Of all the lyrics on City And Colour’s fourth full-length, The Hurry And The Harm, the only line that was selected to be printed on the artwork is “I’ve always been dark with light somewhere in the distance.” It’s from the mercurial “Two Coins,” one of the album’s best tracks, and Dallas Green’s favourite this round. It sums him up.
Green — who uses the band name City And Colour for his solo recordings — made this album with a freedom (a light) he hasn’t had since the start of his professional music career more than a decade ago. Then (2001), and for the next 10 years, he was one of two lead vocalists in St. Catharines, Ont.-formed Alexisonfire, a “screamo” rock band (the other singer screamed) which rose to platinum-status in Canada through sheer hard work, a kinetic live show (that took them around the world), cool songs and a rabid fan-base.
[quote]“I’ve been, the last few years of my life, basically the happiest guy in the world because I was not only in one successful band but I had this other thing that was very successful, you know? But I wasn’t happy, basically”[/quote]As time ticked on, Green — whose melodic voice is nothing short of stunning and allowed him more mainstream opportunities and a broader audience — had a tough time juggling both music careers. City And Colour was becoming more and more successful, and he grew conflicted.
In August, 2011, it was announced publicly he had decided to leave Alexisonfire, something his bandmates had been made aware of well in advance. He was in the midst of touring behind City And Colour’s Little Hell at the time, but would reunite with Alexis for farewell shows in December 2012 in England, Brazil, Australia and Canada. He had recorded The Hurry And The Harm the previous month in Nashville with Little Hell producer Alex Newport (at the drive-in, Death Cab For Cutie, The Mars Volta).
“Large transitional changes are very difficult,” reflects Green. “It did take a lot of thought because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just being melodramatic, or I didn’t want to make a rash decision because it was a huge decision that impacted not only myself but the other guys in Alexisonfire. So I did think about it a lot.
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“I did both for almost six years, so I think I gave myself enough time to ask myself whether I could continue doing both. And it just came to a head one night where I finally realized that it wasn’t just a bad day on tour; it wasn’t just that I wasn’t just feeling well — it was time to move into just one focus. It was a very difficult decision and then even more difficult decision to present to the guys, but I’m glad I did because I think that it was the right decision.”
Head cleared, the inspiration started to flow and he ended up with a new City And Colour record far sooner than he expected. “Of Space And Time” is about leaving Alexisonfire, while “Paradise” stems from that, but is more concretely about this idea of darkness with light in the distance, a constant quest for happiness that seems unattainable — at least for a personality like Green.
“I’ve been, the last few years of my life, basically the happiest guy in the world because I was not only in one successful band but I had this other thing that was very successful, you know? But I wasn’t happy, basically,” he reveals, contradicting what most would assume.
“I lived this wonderful, blessed life, but I didn’t know how to enjoy it because I was so running myself ragged trying to appease both sides of it and, yeah ,that’s what that song is about — searching for that paradise.
[quote]”I try to think to myself — what am I doing? What is it that I do this for? Because I don’t know.”[/quote]“And I think it also leans toward the fact that I just can’t find that happiness. Even now I wonder if it will always be that way, and I will always live that way, and that’s how I am — always searching for a better song or always wondering if the song is good enough, you know, if I could’ve done anything else to make it better. So it’s a culmination of a lot of feelings.”
In “The Lonely Life,” he sings of the lonely life of a writer whose words could not pay his debts. Green, of course, is one of the rare ones who can, and then some.
“The song is a ‘what if’ song,” he explains. “Hemingway once said that the life of a writer is a lonely one, and it can get the best of you and encompass everything you are and fracture a lot of relationships. So that song is about the idea that what if I made the wrong decision and let my worries and the way that I am take over my life to the point where it ruins the relationship that I have? It’s about the idea of realizing that it was the wrong decision, you know? It’s the lonely life of a writer.
“So yeah that’s what that song was about – the idea of what if? How do I feel? Obviously it’s kind of a dark way to look at a love song, but that’s sort of my thing.”
Indeed, no matter how much money or fame or adoring fans one has, writing is a vulnerable occupation. It exposes your work as art and presents it to the world to determine if it’s good or bad, if they like it or not — and if they’ll help you become one of those writers able to pay his debts.
“The goal for me when I was a child was that I wanted to write songs and sing them for people and play and be able to do that,” says Green. “That’s what I do and that’s what I have been doing. And so I think, what’s the next step? I don’t know. I mean obviously it’s wonderful when you can sell out a place like the Molson Amphitheatre, and it’s wonderful when people say nice things to you and come buy your records and come to your shows and stuff. But world domination was never a part of it for me. I never thought I was the best and I never think I will be the best and I don’t care to be looked at like that either. So I try to think to myself — what am I doing? What is it that I do this for? Because I don’t know.”
The likely topic for many more songs to come.
Photography by: Dustin Rabin