Dustin Bentall lives a charmed life. His debut album, Streets With No Lights, delivered 10 songs of pure life experience, not a “skip it” among them – earned from surviving car crashes, tours and relationships all framed up with simple, singable phrasing that wasted not one note nor drop of ink. It turned up on several lists for favourite of the year.
He followed it up with two more strong albums, 2009’s Six Shooter (with The Dustin Bentall Outfit and featuring crowd favourite 3000 Miles) and 2013’s You Are an Island with The Smøkes.
His father, Canadian icon Barney, invites Dustin onto his stages on a regular basis, including perennial charity concert and Canadian staple Cariboo Express, which features a revolving array of musicians like Leeroy Stagger, Matt Masters and Leslie Alexander and hits town for a Nov. 3 Bella Concert Hall Show, as well as killer sets at this year’s Calgary folk fest.
Kendel Carson — blonde, gorgeous, talented — is Bentall’s long-term, fiddle-playing, hottie girlfriend and bandmate. He’s lucky she likes him, because she could steal every board and nail from any stage they’re on together with just one three-minute song.
As if all of that is not enough to mark a charmed life, Bentall and Carson have toured extensively with John Prine as his opening act. Now that truly must suck for any young, up and coming musicians.
With all of this charmed and charming stuff happening, we had some questions for Bentall before he hit town.
Q: You’re playing Wide Cut Weekend billed as Dustin Bentall or as you with Kendel. What’s the story on The Smøkes? Or, for that matter, The Dustin Bentall Outfit? What has changed that you are not billing yourself with a band?
A: Well, I’m probably going to reference Tom Petty in every answer here so to begin it’s not unlike TP vs TP & TH’s. The Smøkes and The Outfit were bands that played the songs alongside me. Since our last record, both Rich Knox and Del Cowsill (Smøkes) have held steady in Toronto while Kendel and I have been on the West Coast. Rich now has a full-time gig with Danko Jones, and Del, being a father of two, is keeping himself busy and staying off the road.
Kendel and I have written a bunch of songs together and been playing a lot of shows together as a duo. We’ve been in and out of various studios doing different and experimental sessions, which has been a great process and we’ve really found a new sound and direction. I love Rich, Del, Pat and Adam, and love to play with them whenever we get the chance, but for the time being the next record and chapter of my life will be billed as Dustin Bentall.
Q: You had a store called b.b gun leather. What drew you to do that? Had you done leather work before that? What were your days like there, and what is the status of b.b. gun leather now?
A: b.b gun leather sadly has closed its doors. It was a partnership and from the beginning we had agreed that we were only going to do it if we could make it everything it could possibly be. And we did that successfully for three years, but ultimately it was taking all my time and I needed to put my full focus on music for a while.
Days in the shop were incredible: Anything from 14 hour crushing days of leatherwork to having rock stars like Father John Misty or John Paul White coming into our 200 sq. ft. tilting East Van shop to film “b.b gun sessions” with the CBC. It was a really great time. And on a positive note, I’ve got music to release and I even have a solo venture leather brand launching in the very near future … It’ll all work out, eventually.
Q: Your life is entwined with family and music. You and Kendel have been on the road together for close to a decade, and you play with your dad fairly often. What pressures does this cause, in keeping a balance? What are some of the unexpected joys in doing this?
A: Well, it’s sort of just that. It’s the unexpected joys that balance out the pressures. It’s a lifestyle and you get better at it the more you do it. You gotta be careful and not get too burnt out. It happened to me. I spent 18 months on the move with no steady apartment and towards the end of that I lost a friend to suicide. That really freaked me out. I learned a lot from those years and I’m excited to take that experience with me into the future. As for the touring with my dad thing, “My old man was born to rock; he’s still trying to beat the clock.”
Q: The Cariboo Express! This is, in spite of the name change (it was formerly Grand Cariboo Opry), becoming something of a Canadian institution. How are the charities that benefit from this chosen? The mix of musicians is a bit different each year, with a strong core. How do you get it together in time? Who comes and who stays? How is that decided?
