The idea that a relationship is a matter of fate is generally a concept reserved for movies, but sometimes a situation arises for which there is simply no better explanation. Such is the case with the pairing of Gus + Scout (Gus Wenner and Scout Willis) – a sanguine musical partnership that sounds as if it were all but inevitable.
“I was born in Hailey, Idaho,” explains Scout, “And Gus and his family lived on the same street. We kind of lost contact when we were little kids, only to meet again while we were both in college at Brown University in Rhode Island.”
“Even though we hadn’t seen each other for years, there was some immediate warmth and weird familiarity,” says Gus, “It seemed instantaneous. We just clicked.”
Not long after crossing paths again at school, the two began casually making music together, but it wasn’t until after a random bit of spontaneous songwriting that they realized the true nature of their musical relationship. “I was sitting on a stoop outside my apartment with a guitar, trying to finish a song I’d been working on,” says Gus. “Scout just happened to be walking by, so I yelled for her to come over and help me finish what I had started. In less than thirty minutes we’d written a song together called ‘Guilty Man’…At that point, it wasn’t so much about starting a band, but rather we couldn’t help but continue to write music with one another. It felt perfectly natural.”
Since the two began to spend the majority of their time at school playing music together, they decided to apply for an independent study to accommodate their new project; an endeavor that would give them course credit for working on new songs and playing them live each week for a group of professors. Though to the naked eye it seemed like an easy way to get a grade, the duo was able to fully focus their creative energies on the songs that would ultimately become their first recordings. “We took it very, very seriously,” says Scout, “I remember nearly coming to tears performing a song we had written called ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ in a large auditorium. The room was completely empty except for the two of us on stage and two course advisors sitting in the tenth row of seats.”
For Gus, who began playing the guitar at age 11, growing up in a house filled with music was a constant source of inspiration. “When I was younger, I was always interested in the history of rock and roll, doo-wop and soul music,” he says, “But it wasn’t until I started listening to Bob Dylan that I really understood what it meant to emotionally connect with a song. Dylan does it to everyone, I guess…the first song that Scout and I ever really played together was ‘Silver Wings’ by Merle Haggard, so that kind of set the tone for how our band would go.”
This fall Gus + Scout will release their self-titled debut EP; a five song collection of simple, country-inflected folk tunes that highlights Gus’ sense of melodic skill as a vocalist and guitarist and Scout’s sublime voice. Recorded at The Clubhouse in Rhinebeck, New York with producer Charlie Klarsfeld, the record showcases the honest and natural progression of the duo’s songwriting. On tracks like “Don’t Bother You Much” and “Gone Gone Gone,” you can hear the influence of the forlorn country of Jim Reeves or Gram Parsons with Scout’s voice like an emotional, distant cousin to folk heroines Barbara Dane or Karen Dalton.
“We really never had any agenda in regards to what sort of music we wanted to make,” says Scout. “Gus would start playing the guitar and we would start to sing and these were the kinds of songs and emotions that naturally came out of us.”
With this impressive introductory EP under their belts and another album’s worth of material ready to go, Gus and Scout are currently honing their live show, which now includes a full backing band. Both are eager to see where Gus + Scout will lead, but the two seem to relish playing music together over all else. “I want to make music that’s a little more lasting, that isn’t about a trend or fashion or wearing some sort of costume,” says Scout. It’s a sentiment echoed by Gus. “This isn’t about attempting to achieve a certain sound or to be perfect – we are just trying to communicate some genuine human emotion in the best way that the two of us can. Or, rather, the only way we know how.”