Scott Hardware and Ah-Mer-Ah-Su on the Triumphs and Pitfalls of Writing About Your Own Life

The friends also talk fame culture, Scott's new record, and much more.

Scott Hardware is a Toronto-based avant pop artist; Star Amerasu is an LA-based indie electronic artist who performs as Ah-Mer-Ah-Su. Scott’s new record Ballad of a Tryhard is out this Friday on Telephone Explosion, so to celebrate, the two friends caught up about it, and much more.  
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Star Amerasu: So you just released an album, right?

Scott Hardware: It’s coming out soon.

Star: Oh, it’s coming! I got the pre-listen!

Scott: You got the pre-listen!

Star: It’s very cunty-stunty, as the girls say. I listened to it two times over. It was a very good to listen to in the shower. 

Scott: I love that. Yeah, it’s like everyday music, I would say.

It was a departure in that way because — the other funny thing about you is that, I put out that record a hundred years ago [the Mutate Repeat Infinity EP] that not even, like, 10 Torontonians heard, but you wrote me about it back then

Star: With “New Money Walk”?

Scott: Yeah.

Star: Love that one!

Scott: Thank you. But anyways, I just feel like lyrically with this one, it’s not clever anymore. And I like it that way, I guess. I feel like I’m just moving further that way.

Star: Whereas you feel like the earlier works were closer to the reality that you’re experiencing? Is that what you mean?

Scott: Well, I just feel like maybe in earlier works, even though I’m really proud of them, there was probably an urge to talk about things in a macro way. But now it just kind of flies out. I was listening back to your records this week, and I would consider your lyric writing maybe almost journalistic a lot of the time. Is that — how do you self-perceive?

Star: I definitely agree with you. It’s often pages straight out of the diary, or like journal writings that turn into songs and lyrics. But that’s kind of the thing that we were talking about, which is taking that real lived experience and turning it into music.

Scott: I remember listening to “Klonopin” and being like, I wonder what her mom said to her… What did mom have to say? 

Star: Oh, my god, I played my mom that EP [Rebecca] and I remember she was like, “Oh, this is kind of sad.” And I was like, “Yeah, girl.” Trauma doll!

Scott: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I don’t think about that while I’m writing the songs, but I actually feel pretty awkward about certain things. Are there songs you have that somebody in your life knows that it was about them? 

Star: I mean, I’ve told guys, “Oh, this one was about you.” There’s one of my exes where there’s two songs written about him, and a third, that’s about him and somebody else that I just made into one person. Honestly. I feel a little bit like over that — devoting my energy to creating my art about somebody, or some experience specifically. Though, I do think that they make a good song. Like the songs in question, “Heartbreaker,”  and then later years later, “Fantasy,” are about the same person. I’m like, Wow, I can’t believe that person has influenced my art in this way, and that my songwriting is influenced by one person. But it’s really not the person. It’s the experience that I had, dealing with the emotions that this person brought up, right?

Scott: Yeah, that’s well put. But like, what about the satisfaction that they might enjoy, knowing that there’s one, two, three, four songs about them?

Star: They probably like that shit — these bitches are crazy, first of all. And second of all, we’re all lightly narcissistic, you know? I do think that the guys, like a lot of people, do like that sometimes. I wonder if Taylor Swift experiences that too. Though they get mad at her!

Scott: Yeah, I wonder at that level as well, if you’re already famous, it’d probably be hell. And also having, like, 20 million people on the internet putting snakes in your comments or whatever.

Star: Let’s talk about the culture of fame, and wanting to be famous, and what that means. How do you feel about the idea of notoriety and your music-making? 

Scott: You know, maybe I’m lying to myself when I say that I don’t think I value it really so much anymore. And that probably comes after years of my career not becoming some massive thing, but I’m actually really happy about it now. Really, the most important thing is that I can make nice records that I like. And so I’ve sort of eked that out for myself, and the rest is gravy on top. I mean, it would come with more opportunity and more money, but… I can chill.

Star: How long has it been that you’ve been a solo artist?

Scott: Solo, probably seven years. But, you know, I don’t foresee a pop off like that with this, or any record. So it’s not really a focus. But what about you? I mean, your name is literally Star.

Star: I don’t know. I remember a long time ago, my website used to be “makestarfamous.” And then after a year, I changed it, because I was like, No, I’m over it. I think a younger version of me equated the idea of fame with money, and having access and being able to feel secure with my finances. So I just was like, I need to be famous. that way I can afford these things. But in a world where you could be famous for falling on the street and somebody catches it on camera — you become a viral meme or whatever, and it happens that you get tagged, and now your whole life is about making funny videos or something like that — that’s a version of fame that doesn’t necessarily pay you much money. So I don’t know if fame is something that I actually want as much as I want to be able to afford my life and luxuries.

