City and Colour: The love between
As the recording alias for Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green, City and Colour offers a unique blend of folk, rock and soul. The band started simply in 2005 as Green released Sometimes, a set of songs he didn’t think were right for Alexisonfire, the punk rock band he fronted at the time. The band has been touring extensively in support of its new album, If I Should Go Before You, which was recorded at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios and features Green alongside bassist Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, Dead Weather) and guitarist Dante Schwebel (Spanish Gold, Dan Auerbach). The songs have a real depth to them that suggests the band has evolved with the record. Green spoke to us via phone from Nashville, where he and his wife have lived for the past two years to “oddly enough, get away from music.”
You initially started writing songs when you were a teenager. What drew you to songwriting?
I guess it just came from playing guitar. I started playing guitar when I was really young. My parents gave me guitar lessons — not because I asked for them, but because they wanted to give me opportunities to see if anything stuck. Playing guitar was one of those. After a couple of years of playing, I got into learning to play my favorite songs. When you start learning to play other people’s music, it gives you an idea of how songs are put together. As I grew older, I fell more in love with the idea of music as general. I was a pretty emotional kid as well. I started learning how to talk about my feelings through music too.
What songs did you initially learn to play?
The music that coincided with my teenage years was the grunge explosion. From 1990 to 1993 that was me being 10 to 13 years old. It was an impressionable time in my life. It was a good couple of years. Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Alice in Chains. From that, I got into the Melvins and Quicksand and all different avenues.
What was it like growing up in Ontario?
I grew up in St. Catharines, which is an hour from Toronto and an hour from Buffalo. There’s a lot of good music around. Most international touring bands would go to Toronto or Buffalo. We could see a lot of good bands. Good bands would come to St. Catharines too. It was marginally a bigger city. It was harder to find certain records back then because it was harder to find anything before the internet. Most of the shows were all ages and being a kid that was great.
When you released the first City and Colour album, Sometimes, in 2005, Alexisonfire was still active. What was it like balancing the two projects?
At first, it was totally fine. When I made that first record, it was just a couple of days in the studio because it was so simple. There wasn’t a plan at all to do anything for it. It was just some extra songs I had been collecting over the years. I had written some extra songs that didn’t fit the mold of what we were doing in Alexis. I had an audience of people who were interested based on Alexisonfire. I put the record out. Because of that first one, it created its own fanbase. I realized I had this other thing. I did both for about five years and releasing a record every year of something, whether it was Alexis or City and the Colour, and both things grew. That’s when it started getting hard to manage both. They started to affect one another and I didn’t want that to happen. I started to feel that both would suffer and I had to make a decision.
Talk about the songwriting for If I Should Go Before You. When did you start writing?
Maybe the latter half of 2014. We had been on tour for just over two years for the last record. I don’t write very much on the road or even in the middle of touring cycles. We recorded last February and I’ve written one song. That was the same thing that had happened. We finished that tour, and my wife and I moved to Nashville at the end of November in 2014. I started putting things together. All of December, I turned into a songwriting machine, which was nice. I go through these periods where I feel like I’ll never write another song. The band came down to my house and we demoed everything. It was relatively quick process.
What were the recording sessions like?
We recorded at Blackbird near Nashville. It’s beautiful and amazing. I had done my last record there. We used a different room but I was familiar with the surroundings. It was close to my house here so it was like recording at home. It’s fun because you feel comfortable at your home but it was a new house and new surroundings. It had a little bit of excitement to it too. We recorded live as much as possible with the five of us in the room. I did the vocals later on and overdubs here and there. It took about ten days.
Did you set out to explore something more soulful?
I think I’ve always been a massive fan of soulful music. My voice, as I’ve gotten older, I discovered new areas and learned how to express it a little more as each record goes on. If you’re trying to find new directions for your music to go in, you get better. When I listen to this record, I think, “This is what I always wanted my records to sound like.” There was a natural progression to get me there. I don’t like to force the issue too much. I’ve been a solitary songwriter. I keep the outside information pretty shorthanded. I produced it with my friend. I have a good idea of what I want it to sound like.
Sometime is so different. The new album is much richer.
To me, I’m a completely different person. I wrote a lot of the songs when I was a teenager and recorded it 11 years ago. I’ve been writing and singing almost every day since then. My voice in general has changed. I wouldn’t say my songwriting has changed. I still write songs in the same exact way I always have. I have a certain way of playing guitar but I think it’s a natural progression which has led me to this record. I feel good about that. It’s a cliché but you hope you’re doing your best work. I don’t see a point in not making your best. If I can get to that point, hopefully someone else will enjoy it.
The title track is really profound. What inspired it?
For me, I enjoy writing songs that deal with love and life and death. Life and death are the two certainties we have in this world. Hopefully, there’s some love in between those two things. For me, every time I sit down to write a song, those things are going through my head. I tend to focus darker subject matter. People would dismiss it as morose but I think it’s beautiful. It’s something about a love so strong that it would outlast death. It wasn’t a specific moment. Those are just the kinds of things that I think about.
I like that song “Mizzy C.” What inspired it?
It stands for miserable cunt. It’s a song about how I’d like to not be such a miserable cunt. I’m a pretty happy person but I can be pretty miserable when it comes to thinking about myself. I don’t like to think that I’m hard to be around, but I’m too hard on myself. When I was writing the song, I came up with a working title and I just decided to keep it like that because I thought it was funny.
I have no idea. I’m not dodging the question. I’m thankful and lucky enough to be in the position where I don’t have any pressure from anyone other than myself. My best friend owns my record label. I’ve never had anyone tell me I have to get in the studio. For example, this record only exists because of the guys in my band. I tried them to be in my touring band for the last record and to be on the road with them made me want to make a record with them. That’s what made the songs come out of them. Right now, I have no idea. I might write a bunch of songs I just want to play by myself. Maybe the tour will spark something or I’ll read a book. I let it sort itself out. Maybe nothing will show up for a while. I keep saying I’ll take a break at some point but it never really happens because I end up writing some songs I like. We’ll see what happens.