MICHAEL DUNSTAN INTERVIEW
WORDS BY ISABELLA ROSS
After the success of his debut album In The Grand Scheme, Michael Dunstan has blessed our ears with an acoustic version of Lay in the Sun. A laid back follow up to its original release this one is ready to warm up your summer playlist. Hailing from a family of teachers in Western Australia’s wheatbelt, Michael muses on living mindfully and letting go of the need to build a portfolio. Intro’s by bird sounds the acoustic guitar brings his lyrics to life, just what we all need after a gloomy winter. This track is full of hope and a reminder of the joyful moments wrapped up in the slow moving days. In his own words it’s a “quirky and casual” one.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Michael for a phone call last week to discuss all things from this track, to the future of his music and making space for creativity in 2020. Our conversation went a little like this:
Isabella: I’d love to know about the process of this acoustic release, can you share how it came about?
Michael: I originally demo’d it as an acoustic version purely because I am a bit lazy about setting up equipment. I don’t demo with a band so I just had two guitars going and recorded that. Then when we recorded it for the album I thought this one out of all the songs might be a good one to track on the electric. In hindsight I look back on some of the demos for the album and I feel like I kinda missed a little bit of what I wanted to capture in this one, so it was definitely high on the list to do an acoustic version of.
I really do love the acoustic version, I guess it’s more of the style I listen to. The birds in the intro are a nice element.
Yeah, we did mess it up in the studio, I fell into the trap of wanting to make it more stripped back and just do one vocal take, and one guitar take. We got to the end of the tracking, had a listen and my producer Andy and I looked at each other and laughed. We both agreed and his words were “it’s pretty fucking boring” *chuckles*. So yeah we completely scrapped it, started again and followed what the demo was. It was nice to realise we had made a big mistake before we put it out.
Can you tell me a little more about the lyrics in Lay in the Sun that talks about not living your life to build a portfolio?
A bit of context for you, I’ve got two parents that I absolutely adore but they are both teachers, one is a lecturer now, and one is a maths consultant for schools around Western Australia. Our whole family is fairly academic so there was a lot of focus on jumping out of uni and making sure we use all the study that we have done. I studied physiotherapy for three years, and after a certain thing happened to me, I struggled with anxiety. I deferred uni for a while and reevaluated where I was at. I felt like I was at the point of doing it purely for having the label of a good degree. I left uni after a few years, since then I have been doing things that make me and those around me happy, which is my main focus. It is scary to do something away from studying a university degree but I feel like now is as time as good as any to do something purely based on passion.
I have noticed your Instagram is filled with really beautiful landscape shots, do you feel like the environment influences or inspires your work? A question to tag along, is photography another creative outlet for you?
Recently I have been exploring the idea that we should be more focused on our surroundings than ourselves. I tend to get stuck on one quote at a time which often becomes a theme for an EP. With the last album I was focusing on the idea that when we realise our own insignificance we stop thinking for ourselves and start to think for others. We recently went to Exmouth which is one hell of a place. I feel like you can spend a whole week there are barely think of yourself except for what you are eating, the rest of your time is spent admiring what is around you, everything feels like it makes sense. The simplicity and sense of belonging when I am in those places is what inspires my work massively. There is nothing I would rather than spend quality time with friends out in nature.
Photography is definitely another creative expression for me, the only thing holding me back is budget for a better camera. I really just took my older sister’s camera and never gave it back! Recently I have started working on a creative audio/visual production business called Halves and Quarters with one of my best mates. We started it soon after the borders closed and I quickly realised music isn’t as financially safe as I thought it was. It feels like a breath of fresh air to give the music a bit of space which makes things feel all new and exciting again, I love the contrast.
The album as a whole reflects on some pretty intimate aspects of your life, how does it feel to share that journey with whoever might be listening?
It honestly feels good, because a lot of the heavier stuff that is on there I have moved on from. If someone were to bring up a conversation about anxiety, there are a few tracks on the album about past experiences. I was seeing a girl and she had to leave the country really suddenly which was a bit of a shock to my system but if people mention that now I would rather have it out there so someone can relate to it with what they are going through currently. I haven’t been in a super dark place for a couple of years now, but I know in those super dark times when you hear someone you have never heard before their lyrics can hit exactly what you are feeling. There are a couple of songs on the album that were written purely because I felt like I couldn’t express myself or talk to anyone. Music is so important for that.
Have you personally found any new artists recently that you feel like you really resonate with?
I really like a singer/songwriter Fionn Regan, he has a really intricate and dark folk sound. He paints a lot of imagery with his lyrics, it can be hard to understand what he is saying sometimes but it’s really pretty. On the other side of the spectrum is Kevin Morby, he is a bit more casual. The way he talks about the world, addressing heavy topics in a light way I hope a tiny bit of that shines through in my music. His singing feels like a casual conversation to you which I think is really nice.
Earlier in the year you shared you interest in an international tour, when that becomes a possibility where do you dream of playing first?
I have been wanting to play overseas for so long, I think the UK would be the first on my list because of the nostalgia I have associated in my head. I listen to a lot of artists from the UK like Fionn Regan, Ben Howard, Lucy Rose also those beautiful folky singer song writers. I think there is such a strong market for it over there, I think perhaps it is more strongly appreciated by UK audiences. That would be the first on the list and we are looking at some dates in the middle of next year which is wild. That’s really just something to have in my back pocket unless a miracle happens between now and then.
At Temporary Dreamer we have a signature question, if Lay in the Sun were a colour what colour would it be?
I think a light sky blue, that what I imagine when I am playing it.
If I can put you on the spot for a minute I would love to know your four track road trip playlist to wrap up today.
Track number one, ‘The Magician’ by Andy Shaus I never get sick of that song.
Number two, we might choose something a bit happier like ‘Sing a Glad Song’ by Kevin Morby.
Then we will pop on ‘Hot Heavy Summer’ by Ben Howard.
Another song I really like which is completely different to those is ‘Looped by ‘Kiasmos. I want to listen to those from start to finish now I love them all. You never get in the car feeling the same way twice, so I do chop and change through music which is so nice.
Lay in the Sun will be available for streaming September 14. Get your summer playlists ready, and why not stream some of Michael’s favorites in the meantime.