It’s such a weird thing to think that so many people can afford luxury things, but certain groups of people have to struggle in these ways. I don’t identify with struggling anymore, you know what I mean? Oftentimes, we’ve had to use these struggle bus narratives to try to sell our music and sell ourselves, but what does that do except keep us marginalized? Like, no bitch, I want coins and I want my art to be valued.

Scott: Exactly. Well, that’s actually a question I had too. I’m obsessed with your new EP [Hopefully Limitless], I think it’s so good.

Star: Thank you.

Scott: I thought to myself, Damn, she’s happy. And that’s not an easy thing to convey in art — it’s not easy to do well — and I think you totally did. I remember there was a time when everything that came out — if you were white, it was like, “Wow, you’re depressed,” or whatever.And it’s like, “No, I don’t want to talk about that!” I guess it relates to the whole life-in-music thing, because not only within the music is it laid bare, but also I feel like media outlets or whoever else have asked for super heavy-handed accounts of what the music’s about.

Star: Because they don’t want — well, this is a complicated thought. I’m going to sound like big brain for one second, even though, let the record show, I am smooth brain. My brain is smooth, I don’t have a lot of thoughts. 

Scott: [Laughs.] You’ve been trying to push that narrative for a minute.

Star: [Laughs.] I think we live in a world where activism under the constraints of capitalism now is something that corporations can get in on as a means of making money and selling you more stuff. Pride was one of the first things where LGBT rights, like, got the stamp of a bank — like a rainbow pin with a bank like logo on it. Or Coke will be like, “Yes, we’ll put a rainbow flag on it and just sell you the same shit.” And I think that trickles down into performative activism online, and then that trickles into media outlets then doing this thing where everything has to be this clickbait headline about struggle or trauma or all these things, because that is what sells. 

I mean, we live in a traumatic world, right? So a lot of people can identify with these things. But at the same time, I notice, personally, that I’m over it. Like, I would rather not. And for this last EP, I had a long conversation with a publicist like, “I don’t want the articles to have this language in it. I’m not going to answer questions about my trans experience,” and all these kinds of things that have nothing to do with what this music is about. 

I feel like in one article, I was talking about my album STAR and I said, “This album is about my experiences as a trans woman.” And then now if you Google me, every person says, “Oh, she’s making music about being a transgender woman! A black trans woman!” Everything. Every song, every single word I say now is about this identity, when actually it’s not. I said that once because that particular thing was about that. 

It’s weird to me, to think that our is defined by things that we cannot change about ourselves, like identity, sexuality. How do you feel like your work has been impacted by that?

Scott: Well, I’ve the privilege of it not being as reduced as yours, I can say that. Yeah. In fact, I always joke with my label whenever there’s a PR thing about to happen, I’m like, “Remember to tell them I’m gay!” [Laughs.]

Star: Yeah!

Scott: Like, give me my damn Pride circuit! But gays fully ignore me, all the way. But anyways — I remember writing songs in my early 20s and [having] this urge to be like, Oh, I don’t want to write a love song about “he,” or whatever. I don’t want it to be about that. But what you’re describing is something totally different. All my songs are about one man, my partner — or these ones, anyway — and I don’t really think twice about it. And I don’t know if one audience or another digs it or does not, but in the press, nobody bothers me about it, of course. 

Star: Wow.

Scott: Because I don’t think they even know, to be honest.

Star: Right. I think this is something interesting about the music world — you’re a white man who is making music, and you came up in a way that was about the music and not about your identity. And that is how I think music was, perhaps, 10 years ago. Current culture, internet culture, makes things always about identity, which I do think separates people. Because imagine 10 years ago, if at the start of your career, it was only about your sexuality — I honestly don’t think that you probably would have as much reach as you do now. Just because at that time, it wasn’t a thing to do to make money. So that’s why it’s like, you were literally just making music, and people identify with your music and view you as a talented musician.

Scott: Perhaps all 10 of them, yes. [Laughs.] But I know what you mean. It honestly must suck because, especially listening to your new record, it’s like, This is a happy woman. And the songwriting is just — they’re bangers. I feel like you were trying to communicate that difficult thing that I was saying, which was to make good music about being happy. Not in every moment of the EP, but you know what I mean? Like, “We Got It All” — there’s no underbelly there. So for then for somebody to bounce back about something you said in 2018…  I don’t know, it just sucks. I’m sorry to hear that.

Star: It’s life, and that’s OK. The through line for me is that I just have to assert myself, and know that I have that power. Especially because people are writing articles about me, and if I’m filling their LGBT quota for the month or whatever the fuck, it doesn’t matter. It’s still about me, and I am a talented enough person and I know that my contribution to society is much bigger than identity, and I can know that for myself and I don’t get bogged down by it. 

