To a degree, all novice artists struggle with dreaded “imposter syndrome” — the feeling that you’re pulling one over on everyone by describing yourself as the musician, the writer, or the painter that you desire to be, the nagging insecurity that your work isn’t worthy enough to earn those coveted titles, especially when compared to those you hope to consider your peers. For those that have spent their whole lives in pursuit of a dream, the affliction might be milder, but if the idea of becoming an artist always seemed so impossible you barely ever really tried, so-called imposter syndrome can be a very difficult thing to overcome. After an early adulthood living a completely different life professionally and two or three years of giving it his best shot, singer-songwriter Dustin Massey feels like he just might have it licked.
“I’m a confident guy, but I’m not going to wave a banner for myself,” he said. “I used to play these open-mics, and people would have this very positive reaction, but I was Mr. Imposter Syndrome. I guess I had a really terrible attitude about it. I would be like, ‘What is it you want from me? Why are you lying? I can’t do anything for you, so you don’t have to blow smoke.’ ”
It took a while, but after some mentorship from a few Texas country luminaries, Massey has finally gotten over it enough to release his own music for the first time. He realized a dream he barely knew he had when he debuted his first single, “Pretty OK,” last Saturday at a packed show at his favorite local venue, Magnolia Motor Lounge.
Massey’s path toward this release was far from linear. The Granbury native grew up a rabid fan of the regional Red Dirt country sound. Going to shows at venues like the aforementioned MML and the old Live Oak was a revelation for him. Seeing bands like Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights somehow brought professional musicians closer to him and other “mere mortals” from his previous concept of the rock star selling out stadiums.
“There was something really cool about getting out to Fort Worth and seeing live music that made it somehow seem not so out of reach,” he said. “Something about seeing these badass musicians didn’t seem otherworldly. You’re never gonna be John Mayer, but in the back of my mind — not that I ever told anyone — I thought, ‘Maybe I could do this.’ ”
Once Massey graduated college, he worked in the oil and gas industry for a number of years. After a cross-country road trip, he realized his growing disillusionment with the job and quit and packed up and moved to Colorado. There he would spend his afternoons showing buddies how to play a few notes to back him singing his favorite Texas country artists. After prodding from those friends, he began to do the occasional open-mic and songwriter’s circles. But it was an advisership with one of his heroes that really set him down his path.
A chance opportunity at a songwriter’s workshop with Luke Wade was the first of a series of occasions that solidified his direction toward professional musicianship. Through Wade’s mentorship, Massey finally hit on a song that he felt was worthy of a true artist to sing.
“I had been struggling with my songwriting with Luke [Wade], and he was very constructive and objective with me and really pushed me when I wrote a very honest truthful song called ‘Run,’ ” Massey recalled. “And Luke was like, ‘That’s it. That one’s done. You’ve got yourself a song.’ It made me feel like a real artist.”
The next occasion came after moving back to Texas in the form of a recording session with acclaimed producer Beau Bedford (The Texas Gentlemen, Quaker City Night Hawks) that came by way of another mentor of sorts in fellow singer-songwriter Phil Hamilton.
“He asked me to play him something, and I got through the first chorus when he started laughing at me,” Massey described. “He said, ‘Man, you’re goofy. You’re so goofy it’s almost cool.’ And I was like, ‘What? Man, I’m really nervous right now.’ And he said, ‘No, I mean, you can do this. You can play guitar really well. You’ve got a great voice. You can make a decent living at this if you want. You’ve just got to decide if you want it.’ ”
Those sessions produced the new single “Pretty OK” — a tender and sentimental ode to making the most of things — as well as Massey’s forthcoming debut album due out later this summer.
Now armed with his own band rostered with premier players from the Texas country scene, a first legitimate single, and an album in the can, Massey is ready to accept himself as a true artist, and he looks forward to others seeing him the same way.
“To have this great producer tell you, ‘Yeah, man, you can do this,’ to look around the rehearsal room and see all these amazing musicians, it’s like being on a basketball team and they’re all looking at you to take the final shot,” Massey said. “You’re like, ‘I don’t know if I can take it,’ and you’ve got four or five other people saying, ‘Dude, we’re giving you the ball! Take the shot!’ So it’s like, you have to have confidence because all these people I look up to and admire have that confidence in me. So, yes, I am a musician. I am an artist. I’m really doing this.”