City and Colour Does it the Old-Fashioned Way

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Published March 30, 2011

DALLAS GREEN, AKA CITY AND COLOUR.

Dallas Green knows how to write a love song, and isn’t afraid to go all-out. Green has become well known for his melancholy vocals and sweet songwriting through his independent project, City and Colour. After the success of his past two albums, Bring Me Your Love and Sometimes, Green has gone through hell—sort of, at least—to create a third, Little Hell (not to be confused with Marissa Nadler’s 2009 album Little Hells, though there may be some crossover in the two acts’ audiences). Green, who is also a lead singer of the post-hardcore Canadian band Alexisonfire, is often confused as the screaming voice of the band; however, he’s only a singer in that project. As a solo artist, he has performed with legends such as Bob Dylan and most recently, Neil Young.

After returning to Toronto in its blizzard-like state, Green spoke to Interview about his new album, his love for singing Adele songs and the obvious (or not-so-obvious) origin of his project name.

KAPLAN: Little Hell is a lot different from your past two albums. You tend to create more melancholy, acoustic music, but I felt like this album took a different direction. Did you feel that way?

GREEN: I feel like I’m always going to write songs with a bit of that vibe. I think that has a lot to do with the way my voice sounds, the way I seem to sing, and the way I tend to put chord progressions together. I think lyrically I tried to get away from some of that. Topically, I did try to sing about some different things. There’s still some pretty sad songs, like “Natural Disaster” is a song I wrote about empty homes. It’s from traveling and always just seeing these empty houses all over the place boarded up. It just left an impression on me. “Northern Wind” too, I feel like it’s a love song. At first you feel, like that guy or that person or the character is saying how the other person makes him feel. Then you get to the latter half of the song and that person talks about how that person doesn’t feel like he’s good enough for her. That’s sort of sad too. It’s a pretty song. You might think it’s more a love song, you know?KAPLAN: If you had to, could you describe Little Hell in one word?

GREEN: That’s a tough question, isn’t it? I don’t know… I think the title just describes it. I mean, in all senses of the word. It was hell to get through. I have a hellish time writing songs. I really do.  The way I describe the title of the record is that I feel like life is all about the “little hells” that you have to get yourself through to the joy… to enjoy the better part of your life. That’s why the title just sort of took shape and made sense for the whole record.

KAPLAN: You recently performed “The Girl” on the CW’s One Tree Hill, and it’s a love song. What does that song mean to you?

GREEN: That song is about my wife. When I wrote that song, I was really wary about writing a love song, just because of how “emo” was being portrayed and people were afraid to say what they felt. Then I started thinking… fuck! Al Green, when he wanted to tell a girl how he felt about her, he just said it. Or Sam Cooke or Otis [Redding], or any of those guys. In their songs, they wrote… Fuck. “I love you.” So, then I was like, “Well who cares? I’m just going to write this.”

KAPLAN: Are the majority of your songs about your relationship with your wife, or relationships in general?

GREEN: Well… kind of, I guess. The song “The Grand Optimist” is about me and my parents. “O’ Sister” is about my sister. “Northern Wind” is not about my wife. My wife was telling me, when I was putting together songs for the record, “You need to write a love song.” She was like, “Your fans love the love songs—just try to write a song.” That was “Northern Wind.”  It’s kind of all over the place. “We Found Each Other in the Dark,” to me, it’s the idea that we’re gonna get through it no matter what “it” happens to be. “Fragile Bird” is a funny one, that’s a sexier, dancier one. That one’s about my wife, but it’s about how she has crazy night terrors.

KAPLAN: How did you come up with the name City and Colour?

GREEN: It’s my name. Dallas is a city. Green is a color.

KAPLAN: I never put two and two together.

GREEN: You want to know something? Don’t feel badly. No one in the history of the world has ever put it together without me saying it.

KAPLAN: I can’t believe I never realized it.

GREEN: I know, right? I didn’t know it was that clever.  It was a way for me not to put music out under my name because I have sort of an inferiority complex about myself. I could just sort of do whatever I wanted with it.

KAPLAN: How did you segue into City and Colour from Alexisonfire?

GREEN: I met the guys from Alexisonfire, and we started that band. Once Alexis started making a name for itself, kids started finding out about these older songs I had that were just me and a guitar. That sort of spiraled into people asking me whether I was going to do a solo record. Then, after that, it was like, I might as well go and make a record with good versions of these songs, because people are interested in them. My first record was a culmination of the songs I had written from when I was 16 until I was 21 years old. People started to get into that record and that was cool. I feel like the first record is not really my record. I feel like it’s a prequel. I feel like BMYL is the actual first record. It’s the record I would have made if I had known there would have been people listening.

KAPLAN: How did you get involved with the Gasoline Rainbows compilation?

GREEN: I wrote the song [“At the Bird’s Foot”] about the oil spill. I recorded it and I thought it was a little too topical for a record. I gave it to my management and basically said, “I don’t want to put this on the record because I didn’t feel it would make it a record, but I think it’s a good song. We could put it on iTunes and give the money to a charity that has to do with helping clean up the Gulf.” Then it turns out my American label was putting out this charity compilation anyway.

KAPLAN: What artist do you want to play a show with the most?

GREEN: If you asked me who I want to go on tour with right now, it would be Adele. I love how she’s a singer. She’s a singer in “not a singer-friendly industry” right now. There’s a lot of people who can sing… like Lady Gaga, she’s a great singer, but on her record it’s all about Auto-Tune and putting weird shit on her voice. I love Adele and how she sings. It’s just beautiful.

KAPLAN: Your shows already sell out, but you playing with Adele would make for nearly impossible tickets to get.  That would be an amazing show.

GREEN: Well, somebody should say something to her. [laughs]

KAPLAN: Maybe after this article… it’ll be a heads-up.

CITY AND COLOUR WILL BE PERFORMING AT WEBSTER HALL TONIGHT. LITTLE HELL IS OUT JUNE 7.