Good Afternoon Dustin! Thank you so much for talking with Battered and Brewed! What was a typical dinner or family meal like for you growing up on a farm in West Tennessee?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in your typical southern family, complete with the weekly family dinners at Maws (my grandmother’s mother) house on Sunday after church. We have a really large family and mostly everyone on my mamma’s side of the family live in the same area of the farm. There are three roads that all connect throughout the land, and everyone lives somewhere on those roads. It was good ole country cooking and all that entails. As far as a daily family dinner- always some sort of meat and ‘tater. My favorite meal of my mamma’s is probably her baked chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, etc. The great thing about growing up on the farm was the freshness of everything we ate. Probably 90% of everything on the table was either from the yard, the pasture, or the garden. We processed our own meat, picked and harvested our own vegetables, made sorghum, and on and on. I didn’t realize it then but I learned so much about work ethic and commerce by watching how my family dealt with the farm and business operations.
What type of restaurants and bars did your family own growing up?
My granddaddy aka B-Bop, had a couple of BBQ restaurants over the years. He’s honest to God a master barbecuer. He makes his own sauce, and he’s definitely made me a barbecue snob. Not that he talked down on certain ways of cooking, but his is so good that it’s rare that I find anything else that compares. And his baked beans are out of this world. The main staples of the menu were pulled pork, chicken and bologna, and all the fixin’s. What I loved most about them having the restaurant(s), was the sense of community it brought. Where I grew up everyone knew everyone. And I know that that’s a very cliché thing to say, but in our case it’s true. It’s probably because everyone is somehow related to each other haha. But it just seemed like everyone was really supportive and the place was always packed. I loved it. At the last restaurant, there was also a butcher shop that his brother Hilton ran. He was a fantastic butcher, and took so much pride in his work.
What started first your passion for cooking or for music and when?
I feel like they’ve always been somewhat intertwined. Somebody was always cooking and music was always playing. I think being a great cook is like being a great musician/ songwriter- you have to spend time honing your craft. Be patient and work until you find what works for you, if that makes sense. You can’t rush a great meal, and you can’t force a great song. You have to dedicate yourself to both, and let it happen naturally.
Now that you have been in Nashville awhile, where are some of your favorite places to get southern classics?
I’m all about a meat and three. There is this place called Wendell Smith’s off Charlotte Ave that I’m obsessed with. It reminds me of home so much. The people there are the kindest. They’re just good down home folk and that’s really hard to find these days. If you haven’t been, go to The Blue Moon Grille at Rock Harbor Marina. I grew up alongside the Tennessee River and spent a lot of my time there, so it definitely brings back a lot of “back home” memories. It’s right on the water, and you don’t even feel like you’re in Nashville. Whenever the family comes into town we usually go to Jimmy Kelly’s. You won’t get a better steak anywhere else. It’s such a staple in Nashville, and has such a great history. Husk is fantastic as well. Get the Cornmeal Crusted Catfish and thank me later.
Any favorite family recipes?
The first thing that popped in my head is my grandma’s praline candy recipe. These things will make you cuss and confess all your sins all at the same time. Instead of pecans, she’d go out in the yard and pick hickory nuts from the tree out by the strawberry patch. I called her and she said there isn’t an exact written down recipe, but this is what she rattled off from the top of her head. Verbatim…
1 cup of light brown sugar
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cups of evaporated milk
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick of softened butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups of coarsely chopped nuts
“In a saucepan, bring the sugars, milk, and salt to a boil and stir every so often. When it starts to boil, set the timer and cook for 4 minutes and lay out your wax paper while it’s boiling. Then take the saucepan off the stove and add the butter, vanilla, and hickory nuts (or pecans) and beat it real good until it’s good and thick. Then you want to drop them by the spoonfuls on the paper pretty quick or they’ll harden up on you.”
What does your cooking music playlist look like?
It depends on the mood, I guess. If the boys and I are out back grilling it’s all across the board. Lots of classic rock, country, and rap from the high school days, etc. If I’m trying to be slick and impress someone with date night, you can’t go wrong with some Michael Buble mixed in with some Avett Brothers, and Dave Barnes. Something easy and chill.
Is there anywhere you have wanted to travel or a restaurant you have always wanted to dine in that you have not yet? Or somewhere you cannot wait to get back to?
I. Love. Pasta. All I want to do is take off to Italy with a bunch of friends and pig out. I know that’s pretty generic, but I just think that would be the most amazing trip. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it so I’m dying to go.
After playing a late show, what is your guilty pleasure food?
Cool Ranch Doritos and the Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies. Maybe they’ll see this and I’ll get a sponsorship haha. Or a hotdog. My friends all make fun of me for my love of hot dogs. They usually have a couple of stands in Midtown Nashville around Losers and Winners bar. I’ve been known to get a sack full before we even go into the bars haha.
If you could pick one food to eat every day for the rest of your life, what would that be?
This is probably the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. If I was forced to only eat one thing and that’s it- my mamma’s lasagna. Everything was homemade from the noodles to the cow.
What was your biggest cooking disaster?
I caught my hair on fire with a grill lighter when I was 19 or so. That’s all I’m going to say about that. It was a dark time hahaha.
Is there anything that you don’t enjoy eating?
