For any musician or band entering their tenth year, there’s going to be some form of reasonable expectation when it comes to new music or even concerts.
For any musician or band entering their tenth year, there’s going to be some form of reasonable expectation when it comes to new music or even concerts. Pick up the new Coldplay record and for better or worse, you pretty much have an idea going into it about what’s awaiting your earbuds.
For artists like them, that expectation pretty much will come true on every record they churn out, but there are plenty of other artists who almost revel in being able to subvert expectations after all these years, none more than the folk and alternative act known as City And Colour. You might try and predict what’s going to happen when you put on If I Should Go Before You, City And Colour’s fifth record out this past October, but all those predictions will prove empty and false before you’re even half-way through the drawn-out opening track, “Woman.”
“I love that style of music, droney and atmospheric almost. I always wanted to make music like that. Earlier on in my career, I don’t know if I would have allowed myself or thought I could get away with it, but now with where I am in my life, I was just wondering why not? Why can’t I have a song like that? What’s stopping me?”
That’s Dallas Green, the prolific musician who’s the mastermind it all. For years, he performed simply by himself under the City And Colour moniker as a side project from his original band, the post-hardcore outfit Alexisonfire. It was a jarring sound at first for fans of the popular Canadian group who flocked to see what one of the band’s main vocalist would do by himself, but over the years, Green has been able to not just solidify himself as City And Colour, but also let it almost eclipse the success of Alexisonfire. While the songwriting has been key to the success, one of the more hidden secrets behind this project’s lasting success is its ability to slowly and subtly change over time. Listen to the 2005 debut record Sometimes and you’ll quickly realize how the sound has modulated and adapted over the years before landing on If I Should Go Before You today. Sure, some of it’s the addition of an adept band around him, fleshing out his ideas in multiple layers, but it’s also an intrinsic goal from Green to push the sound forward.
“I don’t necessarily have much interest in repeating something I’ve already done. I’m not making a point to evolve or be different just to be different, but I just don’t want to repeat myself. You can’t help but to evolve and move on in different directions as you grow older as a songwriter and person. With that being said, I think when you listen to the records, as much as they sound differently sonically, there’s still a core that runs through them all which is my songwriting and voice. There’s ultimately going to be a difference between a 22 year old me singing and the 35 year old me singing. It’s a different person, no matter how hard you try to stay as close to what you are.”
As much as Green is a different person, he’s also a better person, at least musically that is. No matter how talented any 22 year old is, if they continually work and hone their craft, there’s no reason that they aren’t going to get better, more refined, and ultimately more diverse too.
“I’ve been making records and touring consistently for fifteen years so yeah, I’m going to get better. I definitely think I have a better grasp of melody and putting songs together in the technical sense, but I also feel when I first started singing, you could tell I could sing, but I didn’t know how to sing. I could make notes and melodies, but I didn’t know how to use my voice as instrument. Now I feel like after singing for so long, I have a voice. It’s hard to say that and it make sense to people because they’ll say I’ve been singing this whole time, but it’s things like that. It’s the same with guitar playing. You do it long enough, you start to find new ways or you find things that you’re good at and comfortable with to expand on. It comes with not being complacent too, wanting to be better and not ever being satisfied with the finished product. Not in the sense you’re not proud of it, but you know you want to pick up the guitar and be better next time.”
Green has nothing to worry about regarding becoming complacent though – it’d be downright embarrassing for anyone to try and make that claim. Not only has City And Colour continued to grow and evolve, but Green also continued along with Alexisonfire for a time and has even spun off into other projects, namely You+Me, a collaboration with singer Pink that came to life on 2014’s rose ave. With his growing musical palette and deep connections in the music industry, it’s enough to make you chart out other potential collaborations in your head, something Green himself has done even if there are no concrete plans right now.
“I’ve got a lot of bands in my head I’d like to do with at some point, but I don’t have anything planned. The thing with Alecia [Moore, Pink’s real name], that just came out of a friendship. That wasn’t something we talked about forever or someone had a board meeting about. It just worked out. I’m always open to things like that, but I don’t have a bucket list or a to do list in that regard. I just hope that when I pick up the guitar, something presents itself and I can turn it into a song and keep going for the future.”
Still, if Green wants to continue any type of project with musicians the level of Pink, he might just have to come to terms with being in the public eye, something he admitted to us that he still struggles with today. “I’ve always wanted it to just be about the songs, if anything, because I don’t think there’s needs to be anything about me. I’m already singing enough about myself that we don’t need to make a big deal about my thoughts or tweets about my political opinions are or what I had for dinner. It’s not something I’ve ever been interested in. I’m really just interested in continuing to be able to play and sing. I’m already giving you that personal side in the music. For me, that should be enough. I’m telling you how I feel in my music and I’m hoping you can relate to it and take what you need from it. I love singing for people and for myself and I love singing for people, but I could do without the selfies and a lot of that stuff. Maybe you’re asking for too much if you’re asking for more than the music.”
Still, some people crave that side of music. Not the selfies and the worthless adulation, but rather just some insight into the backstory of songs and the context in which they were created. It’s a common desire for any music fan, yet Green himself had a different side. “I never really cared about the lives of musicians. There’s that other thing too where you don’t want to meet your idols because what if they let you down? I know that’s a big thing for some of my fans, but I’ve never been interested in being popular, just being heard.”
Don’t misconstrue it though – Green is not out there callously ignoring his pleas from his die-hard fans. In fact, to those lucky enough to converse with Green, his sincerely affable demeanor is often praised, but the disconnect arises from those who approach him with other not-so-subtle intentions. “I’ve had people say to me, I heard you were a dickhead or asshole. I ask them why and they said someone that met me said I wasn’t nice. I bet I had a different view about that conversation though. Someone was probably rude to me and I stood up to myself. When somebody asks if they can have a selfie, I ask them to say hello first and they walk away thinking I’m a dickhead, but really all I was trying to do was teach them manners. People ask me to sign stuff and I just think, yeah, you just have my shitty handwriting on a piece of paper and you didn’t even ask me anything. You didn’t even say hello, just blurted out ‘sign this!’ Just have some respect really.”
It’s clearly a touchy subject for Green and one that’s probably not making touring any easier as the years go on. It’s a harsh reality though – no matter how often you do it and how much better you get at it, touring never becomes any easier with the somewhat tedious routine unmercifully attacking your creative mind. For Green though, after all these years, he’s at least identified the ways to stay sane on the road, some that even seem childish at first glance.
“You got to have good people around you which helps. When the show is bad and you have good people around you, they pick you up. When the show is great, those people make the celebration better. You also have to find stupid shit to entertain yourself. Right now, on this tour, we’ve bought a dart board and it’s literally taken over our entire lives. All we do is wake up and get into the venue and we figure out where we’re going to put it and we have dart tournaments until the show starts. It’s funny, but it’s true. Little things like that help the day go by and get rid of the monotony that can be the small dressing room or backstage area. Somedays, I’m just waiting to get the first crack at that dartboard long before I even think about playing a song.”
City And Colour arrives at The National this Saturday for a sold out show alongside Bahamas as part of XL102’s Miracle On Broad Street 2015. If you can find a way to snag a ticket on Stubhub or Craigslist, doors are at 7pm and if you need more information on the show, click here.