But I do love a good love song, and I love writing happy things. I felt like when I was listening to your album, there’s a lot of it too. It has this kind of sweetness to it, like summer love. Let’s talk about “Summer.” What is it about?

Scott: Well, I mean, going back to having people who might have a hard time hearing a song — essentially, my boyfriend suffered a crazy, traumatic loss in his family, and then two weeks later it was COVID. We were in Spain — we’d just moved, it’s a long story, but we were locked inside for two months and going through it. And so the album, essentially at every point I was trying to put positivity out, I guess. For him, less so for me. It’s very much a caretaking album. I was trying to imagine life as, “Oh, it’s all about how you look at it!” So that was sort of the vibe. “Summer” was about nostalgia, though, I would say, and reframing. That one’s not so much about a boy or anything.

Star: It’s a really good song. I like the idea of you wanting to make an album that’s like a hug, or something that does make you feel good listening to it, even if some of the songs are a little bit darker sounding. But overall, I left listening to it with a sense of like, OK, I feel good. I especially love that song “Summer,” because the ending of it is really good. Do you ever purposefully write something because you just want to curate a vibe?

Scott: You know what? For better or worse, I think I do. I’m definitely reacting to stuff in in my old work often, and what I see too much of. I know it’s not necessarily the healthiest impulse… I feel like people were arbitrarily making heavy or dark or intense music all the time, for these years that we’re talking about. I remember thinking I just wanted to poke through that blanket a little bit. I’m a lifelong contrarian, unfortunately — I feel like you are too a little bit.

Star: Yeah, totally. I’m like, These bitches are doing that? I’m gonna do this!

Scott: I feel like it’s not always a great way to move, but sometimes it just is. I don’t want it all to be reaction, and I don’t think it is. When it’s me at a piano, it’s just me at a piano, and that’s what’s happening. I kind of feel myself moving that way henceforth, like really kind of pure songwriting. I think songwriting has emerged over production as this thing I really love.

Star: There’s something to tapping into the creative ether and getting your head in a really dreamy space, and then channeling that into the [music].

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this record — remember the start of the pandemic, it was like, “I’m going to record a hundred records and blah blah blah!” Again, going through all that shit that me and my partner were going through and not being able to leave a literal confined space for two months, I was like, Yeah, I’m going to do… And then nothing. Actually, I just watched Real Housewives for, like, five months or something.

Star: Which franchises?

Scott: It’s gotta be Beverly Hills.

Star: Beverly Hills is number one. Number two now is Potomac for me, and number three is Atlanta.

Scott: Yeah, I love Atlanta.

Star: Sorry, derailed!

Scott: [Laughs.] But then on month six, I turned around and without even thinking about it, I had, like, 11 songs written. I felt like I hadn’t been doing anything and that, for the first time, showed me that it is really valuable to [take a break]. If you can — because we didn’t have a choice but to do fuck all — just for your brain to synthesize, essentially, while you’re not trying to make it do so. So it’s a goal now to carve out time to like live for a second and see what happens, play piano when I want to play. 

Star: Yeah, carving that space is important. But it is something where, we are people who are making art and aren’t people who have a lot of fiscal sponsorship behind the creation. 

Let’s talk about dreaming. What are some dreams for yourself? You’re releasing this album — what are your actual dreams for where you want your music to take you in the next year?

Scott: Oh, god, that’s so hard because I’ve mitigated so many expectations over the years that it’s like… 

Star: Don’t do the Canadian girl thing! Let it be free! Open the door girl. What’s there?

Scott: Oh, well, just like playing sold out rooms. Not stadiums, but people being like, “Oh my god, please come play, we love you!” [Laughs.] I always think of touring — some people manage to do it really easily, but [Canadians] can’t just go to the states and do it. We’ve got to buy these expensive visas for everyone in our band and shit. So basically, I play that fucking corridor between here and Montreal to infinity, and I save up a bunch of money and go to Europe, and just totally go broke trying to tour there. So anyway, that would be ideal to me. And that’s as much success as I want — I mean, I love lots of very famous bands, but I like a quiet career. I like a best kept secret, if I’m honest

Star: I know. As far as my music goes, I love being an NPR doll. I want to be a Polaris doll, not a JUNO doll, if you catch my drift. 

Scott: [Laughs.] Committing this to writing! I’ll take any Canadian award they want to give me.

(Photo Credit: Monica Maria Moraru)

Scott Hardware (aka, Scott Harwood) is a Toronto-based avant pop artist. His latest album Ballad of a Tryhard is out March 4, 2022 via Telephone Explosion.