Down the Dirt Road: A Conversation With Dustin Herring

Dustin Herring

photo courtesy of Dustin Herring

Down the Dirt Road: A Conversation With Dustin Herring
| published August 5, 2015 |

By Jennifer Walker-James,Thursday Review contributor

What if? It’s often the first question any dreamer asks; an introductory passage to the pivotal decision-making process that maps us to the stars. What if you had the chance to irrevocably impact someone else’s life simply by writing a song? That’s question that inspired Dustin Herring to give up everything to pursue his dream as a singer/songwriter.

With Herring’s first uploaded song, “Down the Dirt Road,” going viral with over 5,000 views on YouTube alone, it’s safe to say he asked this brooding question at the right time and found the right answer. His poignant lyrics perfectly capture the atmosphere of small town life after a Friday night football game. When listening to his music, one can almost smell the earthen scent of peanut dust and see the bobbing trail of headlights weaving their way through the bumpy fields as they make their way to a late night country get-together. It’s bonfire storytelling with a few beers and a rugged guitar—a good dose of musical Southern divinity incarnate.

Like many other up and coming aspiring artists, Dustin has promoted his own work via social media and YouTube. But what gives this Hartford, Alabama native’s style and his work its own identity is his ability to write soulful lyrics that resonate. His music chronicles the journey of a small town guy as he answers that simple, two-worded question: what if? And Herring’s vivid descriptions along with his candor about common life experiences are sure to have listeners enthralled.

Thursday Review was recently fortunate enough to catch up with the 29-year-old and let him tell us his story in his own words.

TR: What is the name of your album and where can people buy it?

DH: I actually have two albums and a single out right now. There is an acoustic album called Dusting Herring: Acoustic Sessions, and that seven-song album is called Geneva County. It’ll be available in a few weeks. Hometown people should have a hard copy already.

TR: What song do you enjoy performing the most?

Dustin Herring DH: I most enjoy playing the new song called “Woman and Whiskey.” It’s a lot more upbeat and has a heavier rock feel so it really gets people going.

TR: Which song to you relate to the most?

DH: I relate most to my song, “If a Beer Could Make It Better.” I think everyone does. It was just a very special song that helped me through a rough time I was having after a tough breakup and some life changes. I think everyone can relate to that at some point in time in their life as well. We’ve all had something that we wished a beer would make it better.

TR: What can people expect to hear when they listen to your songs?

DH: I think, like I said before, most people will be able to relate to my songs because it’s something that all of us have been through. We’ve all had fun, we’ve all had fights, we’ve all had failure, and somehow, my songs feature these things. One of my songs called, “The Burn,” has one of my best lines I’ve ever written: “They say you live, you love, you lose, you learn.” That’s what people should expect.

TR: How long have you been writing/playing music?

DH: I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 20 and I never actually started playing gigs until I was in grad school, but I’ve been at it almost 9 years now. Didn’t start seriously writing songs until five years ago and have been blessed with a curse ever since!

TR: What inspired you to pursue a career in the music industry?

DH: I decided to pursue music more seriously once I started writing songs. One night, when a perfect stranger came up to me and told me how much my song meant to them and how much they appreciated me writing something so moving—that was a powerful experience that changed my life and I’ll never forget that feeling. I just knew there was something I was blessed to do and I did not want to waste such a God-given gift. I feel like I owe it to others, God especially, and myself, you know what I mean?

TR: Who is your favorite singer/band?

DH: It is a super hard question to answer! ‘90’s country was definitely my favorite. I love Keith Whitley, Tracy Lawrence, Mark Chesnut, and guys like Kenny Chesney who just keep getting better and putting out great songs. I love storytellers like Chris Knight, writers like Jamie Johnson, and entertainers like Kid Rock. I even enjoy the newer stuff like Aldean and Luke Bryan. I think I’m a good mix of all things!

TR: What inspires you most?

DH: Songwriting inspires me most. Every day with everything I do, every conversation I have, every feeling, every memory (good or bad) I can almost always find a song in there somewhere. When you come up with some clever idea or some awesome twist for a hook of a song, it really gets you inspired. (laughing) For instance, I came up with a title of a song right there and didn’t even mean to: “Almost Always!”

TR: Do you have a regimen when writing music? Do you have to be in a certain place or a certain mood?

