Uncaged Killer Whale

The 23-year-old New York-based musician Gus Dapperton has just released his second album, Orca, to universal acclaim.

Meanwhile, five or six thousand miles away, orcas have been acting crazy off the Spanish coast for three months, launching themselves at maritime vessels in terrifying displays of coordination and strength. Now, I’m no scientist, but I do have a keyboard and an internet connection, so here’s my theory: these teenage, possibly mutant killer whales were whipped into an anticipatory frenzy after the news of Gus’ sophomore album broke in July—which is also when the attacks began! Coincidence? I think not. Or maybe it is. I’m not sure. Does Gus know? I forgot to ask him. I did ask him about the new album, though.

How are you, Gus?
I’m good! Is it early there?
Yeah. I am not awake.
Have you got a coffee?
Ugh, I’m drinking decaf.
Why aren’t you on the regular caf?
Well, my anxiety’s been a bit higher this year and I thought, ‘I probably don’t need caffeine. I’m a fairly young person who can do stuff unaided.’ I was wrong.
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve just started two coffees a day. I used to just have one in the morning but now I’m having two or three in a day. It’s actually been making me more tired because I feel like I need them now. I need to tone it down.
It’s the same with all the fun things, right? You always want more.
Definitely, definitely…

So, what have you been up to? Is it open in New York?
Yeah, it’s pretty open, but everyone wears masks, everyone social distances. There’s tonnes of outdoor seating at most restaurants. You can go shopping in stores now but they let in a certain amount at a time. Most people are following the rules, which is cool. We had curfew for a little bit but not anymore.
Have you been staying upstate?
That’s where I used to be but now I’m in Brooklyn. I’ve just been hanging, playing music… At first, I wasn’t really making music but now I’m making things again, producing for some other people too, figuring out how to make visuals in a more do-it-yourself way. I’ve always wanted to so this is a good excuse to.
So, the album is called Orca. Why did you call it this?
The album is supposed to be a metaphor for feeling kind of like a caged animal in terms of not really understanding someone’s mental state based on their appearance, and I think an orca whale is a good animal to regard in terms of the changes that come of them when they’re trapped in captivity.
Right, you can see a physical change with their back flipper being bent. What do you call it?
Right, right. Their dorsal fin! In the wild, they usually live to be a hundred years, but in captivity, it’s like twenty years. And they act out, as they should. It’s meant to be this metaphor for this mission statement for the album which is ‘Everyone and everything has the ability to hurt. Everyone and everything has the ability to heal from being hurt. And everyone has the ability to help.’ Which is kind of becoming my motto and the theme on the album.

That’s really nice! Especially with the thirty disasters that have happened this year.
So, you wrote Orca while on tour in 2018, you were partying hard and not getting your eight hours of sleep, according to what I’ve read. Is this ‘trapped orca’ theme in relation to those things in your life—and no judgement, I’m guilty of all of them—that affect you in that way by limiting you, make you look and feel like shit, etc.?
Yeah, basically that lifestyle started catching up with me. My band and I started touring three years ago and we were all pretty young. I was twenty and one of my bandmates was seventeen, and we just kind of missed out on some life lessons that you learn going into adulthood. We were just on tour, partying every night, having great shows, enjoying these huge emotional highs… Although it seems really fun, you’re sleeping in the van on the way to a show and… It’s still a lot of work. And the lifestyle caught up to us. It was definitely hurting me. This was me saying I needed to take a break. I’m fortunate enough to have really great people around me—my sister, who was on tour with me, and my girlfriend…
Are you getting eight hours of sleep now?
No. I have this annoying internal clock and I’m really tired throughout the day and I get like six hours a night. It almost feels like I’m excited to wake up. I don’t want to sleep. I probably go to bed at 1.30/2 and wake up at 8.

On ‘First Aid’, the first single that came out this year, you were talking about isolation and depression… What have been the ways you’ve coped with that?
Honestly, I’ve always struggled with this. I’ve tried therapy a million times, but it’s never really worked for me. Everyone’s gotta find the right method for them. The healthiest way for me was just writing about it, writing music about it, journaling about it… My sister and I are really close, and we talk about it together, get through it together, give each other advice… Another thing that helps is taking time off and not putting pressure on myself to work; giving myself time to reflect.
The more recent video for ‘Post Humorous’ had a bunch of your friends from around the world in it.
Yeah, that was another way of creating visuals in quarantine. But, yeah, relationships play a huge role in managing all of that stuff. In all the songs I wanted to emphasise the people that are closest to me. For example, I had my sister sing the harmonies on the record. This album’s definitely more collaborative than my past stuff.
Working with other people can be so hard. I can’t do it on some projects.
Yeah, I can’t either. I sort of wrote it all and then pitched to them what they’d be doing. But it was really easy to work with the people I worked with.

Wait—do we have much time left on this interview?
Record label person: You kind of need to wrap it up.
Dammit, off the back of all this isolation and working together stuff I was going to ask you 36 ‘getting to know you’ questions that are meant to accelerate bonding. I found them in this old New York Times piece… I think it’s meant for dating, actually, but we could apply it here. Let’s see how many we can get through!
[Laughs] Got it!
When did you last sing to yourself?
When did you last sing to someone else?
Maybe… I guess yesterday! My girlfriend. We’ll sing phrases to tunes from songs. We’ll just be singing what’s happening throughout the day.
Oh, I do a lot of that in The Nanny’s voice. Next question: do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
Honestly, no I don’t. I feel like it’s weird because I feel like I should have a theory on that.
Complete this sentence: I wish I had someone with whom I could share…
An affinity for outboard music gear. Like, preamps and compressors and equalizers. I don’t have anyone who’s close to me that’s into that stuff.
Funny, I am very into outboard gear.
No. Last question: the most embarrassing moment in your life?
Damn… The thing is we were in a group chat a couple of weeks ago trying to think of my most embarrassing moment and no one could think of one. I definitely have embarrassing moments, but maybe I block them out of my memory. Whenever someone asks me that question I always think of embarrassing moments that happened to my sister, and there are some really good ones [Laughs]. In high school, she saw someone at their locker that she thought she knew and she hugged them, but it wasn’t them. She was a freshman. It turned out to be an older senior girl who was really mean.
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
I wouldn’t want to know anything! I feel the same way about horoscopes. I feel like I just want to live my life the best way possible. I feel like you don’t want to know some things—you just want to go with the flow.

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