The stairs wind down to a dark basement bar. It’s a tiny space with low, moody lighting and people spilling out the doorway. We’re late. We already missed five songs they tell us. We crawl our way over sprawling legs and shoes and find a spot on the floor, four feet from Scout’s mike stand. She’s wearing a midi, clingy, black jersey dress with spaghetti straps and moves sensually to the sounds of a string guitar and drum set. Her hair is tied back in a messy bun – she’s a peroxide blonde now. I’ve never heard her singing. The last time I hung out with Scout she was 16 and smoking cigars at a bar in Paris. She was shockingly confident and eccentric then, but this is an entirely new and upgraded Scout, a grown-up, sexy Scout with a voice that is about to blow me away.
Scout LaRue Willis always knew she could sing but it wasn’t until she started playing music with her band mate Gus Wenner that she, and the world, began to take things more seriously. Gus + Scout became a musical item in January while attending Brown in Providence and will be releasing a 5-track EP with a gig at Mercury Lounge on August 20th. Their sound is bluesy with deliberate, honest stabs at country, folk and old school rock ‘n roll. Their lyrics are heart wrenching, and conjure up images of homeless men named James, family members left on the side of the road, or desperate issues with phones not ringing and jeans too tight you can’t cross your legs, or worse, addicts so strung out they’re ‘Gone, gone, gone’. But before you think it, let me warn you, none of this is autobiographical. “The writing process is totally collaborative, and it’s done almost intuitively,” explains Scout. “You see, I don’t play an instrument so I will bring Gus a voice note on my phone with some lyrics and a melody and then we will finish the rest and he will figure out a guitar part. Or else he will have some lyrics, (one of the songs started as a poem Gus wrote for class) and I will make up a melody. Writing music with Gus is a really incredible experience, we are very much in each other’s heads.”
A week later I walk in on Scout doing embroidery work on a vintage pajama shirt she bought at Alissa’s on 25th Street. “I am one of those very secret arts and crafts people,” she winks when she sees the astonished look on my face. “It started with just mending my favorite white t-shirt and then it progressed into doing little designs here and there. I branched out into embroidering words – I made one that said ‘Fuck Off’ and a few for my band with ‘Gus + Scout’ on them. It’s fun, I like to personalize things.” She took a 1-bedroom sublet – “nothing fancy; it’s perfect for the summer” – in the East Village and has been spending her days scoring the best neighborhood coffee places – “Dunkin’ Donuts is not so bad you know” – and canceling dates – “I’m not really looking for a boy at the moment. I’m sort of into taking time for myself this summer. That said, boys who skateboard are a weakness of mine…”.
Scout and I spend the next two hours gliding in and out of kimonos, slinky silk slips and patched-up denim. She tells me she loves vintage lingerie (she would wake up at 7 AM to comb the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles), hates turtle necks and wears everything until it falls apart. “There isn’t really a “typical” Scout outfit (which Gus refers to as a “Scoutfit”),” she elaborates. “It really depends on the day, on my mood, on the last film I watched, on the weather, what city I am in. I am a very sensory person; smell and texture are very important to me. There is always a sort of wantonness about my clothing choices that provide the thread that connects it all together. It is about whatever will make me feel the most beautiful and confident that day. Sometimes that is my dirty white Vans with baggy jean shorts and a ripped t shirt and other times it’s a total Edie Sedgwick look with silk flats, leotard and a knit mini dress. I’m sort of all over the place.” This summer she’s channeling Brigitte Bardot and made herself adhere to a new rule: “If I wouldn’t want to wear it right out of the store then I shouldn’t buy it.” Ultimately it’s clear that the 21-year old’s style is a work in progress, a slippery slope where rebellion and individuality prevail. “I’ve never wanted to stand out but I guess it’s a product of my trying to develop a sort of disregard for the opinions of those who might try and judge me for the way I act or dress. When I was younger there were times that I dressed kind of extravagantly so that no one would question whether or not something was “too crazy for me.” I try my best not to care what other people think of me but I am very sensitive by nature so it’s an ongoing process.”