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Guest blog: “Welsh fans are a good breed!” – an interview with Dallas Green

By Beth Edwards

Beth Edwards met Canadian musician Dallas Green, prior to his sold out show at St David’s Hall.

For those that are familiar with him, I am sure we would all agree that 2011 has been quite the year for Dallas Green.

Prior to his sold-out gig at St David’s Hall on Thursday, the first in a number of shows to be played in the U.K as part of City and Colour’s European Tour, I was lucky enough to sit down with the man on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s CD player, for a little while; and of course I began by welcoming him to Cardiff, and to Wales.

DG: “Thanks for having me! I played a very long time ago just by myself, at The Barfly, in 2005 or 6, so that was the only one time I’ve played here as City and Colour. There were maybe like 50 people and it was just me and a guitar, so this is a big step up.

I like it here in Wales. I have always had good shows here – I think that the Welsh fans are a good breed, because I think that people, especially with my music, are the same everywhere, and I don’t mean to generalise, I just mean that people who like my music tend to just be music fans, so I tend to feel this kinship with everybody, because we are just talking about music.

I did not know that Wales was the land of song though! I might have to drop that on stage tonight. There is a part in the set where I try to get everybody to sing along, so I will put some pressure on them!”

In a move which came as a surprise to some but as no shock to many, the Canadian musician, widely known for his work with progressive metal band Alexisonfire, decided that in 2011 he would begin to focus his full attentions to his incredibly popular solo project, City and Colour (a moniker deriving from his own name.)

In early 2010 Green informed his Alexis band mates that amongst other things, the physical exertion required to keep up with the pace of two musical projects, was proving too much for the 31 year old – a fact that nobody could dispute.

Therefore, in a statement released by the band in August of this year, it was announced that Dallas had left Alexisonfire to focus solely on City and Colour – the band decided not to continue without him.

Alexis had released four albums, and received widespread international acclaim as trail blazers for their genre, opening doors for bands who aspired to set foot on the alternative music scene. However, often, it was the vocal tone and range of Dallas’ voice that set them aside from their contemporaries, and established them as one of the most influential alternative bands of this generation.

And so, in January of this year Dallas embarked upon the recording and release of his third studio album as City and Colour, Little Hell, an album which he believes actually benefitted from his departure from Alexisonfire;

DG: “It allowed me to make a bigger record, that was not just me and a guitar, that had more elements, where I could say, it’s not just that there are two different sides to me, like people have been trying to say for the last five years – you know, angry loud Dallas and quiet softly Dallas. It’s just me, sometimes I do this, sometimes I do that, but it’s still JUST ME. And I think with this record, that’s what I wanted to do, I just needed to say, if I want to write a dancy rock song well you’re going to get that. And if I want to write a quiet sad song well you’re going to get that! But it is going to be whatever I feel like writing at the time you know – I’ve been doing it long enough!”

It is fair to say that Green has been doing this for a long time – and his wise words reflect this. His first known solo demo, Simple Songs, dates back to 2000, and his previous studio offerings, Sometimes (2005) and Bring Me Your Love (2008) were both well received, and established the musician, who hails from St Catharines, Ontario, as a popular, universally respected and admired solo artist. Yet it would seem that Little Hell has propelled the multi-faceted performer firmly into the realms of the sublime. Dallas Green is no longer a cult figure admired by only those in the know, City and Colour are no longer the quieter sister to the rock overtones of Alexisonfire, City and Colour are a musical tour-de-force in their own right – Little Hell is where City and Colour really begins.

And that is by no means writing off of the previous albums. They established Green as a solo artist – built up his following, and contain classic songs which fans will relate to forever more. But with the addition of his live band (including friends Daniel Romano, Scott Remila and Dylan Green,) Little Hell gives us the biggest inclination of where Dallas is at this moment in time, as both a musician and a person. The sound is fuller, richer, and more diverse, but it still affects you in the same way that his previous music always did. Green is growing as a musician, and hopes that his fans are growing alongside him – but if not, he doesn’t mind too much, he understands that people’s tastes change, he just hopes people give him the same respect, and understand that he is simply heading in a direction which he feels comfortable with right now.

