City and Colour: The Grass Is Always Greener
From the bedroom to Bluesfest: It didn’t quite happen overnight, but Dallas Green and his humble side project are officially huge.
A lot can happen in a decade. Relationships blossom and fall apart, trends wax and wane, bands form and fade away… As for Dallas Green, it’s been a whirlwind 10 years to say the least. The Canadian singer-songwriter has had a front row seat throughout the rise and demise of his beloved post-hardcore outfit, Alexisonfire, and witnessed his modest bedroom recordings grow from a solo side project into an undeniably successful act, able to lure even the most casual of radio listeners with their bluesy folk rock tones. Now backed by a trusted crew of world-renowned musicians, City and Colour has developed beyond Green’s wildest dreams, performing on daytime TV shows, scoring #1 records and stepping up to headline festivals across the globe. Rarely one to indulge in what they call “downtime”, the singer kept himself busy between releases recording a collaborative album with P!nk under the name You+Me. If it isn’t already obvious, Dallas Green and his delicate vocals are no longer your best-kept secret. Stadiums are starting to beckon as City and Colour prepare to release their fifth full-length, If I Should Go Before You, and prepare for shows in Australia as part of next year’s Bluesfest line-up. As we speak to Green on a warm morning in September, the singer is able to sit back and take stock of a life well lived.
You’re currently sitting on your new record, If I Should Go Before You. How did this one come together? Were you gathering ideas while you were on the road?
I usually just write songs when I’m at home to be honest. If there’s any little ideas that start to present themselves, I’ll fiddle with them here or there on tour, but most of the time touring is a place where I’m really concentrating on the shows that I’m playing at that moment. For this one, I had a whole bunch of ideas poking around and then when I got home, I started to look at what I had and the difference is, I had my band come over and we put the songs together as a band as opposed to me just doing everything myself and getting people to come in and play afterwards. I was so happy about the band I’ve had for these last couple years of touring that I wanted to include them, and it’s nice to have that trust in people too. Obviously I trusted their musical ability, but it was nice to just trust them as friends as well. The guys have kind of learned what I like and what I don’t like about music and what I have to bring as a songwriter and what I’m looking for.
Perhaps more so than anything you’ve done previously, the album is a great representation of your live sound. Was that something of a goal going into it, trying to recapture that live feel on disc?
Yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted. You know, obviously people who are fans of my music with City and Colour, a lot of them like the softer, quieter stuff, but with every record, it’s evolved into more of a band and as far as the live show, anybody who’s seen City and Colour play – whether it was this group, or the guys that were playing with me before – in the last five or six years it’s become a full band show, you know? This group of guys, we just had such a great time together playing and hanging out and I really wanted to try and recreate that vibe in the studio as much as possible. I guess some people think that City and Colour is this grand idea of mine to become this solo artist, and that was never the intention. There’s a reason I didn’t call it Dallas Green; I didn’t really want it to be just about me, I wanted it to be whatever I felt like it needed to be at that moment. When I write songs, I don’t just hear a guitar part, I hear full band arrangements in my head all the time. I’m just very pleased to have finally found these guys and to have made a record with them.
“People will hear a song and they’ll say, ‘Oh he’s sold out’ and I think to myself, ‘To who?’ I made the record with my band and I produced the record myself.”
You were back in the producer’s chair for this album as well. I know you’re not always the one behind the decks, but how do you like taking on that role?
That word ‘producer’ is very interesting. I think it can mean a lot of different things to people depending on how they approach making a record. To me, producing this record meant having the trust in my band and my friend Karl [Bareham], who engineered the record, and having the trust in myself that I would be able to make the right decisions at the end of the day. I think at this point in my life, I’m 35 years old, I’ve done a lot of pretty great things. At least right now, I knew what I wanted it to be. I think hiring a producer, I would have been doing that for them to come in and pull me out of my comfort zone and try and switch things up; I think that’s exactly what I did anyway by making the record with my band and veering in a different direction sonically than I have on past records.
From something that essentially started out as a bedroom side project for you, you’re now at the point where you’re playing the Ellen show, you’re making albums with P!nk, you’re landing #1 records… What has it been like to be on the inside of that?
To me, it’s great. I don’t really know how to do anything else and I love playing my guitar and I love singing and I love writing songs, so I’m really glad that people are interested. It’s really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m surprised every day. And probably every day I worry whether or not people are gonna stop listening tomorrow, but I know that if they did, then I think I would be okay just because I’ve done so much more than I ever imagined that I could do. I kinda just try to be exactly the same person I’ve always been when I sit down to write a song. Whether it’s a song like “Save Your Scissors”, which I wrote in my parents’ basement, I still think the same way when I write; I never thought anyone was gonna listen to that song when I was writing it. I was writing it for me and hoping somebody would listen to it. So if you compare that to “Woman”, which is a nine-and-a-half-minute song with my band now, I guess 15 years later, I still wrote that thinking, ‘This will be great if we get a chance to play this’. In my head I know if I like it first, then maybe some people somewhere will listen to it; that’s how I’ve always approached everything. It’s funny, people will hear a song and they’ll say, ‘Oh he’s sold out’ and I think to myself, ‘To who?’ I made the record with my band and I produced the record myself [laughs]. I’m the one making the decisions, you know? There’s no boardroom meeting going on like, ‘Okay, we’re gonna try and make this song more poppy!’
I know initially you felt uneasy putting something out under the name Dallas Green, and you still haven’t, but surely your name is becoming more and more synonymous with City and Colour as the band grows. How has it been for you coming to terms with your burgeoning fame?
Well, I think it just all depends on who you want to be and who you are inside, and I think for me, fame is something that you have to decide that you’re going to have. You know, you see Kanye West and that guy loves to be famous; you can tell that he just loves listening to himself speak. He thinks the world of himself, he wants everyone to know how much he loves himself. I would say he’s famous. To me, I would say I’m a person who writes songs and some people listen to them and know me because of that, and some people don’t. That’s just the way I am and that’s the way I look at it. Some days are harder than others to kind of deal with the other side of it I guess, the other things that come with just singing and playing guitar, but most of the time it’s pretty easy to just not think of that or worry about that because I know that I’m not that type of person.
This year actually marks 10 years since your debut, Sometimes, came out, which is almost hard to fathom as it feels like so much has happened for City and Colour in that time. How do you feel when you reflect on the past decade?
I feel pretty good at the end of the day. It is hard to believe that that was 10 years ago and this record will be my fifth City and Colour record in that time, not to mention there were probably three Alexis records in that decade and the record with P!nk. That’s a lot of music to have put out in that time and I think the best way that I can explain it is that I’m just very thankful. I always have been and I think I always will be. I don’t think about it too much because when I do, I get too emotional because I’m too emotional of a person. It’s just crazy. This is funny actually, we were playing on stage two days ago at Leeds Festival and I had a moment of realisation on stage where I realised Alexis was the second oldest band on the stage next to Metallica [laughs]. Like I’m 35 years old, and George [Pettit] is nearly 33, and he’s out crowdsurfing with the mic and I was just like, ‘Wow, we are old men now’. I think about the first time that I came down to Australia… I reflect deeply on all of that, and I’m just thankful.
If I Should Go Before You is out now through Dine Alone/Cooking Vinyl.