Country newcomer Derek Austin took the long way to Nashville. With persistence through odd jobs and no backup plan, the aspiring artist adhered to the 10,000-hour rule until he was no longer the “littlest fish in the biggest pond.”
Austin’s new single, “You Go Girl,” premieres today ahead of his debut EP, Barstool Saints. Co-produced by Jimmy Robbins and Jonathan Singleton, the project encapsulates the mileage between Austin’s family’s dairy farm in Minnesota and his publishing deal with JRM and Round Hill Music in Nashville.
Agreeing to assist the nearly deaf sound technician at his family’s church marked his musical entrance. One day in the control room, Austin recorded himself singing out of curiosity, and the playback astounded him. His cross-country trek began in Juno, Alaska, where he worked as an air traffic controller after graduating from the academy in Oklahoma City. Sitting up in the tower, he couldn’t help but feel he was wasting time chasing the wrong dreams.
“Looking back, I realize it was probably the kick I needed to get me here,” says Austin.
The first time Austin met Robbins, he was spraying his house for spiders. Austin’s job in pest control was a supporting role in his Music City debut. His days were long—pest control during the days, then meet up at 8:00 pm and write until 8:00 am.
“I didn’t know where to go once I got here,” Austin recalls with humor. “I was looking for a sign-in sheet to say, ‘Hey, I’m here, and I want to be a star.’”
By the time Robbins’ wife, Sarah, identified him months later as “the bug guy” in a photo, several of Austin’s original crew of friends and co-writers had given up and left town. Sarah, the head of JRM Publishing, invited him to meet with their team and her producer husband.
The artist credits his impenetrable passion for his success thus far. He admits that it’s something he “can’t turn off.” The Robbins’ identified this within his work ethic and took Austin under their wing.
“Derek Austin doesn’t care what people think of him,” says Robbins. “He creates music that is true to himself and his life experiences. He has lived a lot for just being in his 20s and is an old soul—the best kind of storyteller.”
Barstool Saints is not so much a concept. Rather, it’s a collection of snapshots —vignettes from his journey to this envisioned arrival.
His first single, “Her Daddy Don’t Like Me,” released in October 2020, emits a stylistically “throwback” feel. With a buoyant twang, the up-tempo track delivers warm familiarity to new listeners. It’s a nod to the styling that inspired his artistry. Austin is among the class of country music fans whose coming-of-age soundtrack included Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff,” Rascal Flatts’ “What Hurts The Most,” and Tim McGraw’s “Live Like You Were Dying.”
“I think about being a teenager—you’re mad, or you’re sad, and you don’t know why then one of these songs comes on and just hits you,” he describes.
The revered traditionalist feels the hard part is finding a medium. Austin explains, “You can’t just copy people; you have to thread the line between nostalgic and modern. Like ‘I’ve heard this before,’ but still original enough to captivate new people.”
“You Go Girl” melds into this unconventional space as one of the more modern tracks from Barstool Saints. The titular double entendre hooks the listener as the subject’s leaving becomes more serious.
“It makes you sing along, and it gives you goosebumps when you hear the pain in his voice as he sings the chorus,” Robbins describes. “Lyrically, Derek and his co-writers nailed the small-town breakup story that so many people have experienced, all while giving it a unique and modern take. We have some of the very best musicians in Nashville playing on this single, and we can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”