Dustin Kensrue Takes His Love Letter to the Southwest on the Road (5/4 at Underground Arts)

“I always think of the intense smell of the alley behind The Trocadero.  I often think of that when I think of the worst smell I’ve ever smelled,” says...

“I always think of the intense smell of the alley behind The Trocadero.  I often think of that when I think of the worst smell I’ve ever smelled,” says Dustin Kensrue, laughing, discussing the many times he was at the legendary Chinatown venue fronting post-hardcore legends Thrice.  However, he admits the shows were always great, in addition to those at another legendary venue just a bit down the street: “We love playing the Electric Factory.  I know it’s called something else now, but it will always be that for us.”

Dustin and I are chatting over the phone and discussing [for the most part] his third and most recent solo album, Desert Dreaming, which dropped earlier this month on BMG and which will have him hitting the road tomorrow for a headlining tour.  He’ll be playing our very own Underground Arts on Saturday, May 4th.  “It’s still in an Americana umbrella [like recent solo albums] but pulling from 50s/60s country western more so than past releases.  Like, there’s pedal steel on every song,” he tells me of the sound of the album, which was inspired by artists like Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Gene Autry.  “I didn’t grow up listening to that stuff, so it’s been fun for me in the last 10 years or so, because growing up in the early ‘90s, there wasn’t a lot of that that you would hear,” he explains.

In addition to the genres referenced on Desert Dreaming, Kensrue also notes a handful of differences in the way that he approached recording this album: “Last time it was just me.  This time I had someone come play drums and upright bass and pedal steel.”  He goes on to explain, “On this one, there aren’t a lot of dynamic vocals, with ups and downs.  I wanted the whole record to have a vibe and take you to a certain place, so there’s less vocal range than on previous releases.”

The 10 songs of Desert Dreaming serve as a love letter to the southwest, inspired by the art and aura of the region, in addition to Kensrue’s own childhood trips there to visit his grandparents in the Sonoran Desert.  In fact, the album’s lead single, “Death Valley Honeymoon,” quite literally recounts the honeymoon of his grandparents in the not-conventionally-tourist-friendly locale.  Accompanying Kensrue on the track is like-minded singer/songwriter Cat Clyde.  “That’s basically my grandma’s verse,” Dustin tells me of Cat’s contribution to the song, before going on to explain, “I knew that I needed a female voice, and I was trying to find someone who really embodied the spirit of my grandma, so I did a deep dig on Spotify.”  Discussing similarities between Clyde and his grandmother, he tells me, “My grandmother was a character and amazing.  Cat doesn’t sound exactly like my grandma, but I wanted someone to nail a vibe, and she had that kind of spunk and character, and I grew such a warmth towards her.”

Desert Dreaming has been receiving a lot of praise, with FLOOD characterizing it as, “…a touching homage to the legacy and love of family, as well as the genre [country] itself,” and The Rodeo Mag calling it, “…captivating country…perfect for accompanying you kicking your cowboy boots along a dusty road at sunset, let’s say.”  However, Kensrue admits that what the critics have to say about it certainly isn’t what he most cares about: “There are a lot of amazing music critics and some that are very lazy and really just use phrases from the press release to criticize me [laughs].”  He tells me he’s most excited by how his fans have been responding to the music: “Fans have been surprised by the direction, but it’s been a lot of fun seeing people’s responses, and they seem to have been really digging it, even people with not a lot of exposure to that kind of music.”

Dustin tells me that this trek, which kicks off in Austin, will likely be something new for most American audiences: “I’ve never done a full US tour with a band before.”  Joining Kensrue will be Americana rockers The Brevet, who will be doing double duty every night: “The Brevet are playing before me and then backing me.  I wanted to find someone who can hold down everything from the new record, and I played a charity event with them and they were great and we really clicked.”

Opening the shows will be Americana-tinged indie rocker Brother Bird (solo project of Caroline Swon), who will also be making an appearance during the headliner’s set.  “She’s gonna be singing my grandma’s part!” Kensrue tells me, before going on to say, “We’ll be playing a lot of new songs and a few from the last two solo records.  I’m excited to bring these songs fully to life in a live setting.  I’m really excited for these small rooms.”  He also tells me that he’d like to keep this album on the road for a little while, although admits that he’ll also be back to his other music in the relatively near future: “I’m looking at seeing if there’s a possibility of playing dates opening for someone, and then I’m just gonna start working on songs for the next Thrice record.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.