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Life and Death with City and Colour

The new record 'If I Should Go Before You' takes Dallas Green to the peak of his musical and emotional output.

by John Hill
Sep 24 2015, 2:12pm

Hearing the name "Dallas Green" might illict a lot of different initial thoughts or feelings. One person might be taken back to being a young person, and seeing the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire at different shows. For a lot of people, espeically younger kids growing up in Canada, they were the band to see. Each show was a pipe bomb of explosive emotion, the band becoming one of the forefathers in the good cop/bad cop syling of hardcore vocals. The screams and yells of the harsh vocalist George Pettit coalescing with Green's arresting voice cemented the band in the memory and hearts of many. And with the band reforming this year to play several reunion shows, their power can now be spread onto future generations.

The other reaction might be from someone in the present, enraptured by Green's voice and the momentum the project has taken over the course of the past ten years. In its infancy, the project was mostly Green strumming around on hus guitar, espousing his heart without the shield of heavier music. As each album came out, more and more of his influences came to the forefront, the likes of Jeff Buckley spreading influence deep into each song. Most of all, the project has evolved past just Green and a guitar, though it hasn't lost any of the sincerity that sparked it in the first place. Live and on the record, he's brought on board The Raconteurs collaborater Jack Lawrence, Shoulder's Doug McGregor, with Matthew Kelly and Dante Schwebel rounding out the rest of the lineup. If I Should Go Without You out October 9, is the project's newest record, embracing the adaptability of the group's music. Songs like the nine minute opener "Woman." It's the ideal model for a City and Colour track; Green's voice sounds better than ever, giving the song an immediate haunting texture without overpowering the rest of the music. The band has arrived at the record they've been writing towards since the beginning.

We talked to Dallas Green about death, acceptance and hats.

NOISEY: It’s funny, I think these past couple years, and this year especially I’ve noticed a lot more people into City and Colour separately from people into Alexisonfire or former hardcore kids in general. Now it’s people I would’ve never expected to be into the project that are into it.
Dallas Green:
The whole timeline has been interesting to see how it’s grown in different places. Obviously up in Canada it was a lot more in people’s faces, just because of how Alexisonfire was here. And then because Alexisonfire didn’t really get anything going in the states, I sort of had to build the City and Colour thing on its own too.There’s a lot of people who have no idea what Alexisonfire is or what it was,like they just know it as a band I used to be in or something. It’s interesting to see who knows what and who listens to which, you know?

Yeah. There are few musicians that can play Warped Tour and Coachella as fluidly.
I’m really lucky in that regard. I’m a product of reference material, I grew up in the 80s and 90s and had all this music to listen to. I kind of never just listened to quiet stuff or heavy stuff, I found all the different genres I was able to listen to. In that regard, it’s seeped into the songs whether using those influences or always trying to use whatever was coming to me at the time as opposed to thinking “oh I’m a metal kid, I’m a hardcore kid.” So I’m lucky I’ve been able to navigate between all these genres and people have come with me. It’s nice to have the freedom to experiment, I guess is the best way to put it.

What was it like coming back to Alexisonfire this year?
You know what man, it’s been fucking awesome. It really has. I mean obviously we got an offer to do one show and we were all home, and it was like “well should we do it?” We did our farewell tour and I thought we did really well. Ended on a great note. It had been three years and we’d all sort of started talking to each other again, like “well we’re all home.” We didn’t break up because we didn’t like each other or we hated the music, we broke up because sometimes that happens. Everybody gets into different stuff. It started off as just one show, I had made my record and we were in between stuff so it turned into a bunch of shows. We’ve done five of them now, and we’ve got two Riot Fests and we’re done. It’s been so much fun to play those old songs and hang out with those dudes because I love them so much.

The only thing is my body isn’t really appreciating it much. I’m not a 22 year old kid anymore, I’m 35 and my body doesn’t necessarily enjoy the headbanging as much. [laughs]

That has to be fucked to come to terms with.