DG: “I hope that people, especially nowadays, will appreciate that I am who I am, it is the same with Alexis, all of our records were different, but they were still us, and I think that all of my records were different but they are still me. And I am always going to grow. And who knows, maybe on the next record I will just release an album which is just songs with me and a guitar, but maybe I won’t, but as long as they’re good songs, it shouldn’t matter! I feel like the people who, like yourself, care about it, will move and grow along with me, and if they don’t then that’s ok! There are lots of bands that I used to listen to that I don’t anymore. And I think that people forget that when their favourite band puts out a new record, and they don’t like it because they’ve changed or whatever, they don’t realise that they’ve also changed. You know, that as much as the band is growing, you’re growing too, and maybe you’ve just grown apart. You know when people say “your new stuff is awful, I love your old stuff way better” – well that’s ok – but the new stuff isn’t awful! It’s just different; it’s just not what you like anymore! And people tend to forget that.” 

Little Hell was released in June, and has been both a commercial and critical success – becoming his highest charting album in his homeland of Canada. But Dallas takes it all in his stride, as he maintains a philosophical outlook on success;

DG: “It’s always great to have people be interested in what you’re doing. But I think that I put enough pressure on myself to get through the process of putting the songs out that once I do, then I don’t really care. Because you know, if I can get the songs to the point where I am happy with them, then it’s not really up to me whether people like it or not, and I think that I have always had that approach, I don’t expect everyone to like what I do. But I do think that some people will like the songs that I write, and if you have that approach then you don’t get too worried, if people like it or if they don’t. I mean I can see if I was maybe like Adele and I was selling like a million records a day, and just became this world wide superstar overnight, then that would be overwhelming. But I am in my 11th year of touring and putting out records, so for me it is just another day. And it doesn’t affect me, negatively or positively, I just keep going as I am, I can see if I was 21 years old I can imagine it being very overwhelming but I am 31 years old you know? I have been around the block, I have seen it and I am just happy that people are listening.”

Green cites Adele as one of his current influences, as well as other well-known british artists and prides himself on his wide musical tastes;

DG: “I love Adele, she is beautiful – I heard about her cancelling all her tour dates, but I think she did the right thing no doubt. If you know you are going to be bad, then you’re going to sound bad. And the arena thing, Adele would be great in a venue like this (St David’s Hall) but she went and sold a bazillion records and now she’s got to go and play you know! Or she doesn’t cause she has sold a bazillion records, so she can do what she wants!

For me, right now, Estelle’s new songs, Thank You and Break my Heart, they are just kicking my butt. We listen to those songs on repeat before we go on stage every night. Just dancing around, that song Thank You it is ripping my heart out right now!

I always try and listen to new stuff. At the moment I love David Bazan. His new album is just awesome. I like listening to lots of black metal – but I think everyone would always assume that I am listening to some heavy stuff right! Of course I will always be a Hot Water Music Fan, I have ‘keep it together’ tattooed on my wrist – they are one of my faves. But I’ve never really been big on the punk. I missed punk when I was growing up, I went through this weird hip hop phase, and um, I don’t think people would expect that – yeah it’s weird!”

But what does he make about the influx of talent shows coming to the fore both in the UK, and across the world? Before finding fame on the X Factor, finalist Janet Devlin did a cover of a City and Colour Song ‘The Girl’ on You Tube;

DG: “I heard about that! The X Factor is quickly becoming the biggest thing in the USA and Canada as well as here in Britain. I think it’s nice that she has done a cover of my song; it’s nice that I can inspire people. Not to say that I am better than anybody, but if I can make people think outside the box, outside that little “here’s what everyone is trying to force down your throat” then awesome and I’d love to meet her. I would love to give her some advice, but she probably wouldn’t be able to take it right now because the show is telling her which way to turn, I just hope she doesn’t get turned into the next Cher Lloyd.

