Although JJ Shurbet, who records under the moniker Scruffpuppie, has only just turned 20, she already has a string of releases, an impressive arsenal of songs and a legion of fans. Since her earliest performances, posted to YouTube at the tender age of 16, she’s shared over 100 videos online, some of them garnering more than 4 million views, and an increasingly dedicated and loyal following. Visit their channel and find an open digital diary from a complex, gifted teenager: coffee shop performances, skateboarding music videos, stark cover versions, bedroom originals – it’s all there.
Now, having signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records, comes ‘Assignment Song‘, a pop-punk barnstormer bracing in its bright-eyed intensity. The first new music from Scruffpuppie in over a year, it’s a song JJ wrote as a therapeutic assignment whilst in treatment for a spiralling drug problem. Produced by longtime Bridgers collaborator Marshall Vore, it comes replete with a charismatic performance video – directed by Mowgly Lee – and a refrain sure to become some kind of affirmation for those in need: “We need to know that we can ask for help, so we don’t fall again.” The song’s release date is also significant for JJ: a year to the day she finally got clean of all hard drugs and pills. On the song’s lyrics, they elaborate, “It delves into some experiences that were shared with me while I was in treatment, and talks a lot about how these experiences have been a fuel to the fire of our using, but how when we’re together, we are whole, and safe. That it’s okay for us to ask for help and that we’re never alone, even in our darkest moments.”
Says Bridgers, of signing Scruffpuppie to her flourishing new label, “JJ’s writing is both referential of all the emo music I love, and yet, entirely new. I recognize the world I know in it, but it’s off center. It’s like she’s filtering everything through raw emotion, throwing some distortion on it all, and handing it back to us so we can feel something for a second.”
Born in Paris, Texas, JJ – who uses the pronouns she/her and they/them – spent much of her adolescent life in a state of uproot, moving from town to town as her parents’ jobs required. After spending the first 12-odd years of her life in Texas, JJ and her family moved to Georgia; a year after that, Utah. At 15, JJ and her family finally moved to Wisconsin, where they would end up spending the rest of JJ’s adolescence.
Along with a talent for skateboarding, she began to foster a love of film, taking joy in writing scripts and making short films with their friends; music became a significant part of her life. Slowly, JJ started to post videos of herself playing songs on YouTube, eventually finding that she could make enough money to support herself from that alone; her videos would frequently garner over 100K views, with some of them reaching over 3M or 4M. At 16, she quit her job at the local pizza shop and started focusing on music. She released Zombie Boy, her debut project, on Bandcamp, in 2018.
Around the same time that they were becoming known for her rough-hewn, spellbinding YouTube videos, JJ began experimenting with drugs. Amidst it all, Scruffpuppie began to take off and she started travelling around the Midwest to play shows. At 18, she dropped out of high school; completely unmoored, but still always creating. It was her summer 2019 track ‘Never Coming Home‘ that caught the attention of Phoebe Bridgers and the wider team at Saddest Factory Records and was the last video JJ posted online before entering rehab (1M views and counting).
With ‘Assignment Song’, the now Los Angeles-based artist – no longer a teenager, no longer a drug addict – has returned to making music and turned the page on a new chapter. JJ elaborates on the song’s development, “Me and Marshall built off it and rearranged it when I was five or six months clean, and it felt good having five months to look back and reflect on my emotions.”