An Interview with Gussie
Gussie is a solo bedroom-pop artist from Brooklyn. Her music has been featured in NYLON, seen steady rotation on SiriusXMU, and charted internationally in France. You can find her on Instagram by clicking here. Give her music a listen on Spotify, Apple Music, or anywhere else you can find great tunes.
Could you start by telling us a bit about your musical journey? When/how/why did you decide you wanted to pursue music?
A friend of mine died, and I realized there’s not endless time to do the things you want to do. I realize that’s a depressing start to an interview—sorry!
I had always consciously decided not to make music because I didn’t want to taint it with understanding, if that makes any sense. For example, I used to really love art and then I studied it and now museums generally bother me because everything becomes incredibly self-referential. I’ve always loved music more than anything on the planet. It wasn’t worth it to me to start physically dissecting songs since I thought it would ruin the magic or something.
So it was about two years ago that I finally started to teach myself a music software program. And then, maybe six months ago, I got a real instrument—this super cute glittery purple Flying V guitar.
The music obsession has been forever. I actually moved to New York with the goal of making music videos (which I found out is not as fun as it sounds). I’ve written about music and basically done everything outside of the physical act of creating it before the start of Gussie.
Are you pursuing music full-time or do you have a “day job”? How do you pursue your creative aspirations while being immersed in the capitalistic dregs of America? Has this been difficult to balance?
I have a job that I really love. I work in film, and while finding the time to make music as much as I want is awful, the two definitely compliment one another in weird way, especially in getting over my insane fear of showing people things I make.
I mostly make commercial things but recently directed my first narrative short, and could never have done that without having made music first. Music, at least for me, is such a personal thing to share and it is so stressful for me to release music. And I’m not trying to hide anything—this is the film I’m talking about.
I’m in a weird place as I’m actually on a relatively good path to be a pretty serious commercial director and I honestly don’t know how long I’ll make music for (as in publicly release it… I’ll probably always make music but even at this stage I have people messaging me asking for new songs and it’s a little overwhelming!). I kind of want the two things to stay separate if you Google me.
People already don’t take me seriously at all because of my age/general being and as I get bigger clients I need to appear more grown up, which having a band does not include. The other thing (and this is what it grew out of, and made me even consider keeping the two separate) is that a porn star started using my name and I may have to change it. It’s funny but also ruining my life!
You mention your love of art becoming a gradual hatred for museums because the notion of “dissection” eventually ruined it for you. Can you talk more about this? Do you envision this happening with your music?
It hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think it will—I had to really start thinking about it as a component-based concept when I was trying to figure out how to write songs, but doing that just made it more magical. Like intangibly good music that should be bad is so fascinating—something like Beat Happening, where almost everything is technically wrong, but it’s still unbelievable. That happens so rarely with other art forms.
“Bad” art generally follows some compositional rules, whether intentional or not, and “bad” film is a whole other monster but Troll 2 or something has a lot more going on than just a feeling, which can actually carry the weight of a song. That non-quantitatively-good thing will always make music so fascinating to me.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
It’s definitely early Suicide, Circuit 7, Strawberry Switchblade, Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, and Bill Nelson. I didn’t really listen to synth-heavy music before starting Gussie, but then when I started writing it, I had to seek it out. By its own nature, it’s arranged differently than the music I normally like. Like the way instruments in Galaxie 500 songs layer can’t really be done with electronic sounds, or at least I’m not capable of it.
I constantly rip off Stephen Morris (Joy Division) for drumming, although recently I’ve gotten really into the first drummer for The Cure. I’ll also go through phases of only listening to Lil Peep or My Chemical Romance or something. It’s very all over the place.
In terms of lyrics, I like more contemporary stuff. For instance, Car Seat Headrest—he has this way of writing where it’s vague but personal while still feeling universal, I think. And Frankie Cosmos’s new band Lexie is brilliant. There’s this line that’s “graveyards are pretty in the sun” that I keep thinking about this week, or Current Joys. There’s something very special about him. I just saw their show at Market Hotel and people were moshing to slow ballads. It was unreal.
