Derek Tusing drives across state lines with his younger brother on a road trip with no agenda. Mere days after the disastrous winter storm wrapped Texas in its icy grip, temperatures are rising once again. In a car without A/C, the dream folk singer-songwriter feels “a little toasty,” but considering his adventurous spirit, he’s likely used to feeling slightly less than comfortable.
The artist known as Tusing spends “huge chunks” of his year on outdoor expeditions and has been going on “big mile trips” since 2017. Last year, he spent most of his summer on the Continental Divide trail, a thru-hike (which he defines as a “terminus to terminus” scenic trail) he soon hopes to continue where he left off (a practice known as “lashing” in the hiking community). Shortly thereafter, he spent some time in Guatemala.
Following his first visit to the Central American country two years ago, he felt “heavily inspired” by the experience and says he wrote a number of songs that would ultimately make it to his forthcoming record.
“Wasted,” the first single from the album, drops March 5.
“It’s a real dream space for me on the record; I’m into the song a lot,” he says of the track. “I think it’s a solid representation of what’s to come on the record. It’s definitely a love song, but it’s definitely also a self-love song.”
Not long after “Wasted” is released online, Tusing will be setting off on another adventure. He estimates it will take him and his crew about six weeks to complete the 750-mile trek, which he describes as “pretty small” compared with other thru-hikes.
Tusing looks forward to getting back out on the trail following the flurry of promotional activities related to his single release. Allowing himself the space to be outdoors is a priority to the artist.
“I find it amazingly therapeutic considering this year’s conditions," he says. "Going out and hiking definitely saved me from some emotional self-sabotage.”
For Tusing, an ideal year would be divided pretty evenly between working on music — writing, recording and promoting — and being outdoors, including a big summer hike, sometimes starting as early as the spring.
The artist also spends a significant amount of time “creating conscious content” for his Patreon supporters as well as producing and editing videos for his YouTube channels. He maintains a self-titled music channel as well as an outdoor-centric channel, SnackbarHikes, where he documents his treks and provides informative guides for other hikers, such as how to “trail prep.”
Like a growing number of independent artists, Tusing seeks alternative ways to showcase his work and generate income. Even in the absence of a deadly pandemic, some musicians might suffer from gig burnout, potentially hindering their ability to create.
“I don’t think that’s something I can enjoy long-term in terms of looking for income,” Tusing says of the gig circuit, particularly in restaurants or anywhere live music plays a secondary role. “That’s something I struggled with for a long time because it’s an obvious thing to do if you have a good voice and enjoy playing music, but you gotta find your battles with being an artist and still maintain the clarity that you wish to express.”
For Tusing, who has played only a small handful of shows over the last few years, the house show model is preferable to performing at venues. He cites David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) as an artist whose touring style he admires, and feels that intimate shows with an audience of 25-30 attendees are a better fit for his genre of music and performance style. It’s in these environments that Tusing can best connect with people, which for him is the most important aspect of playing a show.
“I really feel like I need people’s attention,” he says, also noting he doesn’t mean that audiences should be forced to listen. Instead of fighting to be heard, he’d rather seek out performance opportunities in interesting and intimate settings, such as a live video session for a YouTube series.
“I want that quiet kind of space where I can sink into something,” he says.
Still, Tusing is not sure gigging is absolutely essential to his expression as an artist. He thinks listeners can best connect to his artistry via the upcoming record, as he feels it’s a more succinct representation of his sound.
When Tusing is not on the trail, he often finds himself immersed in his work, and when the mood strikes, he can spend hours working on a task.
“When I’m in the space and I’ve got my creative devices near me, and when I have free time, it’s pretty hard for me to distance myself from pulling stuff up and scrolling through this or that, typing this up, or listening to mixes,” he says.
His hiking trips often coincide with the end of the recording process, so he enjoys having the time and space to listen to final mixes or masters, or to dream up a tracklisting. Tusing is proof that an outdoor lifestyle and music lifestyle do not have to be mutually exclusive, and in some ways, might even be complementary.
“The last couple years is when I started to really put some belief into creating that kind of alternative artistic path,” Tusing says, adding that he’d be “psyched” if more artists similarly started to pursue unconventional career paths in music.
“It is possible,” he says. “It takes time and know-how, but I’ve [had] a lot of space to look at those things this year, and they feel good. They feel like good avenues to create a solid foundation for expression.”
While like-minded artists might search for a beat to dance to, Tusing is building his own drum.
“I don’t really have a friend to look at and be like, OK, this is a person I see with a positive, healthy work/life balance [who] is shooting for the same thing as me,” he says.
Maybe Tusing is the friend that other artists can look up to.
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