Dallas Green on his own little hell
Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter Dallas Green has been going through little hell after little hell recently. Before the erstwhile member of post-hardcore sensation Alexisonfire had elected to leave the band to focus on his City and Colour project, his third album under that moniker dropped in June 2011. The title and theme? Little Hell.
"As the record starting nearing completion, I was throwing around titles and "Little Hell" just kept coming back to the forefront," explains Green, reached over the phone at his home in Toronto. "Also, I started to realize that life is all about the little hells that you go through, the struggles or trials and tribulations that you get yourself into and you have to deal with them. I feel it’s the way you deal with them that moulds you into who you are as a person. All my songs tend to be from a personal perspective, and I tend to write about the dark moments in life instead of pop songs about the sun shining and girls in bikinis. I guess I’ve always viewed music as personal therapy in a way."
City and Colour is Green’s pseudonym for his solo work, and was derived from the singer’s own name ("Dallas" being a city, "Green" being a colour). As the outlet for his most personal material, City and Colour songs are packed with raw, gaspingly honest lyrics at the centre of the compositions, usually complemented by spare acoustics or melodic accompaniments. Green is unflinchingly direct about the process decided upon for Little Hell.
"Little Hell was actually recorded in a church in Hamilton that had been converted to a recording studio by my friend Dan Achen who passed away last year," reveals Green. "It made sense for me to go back there, not only to pay homage to him and the beautiful place that he created for music, but maybe to try and rekindle a feeling I had in that place. I think a lot about how an album will sound depends on the atmosphere you put yourself in. That room does the work for you, it’s an old building with lots of creaks, buzzes, ghosts."
Despite serving as his solo project, City and Colour has also been a temporary home for a revolving cast of Canadian indie rock musicians, and a semi-permanent interest for close friends Daniel Romano and Spencer Burton (Attack in Black). Green identifies Romano as his go-to musical foil.
"Dan is what I like to call my spiritual advisor," says Green. "Because I write and arrange all my songs, I have a good idea what they should sound like, but Daniel is there to facilitate a lot of the things I am hearing that I can’t necessarily get out or play myself. I can explain to him what I want in very simple terms and he is very able to understand what I’m looking for."
"For example, on We Found Each Other in the Dark, the first song on the record, I thought I was hearing a little pedal steel in the song," adds Green. "Daniel just said okay, and then we played the song and he added a path of steel just to see what we thought. I remember I just started crying because I was so moved by what he was playing. It was like I never knew how beautiful the song could sound until I heard that addition. It was what needed to be there."
As mentioned, Green’s lyrical work on Little Hell derives from elements of his own life, yet he is not the exclusive subject. Fragile Bird, the first single off the record released to radio, deals with the subject of his wife’s mysterious night terrors. The song is also City and Colour’s biggest hit, reaching number one on the Canadian rock/alternative charts.
"She has these pretty crazy moments at night. Imagine a sleepwalker, but imagine them acting like they are getting murdered," says Green. "It can be very, very frightening, but sometimes it can be kind of funny. I tend to write about things in my life that are bothersome, and it’s not to say that her terrors bother me in a way that I am frustrated by it, but I wish I could do more to help. I don’t know what to do, so I just ended up writing a song about it. Like I said, music is just sort of a therapeutic process for me."
Yet for all the success of City and Colour, the demise of Alexisonfire is bound to haunt Green through ongoing media interviews, speculation on his primary role in the breakup and by the legions of inquisitive fans that the supergroup had attracted. For Green, it was a necessary and healthy paradigm shift.
"It’s funny, because everyone that has interviewed me over the last few years has asked when I was going to make a decision between the two bands," says Green. "I always said I would do both for as long as I possibly could, and I reached that point last year. I felt like I was killing myself and I needed to make a decision. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. Some people are mad, but I don’t think everyone realizes what it takes to be in a band, never mind two. Do people have two full-time jobs? The four guys in that band are my brothers, but I had to make a choice."
City and Colour
w/ The Low Anthem