Q&A with musician Dustin Kensrue

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Several of your most popular songs on Spotify have over 3.5 million streams. What do you think of Spotify as a platform in general?

Dustin Kensrue: It sounds like an impressive number, but it doesn’t translate to any sort of monetary compensation worth noting. I think Spotify could eventually be something really helpful for artists, and it already is in certain ways – I’m appreciative of people who are trying to find ways to stream music that isn’t piracy. However, it’s fairly absurd how the views translate to dollars and cents. A lot of the money goes directly to the few major companies that own record labels that the artists never sees.

The larger issue, in a post-Napster world, is that music has been de-valued. People are happy to buy a cup of coffee, buy an app, but they have an idea that music should be free. Changing a mass generational understanding of something is difficult. I think the convenience and mobility of streaming isn’t going to go away, but I’m hopeful that more and more people actually start paying for subscriptions.

VH: Your first album, Please Come Home, came out in 2007 to immediate success, including promotions at several late-night talks shows. What was that experience like? Do you intend to continue to donate album proceeds to charity?

DK: We stopped donating proceeds from records to charity because it was kind of a nightmare. We still try to work with charities through benefit concerts and B-sides that go to charity. We feel fortunate to do what we get to do. Music is a platform to raise awareness about things, and we do a lot of work with Invisible Children.

I had a lot of ideas kicking around for album for awhile that I finally decided to do the night that I finished recording during the day with my other band.

VH: Your tour begins on 3/22 in Kentucky. How are you feeling about that?

DK: I’m looking forward to it, always fun to hang out with Andy. We did a little together about a year and a half ago. We have the same tour manager out with us, and we’ll be in a van instead of a bus. I’m also looking forward to Atlanta.

VH: What was your favorite tour memory?

DK: The one that comes to mind is when we were all super hungry in our hotel one night. I was determined to go get us food. I tried calling this Chinese food place, and they were supposed to be open, but they were closed. I found a McDonald’s that was also supposed to be open, and drove eight miles to find out it was closed. I finally found a drugstore and bought frozen White Castle slides, which we microwaved in the hotel room and ate at 4 a.m.

VH: Where do you see your career and life heading in the next few years?

DK: No idea. We have tours coming up, and we’re planning something for the fall. We’ll be writing this year and recording next year. We’ll probably release another record next year. I’m also working on a project with my brother, which will probably come out before my next solo record.

VH: Where do you draw most of your musical inspiration from?

DK: Really from all over. There’s a fair amount of allusion to biblical themes. I was raised in a church, and a lot of these images and stories are familiar to me and a lot of people. When you write a song, there isn’t a lot of space. If you can draw on something people have awareness of, you can start quicker and do something unique.

Beginning is the hardest part. You can’t sit around just waiting around for some magical thought to pop in your head. You have to work at it. As you improve your craft, you get better at finding the things that’s interest to you and fleshing them out.

VH: How would you describe your musical style?

DK: The solo stuff is generally Americana, indie, folk, rock. My first record has a lot more of a folky bluesy vibe.

VH: What is your advice to young musicians?

DK: Practice your craft and perform your craft. Get out there and play live. If you’re trying to do it as a career these days it’s hard to make money selling music, but people will always want to come to a good live show. It’s the one constant thing, and musicians starting off undervalue it. The more you play, the better you get. It also makes it easier to help you find where you want to go musically. You’re competing in a bigger pool than ever – everyone has some kind of project. The more you can distinguish yourself by being really good live, the better.

Dustin Kensrue will be performing tonight (March 23rd, 2017) at Mercy Lounge.