Daniel Powell gets ten minutes with Dallas Green, the man behind City And Colour.
The outskirts of Leeds, at night time, isn't the safest place in the world to be. Sure, Hyde Park is largely populated by students, more concerned with where their next beer is coming from than inciting any kind of trouble, but every so often there's a shady character lurking (or in this case staggering) around, waiting for someone to pick on. Pulling into the car park at the Brudenell Social Club, two things are apparent; one, the shady character happens to be here, fist-fighting a member of staff, and two, because of the scuffle there's hardly anywhere to park. As we attempt to get out of the car and into the venue, this gentleman decides he's bored of insulting the staff member, who is now walking away, and decides to approach us for a fight instead. It appears that ignorance is all that is required to diffuse the situation, and the man quickly tires and shuffles off into the night, dissatisfied with the lack of confrontation.
As our agreed interview time is fast approaching, we're ushered into the venue by the tour manager, a man by the name of Harris, who informs us that we are to take no longer than ten minutes, as Dallas Green, the man behind City And Colour, is a very busy individual. It appears that this is only half true, as when the door opens to the tiny backstage dressing room, Dallas is kicked back with members of support band Attack in Black, swigging beer and generally looking like the most relaxed person in the world.
"Hey" he looks up from his seat as the door closes behind us, "take a seat man, chill out". As he speaks he takes a second glance in my direction. "Have we met before?" I inform him that I also interviewed him last time he was in the country [with his other band Alexisonfire].
"Oh, yeah, you're the guy whose friend got pissed on, right?"
And so it begins.
So, how's the touring going for City And Colour this time around, have you been in the UK long?
This is the fifth UK show on this tour, and before that we were in Berlin for one show, it's going pretty well.
You seem to have expanded a little on the set-up since the last album [2005's 'Sometimes'], more ideas...
Wait a second, you sound like you're mad about that...
Sorry, I'm not mad, just a little on edge after a drunk tried to pick a fight with us in the car park!
Let's go do the interview outside, with this dude! Do you wanna have a beer?
No it's cool, I'm ok thanks though. It's all good now.
Good, nice to hear. Anyway, sorry, there're more instruments on the new album, more ideas and whatever, based on the fact that I had a little more time. The first record I made in two days, recorded half one day, then half another day, and then I went off on tour with Alexis whilst it was mixed. This time around I was able to demo the songs on my computer, and listen to them lot more before recording and listen for what I wanted to add to them, whereas when I did the first thing it was kind of just in the confines of the studio.
Was that easier for you or more difficult? Since it's always said that you have your whole life to write your first record, but much less time to follow up.
I don't really believe in that though, because if you aren't ready to make it then you don't. I don't think it applies to this really because I never had like a smash hit record that sold millions, so I didn't have to worry about making a better record than that. We just kind of picked up a fan base slowly and built on it. And besides, I fell more pressure from myself to write good records than making others like it, because I'm so worried that I'm not going to like it within an hour of writing it, I'm very self critical.
The themes on this album seem to support that. Whereas the first album was a little more ambiguous, this time around there seems to be very clear themes to the songs; worry, mortality, insomnia, it sounds much more open.
Yeah there's a lot of death and lack of sleep to this record! But the first record, more than half of those songs were written when I was a teenager, and I first started experimenting with writing songs, so it was a lot more ambiguous, mainly because I didn't really know how to write songs like that. I couldn't really get out what I was trying to say. I just wrote lines that I thought worked well or sounded good. Maybe later on if I'd gone back and put more effort into it I could have formulated it a bit more. With this album I had a few experiences that made me want to write about them. I don't sleep a lot, and when I'm not sleeping, I think about death.
So you'll wake at 4 in the morning and decide to write a song?
That's when I do most of my writing, because if I don't do something constructive then I just lay awake thinking about the worst crap, whereas if I get constructive I get stuff done, but also it tires me out a bit more.
Does your Alexisonfire song writing ever inform or impact your writing for City And Colour?
It's pretty separate. Lyrically I don't write anything too personal for Alexis, based on the fact that we write the songs together, so I don't wanna write about something that's bumming me out and take it to George [Petit, Alexisonfire vocalist] and say "hey, do you wanna sing about this? Can you write a part that relates to this?" which is why we write together, and I save all the really personal stuff for this.
