Born in Wharton, a town along the Colorado River just southwest of Houston, Derek Tusing has always been one with nature. On his most recent record, set for release Oct. 1, he takes inspiration from his time outdoors, which transfers well to his music.
Tusing began writing music at 13, after seeing his brother write songs and perform with a band. But it wasn’t until he was around 16 that Tusing and a few friends started booking studio time and performing as a band. By his early 20s, he was performing in a band called Young Poland before eventually adopting his surname as a mononym and going solo.
He recorded much of Driving to the Game with a backing band, and his most recent single “Barking for the Fun of It,” is based on ideas he and former Young Poland bandmate Tyler Hopper exchanged as far back as 2017.
“I was living in California for a summer and [Hooper and I] had sent a few demos and a few little notes from our journals,” Tusing says. “‘Barking for the Fun of It’ was one of the ones that caught my attention.”
On the acoustic guitar-driven folksy tune, Tusing goes “midnight rambling on” about bad habits and past mistakes that have led him down his current path. While he seems confidently aware that he’s outgrown his old ways, changing is easier said than done, leaving him “stubborn and not ready to admit it.”
Another song, the country-influenced “Up My Sleeve,” suggests it’s written for a love interest, with lyrics such as “you got everything you wanted from me.” But Tusing says he only had himself in mind when writing it.
“I feel like it's a relationship song written to me,” Tusing says. “It’s about inner struggle and self-doubt. And the eventual thought of ‘What else have I got up my sleeve? What can I do to move through this self-doubt? What parts of myself do I want to leave behind and what parts of myself do I want to focus on?’”
“It's really cool to see a group some people might consider unprepared come in and do what I think is my best work.” – Tusing
While retreating from society in order to hone their craft can work for other artists, Tusing says he didn’t write songs while on his hike from Phoenix to Albuquerque, nor did he write songs while hiking the Continental Divide Trail last summer. When he's composing, Tusing relies on having an instrument nearby, which allows him to line up the beat with the lyrics.
But by taking time off from music, social media and technology in general, Tusing learned the value of stepping away.
“I feel like we're in a very attention-focused society right now,” he says. “And for a lot of creators, I feel like that means we have to show up daily. We have these ‘I can't step away from my smart device or people are gonna forget about me’ type of fears. My first big summer of hiking, I was in the middle of finishing up a record, and I would occasionally feel myself thinking ‘What's gonna happen if I'm not able to answer this email?’ or blah, blah, blah. I learned you can take time for yourself and you don't have to be a slave to the internet.”
Tusing recorded Driving to the Game over the course of three days with a backing band composed of an upright bassist, pedal steel guitarist and a pianist. Although this was only the first time he'd used this approach when creating an album, Tusing says it was ideal as it allowed for him to get the songs recorded without having to book multiple sessions.
Before the recording sessions, Tusing says the band only had one practice session together. He had written all of the songs and worked with the instrumentalists individually to get the chords and notes right. Collectively, they created 10 dream-folk songs, the exact sound Tusing was going for.
“It's really cool to see a group some people might consider unprepared come in and do what I think is my best work,” Tusing says. “It's a lot about growth, it's a lot about self-reflection. It's a really interesting snapshot of the last five years of my life.”