Dallas: Yeah, it is. It really is. Especially when you’re in a band when you’re young, sleeping on floors eating at McDonalds everyday thinking “this is the life.” And then when you’re 35, you start headbanging you’re like “oh man, now my knees hurt.” You’re taking Tylenol muscle and bodies before the show [laughs]. We played Reading and Leeds this year and we were the second oldest band next to Metallica.

Holy shit.
Yup. And I was like “fuck!” I had the realization when we were on stage because there was the younger sort of heavy bands, kids bands I guess. I’m officially the guy talking about the old days.

So I was listening to the band’s discography these past few days, and it really feels like this real narrative story of building to this record. Different elements would pop up in each place, and now it sounds like the record the band has always wanted to.
I think that’s a great description. I would easily refer it to a work in progress, this City & Colour thing because when it started I didn’t know what the hell it was going to be. When I made that first record, it was just me and a guitar. It was just some songs I had that I thought people who liked Alexis might dig. I had no idea if I was going to make another record, I had no idea what anything would be, it was just this little thing on the side.And then people showed interest in it, wrote more songs that didn’t fit the Alexis mold and presented themselves in a different light. In my head, obviously because I made that first record solo,there’s a lot of preconceived notions that I wanted to be a solo artist. But that’s never been the case, I love being in a band, I love drums and bass, and all the arrangements. So everytime I write a song, I hear those things. Whether the song remains by itself or with musical accompaniments, you’re going to hear different instruments. Slowly as I’ve been giving more time and freedom I’ve been able to make City and Colour into what I’ve always wanted to be. Like you said, it’s a good amalgamation of all the things I like about music.

Does it force you to look back at the older material and make you think some of it was limited?
Oh, of course. I think you have to be that a little bit, right? I remember hearing a quote this one time, I can’t remember who it’s from which is going to piss me off, but someone said “if you’re not looking back at the past and cringing a little bit, then you’re not evolving.” I think that’s true. If you’re still making records, you have to look back and go, “okay I’ve gotten better, I’ve evolved and learned from my mistakes.” And that’s not to discount my old stuff, but the whole point of doing this is to be better, in my mind. Whether or not someone thinks my first record is my best record, that’s just their emotional attachment to it. If I keep making records that I think are the best possible then I’m doing the right thing. But of course I listen back and think of the different things I could’ve done. But that’s how I use a lot of the live setting. For me the records always just a platform to go out on tour and sing and get better. Make sure at least I can be myself live, if need be.

Did you feel self-conscious when you started doing a full band for a solo project?
Yeah, I struggled that leading up to finding these guys. I kind of had hodgepodge groups of friends playing with me for City and Colour, people who were around or who I knew from childhood. When it started and was just a little thing on the side, I kind of had to throw bands together. There were a couple people who played with me for a long time, but there was definitely that sense of, I guess embarrassment is the right word. I was embarrassed by the success because like these are my friends but they kind of have to work for me and play these songs. It just got to the point where it wasn’t working. Then when I made the last record that’s when I put the new band together. I just wanted to sort of find a bunch of guys that could really play and didn’t necessarily care if I knew them or not. I somehow stumbled upon all these guys I knew from previous life, and they all got along and we all got along and they take such good care of my songs that I felt completely at ease, and comfortable presenting these new ones because I could make a record with them.

Anything I’ve ever read about you talking about the music, you always seem to separate yourself from the songs. Like there’s Dallas the person and the songs themselves as their own entity.
Sometimes it can be difficult, just because I write such a personal style of songwriting. I’ve always been sort of a pretty open book, like I’m working out my own problems in my songs. There’s not much of a separation between me the person and me the performer. But I’ve always tried to hide behind a little bit, like that’s why I didn’t call it “Dallas Green” I wanted to call it “City And Colour” just so it could be whatever I wanted it to be at that moment. Like now it’s a band, to me it’s not just Dallas Green and The Band of Merry Men, it’s City and Colour, and right now it’s these five guys that are all on the record. It’s exactly what I want it to be at this moment.

