The Plight of the Modern Musician

Photos by Bryce Noakes

Being sent off to interview a musician is dancing with the unknown.

Singer-songwriters who spend large amounts of time cooped up in their bedrooms (or garden sheds in this case), carry a particular stigma, but Dustin Tebbutt couldn’t have been more welcoming and pleasant to converse with. Just back from an Australian-wide tour with Bernard Fanning, Dustin was locked into writing and recording at his parents house on the Central Coast of NSW, and that’s where we paid him a visit to talk the state of the musical union, and to get a glimpse into the comings and goings of an up and coming musician, circa, now.

The struggles of existing above the poverty line as an artist in Australia hasn’t been publicised enough, and Dustin is all too aware of the plight, having forgone his home in Sydney in favour of spending his time off the road at his parents home in the peaceful suburb of Shelley Beach. Dustin explains that the soaring costs of living in the major cities is definitely driving the arts out of their traditional hubs, but acknowledges that it mightn’t be altogether a bad thing. The gradual rejuvenation of a suburb adjacent to where we were sitting enjoying the summer breeze, Long Jetty, is testament to this. The once derelict neighbourhood now boasts two or three cafes, record stores, vintage furniture and clothing stores, and most significantly, young people. “I think that’s what’s going to happen more and more,” says Dustin, “people struggling in the cities who’re reluctant to buy into the rat race will leave, and hubs like Long Jetty will spring up everywhere. The spreading out of culture isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

“The size of the sound that it makes is quite remarkable for such as small device,” Dustin says of the Sonos speaker pictured.

Dustin’s musical evolution was contrary to the usual Australian algorithm, as fresh out of high school he took a leap of faith and moved to Sweden to further understand his craft. He fondly describes the profound effect that the move had on not just his music, but his character also. “They’re very socialist, and it’s really beautiful,” he tells me. “Musically it was good because the scene over there is just amazing. They have specialist music high schools—as well as everything else—so there’s a lot of musicians who are amazing. I feel like I really got pushed there.”

Upon returning from Scandinavia, Dustin set about recording his debut EP The Breach, and subsequently The Bones, and describes how the process was a beautifully nostalgic reflection of his time abroad. “When I got back here it was weird because I didn’t really feel like I was ever ready to leave Europe, and I had this body of work that was starting to build up but I hadn’t really fleshed it out. Coming home gave me the perspective to reflect on everything that happened in Sweden, and there was so much content there and I feel like it really affected me and changed me as a person—not in a bad way necessarily.”

The concept of “home” was something that we delved into with gusto. The state of Australian ‘culture’ is an unavoidable topic among native millennials and Dustin had a wonderfully precise, and altogether positive attitude towards the current state of the arts in Australia, one that is not often mirrored by young people who’re disillusioned with a government who continues to neglect the arts in favour of finance. Dustin’s jovial outlook is largely centred around the internet. “We used to have a very identifiable Australian sound,” he tells me. “We had Australian storytellers telling Australian stories to Australian people. And young Australian artists were listening to that and being inspired, so it was a little isolated.” Furthermore, Dustin explains that the pre-net model of music consumption in Australia—completely at the mercy of the major record labels and touring companies—led to an unimaginative and stale native music scene. “By the time a breakout band from the UK got out here, they needed to have been successful enough to justify coming. By the time we’d hear about them it might’ve been two years since they broke out, and even longer since their contemporaries and influences started. So there was always a lag.”

The internet’s certainly opened the box in terms of musical influence, but I can’t help but wonder whether it’s also led to something being lost. Dustin explains that for him, the net’s encompassingly positive. “I can go and listen to an artist who’s just produced an album in their bedroom in Denmark the same day that it comes out,” he explains. “It’s fundamentally changed how Australian music sounds, and I don’t think there are any downsides. Maybe we lose a bit of Australian identity, but it in itself was a false thing. It’s like that classic Bondi, summer, white, thing, and the farming traditions, they’re all very archaic, and they’re not really very representative of modern multicultural Australian society. I think that the only thing we lose is a sense of nostalgia.”

Dustin’s downtime, in which we currently find him, is largely spent in a shed at the end of his parents’ garden. Not much to look at from the outside, opening the door reveals a fully decked out studio with everything a solo artist/producer could ever need. It doesn’t take a heightened intellect to catch onto the fondness that Dustin has for tech, and his technical education is organically fitting. “When I was 16 my dad brought home one of the really early versions of Cakewalk,” Dustin remembers. “So from quite an early age I was learning how to record stuff, and I never needed to write stuff down because I could just practice a song enough and then put it into the computer.” The writing and recording practice is notoriously strenuous, and Dustin attributes knowing when to stop as his greatest weakness. In the new year he’s touring Europe, among other things, but admits that any further touring depends on his ability to meet a deadline and get fresh material out. “I would tour more, but it takes me a lot longer than I’d like to record and get the material together,” Dustin explains. “People tell me I’m a perfectionist, but I don’t think that I am, so I don’t know who to trust,” he laughs.

Keep up with all of Dustin’s movements here.

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