Rising new star Dustin Collins knows every stretch of road between Nashville and his hometown of Bardstown, Kentucky. For the past eight years, as he estimates, he wore out the Interstates, and likely several tires, on his frequent visits to Music City to pursue the country artist dream. During that time, Collins networked, met fellow writers and singers and took gigs at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Honky Tonk Central and other staples of Nashville’s downtown scene. It was all part of his ongoing, and necessary, musical education.
“I’ve been back and forth for about the last eight years,” says Collins, seated in the office of his Nashville publicist. “I lived about two-and-a-half hours down the road so it wasn’t too hard to get to Nashville.” Collins made songwriter contacts and secured an opening slot on Aaron Watson’s Vaquero Tour. He’s also opened for Kane Brown, Chris Janson, the Kentucky Headhunters and other acts. He became confident enough to finally make the big move and become a Nashville resident, which he did about three months ago. “It’s been great,” he says with a smile. “Now, I’m getting to cash in on some of those networking contacts. I’ve been invited to do writers rounds and other different things. Everybody has just been so awesome.”
Collins is equally excited to have a new album under his belt, “It’s Been Awhile,” released on August 3rd. The seven-song project features his summery anthem “The Barn” along with the title track and “Cold Dead Hands,” the song that first garnered some serious attention for Collins. Of the seven cuts, Collins penned four completely by himself, somewhat of a Music Row rarity these days.
The usual Music Row way, as known to most, is the co-write, generally where an up-and-coming artist is paired with a seasoned songwriter. But for Collins, geography often dictated otherwise. “It’s not that I didn’t want to co-write,” he says. “But where I come from and where I was living, there was nobody to co-write with. There was a lack of options, you might say.” Collins shares that he started writing his own songs from the age of 15, but wouldn’t play them onstage. “I didn’t think they were good enough,” he explains. “I was about 26 before I started playing my own stuff. When I began coming to Nashville, I met some people that I could write with and I worked at being a better songwriter.”
Writing inspiration usually comes from real-life scenarios, situations either directly involving him or scenes that he’s observed. “The girl in the grocery store part of ‘It Always Starts With You’ was sort of based on a real incident,” Collins points out. “I was at a Walmart in Bardstown and this young girl was struggling to get through the checkout line. She had three kids hanging onto her. When she gets to the checkout, she finds out that she doesn’t have enough money to pay for what she has. And this nice lady behind her swiped her own card and paid for everything. That was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. The thing was, you could hear people complaining about the girl holding up the line. And I’m thinking, ‘Man, you know, have a little sympathy.’ I just think people should be better to each other and that’s where my head was at the time I wrote that.”
The title track from the new album is a true story from beginning to end. Collins wrote it about a previous relationship, and slyly remarks that the real-life woman is out there somewhere and will know that it’s her. “When you can put yourself in your music,” he says, “it just helps you connect with your audience. I have written songs that were about made-up situations but I didn’t like them as much.”
With the new album and a now-permanent home in Nashville, Collins has plenty of reasons to celebrate. But he’s not one to rest on any past laurels. “I have already started working on the next record,” he says. “And I have been writing a lot. Sometimes, I can bust out three songs in one day, but most of the time, I try to get through at least one song per day. You can’t really master songwriting. It’s a continuous battle,” Collins adds, before offering up a bit of advice. “I know friends of mine who have multiple No. 1’s as songwriters and they still work at it every day. You just have to do what you do and try to be your best at it.”
Dustin Collins’ new album “It’s Been Awhile” is available now.
THREE QUESTIONS WITH DUSTIN COLLINS
S&E Nashville: Now that you’re a new Nashville resident, what are some of your favorites in town?
Collins: “Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack! I love that place. Biscuit Love is another one of my favorite places to eat. There’s a line sometimes to get in but they move you through pretty fast. Puckett’s in downtown has good food, too. On the music side, Tootsie’s is always a great spot.”
S&E Nashville: What are some of the things aspiring artists and writers need to know about Nashville?
Collins: “A smile and politeness still go a long way in Nashville. Do what you say you’re going to do, be on time and don’t cancel on people. I know some people who missed out on some opportunities because they didn’t show up for an appointment or they canceled. I was raised on being courteous and polite and being prompt so it wasn’t too hard for me to catch on. I like it that way. I love Nashville because of that.”
S&E Nashville: Any good road stories you can share?
Collins: “I was on Aaron Watson’s tour and got sick one night after I got hold of some bad tacos. We were in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I’m feeling terrible and sweating and everything. And I got up to the mic and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on, Birmingham?’ My bass player looks at me and goes, ‘Uh, you’re not in Birmingham. That was last night.’ That was about the worst 30 minutes of my life.”