A: Each town has a different promoter/organizer that champions a certain charity and then tracks down the sponsors. In the towns where we’ve done it for 11 years now they’re already in place for the following year by the time the show finishes, there’s a lot dedication to the project from both sides. It is becoming somewhat of at least a Western Canadian institution. We’re going to hit a big milestone this year with the grand total of money raised over the past decade closing in on a million dollars! Last year alone brought in a quarter of that so it’s really growing and collectively we are extremely proud of that.
As for the mix of musicians it brings some difficult decisions, there are so many players and singers we would love to have on the show and there are equally as many that want to be a part of it. The reason the core is so strong and steady is because all these people have shown real dedication to the group so they’ve really earned a spot on that stage. The local guests we get to have with us bring a new energy to the show which is always a rush. My favourite Canadian country singer is now living in Calgary so I’ve got my fingers crossed that she will join us for a song or two at the Bella Concert Hall on Nov 4th… I’ll give you a hint, she wears red boots, and she’s crazy ‘bout Elvis.
Q: People would love to know a bit more about your tours with John Prine. How did that all come about? What are some of the standout moments for you? What was the worst moment of those tours for you?
A: The tours with JP have been an absolute dream. The summer that The Missing Years came out I was 13 years old. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell are all over that record, by the way. My dad played the record on repeat that summer. Even at that age I loved the quirky imagery and really felt the songs and questioned what they were about.
Of course over time what they mean to me has changed, but I had an early introduction to his music and have been a fan ever since. Some standout moments (are) playing poker with him and the crew in a hotel on a night off in Duluth, MN. He took all my money. Another was being able to introduce him to my dad and then having John ask my dad to join us to play Paradise at the end of the show that night. All of us on stage together for the encore, that was one for the books!
All but two of the shows we’ve done with him were as a duo (Kendel and I), but one of the shows I did solo was at the Paramount Theater in Seattle — just me, a guitar and 2,500 people, which is kind of the singer/songwriter’s equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I felt all the feelings that night. I’ll never forget it.
Q: What’s been in rotation on your turntable/CD player/MP3 player this past month?
A: Tom Petty exclusively for the past week. Warren Zevon. Kacy & Clayton. The War On Drugs. Matt Mays. Kurt Vile. Jason Isbell. Roy Orbison.
Q: You have been writing songs for over a decade. What helps you keep the wick long and lit?
A: There’s a song in everything you look at, everything you feel. You have to just constantly put the pen to paper and not be afraid to fail. What inspires me the most these days though is Kendel’s writing. The way she sees lyrics and melody. I’m lucky to have her nearby so often. We’ve done a lot of writing together over the past year and it’s been really exciting. That and listening to Tom Petty, which has always been my number one source of inspiration; he’s a master of the simple and cutting lyric.
Q: You have a knack for finding and covering gems – like 3000 Miles. What song of someone else’s do you want to cover next?
A: There are so many. I’m going to record one of Kendel’s songs on my next record. Similar to 3000 Miles it feels really natural for me to sing it. I’m excited to share that.
Q: What does your time look like when there are no gigs or recordings booked, and you can do whatever you want?
A: I’m either covered in grease from head to toe under the hood of my ’64 Bel Air or I’m covered from head to toe in leather dust working with that. If I have a pocket of time with nothing on the go, which happens maybe once or twice a year, you’ll probably find me in the shop making a pair of boots. I learned how to make shoes last year and it’s an extremely inspiring process. I’ve always been obsessed with high quality leather footwear so wearing a pair of boots I made for myself brings with it some great feelings.
Q: What question do you wish I asked, and what is your answer?
A: Question: What’s the first song you learned to play on guitar? Answer: Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Dustin Bentall plays Wide Cut Weekend Friday, Oct. 13 at midnight at Nite Owl, Saturday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. as part of the Songwriters in the Round at the King Eddy, 9 p.m. with Kendel Carson at the Legion, and at midnight at the Blues Can.
Mary-Lynn Wardle has written about music, horses, and books for over 25 years in The Calgary Herald, FFWD Weekly, Western Horseman, Western Horse Review, theYYSCENE and others.