Artist Profile: Jim Dusty

CBR DIG 30 October 2019

Photo by Beniah Colbourn

If you like: Bright Eyes, Billy Bragg, Peter Bibby & The Smith Street Band

In a new feature series titled Artist Profile CBR DIY will be looking to shine a spotlight on many of the great local acts that call Canberra home as well as others touring through the city. The series will attempt to unravel the coiled minds of our local musicians and see what makes them tick, what their ambitions are and why we should give a damn.

Who are you?

I am Jim Dusty.

Do you keep your tomato sauce in the fridge or cupboard?

I’m a cupboard man haha.

Where are you from?

So I was born in Newcastle, then my family moved to Goulburn where I grew up and went to school. My dad was with the cops and the Police Academy was in Goulburn. After he started a family he didn’t want to do street work anymore so he took a job teaching at the Academy. I stayed there ‘til I was 22 and then moved to Canberra.

Who are your influences?

Well, I guess in terms of lyric writing I took a lot of influence from bands like Bright Eyes and Billy Bragg. I was always really interested in heavy lyrical content and complex song writing. Musically, I don’t know a lot about playing the banjo, but I was always impressed by fingerpicking style of playing, from musicians like Tallest Man On Earth.

I feel like a lot of the bands that influence me I don’t show in my music but it’s what I listen to a lot when I’m writing, bands like Harmony and The Drones, sort of go for that sound but as close as I can manage to make it on the banjo.

What’s your favourite album?

I don’t know if I have one favourite album. But there are a few I would list. One of my favourite Australian bands is Harmony. I think their first self-titled album is my favourite of theirs. I really like Bruce Springsteen’s album Born To Run, I think that’s a perfect album. I really like this album by a folk singer from Philadelphia named Shannon Moser, the album’s called Oh, My Heart – came out a couple of years ago. I think I listened to that everyday for a couple of years. And I really love the Mountain Goats.

What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?

I think maybe the first Jim Dusty EP launch was just an amazing time. I’d only been playing solo for maybe 6 months before I launched the first EP. It was incredible as I was always self conscious about singing and playing and song writing. It took me a long time to start playing solo. It’s something I always wanted to do but I never had the confidence to show people what I’d written or play in front of people. And then I started playing shows and it was received really positively from everyone.

The EP launch was a house show at Cam [Byers] house and there was just so many people, so many friends, and everyone was singing the words back to me which is something I’d never experienced before then. I had a great time and it was really overwhelming and beautiful at the same time. I hadn’t really experienced that sort of thing. It was really special.

What does DIY mean for you?

I guess it’s about having something that you want to achieve and instead of paying somebody else to do it for you or paying someone to help you, you just be like “this is what needs to be done, how can I do this myself”. It’s like cutting out the middleman, like “I have the ability to make this happen on my own,” or with the help from friends and the local community – keeping it local. Both the Jim Dusty EP’s I recorded with my friend Joel [Cabban]. Like he wanted to record more music, and I wanted to record more music so it was mutually beneficial to do it together.

I guess in terms of the DIY music scene you don’t have big promoters, or fancy venues. It’s just making live music happen however you – like in someone’s lounge room or in small pubs and venues, and all the promotion is done by the bands and the venue, and the interest of the bands are held in the biggest esteem. It’s not about making money or getting famous. It’s just about making it happen.

What do you love about the Canberra music scene?

I think it’s great being a small city, it’s not too segregated into “I like this genre on music so I’m only going to go to these shows”. Because there’s not as many bands as there are in bigger cities like Sydney or Melbourne and there’s a lot of cross-over between band members between different bands in different genres of music in Canberra.

It’s like a lot of the music community is just a huge friendship group. So people go out to shows not to just see music but to support their friends in their different projects. I feel like there are a lot more mixed bills exposing people to different kinds of music. Everyone’s just friends and they want their bands to play together even if they don’t necessarily fit under the same genre. And a lot of the audience members know each other and they’re all friends it’s all just a big entangles loving community. It feels friendly here and it’s easy to meet new people and connect with new musicians and new fans. It’s a really friendly atmosphere. And also the music is great. There’s a much stronger sense of community here now then where there was when I first moved here trying to play shows with my older bands. Everything feels more welcoming. Seeing new young bands coming into the scene and everyone just being stoked to see a new young band. It’s a really good supporting scene we have going on at the moment and I’m very happy to be a part of it.

Tell us about Mulgara.

We wanted to be a sort of DIY record label. We’d still like to someday help local artists release music. We’re kind of more focused on booking and promoting shows at the moment. We do a lot of house shows with a strong focus on DIY and how to do things. For a long time we were just doing donation entry for shows trying to make them as accessible as possible for everyone. We’re all about inclusivity and not discriminating against anybody based on where they’re from or what gender they identify as or their ability to do things. Over the last few years we’ve done a lot of great shows and it’s been exciting, people from outside of Canberra hearing about us and wanting to book shows with us.

We run the yearly festival No Front Fences. We’ve done it twice now and we plan on doing it again next year. It’s like trying to showcase bands that we really like, getting a good amount of interstate bands to come and play that haven’t played here much before, people in Canberra may not have been exposed to and also put on a lot of local acts so that these interstate bands can see what Canberra has to offer. It’s about meeting new people and having a great time watching bands over a weekend. It’s really great to be a part of.

What is your latest Jim Dusty project?

My latest project would be the Jim Dusty Lucky Dip tape collection. So I came across an old tape recorder and a bunch of blank tapes and had this idea where I record music to the tapes, so each one is recorded live. There are six songs on every tape, recorded straight into the built-in microphone of the tape recorder. There are new Jim Dusty songs, old songs, some covers and collaborations with other Canberra musicians. And then I hand draw unique artwork for every tape and wrote a little track list and then wrap them up before I sell them. No one really knows what they’re going to get. The quality varies quite a bit between tapes but it’s all extremely lo-fi. It’s been a lot of fun and especially collaborating with other local musicians, being able to hang out with them and play some of their songs, play some of my songs, and play some covers.

I just launched that project at the Phoenix Pub on the 15th [of August]. I’m hoping I can keep it going. I still have a lot of blank tapes laying around so I want to have a few for sale at future Jim Dusty shows.

What are your upcoming shows?

So I’m about to go on tour with Jack R. Reilly and Dog Dirt, starting in a couple of weeks on the 25th of August at the Homestead. Then the next day we’re going to Melbourne to play a house show. And then the following weekend I’m playing at the Red Rattler Theatre in Sydney and then the day after at the Hamilton Station Hotel in Newcastle.

Cover Photo by Claire Warren


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