One of the earliest genres of music to catch fire and reach households from every corner of North America, is Country music. There are stories in those songs that resonate with most of us. Lessons learned and lessons taught, stories of breakups and rekindling old flames, towns and people you meet along the way that left an impression destined to be written about. Some would call it cowboy music but I like to think there’s a little Country music lover in all of us. It’s been around for decades, perhaps a century and it’s evolved but the roots and the heart of country music have always remained the same.
Dustin Bird is a singer, songwriter and producer pushing the boundaries of modern country music. He has achieved five top 100 singles on the Canadian Country Airplay Chart, is a Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) Rising Star nominee, and recently earned a spot as a finalist in the Jim Beam National Talent Search Competition. In 2020, he collaborated with Kansas Stone to release, ‘Together We’re Strong’, a charity single he produced and co-wrote with Brian Harwood, featuring artists Aaron Pritchett, Jason McCoy, and Alee. The effort is in support of the Unison Benevolent Fund, a national music industry non-profit organization.
He is set to release new music, recorded in a ‘Live Off the Floor’ format with an all-star band, on location at the famed studio, Catherine North. As a part of the series, he will release three original songs, written and produced entirely by Bird, including ‘Every Little Town’, ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘It Ain’t Me’.
Along with his notable Canadian country radio play, he has garnered an impressive 250,000 plus streams as an artist and 1 million plus streams collectively as a writer and producer. His music has earned a spot on Spotify’s editorial playlists such as ‘All About Country’, ‘New Music Nashville’, and ‘Live Country’. As a performer, Dustin has traveled to venues, big and small with his all-star band, playing major festivals such as Boots and Hearts, Havelock Jamboree, Kempenfest, and more. His tour history also includes supporting artists such as Tyler Shaw, Jess Moskaluke and The Washboard Union, among others. Dustin’s Country music talents have solidified his place in country’s wave of rising stars’ (Rhythm & Boots NYC).
I had a blast talking to Dustin recently about his music career and he’s made me a Country music fan all over again.
HNM “I really enjoyed listening to your music, especially your song, People. It sounds like a hit song already. I hear it’s getting a lot of radio play.”
DUSTIN “Yeah, we got a little radio traction, we’ve been taking every single to radio… other than the new ‘Live Off the Floor’ songs. Every Little Town was my most recent and my latest release called Rolling Stone, which is more of a soft release – shows a different side of me. People was a favourite of mine, I held onto it for a while before we decided it was the right song to put out. I’ve played it at a lot of shows and people really seemed to connect to it, which I think was the deciding factor.”
HNM “Do you write all of your songs?”
DUSTIN “Yes, the only song I’ve ever pitched to me that I’ve put out, was ‘Unscripted’. That came out January 20th of 2020… and was a pitch by Tyler Shaw – who I believe is from BC. It was a bit different for me because up until Unscripted, I had produced everything myself. It was great to just be the guy that sings the song and interpret it vocally. I’ve always written them, produced them and done all the other stuff… so I wanted to see how this worked. It did create a good product and it gave me a lot of perspective on who it is I wanted to be as a writer, producer, artist.”
HNM “You’ve been to Nashville, what was that like?”
DUSTIN “Yeah, I’ve been there quite a few times, usually for a week or 2 just to write. We’ve written some good songs down there – last year I was going down quite a bit and that was the plan for this year too but then Covid came in. The last time I was down there I was really just writing with Canadian friends, like Chris Buck, Jimmy Thow, and Chrystal Leigh – a slew of folks. I think there were a lot of Canadians because it was December and many Americans were gearing up for the holidays. It was a good time – I miss getting together with friends to write songs.”
Dustin adds, “When Covid hit, we knew we had to pivot. We didn’t have live shows but we had to put stuff out and we wanted to do it in the most effective way possible. We decided we wanted to do the ‘Live Off the Floor’ record, which was created out of hundreds of songs that we poured over. We went to the recording studio in Hamilton and Kathryn North had the film crew shooting it as a visual concept. We wanted to give people a record that felt like a live experience. Through that process, it’s been some of the best stuff I’ve put out – I’m pretty pumped about that album.”
HNM “When did you realize you wanted to be a singer and was country music your first choice?”
