City & Colour On New Album, Neil Young & The Toronto Blue Jays
When Dallas Green started City & Colour it was essentially a solo project that barely allowed him to hide his own name. (Think about it for a second, but don’t feel bad if you don’t get it, Green says people are still figuring out the thinly veiled pseudonym.)
The one-time Alexisonfire frontman chose the alias because he wanted freedom to evolve musically. The result is that the new City & Colour album, If I Should Go Before You, is a full-band outing that shows considerable change from the early troubadour days of the project.
Just prior to the album’s release, Green sat down to discuss his beloved Toronto Blue Jays, the honor of opening for Neil Young and how he dwells on the negative in a bid to better himself musically.
I don’t know if I should congratulate you first on the album or the Blue Jays.
I would rather talk about the Blue Jays.
Then let’s talk about the Blue Jays. What is your favorite Blue Jays moment in history?
Well obviously … the walk-off homer to win the World Series [in 1993] is the thing that sticks out the most in Blue Jays’ minds fans because that’s the last thing that we could really celebrate. … Up until [this year] we had the longest playoff drought in not only baseball, but all three major sports — 22 years without making the playoffs. So just this season in general has been really memorable, watching Josh Donaldson play and seeing [Troy] Tulowitzki and David Price and all these guys you couldn’t imagine being Jays last year, it’s great.
Between singing “O Canada” at a Blue Jays World Series game and opening for Neil Young, which would be the bigger Canadian honor?
Opening for Neil Young. I will never sing a national anthem at a sporting event because if they were to lose a game I sang the national anthem at I would ultimately believe it was my fault.
Have you ever met Neil Young before?
No, I’ve actually never met him. We have a thing here in Canada called the Junos, which is sort of our Canadian version of the GRAMMYs. A couple of years ago there was the 40th anniversary of the Junos and I got to sing “Old Man” in honor of him, and he was there. So that was really cool, I got to sing one of his songs in front of him.
Singing one of Neil Young’s songs in front of him is probably more daunting than meeting him.
I was kind of OK with it until we started doing the dry dress rehearsals and everybody kept reminding me and bringing that up so I got a little bit nervous. But once I got up there I was fine because I remembered I’d been playing my guitar and singing since I was 7 years old. I would hope there was a reason I was up there doing it.
What other Neil Young song would you choose to sing in front of him?
Wow, that’s a tough one. One of my favorite records is Comes A Time and the song “Comes A Time” is really beautiful I think and I really love that song. I love a lot of his songs, but that one is really good.
Neil Young is also one of those artists I feel like it depends on the day. One day might be “Comes A Time” and another day you might want to rock out with “Like A Hurricane.”
We cover that every once in a while because that’s such a fun song to jam out and play. You can solo for five minutes if you want or you can shorten it and play it quickly, it’s a lot of fun.
That is a good segue into If I Should Go Before You, since you said the album’s opening cut, “Woman,” started as a 30-minute jam.
Yeah, we put all the songs together pre-production wise at my house. When we were working on that one, because there’s obviously not much structure to that in the sense of typical songwriting — verse-chorus, verse-chorus kind of stuff — we just played it and I kind of told the guys, “When I get close to the mic I’m gonna sing so get a little quieter. And then when I back away just go for it.” In my head I sort of thought maybe we would just release a 30-minute version of it, that’s all, because it was a lot of fun. But then when we went into the studio I was like, “Let’s try and get a 10-minute version. If we get a 10-minute version I like I’m putting it on the record.” And we did.
As a music geek I’d love to hear the full version.
I can already imagine the live version just being longer in general, so maybe one day we’ll get a good live recording of a long version. To me, that would be the best just because it would be so spontaneous. We’ll probably record a bunch of stuff on this tour cause we can and we’ll see what happens. So maybe there’ll be that one day.
What is the best live jam you’ve ever heard?
Actually the first time I ever saw the band Mogwais from Scotland, I was 18 years old, I went and saw them play in Toronto. There’s a song called “Mogwai Fear Satan” and it’s already about a 16-minute song on the record, they opened with that and it seemed to me it lasted for hours. It probably was only maybe twenty minutes. But seeing this band play in this little club for the first time that was the best thing I’ve ever seen as far as that kind of stuff goes.
Why is it important for you to have that separation that comes from calling this project City & Colour versus your name.
The separation was important to me. I kind of wanted it to be ambiguous in a way that I could make City & Colour whatever I decided it was going to be at that moment. Those first records were just me by myself and this record now is a whole band thing. Having that gives you the freedom to make it whatever you want.
I really liked the line “I’ll never be as good as I’d like to be” in the song “Lover Come Back.” From a work standpoint are there moments for you as a writer where you’ve come close to or been as good as you’d like to be.
I think the line you just brought up is a good example because most of my writing is me working through something in my life and I’m trying to write about it, and hopefully in a relatable enough way that people can dig in and sort of find what they need. But “Lover Come Back” was just me trying to write a good song and obviously the topic is something a lot of people can relate to, a lost love. But when I started writing it had no attachment to me whatsoever, I was just trying to write a good song. But when I got to the second verse that line works in the context of the story of the song, but also it is completely me stepping into it for a second and putting a line that I apply to myself all the time. I will never be as good as I’d like to be. I’m OK with that because I strive constantly to be as good as I’d like to be, never truly reaching it. And that way always continuing to evolve and get better.
Are there moments you can look back on now though with perspective and they stand out to you?
I know there are people who look back now and always think that my first record or second record is the best thing I’ve ever done. That’s just their emotional attachment to it, but I don’t think that. There are songs I look back on and go, “That’s good, I really love that.” I think a good old example would be “As Much As I Ever Could,” which is the last song on my second record. I love what that song has become now live. I try to discover new parts of my voice every time I make a record and I go out on tour. Back then I loved singing that song the way it was. But now I love being able to sing the way I can sing now and singing that song because I look at it as it was a platform for me to jump off and be what I am now.
Thinking about your song “The Grand Optimist,” would you consider yourself a pessimist and if so how does that influence your outlook as an artist?
I think I am a pessimist, I am always sort of celebrating the negative. That’s a problem I have, but also it allows me to always try to be better, whether it’s lyrically or musically. Again, I don’t think that’s a bad way to be. It’s not the most satisfying way to live and sometimes I can be hard to be around cause I celebrate the negative. If we come off stage and we play a good show I’ll immediately start pointing out what didn’t go right. But I think most people around me understand that and I don’t dwell on it, if I’m mad after a show cause I don’t think I sang well I’ll be mad for about twenty minutes and then I’ll forget about it and go back onstage the next day and try and do better. It totally resonates through all of the way I handle things.
Has that changed as you’ve gotten older?
I will say this, I am definitely as happy in my unhappiness as I’ve ever been.