Artist Spotlight: Gus + Scout

posted by Kelsey Stoulil on September 11, 2013

Photo: Gus + Scout at Bumbershoot 2013 by Kelsey Stoulil

The tunes of Gus + Scout hark back to a bygone era of simplicity; before EDM, laptop based performances, and holographic resurrections. Back when a man or woman could light up a stage with only their voice, a guitar, and a good story. Keeping tradition alive, this duo is steadily gaining recognition with their country-influenced sound and Scout Willis' powerful voice. Fueled by a desire to connect with people, Gus + Scout are pouring their hearts into their music, one soulful song at a time.

I got a chance to chat with them after their set at the 2013 edition of Bumbershoot - let's see what they had to say.

You two knew each other as kids, and then met again while studying at Brown, what led to you to make music together?
Gus Wenner: I think it was more about friendship than anything else
Scout Willis: It was really natural, we both sort of did it (played music) casually, like I've always loved to sing but it was never something I thought I was going to peruse and then Gus and I sort of fell in step singing with each other. It was the first time that it was sort of something bigger than I had thought.
Gus: Yeah, I knew that Scout could sing but, I feel like so many people can sing well, you know? It was more of her soul and her spirit and ability to write that led us to work together. And then the fact that she could sing the way that she can, which is not like everyone else, was just a crazy, wonderful added bonus.

So Scout, I read that you don't play an instrument
Scout: No, not yet, I'm learning guitar, teaching myself.

Awesome. How has not playing an instrument so far affected the songwriting process for you? What are your roles in writing songs?
Scout: We've developed a very organic songwriting process, we've just started writing a new song, and I'll use a voice recorder or something, and come up with a melody, and then Gus will have lyrics or something. It's very organic and very kind of symbiotic. I never feel like a song that I am writing is finished until Gus hears it.
Gus: Likewise, it's funny because even though Scout doesn't play an instrument it's as if she knows the music theory really well. But I think at the end of the day, we just have such similar tastes in music and appreciate the tradition of country and blues and rock 'n roll so much, which is all based around three chords anyway, that it's not really an obstacle at this point, as far as the songwriting. When we're rehearsing with a band, and things get more complex, Scout chimes in with good commentary and it's nice to have someone who's not playing the instruments to really listen closely and say what needs to be brought up.
Scout: Before this it was a hindrance and I would be playing with all these musicians and feel like I wasn't able to explain myself, but I can use other language with him and explain myself in other words and now we're so fortunate to working with such talented musicians.

There seems to be a lot of different influences in your music, who are your biggest inspirations?
Gus: The Band is a huge influence, Merle Haggard is a really big influence, were you going to say Patsy Cline?
Scout: Yeah, Patsy Cline was like, why I started singing.
Gus: Did I take the words out of your mouth? (laughs)
Scout: Willie Nelson, his songwriting, like simple and kind of a story but it gets its point across, and it's big enough that you can find yourself in it, but there is still a plot going on, like songs that aren't so specific to our experiences that people feel alienated from it.
Gus: In my mind Bob Dylan is like, the best writer ever, it's not just me, he influences everything that both of us do. I don’t know, there are so many great guitar players, Marc Bolan of T. Rex was my favorite. When I was young he was one of the first musicians I discovered on my own and really fell in love with.
Scout: Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; harmonies, I want more of that, more of a country influence as we go forward.

You guys played at SXSW this year, how was that?
Scout: It was pretty unbelievable, it's a different kind of festival, it's a different thing, but it was amazing to just walk down the streets and not really know where we were going, and music is pouring out of every restaurant you walk by.
Gus: It was pretty disorienting, but it was great. We played like, 7 shows, so it was exhausting, I mean in like, 4 days, and interviews and photo-shoots, it was a lot to handle, but in a great way, it's energizing. It was really good until the final show, we f-ed that one up.
Scout: Oh whatever. We kind of left it all on the dance floor. The nice thing was, to be able to have a show, see a show, talk about it with the band, kind of tighten up at every show, and were able to get tighter and tighter until we had a really cohesive set that we were really proud of, which was the first time that we had had that much endurance work.
Gus: Yeah, its kind of like finding the pearl inside of a clam, when you really work hard at it, but the thing was we saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings-
Scout: Oh my god, they kinda changed our game-
Gus: Totally changed our game, we were like "holy shit, these people are so exact in every note they play," you know, even if we want to be loose and soft or whatever style we want to play, we have to get there, so we worked really hard in Texas to achieve that.
Scout: This (Bumbershoot) is our first show back in a while, so hopefully we'll be playing more and more.
Gus: Yeah, we didn't really get to apply that.
Scout: The crowd here was probably the best we've ever had, I would say so, it was so appreciative, so responsive, like it was overwhelming.
Gus: It was surreal, people were like, singing every word, I barely know all the words to our songs. There were little girls with flowers in their hair, looking up, singing along - that was great, it came as a surprise.

What other festivals have you played at?
Gus: We played at NXNE in Canada, that was my favorite.
Scout: In Toronto, people there are so wonderful. That was our first festival.
Gus: There again we played a bunch of shows, and it was cool because in the beginning there was like, no one at our shows, and then by the end-
Scout: People had heard about us which was really cool-
Gus: Yeah we played on TV and stuff up there, and then by the end the show was packed, there was a line around the corner, so that was really amazing to see. We just had a blast in Toronto.
Scout: Its nice to see the build up, cause you know we only want what we earn, and we want to always lead music first, and want people to come to it on their own, and find it and get involved as they like and not throw our music at anybody.
Gus: It was cool to see it develop organically. If we showed up there and there were 400 people at our first show it would be like, what? What's going on here?

You touched on this a bit ago, you guys haven't been touring much lately, is there a debut album in the works perhaps?
Scout: I just graduated this past spring, so we are getting back into the swing of things. I really wanted to focus on school, I knew this was going to be here, and it's been nice, Gus and our band have been working, so it gave me the time to not worry about it, and it's given us time to develop along the way as musicians and not rush anything, so that's what we intend to do from now on.
Gus: It's great to play shows and one-offs and stuff, but we'll probably go into a deep cocoon of writing, so we're going to write like 30 more songs, before we go on a serious tour.

Then sort of whittle things down for an album-
Scout: Yeah, we have a lot more songs than we released on our last EP, and we've already gotten so much better than the last time we recorded-
Gus: Hypothetically. (laughs)
Scout: No, we have! We wrote those songs just Gus and I and we had session musicians who we were friends with in the studio, and then we actually started playing shows. So for our next release we want to go in the opposite direction, and write it all, play it a bunch, and then see, so we have a chance to bloom.

I have no doubts that you will, thanks so much guys!

Check out the video below of the duo performing "Gone, Gone, Gone" off their self-titled EP, and be sure to to keep an eye out for them on the 2014 festival circuit.

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See Also:

Top 10 Moments from Bumbershoot
Photo Highlights: Bumbershoot 2013
InstaWorld: Bumbershoot 2013 Edition