DUSTIN “Country music has always been at the root of what I’ve done. I’ve dabbled in a lot of different genres, but really – I’m just a creator, I create all the time. Sometimes I’ll just make tracks for the sake of creating and I’ve always had that in me, ever since I got my first guitar at 5 or 6 yr.’s old. I knew that music was something I wanted to do… but figuring out I was a Country music artist at the core, did take time. Recognizing that some songs are not for me, they’re for other people and finding out which songs resonate with me. The more I did it, the more I gravitated toward a certain sound – that was Country music!”
HNM “Does growing up in the rural countryside lend itself to making country music?”
DUSTIN “I am a country boy through and through, that’s for sure! My mom has always loved country music, my dad has always loved country music, even in my extended family on my dad’s side and my mom’s side, they all play music. They’d be sitting around in the living room or kitchen and jamming and picking banjos, there’d be a steel guitar, all that stuff – so I’ve always been around country music at its very core… down home, good ole boy Country music!”
HNM “You recently premiered your new song, Every Little Town. When you wrote that song, did you have a particular town in mind?”
DUSTIN “It was my home town – I grew up in the Belleville (Ontario) area and there’s a lot of little towns around there. That story that is told in Every Little Town is partly from my life and my friend’s lives, people I grew up with. That story has been told in one way or another, probably a hundred times. I can start naming people that have been through this or that, and it all ties back to that story of Every Little Town. We had that song for about a year, just sitting there and I kept writing but we kept coming back to it. My manager Jeremy Johnson has a sound cloud with songs that really stick out to us and that song kept coming back – it felt right. It’s not a club banger, it won’t tear up the dance floor… but it’s a story and it’s my story and anyone else’s that grew up in a small town. That’s what it’s all about.”
HNM “Have you ever written a song about a person or event?”
DUSTIN “I did actually, it’s not up anymore – it was more of a private demo. It was a song about cold beer and I did it when I was introducing myself to the country world. Up to that point, I’d done some pop stuff, some folk stuff. I had a buddy/childhood friend get killed in a 4-wheeling accident. It was a Sunday morning when I got the phone call… and I think it was instinctual for me to grab a guitar and get it out. I was still in shock over it but I was still able to write about it. Within a week, I had produced a demo of it and gave it to the family. That song was a pivotal moment in my journey as an artist and songwriter. Without that song, I don’t think I would’ve come over to Country music so quickly. As soon as I got that news, I knew I had to write – and what came out was a Country song. The most personal and raw emotion came out in the form of Country. From that point on, that was what I was going to do.”
HNM “Who would you dream of collaborating on a song with?”
DUSTIN “One of my friends, Robin Elainy just signed a major US record deal, I would love to do a duet with her. We were actually considering it before she signed the deal… she’s great and I love everything that she’s doing. In terms of performers I’ve always been fans of; I’d love to have Brad Paisley to rip some vocals or create some bangin music with Keith Urban, and getting down and dirty with Reba McEntire – making some real Country.”
HNM “Have you ever been approached to use one of your songs in a film? If you did, would you say yes?”
DUSTIN “Not that I can recall. I think a long time ago, back when I was doing some folk stuff, there were some Indie film people in Montreal that were interested but I passed on it. If someone were to ask me, I’d like to see the film first… but when it comes to singing for television or film, I am all in. I love the idea of one of my songs being used to tell a story/add to the story. If someone approached me, I’d be extremely excited because that’s what I’m doing all the time… telling stories. Honestly though, I’d be over-the-moon.”
HNM “That’s great to know, I’m going to put it out into the world, and hopefully the right people will read this article. They make a lot of films in Vancouver and Toronto… and the right song can really help move/drive the story forward. I think it would be a win win.”
HNM “Have you ever taken singing lessons?”
DUSTIN “Yes, I’ve taken some vocal lessons when I was a teenager and recently did some training in Toronto with a coach, Meeka Burns, I highly recommend him. Some of the things I’ve struggled with have remained consistent. When I’m on a 3 – hour show, by the end of it I’m so vocally exhausted and it gets hard to hit the high notes and to go really low – my range is really diminished. It’s something that I want to get under control to work in my home studio as well. I’m recording all the time and need to be able to jump in and track a vocal at any point. Having a quick warmup regime really works for me and Meeka Burns has really done a great job with that. As a producer that works with other artists, it makes me a better vocalist because I’m constantly working with the human voice. As you get older, your voice is always changing, like a skin – and you have to learn to adapt to that.”