What else inspires or influences you?
I really like walking around by myself in the city. Just walking always makes me think of a song, even if I don’t want to.
Can you elaborate on your own songwriting process? On the nitty-gritty of writing?
I don’t really know notes or anything, so it’s an immensely time-consuming process of trying to figure out what I’m actually hearing in my mind. Parts of a song will come to me, but usually with only a few fully formed lines. The rest are like sounds, if that makes any sense.
Sometimes what I’m thinking of as the lyrics are actually the baseline or something that’s supposed to happen later, but I only ever actually find that out way after it would be convenient to know and I’ve already programmed the drums, and then it turns into this whole vicious cycle of writing and rewriting it until what is in my head becomes the song.
You were raised in The Virgin Islands and then moved to the States later. Have landscapes had any influence on your sound?
Landscapes do have a huge influence on me! A lot of my songs come from trying to make a sound of a place— like my song, “End of the World,” was supposed to sound like this one very specific strip of highway. I have a new song that smells like a perfume I used to have.
What are some of the most challenging aspects of being “Gussie”? Of making music?
The only really challenging part is writing lyrics, which is like having people see the inside of your mind. It is truly terrifying. I also wish I could play every instrument in the world.
In terms of Gussie as a whole entity, I feel like I should be pushing myself on social media more, but it really doesn’t interest me.
On dealing with rejection as an artist—any advice? Any challenges?
Rejection is soul-sucking. And especially in music, there are so many emotional variables for the listener that you can’t control. Like I can tell myself, “maybe my voice reminded them of their ex-girlfriend and that’s why they hate it,” and not because it’s actually really terrible. It’s so subjective to who is actually hearing it.
I’ve written articles on music before and now, if someone gave me a million dollars to write a review of something, I don’t think I would do it. That’s a complete lie—I would totally take the money—but I just think of it so differently now. I’ve become very soft. Even if I hate a song, I legitimately think, “good for you! You made a song. That is very hard!”
As artists, we’re always interested in any pertinent or essential advice that you’ve been exposed to or been given that you hold close or rely on?
I guess the best thing I’ve ever been told is to not do anything to be successful. Which is either really bad or really good advice.
Is there a specific way that you would describe your image and aesthetics? Have you thought about cultivating an image that compliments your music?
Rushed! I hate having my photo taken, so all the promo photos are usually done at the very last minute. The cover of “Others” is literally in my bed, taken on a phone right after I woke up. If I’d have thought hundreds of thousands of people would see me in a Cannibal Corpse shirt, I probably would’ve chosen something else to wear.
If anything, Gussie is like the most unfiltered version of myself. It’s just what I’m actually like as a human, for better or for worse.
What else interests you? What do you find yourself being drawn to, besides music?
Making films. I also have a big obsession with strange places—like forgotten tourist attractions, strange county museums, etc.—which manifests itself into going on a lot of road trips.
And I really love clothes, especially ones from the 70s and early 90s. Going to vintage stores takes up an embarrassing amount of time for me. And “online research,” which is essentially going down deep holes on the internet like everyone else on the planet.
You currently have 3 singles on Spotify—what can we expect from you in the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I have about 30 songs that are pretty much done and I’m trying to find the best ones for the EP. Since I do everything myself, there’s no one around to tell me if something is good or not. It’s a constant battle of re-writing, re-arranging, and changing lyrics. Everything happens in my room so it’s not like I lay down a track in a studio or something and it’s done.
In five years, I’d like to have put out an album, maybe have one song I think is perfect. Either that or get a song in a Kia ad.
What do you aim to achieve with your music?
Human connection, as dumb as that sounds. Even though in the grand scheme of things I’m very unknown, I do get a ton of messages from people who identify a lot with the lyrics. That’s my favorite part of it—it just blows my mind.
I completely understand feeling less alone via music by someone you’ve never met so I love that people are telling me I can do that for them.
— Interview conducted by Kat Neis & Betsy Neis.