How about this time around for City And Colour, how have the extra musicians affected the writing?
Well the first time around it was just me, but this time I had my friend Dan, who played drums and a bunch of other stuff that I could play but didn't really feel comfortable with, like he played the organ, lots of weird guitar stuff, bass on a few tracks. It was just nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of, and actually, his Dad even came in and played a guitar solo, which was really cool. His Mom and brother actually came down too, to do like some of the hand claps and things, so it was cool; also my friend Gord Downey from Tragically Hip came and sang on a track. It was cool because the first one was done in such a short time but this one had more time, and because I'd been touring with Dan's band Attack in Black a lot over the last year, on tour I would come up if he was around and I'd be like "Does this suck?" if I had an idea or whatever, and he's play something and say "Does this suck?" so it just seemed like he knew where I was coming from.
The first album took a lot of people by surprise, since they weren't expecting an acoustic solo album from you given your other band, was it the same for you? Did you just realise one day you had a bunch of songs?
That's the thing, everyone was like "How did you start playing guitar and singing like that?" but I've been doing that since I was eight years old, when I wasn't in a popular rock band at the time so it was normal! But the first time I started to play music in front of people was just like this with an acoustic guitar. The surprise was that I had all these songs, and it was more friends and family that said I should just put it out there, see what happens. I didn't really wanna do it, but I'm glad I did.
The new one came about though because we were on tour for a long time so I just had time and wrote a load of songs. And especially now we knew that there were people willing to listen to it, we decided to do another.
How does that work with releasing it through a label?
Well it's not like most deals. The guy that runs the label is a friend of mine I've known for 15 years, so when I had an album I just said "do you wanna put it out?" and he said "sure" and we agreed to do it in February, it was literally that easy, we just decided there and then that I'd record in August when I get home, and we'll put it out in February. Attack in Black recorded a record in their house for that label too, it's cool because you don't have to worry about a time period or whatever because it's your friends, and it's kinda nice.
How different are the shows for you [from the Alexisonfire shows]?
These ones are a lot weirder, there's a lot more room for air, when you're by yourself, and it's very quiet. And if you fuck up you'll be like "Oh my God, everyone noticed that one". With Alexis I can get away with it, or Wade covers it up or whatever, but I like both of them really. And places like this lend themselves a little more to this kind of show. Playing at a rock club in a band, people chatter and walk away or whatever, and gravitate towards the bar, but at these shows people sit and listen a little more.
Do you play the old songs any differently now? I know you like to play around with older material live.
Yes, definitely. I don't play them the same anymore. I play most of them with a full band now too, so it's a little different. And after playing a song so many times you kinda learn what you can do with it, and it starts to change. It's a little more interesting.
Do you ever look at older material and wish you'd done it differently or do you just move on to something new?
Oh no, I look back! But I think that's the way it should be, you're evolving. If you look back and think everything you've done is perfect then where do you go? Like two years ago when I did the first record, or even six years ago when we did the first Alexis record, it sounded great, but now it sounds terrible! But you are inevitably your own worst critic, and if you aren't cringing a little at things you've done in the past then you aren't moving forward or growing.
As we are talking, assorted members of Attack in Black that are in the room with us, are laughing at one amongst them chewing his own beard, presumably to combat the tedium of being on the road for so long. Naturally, upon observing this, a conversation develops.
Is this what happens after months of touring, then?
Pretty much, this is as glamorous as it gets, but don't ruin it for everyone. In your article you gotta be like "So I went back stage and there were eight hookers... all doing drugs".
I'm pretty sure that's about as far as we can take it! Looks like I have to leave now anyway, since I've completely ignored the ten minute rule.
Dude its okay, since we've done interviews before it's like we're old friends. We're just hanging out. No doubt I'll see you again when I'm next in Leeds, I'm here every month!
As I turn to leave the room, just as I get the door open, Dallas shouts from his seat.
I look his way expecting I've left my jacket or something on the chair.
"No more fights tonight".
He's got me there. Damn.