Recently I got to sit down and chat with Derek Gust, a 21 year old Canadian singer originally from Edmonton. I got to hear an awesome new song he recorded at a friend’s studio a few days ago about marriage which he’s “particularly thinking about lately” as he recently got engaged. Derek knows it’s hard to start out in the industry “I’m just a little artist but knowing how to get it to the right people is always the interesting part” because you can have good songs but if there’s no one to receive them you won’t get anywhere.
Derek has seriously been pursuing music since he was in high school with a band. Peter Mol, now in Zerbin, was also in the Christian band that toured to 1000 to 3000 people a night. “It was a pretty big deal, that’s how we got our foot in the door.” There’s been hard work and it’s starting to pay off. “If you’ve never been to a studio you know what you want [your music] to sound like but not how to get there. When I first started recording I was like ‘oh I like this song, can we have something make it cool?’”
As we’re at lunch, what’s your favourite food?
DG: It depends on the day for sure, but grilled cheese and tomato soup is a solid option. A really nicely done salad is sweet. Ummm, I like food. I’m not too picky.
What animal are you most like?
DG: A liger. But not actually. I’m like a baby black bear. A cub, a bear cub. Because I like to play, and I have black hair, and they’re cute.
Tell me a little about the song you showed me.
Derek Gust: I wrote that song in about nine minutes about a week ago. I emailed Jason [Zerbin] like ‘hey, I have a couple free days, can I come to the island to record?’ and […] then probably about a week before we’re in the studio I realized I never wrote a bridge. So I’m in the studio, I write a bridge that ended up being a verse because it was too long but I liked it so I strummed a bit more and the song was made. Your potential in the studio for your songs… a good song could be made great or made meh, it’s kind of scary sometimes.
How did you get into music?
DG: I started playing with worship bands in church during junior high, my family is pretty musical and when I was sixteen my dad was the pastor at this church with 2000 people or so, it was a pretty big church. This one Christmas Eve service this guy named Greg Chevelle came and played and I played bass for him the whole weekend. I really enjoyed the arts part of it, and then the hanging out with a bunch of cool musicians talking about fun stuff… It’s pretty cool, it just kind of evolved. It lead to some soul music as I played in some other bands, one because it gives me contacts, two I like playing bass, three they’re solid guys. I’m not … if i don’t become famous I’m not upset by that. It would be sweet to make a living and support a family with it, but I’m very lucky even to be doing it at this stage.
What instruments do you play?
DG: I play guitar as my main one, I’m really comfortable on piano and bass… Drums, we all kind of play those. Peter is really good on drums, me and Jason just kind of… we can hold our own, we can fake it to someone who doesn’t know that we’re good, which is all you need to do.
Do you get stage fright?
DG: *shakes his head* I’ve been on them like, a thousand times, especially playing bass… my mind is thinking about so many other things like “what are we going to do after? I wonder what’s going on outside? I think I’m going to get a salad after we play… What’s Pete doing? Pete looks like he’s being a goof, I’m gonna go over there and be a goof with Pete.” If you’re good at what you do hopefully you come to a place where you don’t have to think too much to do it or else you won’t be freely engaged with a crowd. If I play my live shows by myself often I’m watching the audience and gauging what they’re into. Like, should the next song continue to be upbeat and really engage them or bring them down, are they ready for a soft moment, or are they rowdy and I should not bring it down at all? Can they handle a story? Do they want lots of stories? Some crowds… I often play the song I wrote for my fiancé live and I tell the proposal story and, not exaggerate but tell it dramatically, sometimes stories are just as good as a song.
As a fan I enjoy hearing stories because it makes you feel more connected…
DG: Yeah! Then you’re not hiding behind the mic, or not letting you into their life. I agree, all the concerts I grew up around, my favourites were people who could captivate you by talking and telling you a story and then if they have a good song on top of that that ties in it’s like WOAH. If not, a good song is a good song, but it’s cool if you know the song then go see them and like ‘oh, that’s why you wrote that’.
What was your first concert?
DG: I honestly don’t remember, it was probably this folk arts guy from Winnipeg named Steve Bell, it was probably him at my dad’s church. He’s a little old school now, he’s like 50 or so but a super good guitar player slash storyteller. That’s why people go, to hear him talk.
Do you prefer performing solo or playing in a band?
DG: It has different perks to both of them. Cool thing about solo is that I can do what I would like to do, so whether that’s telling the stories I want, choosing the songs I want to play, or even just talking about whatever I want to talk about… I like to have more of a purpose behind my shows because I’m a Christian, whether it’s about love and encouraging people or about Christ. Obviously there’s a time and a place for that and a bar isn’t the place to do that, but you can still be who you are more. At the same time a band is fun because you’re with friends and you’re making music collectively and it’s more of a group community thing which is cool. Obviously it has it’s hard things too because you have to split money, and money always gets to be a complication in bands and who’s spending time on what. I found that most bands work best if the frontman is leading things. At least for me, maybe some work better where it’s equal, but it’s worked better for me in my experiences that the front man is the leader and everyone else is more supporting. Where he writes the songs and knows what he wants to do, because often when bands don’t have a strong front man they’re directionless because I might be the bass player and I might know what I want to do but it’s awkward coming from the bass player if he’s running the show.
What are your favourite songs to perform?
DG: Open Your Eyes is fun because it has a sweet participatory clap section. I Do is fun… There’s this one called Humble Horse which is fun. There’s this song called Butterfly, the organ version of it, where I play everything all at once. My right hand is doing something on top of the organ, my left hand on the bottom part of the organ and there’s a beat machine on the organ and my feet are playing the bass and I’m singing on top of it which is cool stuff. Have you seen Intimate? In that one I do a bunch of looping which is fun.
You said you don’t need to get famous with this, but where do you want this to go?
DG: It would be sweet to make a living and support a family off of this and I’m getting close to that point already, and I think the more I do it and the more I enjoy it the more I’d like it to become like that. It takes a while for sure. The band fun. has been playing for ten years and it’s only within the past few years where they’ve really got famous.
If you didn’t make this your career what would you do instead?
DG: I’d become a worship pastor director. My fiancé is playing her last year of serious volleyball, so she plays UBC and stuff and is really good, but she’s a respiratory therapist at a hospital and she has a sweet job at that. So between the two of us… it’s okay. But it’s always fun driving around and hearing my songs on the radio so I’m not against getting famous, I just want to make sure that in my heart I’m a humble dude and not some kind of ‘look at me’ famous dude. I’ve seen some people be affected by it and I’ve felt kind of bad for them and bad for their friends.