Up until quite recently, to be speaking with Dallas Green you were effectively talking to City and Colour. The project began under a solo guise for the Alexisonfire guitarist a decade and change prior, a chance to explore his gentler, acoustically-oriented side. Speaking to Green currently, however, is a different matter. He still heads City and Colour, but for the last two years he has been joined by four others both on the road and in the studio – bassist Jack Lawrence, drummer Doug MacGregor, organist/ pianist/pedal steel player Matthew Kelly and lead guitarist Dante Schwebel. The quintet were behind the creation of the fifth City and Colour album, If I Should Go Before You, and, as Green testifies, it’s evolved into somewhat of an extended family.
“When I put this band together, I wasn’t looking for friends, to be completely honest with you,” he says. “I was looking for something specific – I had been through a band with my friends, Alexisonfire, for so many years. When City and Colour was evolving, I got my friends involved. Then, I made a decision to make The Hurry and the Harm with people that I’d never met. I decided to try it – I got a bunch of players that were really good and hoped that it would work. I ended up with four people that, while also remarkable players, are also four people that I would happily call some of my best friends. Over the last two years, playing with them and getting to know them personally has been something I’ve really valued. I think we connect because we’re older guys that have been doing this forever. We’ve all done this on so many different levels. We’ve all toured in the van, slept on the floor, played to no-one. We’re still here. We’re still doing it. It’s a testament to what we’ve been through.” If I Should Go Before You is a record of notable changes in the City and Colour camp. Along with being the first “full-band” album under the moniker, it also marks the first album Green produced on his own. Although Green has always had at least an assisting hand in production – most notably on his 2005 debut, Sometimes – this was a role he decided to take head- on this time around.
“I had a vision of what I wanted the album to sound like. Having my friend Karl [Bareham] on hand to engineer was a big help – he’s been a friend of mine for something like twelve years now. I think that if we had brought in anyone else to produce this album, it wouldn’t have reflected what we wanted to do. This was about building our confidence. Having this band and having Karl around really gave me hope that I would be able to achieve what I wanted out of this record.” Green adds that having the band by his side made the composition side of things much easier. “With the older records, I played a lot of it myself and had people coming in and out,” he says. “This time, I had a specific guy for each thing that I wanted to do. I approached the songwriting and recording that way – I could get Matt to cycle through organ sounds, or improvise a bit of pedal steel. I could get Doug to go between brushes and sticks. I had roles set out, and everything at my disposal.”
In terms of the nuts-and-bolts side of things, Green mentions that going out and buying new gear is part and parcel of an album’s creation. Each time he has entered the studio to make a new City and Colour record, it has been with new things to play around with. “I’m on an endless search for tone,” he says. “I always go out and get new amps, new guitars, things like that. I love finding new ways to produce sound. I tend to have the same few guitars that I write music with, but the great thing about recording is that it gives you the freedom to explore what each song can sound like.”
He points specifically to an off-hand purchase as being the serendipitous key in breaking through on one of the album’s eleven songs. “I bought this weird, old twelve-string electric guitar. I’d never used one before in the studio, and I didn’t even think I’d use it. I just thought it looked neat – it wasn’t a particular brand or model or anything like that. It was just something that I came across second- hand. That guitar ended up being used in the song ‘Wasted Love’. I played the guitar solo on that track with this twelve-string. I don’t even know why, but for some reason it just felt right. You never know where that search is going to take you next.”
Having experienced a particularly-eclectic array of Australian festivals – including Soundwave, Splendour in the Grass and Groovin’ the Moo – Green and co. will return to Australia next Easter, appearing at Bluesfest for the first time as one of its headlining acts. Green himself is greatly intrigued by the prospect, excited to once again take in a different aspect of touring Australia. “I’m always interested in playing new festivals,” he says. “There’s so many now, and they’re always run differently. There are different people who attend. I’ve played just before Metallica with Alexisonfire; and I’ve played just before Neil Young with City and Colour. I feel really welcome at all of these places. It’s really exciting to play with a band like the National as well as a guy like Joe Bonamassa and a bunch of those blues veterans. It’s another challenge in order to adapt to a new environment. I can’t wait to experience it. Anyone who knows me knows that, if I could, I’d be on the plane to Australia tomorrow.”
If I Should Go Before You is out now via Dine Alone/ Cooking Vinyl Australia. For more info, visit www.cityandcolour.com.