If you’re not fully prepared, scruffpuppie’s music has the ability to completely disarm you. Disguised within upbeat, raucous instrumentation are tales of real hurt, with JJ Shurbet’s autobiographical experiences laid out in plain, harrowing detail. Today, she’s announced her new album letters to nobody with the single “wondering how” — the record is due out January 28th via Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records.
Like previous singles “assignment song” and “paint”, letters to nobody is an enthralling listen that sonically bounces between Elliott Smith-inspired folk, modern-day pop-punk, and hyperpop to create a soundscape that’s unlike anything you will have heard. The record is very heavy on the lyrical front, as it details Shurbet’s stay in rehab in 2019 that led to her sobriety following years of drug abuse amidst her sudden rise to fame after the release of their debut project zombie boy. At times, listening to letters to nobody feels like you’re reading the diary of someone you love, exhibiting a level of vulnerability and outright bravery that makes Shurbet an incredibly compelling figure to root for. In conversation, she is a giddy, honest joy that is eager to explain everything about the new record and how they got to where they are now. Check out the video for “wondering how” below, and keep scrolling to read our interview with JJ about letters to nobody:
How are you, JJ?
Things are really good — everything is starting to roll along pretty quickly with the release of “paint” and “assignment song”. I’m really just ready for everyone to hear the whole project. The singles are good, but everything else is better; I don’t think they do as much justice as the whole album does in one sitting.
Something that I’ve loved about the rollout of this album so far has been the incredible music videos that you’ve constructed for the first singles. How did those first few videos come to be?
I’m so incredibly glad to hear that! Me and my creative director Mowgly [Lee] started as business partners but have become closer and closer as friends. That friendship has been crucial for the ideas we’ve executed for scruffpuppie — for both videos, we both had these ideas of putting on a performance in some respect. For “assignment song” I had this idea of just playing it straightforward in a studio — obviously, we stuck with that to an extent, but Mowgly had a different vision that he helped us put together. That’s the kind of theatrical narrative-led idea that you see in the finished product.
“paint” was different. It was a performance video, but we wanted to make it more symbolic because of the heaviness of the song and the pain that I was trying to get across. It’s a painful song, and the video just needed explicit imagery to represent that. So, you know, there’s the image of a dress with arrows in the back, and a spotlight shot of me, red paint for blood, and the like. I actually probably owe Mowgly a deposit because I painted over an actual wall instead of the wallpaper for that video (laughs).
How did you get linked up with Saddest Factory Records?
Basically, I came to California a week after I came out of rehab, recorded a song with Marshall [Vore, Phoebe Bridgers’ drummer and longtime collaborator], and then my manager was like “you have an interview with Phoebe today at 2” and I was like “Phoebe BRIDGERS?” and he was like “yeah”. (laughs) So, I went out to get vegan doughnuts with Phoebe and her crew and it just instantly felt like a family. I was very starstruck at the time, but now she feels like a friend, so it’s really cool.
Your journey has been pretty long and winding, and I think the record deals with that through much of the subject matter. But, I’m curious — how do you think your process has changed between Zombie Boy and this new album, if it’s changed at all?
Yeah, it did change a lot. A lot of the letters to nobody songs were made with the same process I use now — sitting down by myself, working with a chord progression I like, and piecing it together day by day. Sometimes it takes even longer, like a month or so to bring a track to its completion.
Most of the zombie boy songs were fueled by drugs — going on days-long benders and shit. I would kind of just take what I could find, whether it was Adderall, or meth, or Xanax — again, literally whatever I could get my hands on — and I’d go for like three or four days at a time where I’d record these really long recordings of me spitballing lyrics over a guitar. From there I would, like, listen through those recordings and pick the pieces that I liked, and then I’d write them down and put them together and have a song. It was a very stressful process — obviously, I thought it was cool as shit at the time because I was high and out of my mind, but I tried that process lately without the aid of drugs and it just doesn’t work the same. I thought those songs came from the heart, but really it just came from that idealization of being high and wanting to kill myself. And I think that came through on my earlier material — my earlier stuff really ties into the theme of being hopeless, but I feel like this album has a lot more hope within it, so it was somewhat free to move away from that process.
Was there a moment for you where that hope appeared while you were constructing letters to nobody?
I wasn’t anticipating making a record when I cut “assignment song”; that was the first song I wrote after getting sober. I got out of rehab, didn’t write anything, and then I got in the studio with Marshall and tracked “a lesson to the moon”, and I realized that I wanted to make an album that was hopeful and had that feeling of hopefulness as the theme. “a lesson to the moon” was a song I wrote a long time ago, but the way we reworked it turned it upside down and sent it in this new direction that was just filled with hope rather than being hopeless. Continuing to make this record was just really cool because I felt like I really unlocked this part of me that getting sober unveiled, and I placed that into the art I was making.
Obviously, this record and your story are super heavy. I’ve talked with artists before about the idea of this soul-bearing type of lyricism being either cathartic or difficult to really tap into.
It’s extremely cathartic for me. That’s kind of been a requirement of my own, to be honest — ever since I started writing music for me or for other people, it’s like I have to get it out there. The points where I was at rock bottom are things that I feel like people need to hear about, and they’re also things I need to remember myself in order to compare the now with the then. While the theme in my music has always been hopelessness, it’s always created a bit of hope to write about these things that are reflective of where I’ve been with my life and where I’m going.I used to get a very frequent comment on YouTube that called me “people’s antidepressant”, and even though I hated it, that was something that kept me going: knowing that I might be helping somebody. It feels like my small piece of doing what I can while I’m suffering to help people.
I also love how sonically varied this album is; on “feeling better”, it’s 100 MPH hyperpop, and then “wondering how” is an emo banger.
(laughs) “feeling better” wasn’t supposed to be on the album! It was just a song I made on my computer with one of my friends, and that was something I wanted to include really badly, but I knew it was going to be a hard sell with my fans. I’ve made hyperpop on the side for a while now and I think I’ve lost a lot of my fans because of it (laughs). We weren’t going in any specified direction when we were writing the record, and I showed Marshall the song early on and he was like “I think this is my favorite song you’ve ever written.” (laughs) So we cut it while still blending it with the indie-folk vibe that the entire album was getting. A lot of the songs do bounce around with that sort-of pop-punk energy, but we definitely didn’t plan it — it was just super organic that everything came together like it did.
Where did the name letters to nobody come from?
You know how we were talking about earlier that one of the reasons I write music is because it’s cathartic for me and the people that might have experienced similar events as me? I can’t remember when it happened, but there was a gut feeling that it’d be a good name because it was a letter to everybody — the very nature of releasing music — but also nobody in particular. I want this music to hit people in a big way, and I hope that anyone who hears it just feels something.
Check out some newly announced tour dates for scruffpuppie below, and preorder letters to nobody here.
2/20 — San Francisco, CA — Rickshaw Stop
2/22 — Los Angeles, CA — The Echo
2/25 — Toronto, ON — Hard Luck Bar
2/27 — Brooklyn, NY — The Sultan Room
2/28 — Chicago, IL — Schuba’s Tavern