CelebMix Exclusive: Dustin Hensley chats about debut EP ‘SHIPS’

Up-and-coming artist Dustin Hensley is an absolute breath of fresh air in the music scene. The Tennessee native’s admiration for a wide range of genres has influenced a unique country-meets-synth-pop sound that has been a risk worth taking as he continues to push the envelope, eliminating traditional stereotypes within the industry. CelebMix spoke with Hensley prior to his EP’s release where he discussed the authenticity behind his new record, as well as the importance of staying true to himself and equating songwriting with a great deal of storytelling.

CelebMix: Initially, your EP was slated for a January release date. What caused the setback and how was has the process in terms of getting the record exactly the way you wanted it to be?

Dustin Hensley: It was partly my fault, and partly boring “business” stuff. I thought I had the EP done. I knew what songs I wanted and everything was nailed down. Then I wrote some more songs and had some other ideas and then I started weaving those different songs in and out. Ultimately at the end of the day, it all turned out to be exactly how I originally planned. I just wanted it to be right. These 5 songs just fit together. It was sort of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type situation.

CM: How long did it take to create the EP? Did you have a set number of songs you knew you wanted on it or do you have to cut some from the list? 

DH: I wrote “Our Town” last year around the end of May/ beginning of June I think. In my head, that is when this body of work began. So I guess it’s been from then until now. It was around Thanksgiving when I fully decided “these songs are what make the EP. They’re cohesive, they tell a story, this is it.” I’ve wrote more in the past few months than I ever have, so I couldn’t tell you have many we cut out.

Last spring/summer was when I threw everything out the window and just did what I felt was right and didn’t go by any rules. And really, it’s not like there were many rules before, but I had gotten into my head a bit. I’ve been working at this for a long time and I had this idea of who I was and what I thought I needed to do. This EP was so uncalculated and not thought out it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t exactly make sense on paper, but I don’t either. It’s a little pop, it’s a little R&B but it’s still country. To me at least. BUT, to answer your question, probably about 7 or 8 months from beginning to end.

CM: What made you choose SHIPS for the title name? Was it a difficult decision?

DH: I’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t write love songs. I’ve just never been able to. And I still can’t, haha. But, what I noticed was that most of the songs I’ve been writing this past year are about relationships. And not necessarily romantic ones, but relationships in general. As I was putting songs together to record, these five were the ones that stuck out to me the most. And they covered the whole scale. The good, the bad, the ugly, and indifferent. So that’s where the title “‘SHIPS” comes from. Each song is a different story about a different situation/ relationship.

CM: You released “Nobody But You” late last year. How has the fan reception been for that single?

DH: I love that song so much, and the reaction has been amazing. I knew it was special the day we wrote it and I’m glad it’s the first one we put out. It just feels good. It doesn’t sound like anything else right now and folks that I didn’t think would like it- have been the most vocal and supportive about it. It’s been great.

CM: What has been your biggest goal with creating the EP? From the writing, down to the production.

DH: For me, the goal was to not think about it and to get out of my own way. I’m a walking contradiction. I’m super care free and go with the flow, and I hate planning. But at the same time I can overthink almost everything in terms of “is this right,” or “what else can we do.” And you have to do that to an extent, because this has my name attached to it. And my face on it. But I made a conscious effort to not think “is this country,” or “is this pop,” just do what felt good. To write as honestly as I could about things going on in my life and be open to criticism. I want it to be polarizing. Either you love it or hate it. I don’t care if only 12 people hear this, and 3 of those people like it. Those 3 and I are gonna be bros, haha.

CM: Has residing in Nashville deeply influenced your overall vision for the record?

DH: That’s a good question. The best thing about Nashville, and the absolute worst thing about Nashville is the same thing- everyone here is stupid talented. Even your dentist has a demo floating around out there. But, I think that’s a great thing. I’m really lucky in that my best friends are my competition in a way. I see how hard they work and how great they are, so that makes me want to work even harder and better myself. We all support each other too, which is great. There’s enough room for everyone. You just have to find your lane, and find what you do best- and go and do that. And I think I’ve finally found my lane and my sound. It’s a mix of everything and like I said earlier, it doesn’t make the most sense on paper. But, it works and I’m really excited and proud of it. I don’t know of anything else that sounds like it at the moment. Hopefully that’ll work in my favor.

CM: As someone who welds modern day country with an R&B mix, do you ever fear you’re straying too far from your southern roots? What style or idea were you traditionally going for with SHIPS?

DH: I don’t, but others might, haha. I’ve gotten a little bit of push back already. And I get it, I do, but I honestly think the conversation of “that’s not country” is so tiresome to me. I will agree, there is a blatant “traditional country” sound that everyone today knows about. However, that traditional sound was new and scary and “too pop” before it was considered traditional. It’s all cyclical, and radio changes constantly. The term “country” is so broad. To me it’s more of a feeling than a direct sound. There’s room for all kinds and versions. So I don’t know. I think my version of country may be a little left of center, but country music to me is stories and real life and truth. This is was this EP is to me. And if you wanna call it pop, cool. If it’s country, awesome. I don’t care what you call it. I just hope you love it.

CM: If you could collaborate with anyone in the near future, who would it be and why?

DH: Lee Ann Womack and/ or Ciara. They’re my favorites. In the grand scheme of things, I wanna do a Christmas record with The Avett Brothers. Little Big Town would be amazing to work with as well. And David Nail. I could go on forever.

CM: Do you have plans on touring this EP? 

It’s all still in the planning stages, so hopefully that’ll all come to fruition here soon. There are so many moving parts, but we’ve been rehearsing and putting together a live show. At this point we’re just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks and what makes sense haha. It’s been a lot of fun though. Trying different things and arrangements and what not.

CM: What’s next on the list for Dustin Hensley? Is another EP or full length album in the works?

DH: I’m constantly writing, so I’ve already got an idea of what the “next chapter” will be. There are a lot of cool things happening behind the scenes that haven’t been finalized yet. but hopefully I’ll be able to share that news soon. My main concern right is just getting this music to as many people as I can and sharing those stories. I’m just really happy about the response so far. It feels really good when you pour your heart into something and you see it start to pay off. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the support.

You can stream SHIPS below.

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Written by Cayla Masters

Music, pop culture and cheesesteak lover. Follow me on Twitter, @caylamasters