Since the release of his debut album In The Grand Scheme earlier this year, Michael Dunstan has tumbled into the indie folk scene with all the surety and staying power of a rock. His latest single, a re-imagined acoustic version of balmy, sun-dappled track 'Lay in the Sun', had us so impressed, we had to speak to the man himself.
Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with us Michael. We have thoroughly enjoyed your recent releases and the narrative messages behind them. How would you say your upbringing in regional Australia affected your music & general life philosophy?
Growing up in regional Australia has taught me to appreciate a slower paced life. I think the beauty of living in a quiet rural area is that there is less distractions to seeing what is important and what isn’t to our lives. I’ve been very lucky to grow up spending most of my time in the Western Australian countryside, and if there’s one thing I can take from it, is that life makes more sense when appreciating what’s around you, rather than pondering about yourself.
Many of your songs go along the line of taking life less seriously and appreciating what you have more genuinely (Lay in the Sun, Search for Something More, etc.). Are these written from a place of personal transformation or had you always felt along these lines and observed the ramifications of the opposite in others?
These are mostly from a personal transformation perspective. I really really struggled with heavy anxiety since about 4 years ago from a traumatic event, and ever since I’ve tried to dive into mindfulness. Along the journey, the way I view life has greatly changed, and I think practicing mindfulness has been the key to realising how much we are already gifted with. Happiness and content are a mindset, not something that you are going to find lastingly in anything material.
Which musicians or artists have you aspired to be like or greatly admire?
I love Andy Shauf, Kevin Morby, Lucy Rose, King Gizzard and The Wizard Lizard. Andy is really quirky and I enjoy his way with words. Kevin is also very clever in that manner, and I particularly enjoy the warm vibe in his songs and light humour. Lucy’s music is nothing short of stunning and has a way of hitting the feels at the right time. King Gizz and their relentless approach to releasing music of any genre and mood inspires me to keep exploring my own music with no expectations and freedom. It’s a reminder to not think too hard about it, just do what feels fun and feels right.
What are your 3 “stranded on a desert island” albums?
Foxwarren’s self-titled debut album. Absolute Loser by Fruit Bats Barchords by Bahamas.
Your musical style seems to have transitioned naturally from your earlier releases to the more expansive vibe in ‘New Normal’ and ‘In the Grand Scheme’ – what direction do you see yourself going with your music for the next release - anything more experimental?
We’ve finished two more new EP’s! It’s a fairly large mix of new and old approaches. I’ve actually started including some more experimental instrumentals, which is a big love of mine! Making instrumentals feels like freedom, its more a feeling thing rather than having to worry over what words to use etc. We have some flute, and piano and nylon floating around in some of the songs, it’ll be nice to release the next bunch. It feels like another step up and progression on from the old music, but with some new messages I’ve been meaning to get across for a while now! Overall, I think the instrumentation is much more intricate and thoughtful in the next two EP’s. There’s a couple stripped back songs similar to early EP’s and then some nice full band arrangements with nice ambience.
Who has been the artist you have most enjoyed touring or performing with that we should definitely check out?
Perhaps Jack The Fox from Victoria. A very very class band that I feel is super underrated! Try catch a live show if you can, it’ll take you somewhere else.
Which one of your songs do you think has the most meaningful message or anecdote attached?
'Happily Helpless'. I feel it has a universal message behind it, that no matter your situation in life, you are okay, as long as you maintain a healthy perspective on your life and issues. Also a healthy little reminder that you can sit here and worry about everything, but we are so lucky to be here in the first place. Plus, there’s no guarantee that we’ll be here tomorrow, so make the most of it and live from a place of love rather than fear.
Nature and earthy motifs are a constant in a lot of your songs- What is it about the
natural world that inspires you?
Everything! Life makes so much more sense when you think of yourself as a small part of something bigger, rather than thinking of yourself as something bigger. The best part of appreciating the natural world, is it constantly amazes and helps us realise our insignificance. It is humbling. When we realise our own insignificance, we can start thinking for others rather than ourselves, and that’s when we become most powerful.
Do you have a favourite place in Australia, either that you’ve travelled to for work or just love to hang out, and if so, where and why?
Probably Esperance, Western Australia. Simply put, it is a pristine slice of coastal solitude. It’s super isolated, and life seems to dissolve into something as simple as just enjoying the beaches and company of family and friends. A magic place to disconnect and reflect.
What is it like making and releasing music during a time of global crisis? Would you say it is fodder for lyrics or a response to the anxiety it inevitably causes?
The crisis has definitely been food for thought. Think it goes to show you can have all your ducks and pennies lined up in a row and want to control everything, but life will still do it’s thing and throw a large curveball when it wants. I haven’t written anything related to COVID at this stage, but there’s plenty to be written and said for someone who wants to explore it! You’ve been quite open about your personal struggles with anxiety which I’m sure is invaluable to fans that deal with similar issues. Do you have any tips for people dealing with mental health?
Explore mindfulness! Try the headspace app, that thing is the bible for dealing with life and learning to be kinder to yourself. Exercise is huge too. Even if it’s just something light in the morning to start the day before you get on the technology, it’ll give you the best chance to have a good day. Travel! Explore nature, try a little more to be observant of things around you. There’s new things to see and learn every day, even on your same old drive to work or the beach if you try view it from a new angle.
And finally, what was a highlight from your tour earlier this year?
Would have to be the sold out Northcote Social show. Melbournians seem to have a knack of being really respectful, and loving of live music. For the amount of people in the room, it was an absolute treat to have it in dead silence for the majority of the set. It’s nights like that, that really make me cherish being an artist. To get on a stage and have every word you say be listened to is really powerful, and something I will never take lightly!
Oh and a question from our editor. What is your favourite guitar to play on?
My Alhambra 10p classical guitar! This one lives at home and recording only, but is a pleasure to listen to and the first thing I’ll ever pick up at home. It’s warm, sweet and smooth. The notes seem to mean more on this one, and go deeper. A weird thing to describe, but it’s a piece of art in my eyes and ears.
Thank you Michael Dunstan! You can listen to his latest release and check out his WA tour dates below.
Michael Dunstan 'Lay In The Sun' WA Tour
Saturday, 31st October
Clancy's Fish Pub, Fremantle
Clancy's Fish Pub, Dunsborough
Friday, 6th November
Prince Of Wales Hotel, Bunbury
Saturday, 7th November
The River, Margaret River