Instrumentalist, producer and, last but not least, singer-songwriter Dustin Ransom has played Musicians Corner thirteen times in the past three years -- as a sideman to artists like Dave Barnes, Matt Wertz, Erin McCarley, K.S. Rhoads, and Andrew Ripp.
The multi-talented Nashvillian is gearing up to release the EP Thread On Fire, and he's shared with us a a standout track, "No One's Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do)."
We talked to Ransom about being a Musicians Corner superstar, getting over insecurities, and how mastering Nintendo can prepare you for a career as a musician.
You've played Musicians Corner thirteen times. That must be a record. What are a few of your standout memories?
There are so many, it's honestly hard to narrow them down. There are three that stick out to me though.
The first was playing keys and singing background vocals with Dave Barnes and Matt Wertz for the opening show of the 2015 season. Both of those guys are such good people to be around, and write and perform songs that always bring out the best in me as a musician. To see two great friends have such great camaraderie both on and off stage and to be asked to be a part of that is something very cool.
The second standout would be playing bass and keys and singing background vocals with Andy Davis in 2014, who has been a huge supporter and champion for me over the past five years. Andy has opened more doors and opportunities for me than he probably realizes, so it always feels like a homecoming when we get to play together. I owe a lot to him.
The third was playing drums and singing background vocals with K.S. Rhoads in 2014. K.S. is ferociously talented in a plethora of ways, and has been so gracious and supportive of me as long as we've known each other. To simply be around him and glean from what he does as a musician, songwriter, and performer has been hugely inspiring for me.
What makes a good sideman? What makes a bad one?
I could write a book about this topic, as I've learned much of it the hard way. A good sideman (or anyone in any vocation for that matter, but we'll stick with music for now), knows and understands that they have intrinsic value that isn't delegated by or relegated to their musical/technical abilities. It is knowing that who you are is more valuable than what you do. If that statement gets reversed, feelings of insecurity and inadequacy can easily sneak in and wreak havoc both internally and peripherally. You'll hear from just about any musician who has a good head on their shoulders that in order to be a sideman, it takes 20% skill and 80% hang to keep getting called. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't continue to grow on your instrument; it just means that those who hire you are going to want to know they are surrounded by good, confident people who know their role and can have a good time. It just so happens that they are great, flexible musicians.
A more succinct way of saying this would be that healthy, transparent, and honest relationships will serve someone more than simply being a killer musician ever will. I would take a good player with an amazing attitude and a great work ethic over a monster player who has a poor attitude and a lackadaisical work ethic any day. If someone is a monster player with an amazing attitude and work extremely hard, then they're on the right path. Fortunately, there are many people in Nashville who fit that description, and they are a blast to hang and make music with.
Tell us about "No One's Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do)."
It was the last song written for my EP, entitled Thread On Fire. As with the entirety of the EP (minus horns on one song) I played all the instrumentation, sang every vocal, and wrote the song by myself. It was recorded at my studio, Shelter Studios, with the help of my good friend Adam Bokesch, who is a tremendous producer/engineer in his own right and who I asked to come in to co-produce this project with me. Although it is a love song, "No One's Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do),” is also meant to be a reminder to be thankful for who and what is in your life. At the risk of sounding cliché, no one is guaranteed tomorrow, so gratefulness becomes paramount, as it ultimately leads to trust and contentment.
You're a ‘musicians musician' - you can play, produce, engineer, write and arrange. Were you very active in music when you were a kid? Has your music changed a lot since then?
Honestly, I have no conscious memory of not being able to play an instrument. I played a lot of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, when I was three years old, and my mother saw enough potential in the coordination skills I'd acquired from doing so that she thought it would be a good practical step to enroll me in piano lessons. I ended up taking piano lessons for the next 18 years from some phenomenal teachers, and was classically and jazz-trained along the way.
At the same age, and possibly before then, I was already building drum sets out of pot, pans, buckets, and whatever else I could get my hands on. My parents bought me my first drum set when I was eight, and that set the wheel in motion. I studied with a Berklee alumnus named Gregg Martin all throughout junior high and high school, then got accepted into the drum/percussion program at Belmont University, where I studied with drummers Chester Thompson and Zoro, among many other brilliant professors.
When was I around twelve years old, I asked my dad if he could show me how to play guitar, as he knew six or seven basic chords. With all the training I'd had in reading music and music theory up to that point, transferring that knowledge to guitar and eventually bass was very easy.
I've technically been writing songs since I was eight or nine years old. At the time, I didn't think much of them -- I was trying to emulate more satirical, parody-based music like artists who would appear on the Dr. Demento Show by writing really sardonic, sarcastic songs (as much as an eight or nine-year-old could do) and recording them into a small cassette recorder my parents had. Interestingly enough, that became my first foray into multi-track recording, or at least overdubbing. I would record an instrument - say piano or drums - into the small cassette recorder, take the cassette out after I'd recorded on it and put it in our larger stereo system. I would put the built-in microphone of the small recorder right next to the speakers connected to the larger stereo and record the sound of it going into the smaller recorder, and simultaneously sing, or play drums, or play more keyboards on top of it. I would do this over and over again until the tape quality began to deteriorate to the point of being unlistenable. It was archaic, but it got the job done!
In many ways, my focus on music has been a long process of uncovering affinities for things I don't think I could adequately express when I was really young, and then figuring out how to articulate them as I got older. I never thought I could actually sing until I was in my teens, even though I'd been singing since I was a little kid. It just made sense at that point in my life to truly pursue singing as a way of expressing myself. Even after being told by many influential people in my life that I should be an artist, it didn't seem make sense for me to do so until about two years ago, even though in the back of my mind, I'd tried to suppress that thought because of insecurities. The irony of all this is that as an artist, I feel like I'm actually doing what I'm really supposed to be doing. Screw insecurities!
What was your first big break?
I don't think I've had a specific moment where it felt like the stars aligned and everything fell into place - a "break", so to speak. It's all been very gradual. I will say, however -- to reference an earlier point -- that quality relationships are profoundly important. I can trace virtually any good thing that's ever happened to me as a musician back to one or two people who I became friends with organically and, more importantly, from whom I knew I had nothing to gain. That's made all the difference.
What's the last good concert you saw. Tell us about it.
I saw The Who at the Bridgestone Arena in May. I've been a massive Who fan since I was in junior high school, so to finally see them live was monumental for me. Inspiring is an understatement - to see two men in their early 70s completely rip apart an arena with virtually the same energy they had as 20-year-olds was staggering. Euphoric, to say the least. After the thousands of concerts they've played at this point in their lives, there was still a conviction and a dedication to something they'd believed in as kids that was readily apparent. Roger Daltrey's vocals and microphone-turned-nunchuk skills were as strong as ever, and Pete Townshend's windmilling presence and guitar-playing was as ravenous and determined as it had ever been. I loved every minute of it.