes out, whatever the genre. I think the first time I heard Arcade Fire was the song “No Cars Go” in a skate video called Fully Flared in this guy Mike Mo Capaldi’s skate park. I got super obsessed with Arcade Fire and then I heard ‘The Suburbs.’ It’s literally been my favourite song ever since, probably of all time.
“I used another song on that record called “Sprawl” in a skate edit one time, we used to skate and film stuff. There’s some other good songs on that album that I ended up really liking, “Ready to Start”, “Sprawl I”, “Sprawl II,” and then ‘The Suburbs’, they’re probably my favourite songs off that record.”
“So, the Talking Heads, I’m not gonna pretend like I have always listened to them. I started listening to the Talking Heads and David Byrne in the last two to three years. I’ve always been obsessed with “This Must Be the Place” but I couldn’t really call myself a true fan, because I just listened to that song.
“Then I watched the movie that they did, the live performance Stop Making Sense and I got really into them. I feel like he has a new thing like that, where he does different songs and it’s a new setup and stuff. That song was always lingering around, but once I watched Stop Making Sense and started watching interviews and how he interpreted music. He does this one TED Talk about how spaces and venues over the years have changed how music is played, and I think just knowing the venue and the space also goes a lot into how your live performance should be.
“I've taken an influence from him in being cautious in how I perform. One thing I've learned from watching him perform is that I always perform with a lot of energy. I'll be screaming, jumping up and down, and dancing. I've always got a really good reaction from that, but I have a lot of dynamics in my music. I go from really soft to really loud and harsh, which is some of the stuff that I really like, because it gives you a full spectrum and a full range of energy, and I didn't realise I wasn't really incorporating that into my live performance.
“Something that David Byrne does really well is he incorporates dynamics from really, really, really low points or really, really, really high points. He’ll be doing something really simple for the longest time and then do something really wild for the longest time.”
“I remember I went on a road trip with my friends, right when we graduated high school. A lot of the kids that I went to school with weren’t super open-minded with music and the music that they liked. I was really taken aback when I played this song and then they were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s honestly really good.’ I was like, ‘Listen guys, it’s actually one of the best songs I’ve ever heard.’
“At that point, people knew I was super keen on music, and I knew a lot. One of the people I went on that road trip with is my drummer, who plays with me in my band. He can definitely back up that I put him on to a lot of music growing up!
“It’s not nostalgic even, but graduating high school, I probably had no idea what the fuck I wanted to do in life. Then went on this road trip and we were camping and stuff. It was definitely a really reflective time in my life, and that song and the fact that it brought everyone together was really special.”
“It was definitely back in the day when I first heard Nujabes. He had this one song called ‘Feather’ I think, where I believe he sampled Yusef Lateef. Maybe I’m wrong, but there is a song where Nujabes samples him. Lateef does a version of ‘Love Theme From Spartacus’ that’s really sick. I ended up listening to so many different versions of it.
“There’s another one by Quartetto Moderno that I really like. I think there’s a Bill Evans one maybe. I ended up hearing that song and then I listened to all of the Spartacus themes. It was really from just looking up and listening to Lateef’s music.
“At the end of the day, I started listening to the original, the big strings, the actual movie score one and it’s so good. This one’s just simply love theme and I’m like, ‘Wow, they pretty much nailed what love feels like sound wise, as far as the composition goes.’
“Before I was pursuing music, I wanted to be a pro-skateboarder. This falls into this category of surf/skate music and that’s also how I found a lot of songs. There’s this genre of indie music that people would always use, it’d be Two Door Cinema Club, Metronomy, Arcade Fire, and Tops too. All that stuff is very surf rock-ish.
“I started listening to Metronomy when The English Riviera came out in 2011, so I guess I was in seventh grade. I’d get records and I would be on YouTube and Soundcloud, I’d hear remixes and then I’d go see the original.
“I always loved Metronomy when I was growing up, but I never took anything away from them musically until I lived with my good friend Matt. His roommate was subletting their apartment in New York and I moved in with him. I didn’t even know him that well. He’s a director and he shot one of my first music videos. I was like, ‘Oh, you’re subletting your spot? I’ll come hang there for the summer.’
“The first day we hung out, he was playing Metronomy in the shower. When he came out, I was like, “Dude, were you playing Metronomy? They’re my favourite.” Ever since then, Metronomy has been our secret obsession.”
“This is another nostalgic song to me. I wasn’t into music growing up, because I wasn’t a good singer. If you’re not a good singer when you’re a kid, or you’re not naturally gifted at the piano or guitar, you’re not really encouraged to be musical.
“My sister was always the person who never judged me, and I never judged her. We were always discovering new things together. I was just her older brother, so even if I took a shot at writing a song, she would think it was amazing and really support me in it and vice versa.
“One of my strongest memories is my sister belting Alicia Keys or Adele around the house and singing those songs. My sister always, since the age of three, could literally belt out Alicia Keys. My family was always a really big fan of any songs that my sister was drawn to sing. It’s a really nostalgic memory, probably one of the first things that drew me to music. I definitely take away a lot of piano ballad stuff from Alicia Keys.
"Our music teacher gave us this project where we were forced to write and produce a song on GarageBand, because they’d gotten these new Mac computers in the school. I thought that was really awesome and honestly intimidating for eighth graders. Honestly, probably the most embarrassing and insecure time in your life is maybe eighth to tenth grade.
“I feel like I had it all in me. I was always really keen on production and wondering how people did the drums like this. The contest was the best song got to go on the town radio station and I went all in. I was spending hours on GarageBand and I ended up winning. I was like, ‘Oh, just because I don’t know how to play the guitar or piano, you can still be knowledgeable about music.’ If you’re knowledgeable, if you love music, I feel you can figure it out.”
“With all the other songs here, Arcade Fire, New Radicals, Metronomy and Alicia Keys, they’re all live instruments. “This Must Be the Place” by Talking Heads is mostly live instruments, with a drum machine, but it’s still ‘80s. ‘Pure Imagination’ is classical and ‘Love Theme’ is classical. I liked electronic music, I liked hip-hop, and I liked alternative music, but “So Many Details” by Toro Y Moi was the first time I’d ever heard live instruments produced and manipulated in an electronic way.
“The song sounds like samples from all over the place. It almost sounds like hip-hop in that sense, but really, he’s playing those instruments and then chopping and screwing them, sampling his own instrument and producing it.
“I really was shocked at how creative and innovative that song is, it inspired me. I think that’s the first time I was like, ‘Oh my God, music is so endless and there’s just so much innovation.’”