“I have zero idea (laughs), honestly, I’m not even lying to you…”
Normally you would think such an uncertainty about the future would constitute a lack in direction or an ambivalence towards caring, but when pressed on the issue Dallas Green is relaxed, jovial and content with the here and now.
In the ten years since Green released his first album under the moniker City And Colour, he has released five studio albums, received critical acclaim, achieved gold and platinum record sales and toured the world several times. For his latest release If I Should Go Before You, Green changed his songwriting approach and worked with his touring band, showcasing a full sound of Americana, country-esque rock.
When I speak to Green over the phone, he is winding down from his three-month US tour but also preparing for the next stage, which from now until July will take him to Europe (including dates in Dublin and Belfast), across the globe to Australia, stop off for a few dates in South America and then back up to his homeland of Canada. When asked if he uses this time on the road for writing, Green answers with the same relaxed attitude, “Well, I don’t usually write too much on the road. Occasionally something will present itself but for me I’m usually too focused and concerned on making sure that the show is as good as it can be. You know, because even if you’re playing the same songs every night you still…everything changes from night to night.”
He speaks briefly about the current show for this tour; it is a two-hour set and is a mix of old and new but Green admits that it can be hard to please everyone in the audience, “…sometimes it becomes difficult now, you know? There’s five records to choose from now, so I do understand that ultimately some people are going to leave disappointed… but…I hope that we put on a good enough show that something in there is suitable for everybody.”
In what becomes a constant (and refreshing) theme for the interview, Green seems happy to just focus on where he is now. His only worry for the time being is making the tour as good as it can be, for both him and the fans attending the shows.
When we move on to the most recent album, Green is enthusiastic and explains the progression from his first album, the acoustic and delicate Sometimes, up to the full band-led and at times epic-sounding If I Should Go Before You. The former was recorded from a batch of songs that didn’t fit with Alexisonfire (Green’s old on/off hardcore band) and was perhaps the accidental birth of what would become City And Colour, “…as a songwriter I just thought, well…I might as well record some of these because…that’s what you do.”
The progression and change of style in his back catalogue mirrors Green’s writing process over the years, with the admission that the debut album was “…a culmination of songs I had been writing since I was a kid. Ever since then, you know, I go on tour for a couple of years…the next record is the things I’ve written in those two years.”
This line of thought carries through to the newest release. Spending the last few years on tour with the same band, Green (for the first time with City And Colour) chose to bring ideas to the studio as opposed to fully formed demos. With this method Green was able to “…show them the songs, tell them what I was kind of thinking and then we could just go from there.” We discuss the nine-minute opening track ‘Woman’ where Green channels aspects of two of his favourite artists, Mogwai and Jeff Buckley. He thinks back to watching Mogwai as a teen and being transfixed with “…these 16 minute long, epic songs that just moved me” and how having creative control over his releases led him to think “…I don’t have anybody sitting in there telling me what to do or what I should do…or what should be…you know “don’t start the record with a nine minute song”…so in my head I thought, I wanted to do that…so why not do it?”
Having recorded a collaboration album with Alicia Moore (better known as Pink) back in 2013, we briefly discuss the merits of collaborations with Green noting “Singing with her gives me something I’ve never gotten out of playing with City And Colour or playing with Alexis (onfire) or anything. It’s just something special and different that I’m very appreciative and very proud to be a part of.” When I ask about future collaborations, Green answers with – what sounds like a smile – the idea of Mogwai writing a record he could sing over.
In an age where artists are expected to be thinking five steps ahead, whether it is the next album, the next video, the next tour etc. it’s refreshing to hear an established act just being comfortable in the now. There are no grand plans for an epic concept record, no scheduled time off to find inspiration – instead Green focuses on his present actions and throws the future to the back of his mind.
As he notes several times during the interview, Green likes to keep things “close to his chest”, and this distance from the age of social media seems to let him be a songwriter in the old sense of the term. In his own words, “I come off the road, I write fifteen songs…and if I like them, I go and record them and that’s that.”
An attitude that surely some of today’s artists and bands could take note of.
City and Colour play The Helix, Dublin, on February 22nd, and Belfast’s Mandela Hall on February 23rd. Tickets for both performances can be found here.