I watched her audition on You Tube, because I heard about it, and I thought it was brilliant, she had this great voice, and then I saw the video for that Swagger Jagger, and I was like, this is a perfect example if you put these side by side – what the music industry does to too many people. It’s this young girl who has all the talent in the world, and they have just gone and ruined it. Somebody writing this god awful song for her, and making her dress this certain way, I hope that Janet can do what she wants to do, listen to what she wants to listen to, try to write the songs she wants to write or have people who she respects, help her write her songs, if she is not doing that herself. And just listen to lots of different things, don’t just listen to pop music, don’t just listen to rap, don’t just listen to heavy metal, there is good and bad in everything. I think that is what I am trying to show people, that you don’t just have to be like one track minded. You know.

Aside from the likes of Estelle, Adele, Sun House and Hot Water Music, Dallas Green would no doubt say that his biggest influence in his song writing comes from his family and loved ones. Little Hell has a personal aura beyond anything we have experienced fromDallas yet – and this is something that he would be the first to admit.

DG: “I think that all of my records are, that’s how I write, they are very personal to me, but with this record there are songs that I just, felt ok writing about, and I felt that I could write it in a relatable enough way that people could understand and appreciate it and take what they needed from it, but at the same time, I was able to say to the people I was writing about, this is how I feel. But I think that comes a lot with age, and learning to be better at what you are doing, and that is the goal, learning to get better.

My family means everything to me, and I always joked around with my father saying I was going to write a song called the grand optimist about him, he is always trying to cheer me up and tells me not to worry about all the things that I always worry about, you know, because he is the grand optimist, and I never thought I would actually do it, but it sort of just happened, and Oh Sister is obviously about my sister, and some things she was dealing with that I wasn’t around for because I was away so much, and I miss a lot of things at home, and it was sort of my way of dealing with it and trying to help in any way I could – and I thought I will just write a song because that is how I deal with things.

 It makes it harder to write the songs though, because, I am not just writing a song called Oh Sister, I am writing a song about my sister, so every word has to count, every word has to be as strong as the last. Because I am trying to say something to her, and then I also have to look at the fact that people are going to take that song, and apply it to their own life, and use it for themselves.”

And this is something which constantly drives Dallas when making music – a sense of responsibility to his fans. Rarely has an artist had such a dedicated fan base, yet Dallas shows the same level of commitment and dedication right back to them, by constantly keeping them in mind when writing his next song.

DG: “I am always self-deprecating; I have always been that way. I will always be that way, but it is how I get better. I have never been satisfied with what I’ve done or who I am, you always strive to be better and what you do and who you are.

In the album I often talk about my addiction, and it’s being addicted to always finding something wrong with something. It’s that always only being half satisfied feeling, you know and it is hard to live with sometimes, I know that and I will be the first person to admit that I am hard to live with, but it’s almost as though I am saying sorry to who I am. You know?

 

I always feel this crazy sense of defeat when I am writing songs because I put too much pressure on myself that I need to that I am not only writing for myself but I am writing for you, and for the person who tells me that they played my song at their friends funeral or you know, so I have that on my shoulders, and think well if someone played one of my songs at a funeral, do I need to write another song that is good enough for somebody else to do the same thing? Or should I worry if that even matters? But that is what I think about.”

At this point, I tell Dallas a story about how his music changed my life, and immediately you can feel that Dallas really cares about people who are affected by his music – he really does.

DG: “This is the best thing for me, this is why music is so beautiful, a song that I wrote for myself can be adapted for the needs of my fans, and they can take what they need from it at any given moment. That is why music is so beautiful, because it doesn’t matter what it is about, it is about what you need it to be about, at that moment, and that is what I think I have always tried to do, because I have always felt that way about music, when I hear a song that just hits me right in the heart, that is what I always wanted to do, that was always the dream for me.”

And that, beyond anything else, is why Dallas Green is not only an inspiration to other musicians and people within the industry, but to real people, to his fans who he cares so much for, to his family, his beloved wife and his friends – because he has a gentle soul, which he constantly puts under pressure to be the best he can be for everyone – not just as a musician but as a human. He continues to gain recognition for his music, yet every word of every song is still of utmost importance to him – he is never blasé, complacent or ungrateful – because his music allows him to connect to both his own emotions and those of the millions of fans he has touched around the world. In many casesDallaswill never know how many lives he has changed – or touched with any one of his songs. But in speaking to him, I am so glad I was one of the lucky ones, able to give him the slightest inclination of how he came right along with me on my journey through life’s ‘Little Hells’ so far, and without even being in the room, for me, he was the most important presence in my life for a very long time, and long may he continue to be – for his old and new fans alike.

