Written By: Autumn Marie Buysse
Dean Purificato is a Warped Tour kid who’s grown up to be one of Nashville’s most in demand bassists. This Connecticut native spent his childhood playing in pop punk bands with his brother Ralph, who was actually in town the weekend of our interview. I got the chance to sit down with the both of them at Just Love Coffee on Demonbreun and learn what separates a good instrumentalist from a great instrumentalist in this town.
Raised in a small town near New Haven, Ralph notes that his younger brother Dean “became the big fish in the small pond up there real quick, and everyone could tell.” After Dean’s adventures in the pop punk world, he moved to Virginia to major in Marketing at Liberty University. After college, he started playing gigs in Boston with all the talented local Berklee students, who quickly accepted him as one of their own. At the time, his plan was to move to LA since he had always been a bigger fan of pop music than country. He hadn’t even considered Nashville until he played a show in Music City with Darin Favorite, Shania Twain’s bandleader. After the show, Darin encouraged him to move to Nashville instead, and no one should take direction from Shania Twain’s bandleader lightly. Upon moving, Dean found that Nashville is a culmination of everything he loved about Connecticut and Virginia— except with cheaper housing.
A lot of Dean’s friends who moved to LA are thriving in the robust pop scene, but he’s noticed the drummers and keyboard players are finding gigs much easier than guitarists. As a fretted instrumentalist, Dean’s glad he moved to the home of country music instead. While he’s still a huge fan of acts like Charlie Puth and The 1975, now he’s also hooked on country acts like Dan + Shay and Maddie + Tae. This multifaceted musician has lived in Nashville for three years now, and while he misses his family, I don’t think he’s going anywhere— except, you know, when he’s travelling the world on international tours.
For the past two years, Dean’s main gig has been playing with AWAL’s artist Austin Burke at local shows and national tours. With Austin, Dean plays bass and sings harmonies, and then switches over to guitar during acoustic sets. The story of how Dean and Austin met is pretty much as Nashville as it gets. Dean was working at a radio promotions company when he first moved to town, and Austin was in talks with the same radio promotions company, which is how the two of them met. The two of them were hanging out at Loser’s one night when Austin mentioned he had just fired his bass player. Austin still didn’t have a bass player a few nights later when he was at a show, with Dean playing guitar on stage. At the end of the show there was a little extra time, so Austin was invited up on stage to play a song. Dean had already been a fan of Austin’s music, and knew how to play the song that skyrocketed Austin’s career, “Whole Lot in Love.” The impromptu performance wowed Austin enough that when he watched a video of the song the next day, he texted Dean to ask if he knew how to play bass. He accidentally texted the wrong Dean though. Thankfully, Nashville’s a small town and Austin saw the right Dean playing bass at Whiskey Jam the next night and promptly asked Dean to join his band once he got off stage. Two years later, Austin landed a publishing deal with Thomas Rhett, and Dean is still playing with him.
Dean’s story about meeting Austin demonstrates a great point he made in our interview, which is “don’t network, just be a great person and go make friends.” Years of playing in bands has taught Dean that while musicianship and skill is important, it’s all about the hang. The reality is that “you’re gonna be on stage for an hour or two, but you’re gonna be in the van for five hours the next day.” While proficiency is crucial, country music usually isn’t nearly as challenging as genres like classical and jazz, so what separates gigging instrumentalists from instrumentalists sitting at home are the ones who are able to treat gigs as a job, treat the artist you play for as your boss, make the artist’s ideas come to life, and be a fun person to hang out with. These characteristics are how he landed his most recent gig— touring with Tyler Braden, another country artist on-the-rise.
Even though this New Englander grew up on pop and pop punk, Dean now listens to country music more than anything else. He argues that country music is the best songwriting in the world, affectionately calling heartbreaking country songs “farm emo.” Lately, modern country has been under fire for not being country enough, but Dean points out a fact that few are willing to acknowledge, which is that “no one’s living on a farm with one AM station anymore.” Even if you’re living in the deepest part of the south, you still have access to pop, rock, and a million other genres. Dean argues that it’s not just the subject matter that makes a song country, it’s the literal lyricism and wordplay in songs like “David Ashley Parker From Powder Springs” by Travis Denning. He believes that great country music makes listeners think of something in a way they haven’t before, often by taking a phrase you’ve heard a million times and putting a new spin it.
A lot of creatives look down on acts like Florida Georgia Line, arguing they’re not real country, but Dean argues that the FGL boys are incredibly country and are doing a world of good for the industry as a whole. As Dean puts it, “there’s people that want a piece of the pie, and there’s people who want to make the pie bigger.” Florida Georgia Line has already made the country pie so much bigger, and even if it’s not Grandma’s homemade pecan, it’s still an all-American apple pie. By writing songs that are accessible to a more diverse audience, the country market expands, making it more feasible for creatives to succeed.
I’m grateful that Dean’s brother was in town for the interview, because I got the chance to see firsthand how proud Ralph is of his little brother, even though Dean traded out pop punk basement stages for honky tonks. I can’t think of a better way to wrap this article than with Dean’s favorite dad joke: “A penguin walks into a bar and he goes ‘has anyone seen my brother?’ and the bartender goes ‘what does he look like?’