City and Colour: turning down the volume to make a bigger noise
City and Colour was Dallas Green’s folkie side project while playing in a post-hardcore band. Now it’s the main attraction, and it’s given Green the confidence to stand centre-stage
Dallas Green aka City and Colour: ‘What literature does for me is that it brings to life a love of language that I sometimes find myself lacking in. You forget about certain words, or you lose that chance to discover new words that you could use in songs’
Superman or Clark Kent? Jekyll or Hyde? Walter White or Heisenberg? It has been difficult to keep track of Dallas Green’s alter-egos over the past decade. The Canadian musician’s current alias as the folk-based City and Colour may be the most recent chapter in his creative life, but it’s certainly not the first – nor does it bear any relation to his previous guise as vocalist and guitarist of the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire.
Green has always revelled in performing stylistic 180-degree turns, so when he wasn’t performing with the five-piece who once described themselves as “the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight”, he indulged in the solo project cleverly and subtly named after himself (Dallas – city; Green – colour).
Green released the first City and Colour album, Sometimes, in 2005, but when Alexisonfire split for good in 2012, it became his full-time creative outlet.
“Aside from enjoying singer-songwriter stuff, I had always enjoyed loud, aggressive music as well,” he says as he drives from his home in Toronto to visit his parents in his hometown of St Catharines, Ontario. “Anyone who’s played guitar really loud knows that it’s a lot of fun – so as much as I was writing songs just for myself on a guitar, I also had a keen interest in being in a band with a group of guys and making a bunch of racket.
“Bands like Mogwai and Quicksand made me want to be in a band and play loud, aggressive music. When we started Alexis, I think we didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be like; we just knew that we were gonna throw everything that we all liked into the pot, and that was what we came up with.”
Switching between two very different bands proved tricky at first, he says. “The more that City and Colour became an actual reality – as opposed to just something that I was doing on the side – it became a lot more difficult to go back and forth,” he admits. “I found my heart and my mind wanted to stay more focused on City and Colour to see what I could make of it, and I started to find the well drying up as far as the ideas that I had to contribute to Alexisonfire went. It wasn’t for lack of trying or wanting to be in the band any more – I just found myself wanting to play the guitar more in the City and Colour style, I guess.
“But I don’t have any regrets about the past, because I don’t think that I would be here having this conversation with you without Alexisonfire. People only really started taking notice of my solo stuff after Alexisonfire became popular – so I owe all of what I have to being in that band.”
Since slowing down his style to a more folk and acoustic-based sound, Green has found himself engaging with the songwriting process in a different way. His most recent release, last year’s The Hurry and the Harm, exhibited an articulate, intelligent lyricist who writes personal songs. One track, Commentators, sums up his songwriting motivation with the line, “I don’t want to be revolutionary / No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody.”
“A lot of the time, music has a reverse effect on me, because if I listen to something that I really, really love, I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be doing it, because people could just listen to these wonderful songs instead of listening to me,” he says, laughing. “So I read a lot of books. What literature does for me is that it brings to life a love of language that I sometimes find myself lacking in. You forget about certain words, or you lose that chance to discover new words that you could use in songs. I think that’s why books have always had such a strong effect on my writing.”
The Hurry and the Harm has proven to be his most successful record to date, in terms of both sales and chart positions. It saw him enlist musicians of a fine pedigree as his backing band, including members of The Raconteurs and The Constantines. It’s also the first time that he has put his own face (albeit partially obscured) on one of his records. Given that he chose not to go by his own name for his solo project, has his recent success given him more confidence to stand out front and centre?
“I think it had something to do with that – or at least giving myself the chance to feel comfortable about being in this position,” he says. “Up until this last touring cycle, I still stood on the right side of the stage, even though I was doing City and Colour and playing these songs that were mine. It’s only taken me 12 years to start standing in the middle of the stage.”
With that newfound confidence comes a certain serenity. Green’s background might be more varied and unusual than that of many other folk songwriters, but aiming to please one faction of fans over another has never been part of his grand plan.
“I’m not too concerned with trying to fit into a certain scene,” he says. “I think that stems all the way back to Alexis; we never really cared if people looked at us as a hardcore band or a screamo band, or a post-hardcore band or whatever, because we didn’t really know what kind of band we were either. Granted, there are certain things that are a little more difficult – like certain media publications won’t write about me or talk about me because they don’t think I fit into whatever their demographic is, or certain publications will always talk about me because of the band that I was in, and that makes it a little bit hard at times.
“But thankfully, nowadays, with the internet, it doesn’t really matter too much because you don’t really have to worry about being pigeonholed or streamlined into one section. You can just put your music out, and hopefully the people who like it will listen to it, and the people who don’t like it can move on and find something else. And I’m pretty happy with that.”
City and Colour play the Olympia Theatre on January 22