CITY AND COLOUR …AND THE FUTURE OF ALEXISONFIRE, AS DALLAS GREEN OPENS UP
From hardcore hero to acoustic solo artist, DALLAS GREEN is a man on a journey. As he releases CITY AND COLOUR’S new live album, he reflects on continuing to discover himself, moving away from Trump, and keeping on keeping on…
“When this comes out in the magazine, you’ll be able to flip through the pages and see a lot of guys who think that they’re rock stars, and then you can look at me and go: ‘Nope, he’s not one.’”
Dallas Green is perfectly fine with not being a rock star. In fact, he says he tries his best to avoid the spotlight as much as he can. He even explains that the reason he came up with the City And Colour stage name 15 years ago was because he wasn’t comfortable with the thought of performing under his own name. “I started thinking about the idea of artwork or T-shirts that said ‘Dallas Green’ on it, and it made me sick to my stomach,” he explains.
Yet it’s easy to see why somebody might confuse Dallas Green for a rock star. With City And Colour, the 38-year-old sells thousands of tickets wherever he goes (his last trip to the UK featured a two-night finale at London’s 3,000-capacity Troxy), while his earnest pop-folk songs are so deeply affecting that people often like to get married to them. Meanwhile, his role in post-hardcore cult heroes Alexisonfire, who reformed once more last summer to play a sold-out O2 Academy Brixton, proves that he can get as heavy and raucous as anyone.
Speaking to Kerrang! on the eve of the release of City And Colour’s new live record, Guide Me Back Home, it’s clear that one thing Dallas does want to be thought of is as a good musician. Which he is. Recorded across a 28date Canadian tour, it intimately captures what makes the man such a talent, while taking the unusual step of utilising recordings from dates spread throughout the tour. Still, it’s an album that arrives after a couple of years of turmoil for the singer, and its release finds him in a reflective period of his life.
Like a lot of music in 2018, Dallas explains that this new record was partly inspired by Donald Trump, albeit in an unconventional way. The songwriter has recently moved to Toronto, returning to his home country with his wife, Canadian television presenter Leah
Miller, and his dog, Alabama. The move 800 miles north from their home of four years in Nashville, Tennessee was in direct response to the appointment of the 45th president of the United States. Dallas recalls the feelings that rose up inside him as he sat on his couch while watching the election results roll in.
“I just thought: ‘I have to get out of here,’” he says. “I just felt strange [about] the lack of human decency that this man was portraying. And then I thought to myself, ‘He’s being so belligerent to immigrants, and here I am, a white, straight man, who’s also an immigrant, living in a country that’s not mine, and I’ll be fine because I don’t fit the bill of the people they’re afraid of.’ That just didn’t seem right to me.”
When asked if he sees himself as a particularly political person, Dallas explains that his reaction had more to do with being a decent human than government policies.
“I’m not specifically outwardly political most of the time,” he offers. “I think that is something completely different than a political view. I think it goes back to human decency. That’s the divide that we are trying to grapple with right now as a human race. And I think that’s what I mean about Trump: it’s not politics, it’s just a shitty old white person just trying to hang on for his last dying breaths. For me, that is disappointing.”
These events also left the man who grew up in St Catharines, a city not far from Canada’s border with the U.S., with a raw sensation that he wanted to better understand and explore his own country, which explains what he did next. In the spring of 2017, Dallas embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of Canada, taking in 28 venues across 25 cities. He visited towns he’d never seen before and places he hadn’t played in years, while the venues were kept small and intimate: movie theatres, churches, universities, and in one instance the upstairs of a brewery. It was a change of pace that left him invigorated.
“There were a couple of really cool places,” he says. “I remember we played in a town called Pictou, Nova Scotia, and I woke up, got out of the bus, and we were parked right on the Atlantic Ocean, and so I just went right into the ocean. It was freezing, but things like that don’t happen every day. A lot of the times when you tour, if you’re lucky you play these big cities all over the place – and a lot of the venues kind of feel the same. [But on this tour] there were a lot of moments where you’d just wake up and you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you have to figure out what the little town’s about. That was a lot of the fun of it.”
