behind the scenes of deb never's 'ugly' video
The artist talks to director Gus Vita about her early 00s influences and dressing up as a dog.
Photography Michael Washington
Deb Never’s new music video for "Ugly," directed by Gus Vita reminds us of simpler, pre-internet times. Referencing the debauchery of early 2000s music videos like "Bad Touch" by Bloodhound Gang and "Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm, "Ugly" brings us back to the days of eagerly awaiting a live music video release on TRL, escaping into a seemingly alternate universe; in this case one full of fluffy dog costumes, playing pranks on neighbors, and longing for an unattainable hottie.
"Ugly" also speaks to an often hard to articulate yearning we have all felt, when a relationship feels like it’s starting to unravel. This juxtaposition of the despondent lyrics to the comical visuals is part of Deb's enigmatic appeal. Describing her melodies as something you can both cry and dance to, Deb continues to play with the duality of hard and soft.
We sat down with Deb and Gus to discuss how their worlds collided, their creative approach, and how creating something beautiful is more fun when you add a hint of ugly.
How did you two meet and how did you end up working together?
Deb Never: I’m pretty sure you were wearing this exact same outfit when we met [laughs]. I think we met through my manager.
Gus Vita: Yes, Mike reached out, we had talked about videos in the past but had never actually done one together and then he saw the DJDS videos I did and we started talking about Deb.
D: I had this idea for the video for "Ugly" and I was like we need someone to understand the vibe because saying it in words was so stupid; it was 5 grown adults in dog suits, so I was like we need to find someone that will be able to understand the early 2000s references and be able to execute it. So then we met and it was love at first sight. The loose idea was already set and Gus and I fleshed it out- the detail, the story line, and how it was going to flow.
Where did you get the inspiration to go for the late 90s early 00s aesthetic?
D: The song "Ugly" to me feels very current. It’s sad lyrically but it has an 808 it makes you want to dance. So when you initially hear the song you get sad, but I thought if I’m going to do a visual for it I don’t want you to be able to predict what you’re going to see just from listening to it. I wanted to do something different where it’s fun to watch and will keep you enthralled for three minutes despite the song being sad. So having the video that does the opposite of the lyrics is exciting and so unexpected — it catches your attention.
G: When management sent me " Ugly" I had all of these ideas as I was familiar with Deb’s aesthetic. Then they were like we want to do kind of like a Bloodhound Gang feel where everyone is wreaking havoc. That kind of conflict amongst creating an early 2000s punk pop music video matched with this kind of song is actually really fun and playful.
Gus what inspired you about Deb as an artist?
G: Honestly I just love her music. I find it so anthemic and beautiful — there is a certain pain and angst in it, but once we started working together I realized Deb is just a warm person and she couldn’t be less unapproachable. It’s a dream collaboration, and creatively I’ve always liked WEDIDIT. I loved the D33J video, so the minute I had the opportunity to work with you I was like damn this is sick.
D: This speed date is going really well (laughs).
What scene was the most fun to film?
D: Honestly all of it. It was two days and there wasn’t a single moment where I wasn’t having fun. My favorite part was probably being with all of my friends and running down the street and the the backyard dancing.
Gus: There was this beautiful moment in the afternoon I had everyone running and riding the bikes up and down the street to the point where finally I was deep in a groove and I lost track of the fact that they had been working really hard, doing like 200 yard sprints up and down and out the street then of nowhere this ice cream truck pulled up and the owner let us have free reign of the truck for 20 minutes, which was a dream as far as production value. It was surreal and everyone got ice cream. It was the boost we needed to go into day two and keep spirits high. The best part is that the ice cream truck had a B rating which is honestly so tight.
Deb you just came off your first tour with Tommy Genesis how was your experience?
D: It was incredibly fun. A really good first tour experience except I got sick before and I stayed sick the whole time. But besides that everything was great; Tommy’s fans and crew are incredible.
It was my birthday while on tour and I completely forgot. I’m about to load my things in and I hear Tommy on stage being like, “where’s Deb Never?!” and I’m like oh shit what do I do, she almost sounded pissed. So I run back inside and she spots me, pulls me up on stage. I go up there and she brings out a huge cake and I was still confused because I genuinely didn’t remember it was my birthday till that moment. Then everyone sang Happy Birthday and it was dope.
How do you feel like you are evolving as an artist?
D: I feel way more confident because I’m more comfortable with what I’m making and I’m able to freely explore and experiment with my sound. I feel like before I was, not unsure, but closed off to just making the kind of music that I make in my bedroom and now I have a whole new perspective and I want it to go bigger. Sound wise, visuals, everything. I feel like I’m growing, knowing what I want, and leading with direction. I’m moving more from lo-fi; I want to have a presence.
Do you think about you’re visuals when you’re recording song?
D: I think part of me, even if I don’t concisely think of it as a music video, does have a visual of a song, what it makes me feel or what i’m seeing when i’m making it. Visuals are a big part of music because I want you to experience the song I don’t just want you to listen it. When I’m making the song, I’m experiencing in a way and I want others to see that.
When I’m recording it I’m putting a lot of focus in just the music but I’m realizing for example, this part of a song reminds of me of when I was in a blue room, just random shit like that. But if that’s what I’m thinking it at first when I’m recording it I want to translate it.
You worked with Dylan Brady for the first time on this, what did you take away?
D: I love the guy, he is an alien sent from the heavens. He’s so cool and really chill and so down to work on anything. He’s very experimental, its so fun working with him because you learn a lot of different sounds that you wouldn’t otherwise. He likes to mess around and make weird music and for me that’s fun because I feel like I’m so in this mode and he’s willing to throw a wrench in it and be like let’s make it weird.
At the end of the video when you get hooked on the leash, does that have a double meaning?
G: The song lended itself to like this kind of build and drop. It has this epic shred and a symbol hums out. I think it sort of again it fits this world we were kind of building which is just like being a pimply teenager and the hot girl is like just out of reach and you think you have it but you’re still on the leash. I think it’s just so relevant to growing up, relationships, and the chase.
D: It’s always almost. Even with the song, that scene happens in the last, “you don’t want me but I need you,” and it’s like this fuck, this longing, I tried but it’s just like, you’re stuck.
Deb can you tease us on any upcoming music you have coming out?
D: I have an EP coming out in the summer, it’s more of an experimental EP. Not the genre but each song is so different yet they all go together and live in the same world. It’s going to be interesting to see because some of them are very boppy and fun and then there are some in there that open up to beautiful strings. It’s my way of releasing all my different types of songs.
- Deb Never