Dallas Smith is feeling very upbeat these days so it seems appropriate that the title of his new country platter is Lifted. His debut album Jumped Right In launched five singles onto the Canadian charts and landed him a Juno nomination for Album of the Year. He supported that album with a string of tour dates opening for veteran rocker Bob Seger and country sensations, Florida Georgia Line. That band’s co-lead front man Brian Kelley had a hand in writing ‘Tippin’ Point’ the Smith single that preceded Lifted’s release. While he’s co-written many songs in the past, this time out Dallas chose to use outside writers including Craig Wiseman, who has penned hits for Tim McGraw, Faith Hill and Kenny Chesney, just to name a few.
“I’m a ‘best song wins’ kind of guy when it comes to choosing songs to go on the album,” says the affable B.C. native. “What I enjoy the most is being able to take a great song and bring it to life on the record, then take it on the road and bring it alive on stage. I love to watch people’s reaction to new songs. I co-wrote a couple of songs on the first album but my goal this time was just to create the best record possible. I had a kind of nervous self-conscious feeling about what radio would think about the album, but when I listened to the songs they made me feel good. I know that I needed to take risks to get everyone’s attention and move my career forward. I tried to do that by not playing safe and releasing something from slightly out of left field.”
What you notice first about the record is that it has a very big sound, from the scorching keyboard-guitar interplay on the latest single ‘Wasting Gas’, to the furious drum assault on ‘Cheap Seats’. Some of this sonic boom may be a carry-over from Smith’s previous life as front man for the grunge outfit Default. That group experienced some success, particularly with the single ‘Wasting My Time’, a song that was written by the band and co-produced by Nickelback’s lead singer Chad Kroeger. The Nickelback connection continues today through Smith’s long-time producer Joey Moi, who was also behind the board for Kroeger and company’s key releases.
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“I’ve worked with Joey for about 15 years now so I have a long history with him,” Dallas begins. “The more we work together the more we see eye to eye as to how the record should sound. This album sounds big because he’s letting loose on the production, and the songs just sound so different from those on the previous record. There’s a mix trick that Joey has for making a record sound good in your car. It can sound great on the board or on a really expensive stereo, but most people listen to radio in their cars so it comes down to getting the sound right for that. When I get a sample mix I always go to my car first to see how it sounds.”
While Lifted is a decidedly country record, it cuts across other genres in terms of shoutouts which include Destiny’s Child on the song ‘Slow Rollin’’ and AC/DC on ‘“Wrong About That.” For Smith, the rule of thumb is having an eclectic mix in terms of both his music and his audience.
“People ask me why I switched from rock to country but in reality it’s not that much of a stretch. When I grew up a good song was a good song, no matter what genre it was. You might have been listening to Destiny’s Child but you were also listening to Garth Brooks or even Rage Against The Machine or AC/DC. I mean, I loved AC/DC’s Back In Black. We played that one for many, many nights on the bus when we were partying it up, and I swear to God we went through 30 copies of that record. I think you’re seeing country fans with that kind of varied musical upbringing so country music is expanding in terms of its sound.”
Most of the songs on Lifted involve heats seeking relationships including one with a temptress who smokes menthol cigarettes in ‘Wrong About That’ and another who doesn’t mind going for a roll in the ‘Cheap Seats’ of a concert venue. With exception of a couple of power ballads, the songs are all unapologetically upbeat and fun, and are sure to translate into a high energy live show. You certainly won’t find the singer indulging his audience with any navel gazing or deep philosophical moments.
[quote]People ask me why I switched from rock to country but in reality it’s not that much of a stretch[/quote]
“No, I’m just not there in terms of my life anymore,” Dallas admits. “I’m happily married with two kids and this is where I want to be and what I want to sing about. The one great thing about country is the imagery and story-telling that comes along with it. When I was with Default I spent many years singing songs that did not do that; they were a little one-dimensional. Going back to anything else right now would not represent me or what I want to do.”
Besides the storytelling aspect of the songs, the record maintains a country vibe in its instrumentation, as banjos and pedal steels pop up in various places. There are also some splendid soaring harmonies and it’s somewhat surprising to find out that they were not the work of Nashville studio session vets.
“I do all my own harmonies,” Dallas says. “I just kind of find what fits the feel of the song. The producer and I just sit in the vocal booth and run through a couple of passes and you just know when it’s right and it’s something you have to lay down. As far as the overall feel of the album, I think that this record sounds modern in parts but it also sounds more traditional than my last one. I think that we found a happy medium and I’m happy with the way it turned out sonically.”
Dallas is excited about taking his show on the road on his Canadian Tippin’ Point Tour that begins in January. (“Well, I’m excited to do the shows but it’s going to be one Hell of a winter commute”) The tour ends with a gig at The Commodore ballroom in Vancouver which has a close connection for the singer.
“Yeah, the Commodore Ballroom is the venue where I went to see shows as a kid so it brings back a lot of memories. Doing the pre-show at this year’s Grey Cup game at BC Stadium was also on my bucket list because it’s my home stadium and I go to CFL games there to watch the Lions play. I’ve also played the Pacific Coliseum where I used to watch Vancouver Canucks games before they moved to Rogers Arena. I think I’ve performed in every venue in Vancouver that I’ve ever wanted to play so now it’s time to leave my mark across the country.”