You know the old saying, “If you looked up (insert whatever adjective you’re thinking of) in the dictionary, there would be nothing but your face beside it…” Well, nothing could be more true of that statement than singer/songwriter, Dustin Hensley. The self-proclaimed “walking contradiction” is just that: a walking contradiction. And after spending a couple hours with him at a local meat-and-three in Nashville, I can attest to that.
Growing up in the small river town of Holladay, TN (population: “Maybe 1,000?” he guessed,) Hensley never felt like he fit in. “I love where I’m from, but I always knew there was more. And I was determined to go there. Wherever there was.” After years of playing the likes of Pentecostal revivals, on top of flat-bed trailers at county fairs, the occasional funeral service and every other place he could, Hensley finally got a call from where his “Oz” was – the big city – Nashville. “You’re going to be really annoyed with me but I’m only going to give you the bullet point version,” he says with an almost cunning grin. “Long story short, I got offered my first deal when I was fifteen years old. That was a nightmare. Then I got another deal. That was an even bigger nightmare. Signed a major modeling contract that didn’t go anywhere. Been in a couple bands that didn’t pan out, and have been promised the world by some of the most powerful people in the music business. And have had a couple more production/recording deals sprinkled in between then and now. All in all, I’ve lost more deals than most people ever get,” he says laughing. “I know that I seem super nonchalant about it, but I have to be. I used to get really bogged down in the almosts and what ifs, but that doesn’t help anyone. Especially me. I’m only focused on the future. Because even if I fall, it’s still forward motion.” And the future is all he wants to talk about.
Through years of navigating the troubled waters of Nashville and countless upsets and heartaches, Hensley has a new excitement for his music and his future. Teaming up with artist/producer Tripp Weir (formerly of the mega pop/rap duo Cassio Monroe and now performing on his own as Alden Rest) the singer/songwriter believes he’s finally found his sound, and what he holds most important - his team.
“Tripp and I were put together for a writing session and we hit it off instantly. We’re completely different in so many ways, but we’re also the exact same. He comes from the pop/rap world but loves country music. I come from country music but love pop and rap music. After a couple sessions he says, ‘Man, I want to work on this. Forget everyone else from the past and what didn’t happen. Let’s ignore what managers have said and what labels have shelved and passed on. Let’s make this happen. Ourselves.’ And that’s what we’ve been doing. For a little over a year now we’ve been writing and creating what I’ve always envisioned. It’s classic but current. It’s fun but it also says something. It’s got deeply sad and reflective moments but everyone can relate to it. It’s definitively country, but has a modern twist and pop sensibilities. It’s not supposed to make sense but it does. It’s who I am. What I love the most is that we’ve become best friends outside of music. And that doesn’t happen often in this town.”
This honest and true juxtaposition can be easily found in Hensley’s new music. It’s the perfect blend of pure country storytelling complete with 90’s era guitar riffs, arena-filling drum fills, and surprising chord progressions from Nashville’s best session players; while also being current for today’s country radio landscape with infectious pop melodies and 808 drum beats bubbling underneath. “It’s the perfect mix of familiar and new,” adds the non-conforming singer. “At the end of the day, I’ve got fourteen different people rolling around in my head, and none of them want to do what someone else has done.” he jokes. “And they all have something to say, whether you like it or not.”
He’s great at a party but likes his quiet time. He cut his musical teeth playing/singing in church, but feels closer to God while on the back of a horse than in a sanctuary. He loves t-shirts and jeans but feels right at home at a black-tie gala. He bleeds country music but the vocalist sounds like a mix of old Opry legends and the newest pop star on Top 40 radio. He’s Dustin Hensley, and he’s everything that you think he is, but couldn’t be more wrong about.