Pulse 2023

An Interview with Kitty Grim

by: Kate Duggan

When you tumble into the rhythms of Gus Grass, you’ll definitely want to stay along for the ride. After performing at PULSE event Blind Date with a Book, we decided to sit down with them and wade through the wilderness of the track they submitted to us, ‘Overgrown’.
Interview conducted by Music Coordinator Kate Duggan on April 20, 2024.

PULSE: Right away, ‘Overgrown’ evokes very strong wildlife imagery. The entire song just makes me think of running through a forest that’s damp from the rain. Taking your name, Grass, into account as well, I’m curious if all of your work connects back to the land in that way?

GUS GRASS: I definitely hope for it to. I think that [the land] is one of my biggest inspirations. I think that specifically with this song I’m trying to talk about a sense of being present, and I think that that’s definitely when I’m able to access the most presence, is when I’m with the land and in nature. I do really love that image of running through a damp forest, I’m very glad that that’s what the song evokes. I definitely want to access that feeling of growth and interconnectedness.

P: Even the title, ‘Overgrown’, everything reaching that space of wilderness that’s completely untouched. That’s why I picture running barefoot through mossy, wet forest. I could envision the eventual music video.

GG: I love that - you’ll direct it. I love the image too of when you’re walking around and you see houses in the city that are covered in vine, yeah overgrownn with vines. I think I just love the idea of letting the Earth take over the things that we’ve created instead of making space or destroying things so that we can build. I love that idea of letting it take over and overrun things.


P: Your lyrics have, in my opinion, the best of both worlds, in that you’ve written really strong, vivid imagery that also tell a story. It’s not exactly linear, but we’re taken on a journey. I love that you’re able to blend those two modes of lyricism. I’m curious as to who some of your musical influences behind that are?

GG: I knew you would ask this and I’ve been so excited! One person who I’m listening to a lot right now who really inspires me is Adrianne Lenker, who I think is an incredible songwriter and evokes such a feeling of tenderness in their music. I also love Fiona Apple for her unconventional uses of sound and experimenting. And another huge one would be Joni Mitchell.

P: I could tell!

GG: Well that’s the biggest compliment if you can tell! Yeah, I love Joni Mitchell. Her melodies especially are something that really stick with me a lot. I think when I listen to Joni’s music it doesn’t feel like the lyrics are separate from the melody, if that makes sense. I feel like sometimes there are songs where you could take the lyrics and make a different melody with them, and that could also feel right. But with Joni’s it just all feels like one entity, where the words move with her voice and it just feels like all one movement together. And I love that.


P: Thematically, I picked up on a sort of chaotic passion within a romantic relationship in the lyrics of ‘Overgrown’. What stood out to me were the pre-chorus lines “I’m just along for the ride” and later “What’s so wrong with right now”. I loved your note choices and sense of dynamics, I felt that they conveyed a really refreshing defiance. What was your inspiration behind it all?

GG: I think that the inspiration behind it is that it starts out with that feeling of going on autopilot in your day-to-day. Just kind of falling into these patterns and feeling outside of your body in that way. And then when it gets to the pre-chorus, “I’m just along for the ride”, it’s this surrendering to the rhythms of life. The vocalization of it is kind of like a release. It starts with that stuckness, but then recognizing ‘I have agency’. Where I do get to choose what happens in my life and how present I am in my day-to-day, and surrendering to that.

P: That’s such a great description of it. I think that really speaks to that image of things being overgrownn. Like you’re a bystander in your own life, and then when you turn and look at it again it’s all covered in vines and completely taken back.

GG: Yes, I love the connection of those two images.


P: You’re a very, very talented vocalist.

GG: Thank you!

P: You’re welcome, I’m curious if you’re trained at all?