At this point, Dallas still had no idea that he was making his next record. Still, something intuitive in his head said it could be worth recording these stripped-back shows, which were occurring in venues far smaller and quieter than the ones that tend to hold his name above the door. It wasn’t until a short recess from the tour after a couple of weeks that he realised how good these versions sounded, and how fruitful these shows could be. He decided to make a document of the whole tour, with tracks from almost every venue making it on to the finished live album.
“It’s become this special thing where it’s not just a live record,” he explains. “It’s not live from a certain venue, it’s live across this entire country, which is a pretty big country. I like the idea that the whole record kind of sounds like it could be one show, but the first song is from Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and the second song is from Surrey, British Columbia, which are 6,000km away from each other.”
As an introduction to City And Colour, Guide Me Back Home provides the full works. There are toasty anecdotes between tracks – one at the start of Friends, where Dallas explains how he got locked outside of a venue hall into the adjacent high school is particularly good – and delicate reworkings of some older cuts, with Hello, I’m In Delaware turning out to be particularly haunting. Every track feels as though it offers a previously unseen shade to its composer, while as a whole they offer a glimpse of the performer at his most natural.
Dallas has referred to the record as his love letter to Canada, but concedes that such is the clarity of the recordings that it almost feels more like a Best Of… compilation. So, with his work laid out in front of him like this, does he see himself developing as a songwriter?
“I think so,” is his response. “I think I write a certain way. I think I’ve developed into a better understanding of what that is. Whether or not there are people that think my first record is the best record or they like the new record, for me it’s all about: do I feel like I’m moving forward? Do I feel like I’m evolving and getting better? And I do feel that way, in my heart. I do feel that I’m the best singer that I’ve ever been and the best player I’ve ever been and the best writer I’ve ever been. And that’s all I need.”
Dallas’ recent return to Canada and home turf has also meant that he’s back living closer to the other members of Alexisonfire. He reveals that the five friends have been jamming with each other when they can (see panel, opposite page), while fans will have noticed the group have been making a scattered return to playing live shows since the start of 2017. While he’s still uncertain about the future, it’s a transition that the singer believes wouldn’t be happening now had he not walked away from the group seven years ago, when he had grown exhausted from juggling both his full-time band and his solo project.
“I just had a little bit of a nervous breakdown and realised that I couldn’t necessarily do both at the same time, as much as I wanted to,” he says. “Musically, it’s not that I wanted to get away from heavy music – I just couldn’t write those songs at that point. Every time I tried to pick up a guitar and write songs, the other thing was coming out of me more. And so it just sort of made me feel like that’s what I needed to pursue.”
Still, Dallas describes the day that he informed the other members of his decision as the hardest day of his life.
“It had nothing to do with being solo or leaving the band and having the spotlight – it had nothing to do with that. It was just, creatively, I felt like I had other things that I needed to explore. I think they, after a while, all understood that, and that’s probably why we’re back playing again – because we didn’t break up, I didn’t quit the band because we hated each other, it was just that I needed to do this other thing.”
As what feels like a season of transition draws to a close for Dallas, it’s unclear, but nevertheless intriguing, what his next project will be. He’s recently taken up his first role as a producer, something that he says he’d like to pursue further, while Guide Me Back Home is the first release on his own record label, Still Records, an imprint on Dine Alone Records. What seems certain is that the singer will take things at his own pace.
“I’ve always just wanted to write a better song than I did before,” he says. “And I think I still approach it that way – I don’t really let any of the noise of either being successful or not being successful get in the way. I’ve always said that success to me is the ability to just continue doing it.
“I have a good friend who’s a writer here in Canada,” he continues. “She said to me once, ‘You know, Dallas, the world needs rock stars, but the world also just needs singers of songs.’ And she was like, ‘That’s what you are, you’re a singer of songs.’ And I was like, ‘Oh. Thanks.’” He chuckles before making a confession. “And I’m fine with that.”
“I’M NOT POLITICAL, BUT I CARE ABOUT HUMAN DECENCY…” DALLAS GREEN CITY AND COLOUR ’S GUIDE ME BACK HOME LIVE ALBUM IS OUT NOW VIA STILL RECORDS