City and Colour – Finding Solace

City and Colour, the monicker of singer/songwriter Dallas Green, epitomizes the acoustic-folk genre.  His songs are gentle yet powerful, sweet but poignant, energetic and soulful.    The quiet, though ever-busy Green is currently on tour to promote his third album, Little Hell, an album recorded in a converted church in Ontario, Canada with producer Alex Newport, who previously worked with Death Cab for Cutie.  While City and Colour is truly Greene’s project, this album features multi-instrumentalist Daniel Romano, percussionist Dylan Green and bassist Scott Remila.  Glide recently spoke to Green about his vision for this album and his latest tour. 

How did you decide to perform under the name City and Colour?

Well, Dallas is a city and green is a color so it was kind of a way for me to use my own name without having to actually say my name.  Whenever I first thought of opening a record, the idea of someone walking around with a T-shirt that said “Dallas Green” on it made me feel sick to my stomach, so I wanted to come up with something else.  It just made sense- it’s kind of still my name. 

Did you envision this to be a solo project for yourself or do you have a group that you play with?

I do have a band that I consistently play with now,  but my first record was just me and my guitar.  It took a couple of days and was a couple of songs that I’d put together over the years.  But then as the songwriting evolved and I realized that I had to start- there was a fan base that was willing to listen to these songs- so I started bringing in other musical elements.

How did you approach this album differently than your past work in terms of composition and recording?

I’ve never really gotten a chance to have a writing process really when it comes to making solo records just because I’ve usually just been writing the songs while I’ve been on tour with my other band [Alexisonfire].  Whether I just take a moment to myself in a quiet corner of a venue or in the tour bus or whatever, that’s when I’ve been writing.  When I get home from tour, I can kind of flesh them out and complete them.  When recording this record, I decided to go and record it all on analog tape.  I’ve never done that before, so I wanted to do it at least one time before because who knows how long you’re gonna be able to do it for.  I thought that the songs lent themselves to the sound that tape provides.

You started off Little Hell with a slow ballad, “We Found Each Other In The Dark” and followed it up with a more uptempo number, “Natural Disaster”.  How did you decide to start with a ballad?

When I wrote that song I always envisioned starting the record with it because its slow but its also very immediate.  It starts with my voice and I just always imagined that’s how the record would start.  I think once I actually recorded it and heard how beautiful it could be- I didn’t see it anywhere else.

You have said before that you want to write sad music.  Do you still feel that it is the best for you to write? 

Not necessarily the idea of sad music, it’s just the idea that you can find solace in other people’s troubles.  When you are going through something in your life, you can listen to a song and relate to it, not knowing exactly what the person is talking about.  The fact that something in the song helps you get through something- I think that’s great.  Sugar coated gumbo pop music is fine, it has a time and place, but for me I’ve just always felt better about writing songs that come from a more emotional place.

It seems that you pared down your instrumentation from your second album Bring Me Your Love.  Was that a conscious decision or did it just feel more natural to perform these songs with traditional rock instrumentation?

On the last record when I was writing the songs, I had picked up the banjo and different things like that and tried to learn how to play those and wanting to incorporate things like that on the record.  The new songs, the sort of standard “bass, drums, guitar” idea just made more sense.  There’s still pedal steel on some songs- piano and organ and things like that.  There is one song that starts just with New Orleans piano. There’s still other instruments, but I just didn’t hear anything sort of out of the ordinary when I was writing the songs.

You have spoken about lyrics being more difficult for you to write than melodies.  How do you go about writing a song knowing that the lyrics might be more difficult?

I always start with the melody first.  Occasionally, I’ll write a line down- something that I came up with, or I’ll read a book, and something will inspire me to write and I can draw from that later on and then I slowly build the lyrics.  Once I decide what I’m actually writing the song about, then the words come easier, but it’s all to shape what the song will be about. 
You have opened for acts ranging from Tegan & Sara to Pink.  How do you change or adapt your sets depending on who you are opening for?

With Tegan and Sara I just did that tour solely by myself with a guitar because that’s what they wanted.  They had another band on the tour that opened the show and they wanted something different in between the two bands.  I played and sat up there alone.  Lissie was opening for me, but I opened a bunch of shows for Pink actually over in the UK. There we’re playing in soccer stadiums for 40,000 people and they’re all there to see Pink, so we did change the set to make it four or five straight-up, upbeat songs. 

How do you approach a performance like Lollapalooza where you have the potential to garner new fans but also want to appease older, loyal fans?

If you just go back to what I said before, you sort of have to gauge what you’re playing for.  Playing at Lollapalooza, some people there will know and there will be a lot of new listeners.  You just go up and pick your set and play the sort of catchier, upbeat ones and hope that you leave a little bit of pressure on someone so that when they go home they maybe check out your band.  You just have to gauge what the crowd is like and go from there. 

photo by Vanessa Heins [via Vagrant]

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