Feeling it Out with Gussy

We sat down with the multi-disciplined artist in Sydney's South-Eastern suburbs to talk identity, performance, and hoping that people dance.

by Jonno Revanche
30 January 2017, 11:57pm

We first met Gussy two years ago on "Away From Home," a Sade-esque track uploaded to Soundcloud that introduced the gender non-conforming musician as a key voice in Sydney's fast-evolving electronic scene. Since then it's become evident that "Away From Home," and the much-hyped follow up "Looking at Myself" were results of an elaborate and exciting performance project. 

At once so intimate and strangely elusive, Gussy's music simply could not be separated from the aesthetics—the looks, the moves, the music videos, the live performances. This combination signalled an all-out approach that was the natural consequence of someone who grew up studying dance and film and design, criss-crossing between creative practices. Gussy's modern mix of electronic pop, R&B, and trip-hop explores themes of perfection VS imperfection, and asks: How do we deal with being constantly at odds with our digital selves and our fragile egos?

Gussy's talent not only lies in their unique way of seeing and comprehending, but also in their ability to cross so many disciplines and shift towards new feelings, new landscapes, and new queered and gendered horizons. Their songs get to the gut of those existential questions through a pop format. 

Now, in 2017, they ready themselves to release their new single "Mornings," produced in collaboration with Adelaide's Strict Face. We met them in a quiet part of Mascot, and spoke about non-binary alienation, new mediums and the horrifying brightness of the future.

How do you feel about talking about your music in retrospect? Is there a risk of over-explaining something which is a bit more transient?

I guess because the songs are kind of confessional or about things that have happened to me that I'm still in the process of understanding, looking at them retrospectively can be strange. In terms of explaining any of it to people I feel like it just wouldn't be that interesting, I happen to be a fairly expositional lyricist so it's all there in the songs. I often don't think my feelings and thoughts are important but i still think there's power in sharing them.

What kind of moods or emotional landscapes have you felt closest to in the past / where do you want to head?

I always end up talking and writing about how hard relationships are to navigate in the world we live in, but how important they are for survival. That tension is what I'm interested in, because I see it in every relationship, not just between people.

Maybe this is projecting but the difficulty of navigating relationships seems to extend onward for me as a listener—do you think connecting is made easier by technology or by social media? Or is it subjective? 

I think it is of course subjective. I think it's scary for us to talk about because we have a sense of what is to come from what has come so quickly in such a short period of time in terms of how technology shifts. I think that's what you mean by an understanding of communication being tarnished by the constant questioning, the constant interrogation of present day connectivity, something we of course link to survival but which we constantly are encouraged to be afraid of and dismiss. It makes it hard to accept that we love through these devices and they can serve to spread our love wider.

To me, your new song is essentially about a kind of intimate reconciliation, or trying to communicate and find kinship with someone despite conflicting personalities. Do you feel it's more open and vulnerable than "Looking at Myself?"

"Looking at Myself" kind of frames the whole relationship through my own self loathing, I'm not talking to anyone in particular because I'm too stuck in my own head, where as "Mornings" is kind of like a really long text message to someone specific. I think that they share similarities because it's always about wanting to improve but they're definitely artefacts from different mental states.

How often do you write songs?

I write songs all the time that are very unfinished or very bad in my opinion. I'm trying to find a practice or process that ensures I'm writing about things that I think are important but I find it very difficult. I have no musical training, I can't read or notate music and don't understand any musical theory so I'm relying very heavily on my ears when I write music which can sometimes make it difficult to write lyrics simultaneously.

Your new song is a bit more collaborative than you've been before, isn't it?

The song is co-produced by Strict Face, who took an early iteration of the track and gave it all of the incredible texture and tightness. I'm still finding new things that he added. It was really rewarding to have a completely different perspective that still felt connected to what the song is about and how I think it's supposed to feel. He has such incredible ears and ideas and has a great sense of dance and pop without that ever feeling simplistic or boring and I love what he did with "Mornings."

We've talked about how when cis people perceive performers that are gender non-conforming or non binary—or a bit more ambiguous—there's the sense that we're performing for "them" and we can't just exist in that undefined space without some kind of explanation or manifesto. How do you feel about this?

