My candid and surprising interview with Dallas Green: “It’s like I’m falling out of love with it.”
Since starting this blog, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Dallas Green of City and Colour a few times. He’s one of those kind people that, right before we meet, I have to remind myself that we aren’t actually friends. But seeing someone familiar, whose career has had so much success in the past few years, it’s hard to not be proud of them, the same you would be of a friend or family member.
Hours before the first of his two sold out shows in Calgary, I got the chance to talk to the singer, but this time it felt different. I had prepared a series of questions and was looking forward to hearing exciting stories of having a number one album (Little Hell), tales from the road and the how surreal it must be to a North American tour that is practically sold out. Almost immediately our conversation took a different turn, one that initially got me threw me off, but then I was able to buckle myself in. Over the span of half an hour, Dallas and I talked about his career and why, for one reason or another, it didn’t seem like enough. Truth be told, it was shocking to hear him talk about wanting something different then his life right now, since there were people already lined up outside the concert venue, but it seemed like a thought process of anyone, famous musician or not, that nowadays is smart enough to recognize the signs, that even after you achieve all of your goals, it’s okay to feel that maybe there is more to life.
Below is our conversation, unedited. It was surprising to me how candidly he talked about possibly walking away from his career. In fact, I really struggled with whether or not I even wanted to publish the interview. If his concerns are that he’s sharing too much of his life, why would I then publish an entire interview about that very fear. But as I went back and listened to it a few times, I found hope in so many of the things he said. I found it refreshing for someone, who so many people look up, to admit that 31 years old he wanted more than anything to be happy in his life, even if it meant leaving what, up until recently, seemed to be making him the happiest. Just like all of us, there are indeed challenges ahead for Dallas Green, which means that at some point, whenever he’s ready, we’ll be lucky enough to hear about it.
What’s been the biggest change since deciding to leave Alexis on Fire and work solely on City and Colour?
The biggest change is having the focus just mainly on one thing, which has been nice. One of the reasons for leaving Alexis was so that I could focus and give everything I have to City and Colour. But in doing that, I think I’ve offered up too much to it now. It’s become what I imagined it could be, or hoped it would be, which is good. But at the same time, it’s almost like…careful what you wish for.
Do you think then that your success came to fast?
No, I don’t think so, because it’s sorta always been bubbling. I mean, I’ve been doing it a long time. “Sometimes” came out in 2005, that’s seven years ago now. But I think what happened was that it was building, building and building and then all of a sudden, I was like, “Okay, here I go” and it was like, “Well, here we come too.” So it’s sorta weird. The American tour that we just did was really, really crazy, because it was in really big places and we sold out in city’s that I’ve never been and that was really surprising. I mean, Canada is one thing, I’ve been working at it for a while in Canada and they’ve always welcomed me with open arms. But anywhere else I go, I feel like I’m going to walk into a room and no one is going to show up. So that was weird to deal with.
Do you feel like people always want something from you now?
Yeah. I’ve definitely reached that point. Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t come up to me on the street, but thankfully the people that come up to me are usually quite nice. They’re not like belligerent or rude. Like today, I was at lunch a girl came up to me after I finished and said, “I don’t mean to bother you, but can I have an autograph?” I said, “Of course.” On my way here, someone walked by and just said, “Mr. Green.” Which is nice, but it’s something that is interesting to adapt to, you’re no longer being able to walk around without one person, that you don’t know, coming up to you and talking to you.
By choosing a career in music, do you feel like maybe you asked for it?
Absolutely. When you’re putting your music out and you’re asking people to buy it, or come see you play, you’re giving yourself to them at some point. And I’ve always enjoyed talking to be people about it. I don’t think I’ve ever been one to shoo them away, just because I feel like, without the people coming and listening, then I don’t have anyone to play for. But I think I’m starting to learn that there has to come a time where I have to separate it at some point. I think I’m realizing that I’m giving too much of myself to it and when I get home, I have nothing left to give to my family. Emotionally, I’m finding that I’m becoming a little bit disconnected with the people who are truly in my life.
How do you think you can make the separation happen?
I don’t know. I’m just sorta starting to get to this point and then I have to move forward and figure it out. I guess the first step is to realize what that problem is and work towards fixing it.
I guess that’s what happens when your hobby becomes your career.
For me it was never about this, (signals around to the auditorium), as much as I’d hoped that people would listen to my music, it was more about just writing and singing and playing for anybody. So, I’m so thankful and lucky that I’ve gotten to a point like this, but I’m also not a guy who did this so I could do interviews, be in magazines or be on television. I never wanted to be that guy. But now, I have to learn how to deal with the fact that I am that guy, and how to still maintain a sense of myself and at the same time, becoming this.
Are there examples of people who’ve walked away and then come back, that come to mind?
Look at Leslie (Feist), she was away for four years and just recently put out an album. She was just like, fuck it, I’m going to take my time. Whether it was writer’s block or an emotional feeling or whatever, but I’ve always felt compelled to go and play for people. Especially with the City and Colour happening the way it did. When Alexis on Fire would finish, I felt obligated to go and play for all these people who were showing interest in these songs. And then when I was done that, I would have to go and make another Alexis record. I’ve been putting out records steady every year since 2004 and touring.
You married television host Leah Miller, so your personal life is also public. Does it feel like you can’t get away?