DH: You know, a lot of people schedule co-writes and set aside times at a certain point each day in a schedule to write. I think the busier and more successful you become, you almost have to do that to make everything work. I do that, too, but sometimes, it just happens when it happens. The best songs I’ve ever written came out of nowhere and did not take long at all to finish.

TR: What has your favorite memory been on this journey, so far?

DH: My favorite memory was having the chance to sing on stage with my little brother at his high school talent contest. We sang my song, “Down the Dirt Road.” It’s a tribute to my late friends, Justin Ketchum and Mason Walding. So needless to say, there were a few tears in the crowds and on the stage. It was a really proud moment! It was cool to have hometown kids singing along to your song, but mostly, I was proud of Chase for singing in front of everyone. Very special moment.

TR: Have you met anyone famous? If so, what was it like?

DH: I’ve had the chance to meet a good bit of famous singers up here. Most of the time, you just shake hands and make small talk. One night, when I was finishing up a writer’s round, Lee Brice came into the bar, up on the stage and actually played my guitar. That was pretty cool. I make the joke that I don’t think my guitar has played the same ever since.

TR: What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

DH: I don’t know about leaving a legacy. Right now, I’m just trying to make a mark. Everyone in this business has an expiration date—that is for certain! I guess my only consolation is that one day, when I’m dead and gone, my songs may never die. Songs, great songs anyway, are timeless. If you can write one of those, you will always be around.

TR: What artists have inspired you the most?

Dustin Herring DH: This will sound crazy, but it’s probably Kid Rock. We don’t have a lot in common musically, but his work ethic and the belief in himself, especially when no one else believes in you, is what inspires me. I like that folks like Eric Church, Toby Keith, as well as many others who walked away from great career opportunities to pursue music. The fact that others opted out of the safe route and took such risks keeps me going.

TR: In today’s world, one really has to stand out to get recognition as an artist. What elements of your style or of you as an artist make you different?

DH: I think I’m just a good mix of all my favorite artists. I don’t like being too cliché, but I also like to write songs that will definitely entertain people. I like being a hybrid, so to speak—something different that feels familiar.

TR: What is your next course of action? Any projects in the works?

DH: I want to finish up a so-called red dirt project. I don’t want to label it as a certain genre. Basically, I want it to be a ‘90’s-style country with a little rock influence. Fiddles, steel guitars, powerful lyrics, edgy subject matter, stuff like that! Something unapologetic that doesn’t have to be critiqued for today’s market. I just want to make something different and super cool.

TR: Are you on social media?

DH: I’m on all of the social media. You can find me as Dustin Herring on my Facebook music page. I have about 1600 followers there. I’m on Instagram as dustingherringmusic, although, I do post a lot of pictures of my dog and my hunting and fishing adventures. I have about 900 followers on there. I have a Twitter account, but I’ll be honest, I don’t use it very much.

TR: What song has had the most views online?

DH: The first song I ever put on YouTube was “Down the Dirt Road.” It has almost 5,000 views.

TR: Have you made any television or radio appearances?

Dustin Herring on radio DH: I have been featured on a few early morning TV news shows as well as some benefit concerts in Arkansas and Mississippi when I lived there. Recently, my songs have been played on radio stations in The Mississippi Delta, a few in Oklahoma, and even a couple in Texas. I’ve been voted #1 on The Red Dirt Kraze, which is an independent country artist top 10 poll that is broadcasting on several radio stations out west and featured on the Iceman’s internet radio show out of the East Coast.

TR: Any advice for other aspiring artists/musicians?

DH: Don’t do it! (laughing) Just kidding. At the end of the day, you have to believe in yourself and only you can define success. It is hard, it is heartbreaking, every now and then, it is the most rewarding thing you’ll ever feel. Don’t be afraid to make yourself happy, but remember, there’s no such thing as a sure thing dream!

Dustin grew up in the sleepy southern town of Hartford, Alabama. His pursuit of music has led him all across The Mississippi Delta to Nashville, Tennessee where he currently resides. In sharing his gift, Herring makes frequent appearances at various singer/songwriter showcases and various other venues throughout the South. His most popular single, “Houston,” can be purchased on iTunes. With the support of his family and friends back home and countless fans across the Southeast region, Herring’s soulful journey to success is fast underway.

Dustin Herring's Houston album cover

Related Thursday Review articles:

American Made, Southern Raised: Interview With Matt Williams; Jennifer James; Thursday Review; July 23, 2015.

The Ballad of Curtis Lowe; Earl Perkins; Thursday Review; April 25, 2015.