The blissful bittersweetness of EGOISM, dream-pop treasures

The blissful bittersweetness of EGOISM, dream-pop treasures

On their new EP On Our Minds, Scout Eastment and Olive Rush dissect the hardships of a rough year with a sound so happy you can barely tell.

If there’s one word that summarises EGOISM best, it’s wholesome. Anyone within the east coast’s DIY live music community would be quick to tell you that the inner-Sydney duo - composed of long-time close friends Scout Eastment and Olive Rush - are one of the most supportive forces out there, constantly uplifting other musicians within this close-knit community, even when the duo have releases of their own to promote. 

There’s also Tina, the 93-year-old neighbour (sort-of) living in the same building as Scout, who midway through our interview, climbs up the stairs in her stairlift to ask if Scout can help readjust her TV settings. “I live on the top half of her house, and there’s a bit of a deal that we can live here if we help her out with whatever she needs,” Scout explains. She quickly tells Tina that she’ll be down soon, then watches her travel back down the stairs until she reaches the bottom, at which point Scout knows she’s okay. “We’ve just got to make sure she gets off that last step okay,” explains Olive. Now, tell me that’s not the most wholesome thing you’ve heard?

In saying that, there’s another word that captures EGOISM brilliantly too, albeit more reflective of them as a band, rather than people. It’s bittersweetness; the contrasting balance of lightness and darkness which has defined much of EGOISM’s imprint in indie-pop since their break-out moment with 2018’s single Sorry. This sense of bittersweetness has become something synonymous with EGOISM, who with everything they’ve put out since their entrance into the indie-pop mainframe two years ago, have teetered on the edge of euphoria and catharticism; their work often being the bridge that unites these two cliffs together.

On the surface, EGOISM’s work is amongst the euphoric you’ll find. It’s blissful (for the lack of a better word), indulgent with hazy guitar melodies and lo-fi vocals that wrap around you with a warmth and comfort that makes every tone and every note feel so happily familiar with positive emotions. Underneath, however, is where the storm often looms - songwriting being a major process for reflection and introspective thoughts for both Scout and Olive; EGOISM, in a way, being a soundboard for their mental energy towards themselves, each other, and the greater world around them.

“It can be so therapeutic,” says Olive on their songwriting, which a lot of the time, sees the duo tap into their minds unsuspectingly, leading to full verses being written before the person that has written it even knows what it’s about. “I feel like we’re figuring things out and processing different situations or perspectives in real-time.” It’s a common trait between a lot of EGOISM’s work, even if it isn’t specifically sought out. “Sometimes when I write a song, I’ll have a melody for a section and suddenly these lyrics will come out, and I’ll be like ‘what does this mean?’ Or ‘what is this about?’, and you work out your thoughts and what you’re feeling from there.”

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On Our Minds, which arrived in early November, isn’t EGOISM’s first EP. In 2017, they put out a three-track release titled It’s Wearing Off, a collection of tracks recorded while Scout and Olive were still in high school. It’s so far removed from what they do now that they don’t really consider it a part of the EGOISM catalogue, which in their minds, properly opens with the release of Sorry in 2018. From there, however, things took off. The duo were one of BIGSOUND’s biggest successes in 2019 and likewise, they proved a success on triple j Unearthed too - being one of the platform’s highest-streamed artists come year-end. They became a bolstering success in community radio and DIY circles; their work shared in closed Facebook groups built to elevate independent musicians just as much as it was played by stations such as FBi (who had two EGOISM songs in their top 10 2019 most-played lists).

It’s Wearing Off is an important chapter in the EGOISM story, if anything as a point of contrast between the band they once were and who they are today. It provides an opportunity for them to reflect on their evolution, and how much they have grown both personally and musically in the space of just two years. “We’ve really grown a lot as musicians, and we actually know what we want to make now,” admits Scout. That’s something that shows not just in the shine of On Our Minds and how refined their songwriting feels comparable to their debut EP, but also in how they operate more generally speaking. “I think when you’re doing something as a young person, a lot of people try to help with the best intentions and be like “oh don’t do it like that, do it like this,” and you don’t really know how to avoid that,” continues Scout. “A lot of those decisions got pushed into that EP and when I listen to it now, all I can hear are those mistakes.”

Things have changed now, and the way EGOISM operate is so different to how they were as a high school band three years ago, where trying to wrangle together teenagers to make music was a near-impossible task. “A lot of our songwriting is intrinsically related to computers now, and we’re organising a lot of our songs and songwriting digitally,” explains Olive. “[Back then], it would be more about recording live in rehearsal, but now recording is a part of the songwriting process, and live rehearsals are more like ‘how do we translate this on a live stage and make it work?’.”