I wish I was more adventurous with seafood. I love it- but I get really sick from it. I’m probably allergic to it, but it’s so worth it.
Where do you get your recipes? Any favorite cookbooks?
Speaking of, I want to do a proper family cookbook. From beginning to end- breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, bbq, and everything in between. Maybe even do an audio book version and have my grandmother’s and aunt’s or whoever just talking and telling their favorite recipes and stories. I feel like so much life happens in the kitchen and around the dinner table. Get B-Bop going about “what makes a great BBQ sauce.” That would be so special I think. But I learned mainly from watching others. Like earlier, my grandma (Pam) said she didn’t have anything properly written down, but she had watched her mom, and in turn taught my mom, and down the line. Just by watching and observing.
Do you have a favorite brew/wine?
I’m more of a whiskey kind of feller, so I’ll give you my favorite cocktail instead. A fraternity brother of mine, Nick Palmer, makes the BEST Maker’s Manhattan Up you’ve ever had. It’s a super simple recipe, but I love it. It’s straight and to the point. I really like Woodford Reserve or Collier and McKeel whiskey. But, you also can’t go wrong with Jack Daniels. It’s a classic and always gets the job done.
You released your new single, “Nobody but You” on November 11; tell us a little bit about that song.
I wrote “Nobody but You” with Zach Lockwood and Kellr, and I’m so proud of it. I was going through a bit of a situation with this girl, and I was venting to the guys about it in our write. We’ve always had this back and forth, will they won’t they type deal, and we were at the point of “what are we doing? Are we doing this or not?” I wrote the chorus earlier that morning, but we ended up doing something totally different. Zach has a way of finding the positive in any situation and he brought out this really fun vibe to it. Kellr killed the track production of it, and I think it was the perfect song to kick off this new season of my life and career.
Your new EP is set to release March 10th is a crazy mix of synth pop; electronic feels, with great country-esque story telling. Are you planning a big tour around the release and what cities are you most excited to play?
We have some really fun things planned that I’m hoping to share in the near future. We’ve just been working really hard on this new material and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. I think that it’s a pure reflection of where I am in my life, and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do. All the songs on the EP are about relationships. The good, the bad, the ugly, and indifferent. I’ve had some crazy/ amazing/ psychotic/ beautiful relationships in the past. So I had a lot to write about.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
Just to keep at it, you know? I think for the longest time I was always trying to “save face” and always have this air of “Yeah, I know what I’m doing,” but nobody knows what they’re doing. We’re all trying to figure it out and for the first time ever, I’m okay with not being okay, if that makes sense. I feel like my career is at the point to where everything is slowly falling into place, I have amazing friends and people around me. Things are good.
Finally for Battered and Brewed, if you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and what would you drink?
I would love to sit around a fire and drink some whiskey with Paul Newman. Or whatever he wanted to drink. He’s always been the coolest guy to me. I love old movies and I think there was such a quality to those characters that you don’t see much anymore. “The Long, Hot Summer” was my favorite movie of his, with “Cool Hand Luke” being a close second. He had such an eclectic life and just did whatever he wanted to do, whenever he wanted to do it, with whoever he wanted to do it with. I dig that.
ABOUT DUSTIN HENSLEY:
“I had the light bulb moment and it hit me—‘I’m not having any fun.’”
What do you do as an artist when the expectations of others, and of yourself, are up against the truth in your heart? Only months ago, singer/songwriter Dustin Hensley found himself at that very crossroad, where his musical path began to forge into two different paths; one taking him where he originally thought he should travel and the other where he knew deep in his heart he should go. “I grew up in the South, in the ‘sticks,’ and I love country music,” Hensley says. “But I also love so many other styles and genres. Country was the safer bet and it seemed like it made the most sense, but I never felt like I fit in. Nothing that I was creating felt like it told my whole truth.”
In 2015, the Tennessee native released a single “Don’t Call It A Night” to great reviews, with Billboard Magazine’s Chuck Dauphin calling the singer, “Country for sure, but also bears more than a little resemblance to acts such as Tracy Chapman, thanks to his soulful touch…” Hensley was a regular on the writer’s circuit of Nashville, and toured all over the country playing and visiting radio stations in support of the music.
But a fateful visit to a new publisher gave Hensley the best advice of his career—the advice that struck a major chord and made him confront his inner artistic struggle. “He said, ‘I love everything that you’re doing. I love you—you’re fun, you’ve got the chops, but these songs aren’t really you. You need to go have fun,’” Hensley remembers. “I was sitting in the parking lot in my truck after the meeting, and I had the light bulb moment and it hit me—‘I’m not having any fun.’”
So he set out to have fun with his music the only way he knows how: to simply be himself—Dustin, the life of the party. To tell his truth, through his eyes, with his unique voice like only he can.“At the end of the day, I’m a lot of different things and a lot of different sounds” he says. “And I’ve decided to throw all of them—pop, R&B, country, classic rock, southern gospel—into my music.”
And it’s working for Hensley, who’s never been happier than this moment in his musical journey. He’s ready to let the world hear his truth—and for once, he doesn’t fear the outcome. “I’m okay with not being okay” he confesses. “I’ve grown up a lot in the last couple of years and I’m ready to throw it all out there and see what happens. I have had a plan before, and it didn’t work for me. Now, I’m ready to take that leap and risk it all.”
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