City and Colour goes country, in its own way

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      As the man behind City and Colour and the former alpha to George Pettit’s omega in Alexisonfire, Dallas Green is now known less for his role in what was arguably Canada’s most popular post-hardcore band and more for his ability to write simultaneously beautiful and heart-wrenching love songs.

      So when Green sat down to put together his latest album, his wife didn’t hesitate to tell him that it wouldn’t hurt to try to write a couple.

      “My wife likes to remind me when I’m trying to write that people have enjoyed my love songs in the past,” Green tells the Straight from his house in Nashville. It was that initial nudge that led Green to write the title track on his latest record, If I Should Go Before You.

      “I thought the idea behind the song was beautiful, this everlasting love that would outlast death,” says Green.

      “So I sang it to her, thinking it was this beautiful love song, and she was like, ‘Well, that’s pretty sad,’ ” he says with a laugh.

      Fans won’t be surprised by this juxtaposition: it’s precisely what they’ve come to know and enjoy about City and Colour. Green’s songs of companionship, heartbreak, and loss seem to resonate with an overwhelming number of angst-ridden teens and adults alike.

      As for the record’s title, Green says the phrase has a slightly different connotation.

      “Let’s say for some strange reason that this is the last City and Colour record I ever make. If I were to go before everybody, this is something I’m proud to leave you with.”

      And he should be. The 11-track LP is the first City and Colour record that combines the artist’s mesmerizing songwriting with a consistent lineup of instrumentalists: Dante Schwebel, guitarist for Dan Auerbach and Rumba Shaker; Doug MacGregor, drummer for the Constantines; Jack Lawrence, bassist for the Raconteurs and Dead Weather; and multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly.

      The album began taking shape as Green and the band were touring to support City and Colour’s 2013 album, The Hurry and the Harm.

      “We were sort of right in the rhythm of everything, and I started to know in my head that I wanted to make the next record with them playing,” Green says of the musicians, with whom he’s now worked for more than two years.

      Abandoning his usual process—writing alone, demoing each instrument in his basement, and then searching for players—he and the band piled into his living room and threw around ideas about rhythms and accompaniments.

      “I just let everybody play to their strengths. It’s a lot easier to have that, as opposed to doing it all myself, because as much as I like playing drums, I’m not very good,” jokes Green. “I’m still the voice at the core of the songs, but it sounds the way it does because of the band just as much.”

      Familiar in its cadence, If I Should Go Before You begins with “Woman”, a sweeping, ethereal nine-minute track that combines distorted pedal steel—Green’s favourite instrument—with dual guitars and a slow but driving tempo.

      Like every album touched by his songwriting skills, the record addresses Green’s preoccupation with sense of place. In “Northern Blues”, he reflects on his recent relocation to the U.S.

      “There is almost this sense that I have a giant chip on my shoulder, where, as far as being a Canadian musician, I’m trying to get this idea of respect from other people and the rest of the world,” Green says.

      “I felt to a degree guilty that I had moved, that we had left Canada, even though I didn’t, really, because we still live in Toronto. I travel and I move around all the time—since I was 20 years old now—so I can’t help but have it seep into the writing,” he adds.

      Green wrote the album in Nashville, so it seems to make sense that If I Should Go Before You is the most “country” City and Colour album yet. Songs like “Runaway”, “Map of the World”, and “Friends” incorporate more pedal steel and plucky electric guitars, sometimes reminiscent of the folk-rock of the Traveling Wilburys.

      Despite the infusion of a genre one might classify as the exact opposite of what Green embraced in his early years as a musician, his unmistakable voice glues the record together in a way that has the potential to win over even the most anticountry listeners.

      “I never want to be pigeonholed,” Green says. “After making records for so long, I don’t really worry too much about what people are going to think or say about my music. I’ve never really done that, so to start now wouldn’t make any sense.”

      Instead, Green simply hopes that his fans will acknowledge that evolution as a musician is inevitable.

      Between Alexisonfire, City and Colour, and his recent work with P!nk as the folk duo you+me, one might wonder where that evolution starts and ends, and what genres Green might dabble with in the future.

      “I like being able to sort of express all of my influences,” says Green, “but as much as I love hip-hop, I’d probably draw the line there. I don’t think you’re ever going to hear me rap.”

      City and Colour plays Rogers Arena on Friday (June 3).