If It’s Wearing Off is EGOISM at their most adolescent, then On Our Minds is a massive step in maturity that shows Scout and Olive after a tremendous amount of growth, both musically and personally. On Our Minds consists of five tracks that feel synonymous with EGOISM’s bright sound, capturing the bliss of hazy indie-pop music and the washed-out melodies that dance amongst each other. Take their dueting vocals of What Are We Doing? and how they introduce one another before its final chorus amongst a bed of layered, twinkling melodies. On the EP-opening Here’s The Thing, Olive’s vocal gracefully hums amongst a flurry of bass guitar that gives the track an optimistic and upbeat push; YouYou sees Scout take the spotlight (as does Never Leave), while Happy blends them together again, the meeting point of Scout and Olive’s distinctive vocals finding lush harmony throughout the song’s pacing rhythms.

It’s an EP that moves between the two members and their respective stories to tell; sharing the time and space as the other member often supports and elevates the key focus and the messages packed within. They are there for one another - musically, personally - and that close connection shines throughout On Our Minds, and how the pair bounce one another in interviews. It shouldn’t be a surprise then, to know that Scout and Olive seemingly know everything about each other, and On Our Minds gives the opportunity for others to get to know them on such a personal level too, even if the album sounds surprisingly bright.

In truth, On Our Minds is rich with intimacy and vulnerability for both Scout and Olive, something which they masquerade through the record’s seemingly blissful sounds. Here’s The Thing, for example, sees Olive reflect on a time where their life was seemingly “caving in on itself,” an intense reflection of heartbreak that you barely get a peek of if you listen to the song with purely aesthetic, surface-level attention. You You and Never Leave bring similar moments for Scout, who dissects relationships, friendships and the loneliness attached to them through the very same euphoria we just mentioned.

It’s a masterclass in that aforementioned sense of bittersweetness, a complex mix of emotions that EGOISM are drawn to in making their own. “We really try to achieve this feeling of bittersweetness, despite it being really specific emotion,” explains Olive. “It’s like crying at the end of a movie that has a happy ending but still made you cry; it’s a real human emotion that is done quite well in a lot of albums we love as well.” There are other reasons too, like the fact that happier music often does better on radio, but a lot of it comes down to genuine feelings, and what they have the space to fit within five songs. “We have straight sad songs, but they usually don’t make it to the recording because they’re too on the nose, but I think you’ll hear [sadder] sounds when we write an album.”

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In saying that, it’s not entirely grim. There are positives that have come out of the EP’s recording and release, and learnings that shine amongst the bittersweetness of the record’s foundations. For one, there’s seeing people engage with the tracks and their stories, and freeing yourself of the ownership of these snapshots for people to interpret in their own way. At one point, we laugh about someone who messaged them on Instagram, saying they play one of the EP’s most depressing songs while playing frisbee with friends at the park - which leads to a bigger discussion about how the pair have learnt to let go of stuff more easily thanks to the songwriting and musical process.

There’s also moments of self-belief and empowerment too, the duo proving to themselves how far they’ve come in the space of just a few years; On Our Minds being resultant of an ongoing learning curve that’s occupied much of EGOISM’s past few years as a self-writing, self-producing band doing a lot of the leg work behind-the-scenes too. They feel like they’ve improved in polishing off songs and bringing stories together too; On Our Minds being a connected five tracks that weave amongst snapshots of Scout and Olive’s most personal moments, spread thickly amongst musical backdrops that shine with a happy euphoria that interestingly, feels like the defining linking point between each of the EP’s songs.

In the future, however, there are plenty more learnings to had. There are no doubts that Scout and Olive are sure to look more fondly towards On Our Minds in three years as they do their debut EP now, but there are still things that need tinkering away on, things that ensure EGOISM’s evolution beyond On Our Minds. “There’s definitely a lot of stuff that forays into new territory, but they’re all parts of that core EGOISM sound, which I think is quite defined by this EP,” says Olive, before Scout elaborates. “I feel like we’ve really developed and honed in on what we want our songs to sound like, and that means we can experiment a lot in how we do that and where we actually take things in the future.”

One thing is for sure though, and that is EGOISM’s charm will always be on feature display, no matter what they do.

EGOISM's new EP On Our Minds is out now independently. Catch them launch the EP with shows at The Lansdowne Sydney on December 18th (sold out) and 20th, supported by Ultracrush on both dates. Tickets to the second show available here.