HNM “Do you have a warm up ritual for your voice before every performance?”
DUSTIN “Yeah, I totally do. I’ll do weird sounds that can be embarrassing (demonstrates various lip rolls and vocal exercises), I do a lot of stretching as well to be sure that I’m loose. Anything that can relieve tension around the vocal chords is the ritual; sometimes it takes 5 minutes and other days I’ll have to do it for a ½ hour.”
HNM “Do you have any special talents outside of music?”
DUSTIN “(Laughing) Not really… This is like my whole world. I did play a lot of instruments. Everything you hear on ‘People’ – I played all of them. I get a little nerdy around sound design – it’s kind of my world, which doesn’t leave me much time at anything else (laughing).”
HNM “How many guitars do you own?”
DUSTIN “3, 4, 5, 6, 7…so I’ve got 7 different guitars – 2 bass, a banjo, a mandolin, a steel guitar and some acoustics. Slide guitar is one of the toughest to play. If you open up one of my sessions… there are thousands of cuts to ensure that those parts are what they need to be. My piano skills took a while before I could get through a song fairly confidently, but I still suck at the drums; I cannot drum to save my life.”
HNM “Can you tell us what your creative process is like when making a new song?”
DUSTIN “That’s a fun question, I like that one because my creative process is all over the map. 9 times out of 10 I’ll have an idea for a song and I pick up the guitar and start writing it. When I’m driving, I’ll voice note and once I get to where I’m going, I’ll stop and listen to all the voice notes, write it out and compose it. If I’m just sitting and have an idea, I’ll play some chords and start to sing a song. If I love it/believe in what I’ve just written, I’ll lay it down in Pro Tools. From there, I’ll do a rough scratch of the vocals as a reference as I compose the rest of the song – then I tackle the composition; I’ll write my leads, the bass lines, the drum parts and the rest. I start building it up… and that’s usually what I’ll send out to my manager and everyone else on the team. If everyone likes it, I’ll go back and properly demo it. If I write a hundred songs, maybe 10 will get demoed, and from that we’ll probably take a single.”
HNM “Have you ever had an article of clothing thrown at you while performing onstage?”
DUSTIN “(Laughing) An article of clothing… I’ve definitely had a t-shirt thrown at me on different occasions. There’s always someone in the crowd that yells ‘Strip!’ I remember in one club someone threw a pair of underwear at me – but they definitely weren’t wearing them, it was just a pair thrown randomly. There’s not been any bras thrown, I would’ve remembered that. Usually I get ‘Freebird’ thrown at me from the drunk guy in the crowd – it always happens (laughing).”
HNM “Do you ever do karaoke?”
DUSTIN “I’ve only done karaoke one time in Santa’s Pub in Nashville. It was with one of my buddies, Matt Martin (music artist) from Kitchener. It was a year ago and a really good time. Oh… actually I remember one other time I did karaoke, also in Nashville on the strip. It was Chris Buck and I doing ‘Friends in Low Places’ also at Santa’s Pub.”
HNM “Time for a fun question. Would you rather ride a bull or jump over a bus on a motorcycle?”
DUSTIN “Oh for sure, the motorcycle bus stunt. For the bull, there’s so many questions surrounding it. Do I know the bull, how well has he been trained, can I trust the bull, will he like me? It’s an enormous creature and so many unknowns when you jump on the back of one… and you have to be good at it. With the motorcycle – it’s a machine, you know how well it’s tuned, you can calculate the distance needed to be jumped and the speed to get it done… and you can control the crash a little better than the bull stomping on you. Definitely, the jump is the safer bet.”
On a quarter note, The Rolling Stone video just came out last Friday and Every Little Town was just released in Australia. They’ll also be dropping more new music in the first week of January and they also just shot a new music video, so lots more to look forward to from Dustin Bird. We can all use Country music to remind us that we’re not alone, we all fall down but we can all get back up with a little help from our friends in low places.