Habit Binge

Scruffpuppie is the emo-pop powerhouse signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ new label

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It’s mid-October and Scruffpuppie, aka JJ Shurbet, is cooped up in a New York Airbnb. Their backdrop is decorated with empty anodyne cream walls and a box-shaped room, leaning forward, the singer’s signature lilac tone hair comes into the frame. The last year for the 20-year-old has been an overdrive of exposure. A rising self-made star, Scruffpuppie’s name made rounds on the internet before it began to hit the mainstream. With over half a million views on their YouTube and promising presence on Soundcloud, it was only a matter of time until the Gen Z grunge-pop genre shifter got picked up. The singer’s debut Zombie Boy cemented her as one to watch, while her newer projects have reaffirmed her creative ingenuity as a dynamic front wave prodigy. Now, with a new full-length record on the way, under the watch of sad pop phenomenon Phoebe Bridgers, Scruffpuppie unpacks how drug dependency, internalised transphobia, and growing up shaped their outlook on music.

“With everything happening with the album and all the singles coming out, things are really starting to pick up the pace. This album is something that I have been really excited about,” JJ nods over Zoom. It’s late morning and JJ is, confessionally, exhausted, she casually mentions, smiling, pushing her spikey pastel purple fringe out her eyes; a habit she does throughout our chat. Despite the gruelling schedule, they are pleased things are starting to move ahead, especially, when she reveals the record was finished early “from March to April of this year”. Her new record, a mesmerising multitude of folk, grunge, and acoustic inspirations, is a testament to Scruffpuppie’s evolved sound. “It’s a collection of songs that I’ve worked on for a little over two years,” the 20-year-old tells GAY TIMES. “A lot of them are adapted, especially since getting sober, since coming out as trans, and being more open about my sexuality and my identity. A lot of people are getting to see a completely different side of Scruffpuppie.”

GAY TIMES sat down with the promising artist to learn more about reconnecting with their fanbase, writing new music, and joining the acclaimed Saddest Factory Records roster.

You grew up in Paris, Texas, in a Christian home. How did that personal environment mould you as an artist? 
I grew up going to church every Sunday and I absolutely dreaded it, except for when they would do worship. I am not a Christian person anymore, but specifically the way the music made my parents feel. That was the first thing that made me realize, ‘Oh wow, music that can make people cry, music can make people feel something, and that’s a beautiful fucking thing’. It’s what began to spark my love for music and love for the emotion that can be portrayed in music, regardless of whether it sticks strictly to Christianity or to anything else. Growing up in a Christian home wasn’t easy at all, having very strict parents. When I first started having the courage to come out and say I’m not straight, my parents were very against it at the time. That was when I was really young. So they thought I wasn’t old enough to determine that for myself yet which is clearly something that fucked me up. 

A lot of my childhood established a lot of internalised homophobia and transphobia because my parents made me feel like it was wrong to feel that way. With the new album, my song October 14, talks a lot about my relationship with myself and becoming more comfortable in my identity and in my sexual orientation. Talking about how it was talked down upon and it’s cool that I  adapted the song to talk about that because that song has made me cry for hours and hours. Originally, it was a song that didn’t mean anything that I just wrote a tiny baseline on in 2019. That song is definitely the most expressive about my identity and my orientation. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to write that song if it wasn’t for being raised in a Christian house.

You started out as an internet wunderkind making hits on YouTube and Soundcloud. Now you’ve signed to Phoebe Bridger’s Saddest Factory Records, do you feel your relationship with fans has changed at all?
It started changing as I continuously gained more traction from YouTube and started coming to California and doing things more on a professional level. When I first started out, I was just doing it for fun, and the views and stuff, that was not a bonus. I began developing a vision for what I wanted to do because everything that I was doing by myself, it was good, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted everybody to hear what I was doing. It has been hard, the difference and the interaction with my audience. I have lost a lot of loyal followers because I’m not as interactive. I still try to be it’s just not as easy as it used to be. Especially since there’s so many now, on YouTube and everything like coming out as trans and everything. Like, there’s a lot of people that like, are non-supportive of that and want me to go back to how I was two years ago. The Scruffpuppie who was writing songs in her basement two years ago, is still writing songs but in a basement somewhere else.

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