I feel annoyed most of the time. It's hard to explain because I can understand why people think that I'm doing like a drag thing or a political thing or whatever, something all about the binary and crossing it for humour, intrigue, entertainment, commentary but it's never about the act its only incidentally political or even interesting to people. I was interviewed recently and the interviewer wanted to know if I'd been bullied for dressing like this or being "outlandish" and I just see these tired narratives be pushed on queer people for the consumption of non queer audiences. I replied by saying "I can't remember" because I honestly can't or don't care to, it's not something I want to write about. I dress in a way that is all about how I want to feel and how I want to look it's really that simple to me. I'm sometimes actually surprised when people comment on it like it's about the act of putting on a dress as someone that was assigned male at birth when I just wish people would be like "you're so stylish." I find it complicated also because I don't identify as a woman and when people lump me in with trans women within the context of performance and music and fashion it can serve to delegitimise experiences that are not mine and that I'm not claiming. We just need more nuanced ideas about gender to find their way into daily life I think.

Do you think those reactions (from non-queer audiences) is a sign of unaddressed anxiety about gender non-conformity? I think the way some people respond to it seems to be overcompensating for their confusion or fear. Do non-queer audiences obstruct the authenticity or validity by projecting their gender anxieties onto a piece of art, or performance that isn't necessarily about gender?

I think people definitely want to name it when they see it, which is anxiety. Once they've named it they want to give it a meaning that fits the gender paradigm that they're most comfortable with, like someone crossing the binary in one smooth stride or someone making a political statement like Evan Rachel Wood at the golden globes. Non queer audiences aren't just obstructing the validity of that performer's experience or practice they're confusing everyone and putting words in the performer's mouth.

You've spoken about your training as a dancer before, but I'm interested to hear more about your history with it how you'd like to incorporate that more into your musical practice. Do you make music so that it can be danced to? What dancers (or dance/musician combos) inspire you?

I trained in ballet for 14 years until I was 18 and became fairly serious about making it my career throughout my teens. It ultimately proved too limiting for me, not as a form but as a culture and an institution, but dance has remained an important part of my life and what I do. I am really physical about music because I can't use theory to guide how I make it so dance always informs the songwriting and the songwriting resembles dancing in a lot of ways. I always think of Kate Bush learning to dance after her music took off and I feel like I'm working in the opposite direction which is really cool. I wouldn't say I make music to dance to, but I always hope people will want to dance to it.

In regards to what you said about assessing what you've done before it reaches an audience (things that are unfinished) do you feel like patriarchal standards limit women/trans/queer/nb people from "working things out" on a public scale? Do you feel like the stakes are higher for us when it comes to being imperfect/or being a beginner, something we all basically have to be before we become any good?

Because we are often already "working things out" in public (or alternatively, forcibly in complete private) we tend to be more aware of how things we do are seen and perceived by other people, which is a product of being scrutinised, ridiculed, hurt, belittled, threatened and killed. I think that women/trans/queer/non binary people, particularly those who are also people of colour or who have other intersecting experiences that cause them to have a harder time passing through life, always feel like they have to prove themselves, no matter how much self work is carried out to discard these feelings. This is why some queer people are forced to pander, compliment, assimilate and apologise in their work in order to gain a platform, and why so many talented, passionate people are deterred from ever participating. I think I will always feel like a beginner, no matter how long I do this for, and I will always feel like a bit of an imposter. That's not to say I don't have confidence in my creativity, by way of my immense privilege, but I think I will always feel that I have to prove that to people.

This question is a bit more general and ominous lol but - do you feel afraid of the future? Does anyone not feel scared? Are we all just pretending to not be? Where does your hope come from?

I feel intensely afraid of the future in every way but I am curious about what will happen next. There is dissonance between experience and the culture around experience, in how we frame and think about the experience of living, that comes from capitalism and it sends us reeling every day, it's pure fear. Maybe if you can avoid absorbing this you can avoid being afraid, but you have to let go of so much, I don't think I'm capable of it. My hope comes from seeing people be loving and mainly from seeing people make sacrifices to protect and serve something beyond themselves, it can be so hard to do this but I believe it is key.

Follow Gussy on Soundcloud.

All photos by Jonno Revanche