You know, the other day, Leah and I realized that in six years, we have never spent a span of two months together. We never realized it until the other day. The same thing, you just grow accustomed to where your life is. So that’s another thing I’d like to change too, I’d like to have more time trying to be a person. What am I working so hard for? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I have this far off goal, I guess, that I’m trying to reach, by never taking a break. But I don’t know what that is? Whether it’s that constant of playing or the constant of writing and that’s the goal to be constantly doing that, I don’t know.
Maybe it would be exciting to just try something completely different, maybe Mr. Green is a music teacher now…
Yesterday we were walking to the bus and I said, “I think I’d like to move to the Yukon for a year and work.” Maybe something like that would give me an appreciation, because I’m feeling at this point, I’m starting to resent it or I’m starting to not enjoy it as much as I used to. It’s like I’m falling out of love with it. And I don’t want that to happen, I don’t want to be the sad successful guy. And I feel like I’m approaching that. I feel like I’m dropping a lot on you, I apologize.
No, don’t apologize. I’ve always enjoyed our conversations. Let’s change it up a little bit though, let’s talk about your fashion. Do you consider yourself fashionable?
Yeah, I do. I don’t consider myself fashionable in the sense that I want to be up on the latest trends, I consider myself fashionable in the sense that I do like to wear a nice shirt and a good pair of pants that fits me, I love men’s fashion. I think the bulk of the interneting I do is men’s fashion blogs. I shop a lot. I like clothes, I always have. I think now that men’s fashion is at a really great point and it’s a little more accessible then it was, say, when I was growing up. The thing is now, I like to dress like a man, if that makes sense. In the early days of Alexis on Fire, I was dressing like a kid, which is fine. I was wearing tight jeans and t-shirts, dressing like a guy that’s in a band, but now I’m thirty one years old and I’m kinda more inspired by my grandfather more than Motley Crue.
Our grandfathers had amazing style.
This renaissance of Men’s fashion and Americana and its history is interesting, if you look back at old photos of the dudes who threw on a pair of Levis or a pair of Red Wings and a work jacket and then they went to work, they looked great.
No matter the ages of the people in your audience, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve influenced them. Whether it’s to be a musician, or to make a change…
Or grow a beard?
Yes, or grow a beard, or with your fashion. What does it feel like to be an influencer?
It’s interesting, because I’m definitely influenced by things, I always feel like I’m not worthy to influence people. Like, when I see that someone has a tattoo of my lyrics, I’m always like, “Fuck, why did you do that?” but then, I have tattoos of band’s lyrics, but I look at it separately. I don’t understand why someone would get what I wrote. I completely understand getting something that someone wrote, because I have that, but…
But there’s a lot of celebrities and musicians, who would think that people should have those lyrics tattooed on them.
But I’m just not that guy.
But how do you not let any of this affect you?
I just don’t have any faith in myself. That’s it.
Where do you get faith in yourself then?
I don’t. I look for it. You know, that’s what I write about, I try and write to help me with things like that. I’m constantly unsatisfied, it’s not the happiest way to live, but it keeps me the way I am. And I would rather be unsatisfied and humble, then satisfied and a prick. And I think there’s just so many people that deserve it and feel like they are owed that fame, but I don’t. I appreciate it more than I feel like I deserve it. Leah is the same way. We both come from nothing too, which I think helps. We’ve earned what we have accomplished and it helps that we found each other and we’re both the same. I get home from tour and we sit on our couch and we watch our shows. It helps having someone who doesn’t give a shit who you are, you know? Leah doesn’t care that I’m a musician that play big rooms like this one, she cares more about the person that I am that she knows. Like I tell her, I’d rather her not wear any makeup, she doesn’t have to wear make up and wear high heels to make me like her.
So you seem to be at a pinnacle in your career and life. Is there something that you think you could have done differently ten years ago, something that would have liked to tell yourself?
No, I don’t think so. Obviously I could say, don’t grow your bangs out long, maybe don’t tattoo your hands and don’t wear that pink shirt. But that’s all a way to get to where you wanna be. My mom has a photo of the day I got my first haircut and it was the same haircut I have now. Short on the side, a little bit up top and I was like, that’s how I started and I’m probably going to finish life with this haircut, but in between, I’ve gone through so many different levels, but you have to go through all those things. I think by going through this ten years of straight work and back and forth and figuring out that I really just want to be here, and now getting to a point where I need to start getting to a point where I appreciate it, because I’m either going to become something I hate by turning into that guy that we were just talking about, or I’m going to walk away from it forever. Which I also don’t want to do. I think too, that if I go away for a certain amount of time, people aren’t going to be there when I get back. But I’m starting to realize that most of the people that like my music, like it for the right reasons and they’ll stick with me and wait for me to come back.
I feel like you’re a musician of the people, that when you’re on stage, it feels like you’re just our friend singing songs.
Yeah, I think I am. There’s definitely, nowadays, some people who are here because they heard one song on the radio, or they heard it was the cool thing to do, but I think that 90% of the people that come to these shows are here for the songs, you know? At least that’s what I hope.
If I can just weigh in, I think this is an exciting time for you because for the first time in ten years, you don’t know what’s next.
I’ve attained way more than I ever thought I could. There’s people who grew up wanting to be the biggest and the best and never get there. But all I ever wanted to do was play my songs for some people and I’ve done that over and over. And I’ve reached a point where I never thought I could, and I think that’s the problem too, I don’t know what I’m looking for, so I have to figure it out.
I bet you will.
I think I will. I’ll figure it out.
City and Colour will be touring across the country until February 25th.