One song I was really curious about, “Woman,” is this nine minute, really fleshed out piece. What went into the writing of that one?
That’s probably my favorite song on the record. I just love that. That song started as a soundcheck jam, I had the main riff and we’d sort of jam on that to get the vibe of the stage going. I never thought it’d end up being a song. I was writing lyrics for another song on the record, and that song changed directions and I was left with this group of words that I didn’t really know where to put them. So one day I was just goofing around in my music room, and I started humming a melody over what was "Woman" at the time. I just kind of thought, “well there’s no rules here, let’s try and make it a song.” So Jack Lawrence came over and we started jamming on it. The original version was about thirty minutes long where we were just jamming on the thing and I would sing intermittently. When we demoed we whittled it down to about fifteen minutes, and then in the studio we made it under ten minutes. I sort of thought a lot about writing more lyrics, but I just felt like I said everything I needed to say in that little grouping of words. So I thought I’d just repeat it, because it’s a never ending song about a never ending love.

Talk to me about the title, it implies a lot.
So the title obviously comes from one of the songs on the album. A lot of the times when I’d write a “love song” I’d end up getting morbid in ways, just because that song is sort of about the idea that you love someone so much that if they were to die, you’d follow them there. But it’s also saying to that same person if I were to die, I wouldn’t want you to come after me. The reason I called the record that is because not only do I like it, but I always look at when I make the record what if it’s my last one. For whatever circumstance that may be, if people stop listening to the band after this record, or who knows. In a way it’s saying If I were to go before you, here are my closing thoughts. That’s why there’s a picture of me walking away on the cover. (laughs)I always just kind of have that in my head, never taking it for granted and always keeping that in the side mirrors or whatever.

A while back we ran this Death Cab interview, and one thing that I always think about that feels true even in situations like, I dunno me talking to guys like you. Ben started talking about how even though that band has seen a ton of success and got to play Madison Square Garden, is none of it ever seems real, and can be taken away in a second the next day.
Yeah. That’s exactly how I feel too. Success to me is always to continue doing this on whatever level that is. You never know when something is going to happen, like if people will stop being into you. Especially nowadays when everyone has a short attention span, the amount of stuff coming out on a daily basis. You go on a music website and you have ten minutes to read what’s on the front page before it’s loaded with another seven articles about seven other bands. I’m just very thankful people are still listening to what I do, and also why I try to take advantage of how I want the band to be done. I feel very lucky to be cross all these genres and not pay attention to all the rules or what people want me to sound like.

Do you think about death a lot?
Oh, I think about it every day. But I think that’s okay. The two certainties in life are you’re born and you die, right? Those are the two certainties we know, nothing else is certain. And I think that’s okay, it’s not morbid to think that way. I think it’s weird to not think about it, to be honest. People who are afraid of it or people who act like it’s not possible or that we’re going to live forever, that’s just irresponsible.

It’s weird being 22 and coming to terms with how impermanent everything is. But I think your music celebrates that, and is one of the reasons it’s resonant with people.
f you write about those certainties in life, people will relate with them. Most people fall in love in life, and that emotion is so relatable and whether it’s falling in or out of love at different times in your life it’s so relatable. And death is just this thing that’s coming, I mean you’re 22 so maybe when you’re older they’ll discover a cure for death. (laughs) There’s just these inevitable things in life that are good to think about, better than “am I going to win the lottery today?”

Put all my chips into getting uploaded to the internet.
Put your brain in a fucking jar or something.

Do you feel comfortable being the guy on the album cover yet?
Well, no not really. I went from putting half my face on the cover to turning my back to the cover. I think I’ve gone the opposite way. I just always want to be the songs, my voice more than what I look like. Although I do like wearing a nice hat here and there.

Pre-order your copy of 'If I Should Go Before You' right here.

John Hill is a writer from Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter - @JohnXHill

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Noisey
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