GG: My background has mostly been in music theatre. I have had some vocal lessons when I was younger, but I started getting into more “proper” vocal training when I was auditioning for the arts high school I went to. Most of my vocal training happened there; I was in the music theatre program, so we had music theory and vocals classes, and I got a lot of great training from there. But also, being in a competitive environment where everyone is doing music theatre, and dealing with typical high school stuff, it was not the most uplifting environment. I don’t think I ever really felt like… I know I felt like I could sing and I did enjoy singing, but I think it was only really after high school that I came into my voice more. I still continue to do music theatre and I feel like that has strengthened my voice more. My training was definitely a lot different from the folk-y stuff that I write now, but I think that I was able to learn a lot of technique from music theatre that I keep with me. My sense of confidence, coming into my voice more, finding the kind of sounds I like. But I think that only really started after I received more formal training.

P: You have very good control of your voice. When I listened to you record the vocals, I was like come on, diaphragm! Let’s go!

GG: Ha!

P: But I understand what you mean. With musical theatre, as fun as it is, you’re singing someone else’s songs. When you write your own music, you get to use your instrument the way that you want to do it.

GG: Exactly. When we write our own music, we get to use our own voices in the ways that are most comfortable and exciting to us, we can test the limits on our own terms, and I think that’s definitely when people’s voices sound the best. It’s fully up to the songwriter. I think music theatre can be very limiting. Now there are some newer musicals that are changing the definitions of what we think theatre sounds like, but typically I think of that mezzo-soprano sort of… I mean, you already know.

P: Oh I do. The Christine Daaes and whatnot.

GG: Exactly.


P: What do you write first: lyrics or music?

GG: Ooh. If anything, I’m inconsistent. It definitely depends. With ‘Overgrown’, it started out with lyrics. Usually some lyrics will come, and then that will inspire a melody, and then with that melody in mind I’ll keep writing. But I think the process of writing this song was having little poetic lines here and there and pulling them together. I think “tumbling into rhythms like glass in the sea” was from one idea, and then the “thighs get warm and tender” chorus was from another separate idea, and then the final process of writing it was sort of like quilting. Taking these different thoughts or sentiments that I had written, and realizing that they actually have connecting threads, which I think is a very fun aspect of poetry - taking those seemingly very different images and finding the through line.


P: Do you have any recurring themes that come up in your writing?

GG: One is the desire to be more present, which was definitely there in ‘Overgrown’. Another one is the idea of being with the land, which we brought up earlier. I think that those are the two big ones: the desire to be present, to be really feeling and experiencing the things that happen in life instead of just existing in them, and those elements of land and nature. Singing and making music makes me feel present and puts me back into my body. What comes to mind is when I was in a second-year Art and Social Change class; I did a fundraiser EP called Stories on Stolen Land, and it was to raise money for the Indigenous land defender groups 1492 Land Back Lane and Braided Warriors (Braided Warriors have disbanded since then). In the process of writing those songs, those themes were present. A lot of it was connected to climate justice and the land. Also activist movements, and thinking through what it means to be a settler on stolen land. I think a lot of that forced a sense of presence.
And then, I wrote another song separate from that EP in another class. I was taking one of Susan Blight’s classes, I think it was Language and the Land, and for one of my assignments I wrote a song about Taddle Creek. I still feel connected to that song. Taddle Creek used to flow through the whole city, but is now buried under concrete, and one of the only places you can still see part of it is in a gated community. And so part of the process of writing that song, aside from the research, was about being present within that place, really being there with it and what came up. It definitely conveys a combination of those two themes that come up a lot in my music: to be present, and also to recognize this vast, incredible history in front of us and not just think ‘oh, this is a pretty little ravine’ or whatever. There has been so much here and there’s still so much here, and I want to recognize that and not just become accustomed to it.

P: Not just become complacent.

GG: Yes, exactly. I feel like that’s what I’m trying to do - resist against complacency.


P: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

GG: Free Palestine. That’s what’s been majorly on my mind recently. My other piece that’s going to be in the print edition of Pulse speaks to that more directly. And for the readers who will see my piece, I hope that they can connect to that as well. Free Palestine.

Gus Grass can be found on Instagram @gus.grass, and their EP is available to be streamed at https://grassuniverse.bandcamp.com/album/stories-on-stolen-land.