Gus Dapperton emerged in 2017 as a lo-fi pop prankster with a lime-green bowl cut and videos that were somewhere between a Michel Gondry short and a Zooey Deschanel romcom. They showed him tap-dancing through a high school, canoodling with his then-girlfriend, Euphoria star Barbie Ferreira, and being chased by a farmer while wearing nothing but pink boxers. “People thought I was quirky and irreverent, but I was fully serious about how everything looked and sounded,” he says sincerely. “That’s just me.”
Born Brendan Rice, Dapperton was an extrovert early on, painting his nails and dyeing his hair as a kid growing up in the “conservative” farm town of Warwick, NY. At 14 he started making hip-hop beats inspired by Madlib and MF Doom and, after winning a local songwriting contest, would bunk off to work on GarageBand tracks. After cycling through aliases such as Oliver Twistless and Pablo Pistachio he settled on the more understated Gus Dapperton and switched to dreamy bedroom pop. “I’d put in 10,000 hours producing by the time I was 18,” he says with a grin.
He’s talking via Zoom at his cosy home studio, crammed with a raft of vintage guitars and retro synths, and, pride of place, Britney Spears’s ... Baby One More Time album on vinyl (“It’s pretty solid,” he notes). Dapperton’s self-produced music is steered by his analogue gear-junkie tendencies even as his playcounts are buoyed by pop-lead viral buzz – Supalonely, his sunshine-bottling TikTok smash with Benee, was a UK Top 20 this spring. His new album, Orca, is a relative make-under, however, filled with painfully personal lyrics and slowly permeating melodies.
“All of these songs are about our unhealthy habits catching up with us,” he says. “Having these huge emotional highs on stage, and then lows.” When touring his debut album, Where Polly People Go to Read, Dapperton had a wake-up call. “I was drunk, incoherent and ended up getting lost … I know now that as a person I need longer breaks and moments of rest.” The experience inspired recent single First Aid, on which anguished vocals evoke self-inflicted violence.
Dapperton says that he feels conflicted about putting out an album this year, given … well, everything. But he brings his mindfulness of our moment even to daytime TV, recently wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt while performing Supalonely on Ellen. Embracing his daffy quirks got Dapperton noticed, but his deepening honesty in music looks set to turn his fans into lifers. Many of them already have Dapperton tattoos. “It’s really sweet,” he says. “And that’s what makes me think that I have a responsibility to release music and to take it to people, hearing people say: ‘It really changed my life.’ Because I know that music has changed my life.”
Orca is released 18 September