I first encountered OutWest back in March at a warehouse show in the middle of South Los Angeles. They arrived slightly late to their set, both of them adorned in full-on Western garb, brandishing ten-gallon hats, bolo ties, and cowboy boots to match. It was a lineup full of emo and alternative rap acts, and they stood out wildly from the kids in fishnets, ripped bondage pants, and band tees. After taking the stage to a soundtrack of a galloping horse and someone moaning, “Ride fast cowboys,” the performance was not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before, a combination of post-punk, outlaw country, and hip-hop into a single sound. Whatever these SoundCloud cowboys were doing, it worked.
OutWest is Dillon Pisciotti and Ryan Riffenburgh, two 18-year-old recent high school graduates who also record solo as Gravelust and Racecar. Hailing from coastal Ventura, California, they’ve known one another since middle school, but got particularly close during their freshman year. Gravelust focused on punk music while Racecar made rap, but it was all experimental. “Racecar made this super weird stuff,” Gravelust explains, “like his voice was lowered and I never heard anything like it. We were young, and no one else in Ventura does that shit. Everyone else is in, like, surf rock bands.”
Despite listing pretty common reference points for young rappers — Lil Wayne, Young Chop and Chicago drill music — they also say they’ve been influenced by Debbie Harry of Blondie, Lana Del Rey, Marty Robbins, Elvis Presley, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and the Swedish rapper Bladee. They both agree that listening to Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the the lead vocalist of the post-punk/cowpunk band The Gun Club, particularly helped them find sound. Surprised, I ask what the two think about being labeled as SoundCloud rappers. Racecar ponders for a bit and says, “I’d just say we’re singers to be honest. Pop singers.” Gravelust nods his head: “We’re a singing duet. It’s western music made with new age sounds. It’s honestly hard to put a thumb on it.”
They've each released a bunch of solo work (and continue to), and only combined to do their first OutWest project last year, a three-track self-titled EP featuring guitar from Gravelust and production from collaborator trxpicvl. Trxpicvl recalls, “Working with OutWest was sick, it was the first time anyone has asked me to sample some country, and I was honored.” The opening track, “Hell Tonight,” is structured around a flipped sample from The Gun Club’s track “My Dreams.” The intro has a familiar country-like guitar twanging, but the drums are more like traditional Atlanta trap drum kit. The rhyming and verses are constructed like a rap song, but their singing is a different story — it’s raw, it’s Auto-Tuned, and it’s clear that they’re not classically trained. On the campfire sing-a-long “Broken Nights,” they’re at the top of their lungs: “Trying to love myself in a place that doesn’t love me / So I took a trip out west and ended in the country.”
Their follow-up, released today, is a 5-track EP called Through Highways. “The road symbolizes a lot of lonely shit,” Gravelust says. “Highways have a creepy essence to them.” For the project, they worked exclusively with producer 1800entity, a 19-year-old producer from Bakersfield, California, “I just love their energy,” he says. “They’re doing something different and unique. Those are my friends, so I love working with them. It feels organic. Although the project has obvious rap stylings, there are also strictly acoustic songs like “Swamp Song” and “God Take Me Now,” again with guitar parts written by Gravelust as well as Racecar. “The OutWest EP is very face value. Now we’re reaching our top potential,” he says. Racecar adds, “We’ve put everything we have into this. It’s much more in depth, much more serious.”
If SoundCloud feels oversaturated with similar sounds recently, OutWest break far away from this mould. They have done the unimaginable, fusing post-punk and outlaw country in a way made easily palatable for the SoundCloud generation. OutWest predate Tracy’s viral "Like A Farmer" anthem, and they’re more earnest in their execution. This isn’t LL Cool J and Brad Paisley teaming up, either — none of it is forced. They're teenagers simply being themselves, making the songs they would want to listen to, two cowboys on the frontier of genre-bending music.