A Conversation With Dallas Green (City And Colour)

Since City And Colour emerged in 2005 as a prettier, more refined offshoot to Alexisonfire (the influential Canadian hardcore outfit he co-founded), Dallas Green has ushered his singer/songwriter project through numerous permutations. But the common thread has always been his voice, an aching freak of nature that has the ability to wrench your heart from its chest cavity. It does exactly that on “Meant To Be,” the leadoff track to The Love Still Held Me Near (Still/Dine Alone), City And Colour’s first LP in four years.

Like many of us, the Juno Award-winning singer/songwriter has had a tough few years. Green’s pandemic angst was compounded by the loss of two close friends: cousin Nicholas Osczypko and City And Colour producer/engineer Karl Bareham, the latter whose drowning death inspired “Meant To Be.” Throw in Green’s trial separation with his wife, and you have a pretty solid explanation for why City And Colour’s seventh release can be a serious emotional workout at times.

Green worked through the grieving process with longtime band member Matt Kelly, who co-produced The Love Still Held Me Near, and he’s since reconciled with his wife. Chatting with MAGNET for the first time, he puts some perspective on the chain of unfortunate events that fueled his latest work.

Let’s get this out of the way right now—that voice. Do you ever see it as anything but an asset?
One of the best things I have in my life is when I sing. Since I was very young and singing along to the records I loved, it always seemed to feel like more than just singing to me. It was a way of emoting that I couldn’t necessarily do by speaking. The answer I want to tell you is that I’ve never felt anything but great about it. But I do know that people have judged me and my music based on my voice. That’s something you learn when you sing for people half your life, and you realize you’re asking for their opinion, whether you want it or not. I’ve had people say really terrible things about my voice, and I’ve had them say really nice things, too. At this point, I’m just comfortable with it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more comfortable with my voice—or who I wanted to be—than on this record.

Condolences on the loss of your two friends. How does mortality inform The Love Still Held Me Near?
I just don’t think there was any way to avoid it. There was so much tied to what we were all feeling about my friend Karl. It was so sudden, and he was out on tour with me. I’d made a couple of records with Karl producing with me. He was like a brother to me. I’ve always used City And Colour to kind of ruminate on things that are weighing me down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to address it at first. How do you make sure you’re going to speak elegantly about these things? But somewhere along the way, I started to realize that this is just what I do—I use this as a process to help myself through everything in my life.

This album has to be your most emotionally direct.
I was working through such a heavy batch of emotions, so it needed to have this urgency to it. The record became more about me blossoming into this thing where I was healing—but healing out loud. I started to feel like I had to be as direct as possible.

What was it like co-producing with Matt Kelly?
It was beautiful. Matt’s been playing with me for 10 years. When I started realizing I had a good batch of songs cooking, it coincided with COVID restrictions easing up and Matt being able to come visit me. As we started working on the songs, we realized there was this whole new version of our working relationship as we grieved together. When it came time for us to think about going into the studio, Matt became this sort of catalyst for me. He helped me get the vocal performance I wanted. He just sat at the board, and I got stoned and was like, “Let’s fuckin’ do it.”

“Meant To Be” and “Begin Again” resonate for so many reasons, and the vocals on both are heartbreaking. Was there ever any doubt that those songs would the album’s bookends?
No. It really presented itself early in the process. “Begin Again” was the first song I started to write in February of 2020. When I finished it, it felt so joyful … It ended up feeling like the finale. And “Meant To Be” had to be the first song.

For someone who’s just discovering the City And Colour catalog, what two albums would you most recommend for newbies—aside from this one, of course.
I’d say (2008’s) Bring Me Your Love, because it’s a good snapshot of the young me, and (2015’s) If Should Go Before You, where I really explored some musical territory I love. I wrote that record after really getting to know the guys I was touring with. It was a great period in my life.

On a personal note, you have the same name as one of the most famous Philadelphia Phillies managers. Is that a coincidence?
Not at all. I was born Sept. 29, 1980. My mother wanted to name me Graham-Todd—hyphenated, by the way. My dad did not want to name me Graham-Todd. That year, he bet money on the Phillies to win the World Series. They did—and he named me Dallas Green. My father was a gamblin’ man.

—Hobart Rowland