TORONTO – Two years ago, “Little Hell” granted City and Colour’s Dallas Green his greatest success yet — platinum sales, his first chart-topping album, and eventually, a Juno Award for songwriter of the year. So naturally, as he toured his most popular record yet, he was miserable.
That Green was blue had nothing to do with “Little Hell,” which he liked, but instead a heavy secret he’d been toting: the 32-year-old had already decided to depart the beloved post-hardcore band he’d helped to found more than a decade earlier, Alexisonfire, but news wouldn’t reach the public until months later.
“Making ‘Little Hell,’ I knew I had left the band,” he recalled during a recent interview at an east Toronto bar. “I was lying to all the public, right? I was making that record, I was doing interviews about it … and everyone was asking what was going on with Alexis, and I was just like, ‘We’re just on a break,’ because this is still when I wasn’t able to talk about it because the guys were still trying to figure it out. So really, I didn’t make that record on my own. I made that record as two people, publicly anyways.
“And that really (messed) me up. That touring cycle for ‘Little Hell,’ and sort of dealing with the aftermath of when the Alexis news broke, I got really, really — like really, really — depressed and into a pretty dark spot.”
It took making “The Hurry and the Harm” — out Tuesday — to help heal Green.
As he was wrapping up the “Little Hell” tour, he “rekindled his relationship” with the rest of Alexisonfire and they announced plans for a farewell jaunt. With a couple of months downtime, he realized he’d assembled a deep catalogue of new songs that he quite liked.
He decided to work quickly, wanting to figure out the new songs before re-immersing himself in the Alexis headspace before their bittersweet victory lap. In Nashville and Toronto, he put together “The Hurry and the Harm” and had a “wonderful experience.” After completing the Alexis tour, he was suddenly in a far more positive place than he had been in a long time.
“For the first time in eight or nine years, I didn’t have anything to do,” he said. “I had the record done … and I finished and closed the book on the Alexis chapter. The first couple weeks of January are the first two weeks I’ve ever relaxed, like literally relaxed, in eight or nine years. And it was a really big moment. It was like a proverbial weight off my shoulders.”
Still, “The Hurry and the Harm” occasionally brings him back to the period of tumult and unease that preceded his departure.
The theme emerges with the most clarity on “Of Space and Time,” on which he murmurs in his plaintive falsetto: “Something is eating away at my brain/ There’s an elephant in the back of the room/ And it’s standing in plain view/ Everyone can see, that it looks just like me.”
But if other songs on the album didn’t deal directly with his feelings over the split, they reflect his feeling of being pulled in two directions at once, and as a result much of the record feels unsettled and restless.
“Lyrically, there are a big group of songs that I could tell I was writing about wanting or looking for something else,” he said. “And I was writing them while I was in Alexisonfire and doing City and Colour at the same time. And you know, not being able to find that, whatever that is that I’m looking for. And knowing that I needed to go off and focus on one at least to try to get closer to whatever that is.”
The album isn’t completely dominated by Green’s ruminations on the breakup. The bluesy stomper “Thirst” — which offers hints of the Black Keys — was actually written for another artist from a “woman scorned” point of view, and when that artist passed, Green was relieved to prop up the tune as his first single.
The shuffling “Commentators,” meanwhile, deals in part with Green’s disdain for scorn-slinging anonymous online pundits.
“It’s more … in defence of my wife,” he says of Canadian TV personality Leah Miller. “People say the worst things about her. I could care less what you say about me, especially when it comes to music. There’s a lot of music I don’t like, so for me to put out a record and think that everyone’s going to like it would be very hypocritical.
“But I go on YouTube and I watch videos of live shows I’ve done and you’ve got kids arguing back and forth over what guitar I’m playing and they’re calling each other … ‘queer’ and ‘go back to this and that,'” he added. “It’s like, you’re both wrong. This stems from an argument over what guitar I’m playing, neither of you know, and now you’re calling each other horrible names? What are we doing?”
Musically, “The Hurry and the Harm” picks up where “Little Hell” left off, further diversifying the sound of a project that began as stripped-down, unvarnished folk.
Now, with help from Nashville session musicians, he’s crafted something more eclectic, more akin to electrified Americana. And, sad as he is to leave the Alexisonfire chapter behind, he won’t mourn the idea that one band represented his loud side and the other his soft.
“What I’ve been striving for with the last couple records is that we can get rid of that whole ‘There’s two sides to Dallas Green’ argument,” he said. “You know, like there’s this angry, loud, aggressive side with Alexisonfire and then there’s this soft, melancholic, contemplative side. To me, that’s just lazy journalism.
“Of course, there’ll always be people who wish I was still in Alexisonfire and there’ll always be those people who wish City and Colour just sounded like the first record,” he added. “But you can’t worry about that.”
Now focusing on only one project, Green seems to have a greater sense of self, musically speaking.
After eight years of simultaneously pursuing two radically different musical ventures, he’s settled into his own rhythm and a new pace. And he’s confidently betting on himself.
“I remember a comment when ‘Of Space and Time’ first came out … ‘All of his songs sound the same,'” he recalls. “And I thought: That’s OK. That means they sound like me. I’ll take it.
“I’d like somebody to listen to a City and Colour song and say, ‘That sounds like Dallas.’ I don’t want them to listen to a song and say, that sounds like this or that or he’s trying to do this or that. I want it to sound like me.”