And as for the concert, here are some of the tweets recorded from the audience that night;

@RoseBeex: City and Colour in Cardiff, St Davids Hall. Was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen!

@Jackhopkins94: Thank you for giving me the best night of my life in Cardiff.

@philsorrell: Fantastic night in Cardiff watching City and Colour, and an amazing show. Cracking set of pipes on the boy fair play.

@StarRhiEyed:I’ve seen city and colour in a Berlin church, met him in London but seeing him in Cardiff surrounded by ppl I love was definitely the best!<3

Following support from rock and roll duo Hani El Khatib, Dallas and his band mates came on stage at around 9pm, opening up with a variety of old favourites and new classics including my personal favourite ‘As Much as I Ever Could.’ The addition of the fantastic Scott Remila on bass, Daniel Romano on guitar, and Dylan Green on drums – as well as the hard work put in by Stu Schuster on the sound desk – gave older songs a fantastic new lease of life, while remaining completely faithful to their original interpretation. Something which Dallas himself is proud of;

DG:“I like being able to have the dynamic in the set where, we play some of the set with them and some of the set it is just me by myself, some of the set we are very quiet, some of it we are very loud, so it gives everybody sort of like a wave you know what I mean, rather than just an hour and a half of me sitting with a guitar, or an hour and a half of a band you know? I like the set to have sort of ups and downs, and to keep people on their toes so to speak.”

Dallas looks at home in this line up – and from listening to the set you would be forgiven for thinking these musicians have been on stage together for years. A note didn’t go astray, the musicianship was verging on the astounding – and above anything else, they were warm and receptive to the crowd. Dallas did indeed test the audience on whether they could truly call themselves inhabitants of ‘The Land of Song’ and asked them to sing along with What Makes a Man. Half way through the gig Dallas requested all phones and cameras were put away, because he felt that nowadays people concentrate so much on remembering the event, they forget to experience it in the moment. Let me tell you though, no-one will forget this concert in a hurry. Alongside the full band set, Dallas took to the stage with his trusty acoustic to perform some of his best loved hits. At some points, including during a rousing rendition of Coming Home, Dallas sang off microphone, with a power that will have resonated in the hearts of all those lucky enough to have witnessed it. When asked if he was enjoying the tour,Dallas responded;

It is great, I mean, to be honest I am in an interesting position, because yes it is my first time touring a lot of these places, but it is also, I have put three records out and you know, doing City and Colour for almost seven years, so it’s like, I know there are people in these places, but I’ve never been there, so it’s crazy that we went to Germany and played in front of all those people for the very first time, but then at the same I have been talking to kids about city and colour for years, on tour with Alexis, I just didn’t think there would be that many people! It has been beautiful, I am very, very lucky that people are interested in the music.

With Alexis I hardly ever spoke on the microphone, you know, George would do a lot of that and Wade, but I would hardly ever. Whereas with this I talk constantly, so it is definitely a different side of me up there as well, but I think a lot of people are often surprised, a lot of people who just know my music just expect me to be this sad quiet individual – but I like to think I am very funny! You know, I like to try and break up all that seriousness because you know my songs are quite serious and I deal with some serious subjects. So I don’t want the whole show to just be everybody crying their eyes out, so you know I try to get the crowd involved, and we tell stupid jokes, so I like it to just be, a moment, you know make it a little bit more intimate. It is weird, with Alexis we were always trying to involve the crowd but just get them to have as much fun as possible by having as much fun as possible and going as crazy as possible, and having as much fun as we were having upon stage. But with City and Colour it is the same sort of thing but I just want everybody to feel like we are sitting in this room like me and you are now Beth.

Mission accomplished then Dallas, I do believe. It would be safe to say that all fans were catered for last night, those who have been with you since the start and those who are just joining you on this amazing journey. In a room of thousands, everyone felt like you were singing to them alone. Thank you for an unforgettable night – I look forward to your next career move, and wish my new friend all the luck and best wishes in the world.

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