City and Colour, Song and Sorrow

Dallas Green discusses his post-hardcore career, and writing music that is both private and universal.

Dallas Green of City and Colour (Photo by Alysse Gafkjen)

“I didn’t really consider a backup plan if this didn’t work out. I just assumed that if it didn’t happen, I would just figure it out as time went on,” says Dallas Green, the musician who performs as City and Colour. “I still look at my life like that, like, ‘If it were to all end tomorrow, I would be happy because I did everything that I really wanted to do — which was to play music and tour.’ But thankfully, people still seem to be interested in my music.”

“Interested” is an understatement. For the past 12 years, City and Colour’s yearning, melancholy folk has met resounding acclaim from all directions. Green and his accompanying band are on a tour of the West Coast, stopping in San Francisco this Saturday for a show at the Masonic. Under the City and Colour name, Green has received 10 Juno Award nominations, winning three. City and Colour’s first four albums are certified platinum in Canada, and critics from Rolling Stone and Noisey have hailed the band’s fifth album, If I Should Go Before You, as the zenith of Green’s career.

Green is the producer, singer, and guitarist for the project. But before he went solo, his first entrance into the business was as a vocalist and guitar player for Alexisonfire, the Canadian punk-rock band that once described themselves as “the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight.” Although Green is currently focused on City and Colour, he says that his post-hardcore days “will never be over for me. The songs that I write now are different, but I still listen to music like that, and I still play my guitar like that sometimes. [Alexisonfire] all still love playing together, it’s just hard now that we have different lives.”

 

Not every folk artist’s origin story begins with a “mid-knife-fight” punk sound, but Green discusses the transition as if it were completely natural. Commenting on his evolution since Alexisonfire, he simply says, “Creatively, songs like that really haven’t shown up for me since I left the band. Every time I write a song, it comes out more in this other vein.

“But you never know,” he adds. “I’ve been pretty anxious and angry about what’s going on in the world lately, so maybe I’ll write a bunch of loud, angry songs.”

Elaborating on the differences between Alexisonfire and City and Colour’s “other vein,” Green says, “I think the thing with City and Colour is that it’s solely my idea, as far as what I’m trying to say. Whereas with Alexis, it was the five of us trying to write songs together and trying to get the songs to the point where all five of us were happy with it. It was trying to make a song with all five of our minds working. And that was great and part of some of my fondest memories. But I think City and Colour is my own specific idea of what I want a song to be.”

And Green’s predominant goal for City and Colour, it seems, is baring himself emotionally.

“If you listen to my songs, they’re all pretty specific,” he says. “The way I deal with certain things is by writing about them. If anyone wants to know something about me, there’s a good chance I’ve probably sang about it.”

City and Colour’s most recent single, “Peaceful Road,” is unique among Green’s other songs because it is a narrative sequel to his previous music.

“I have a song called ‘Sorrowing Man,’ which is on a record called Little Hell that I made a couple years ago,” Green explains. “And that song was my way of trying to sing my way out of the way I was feeling about this person. And fast-forward a couple of years, and that person is now a different person, and is doing way better. I guess ‘Peaceful Road’ was my way of writing a second part to ‘Sorrowing Man.’ In the same way I addressed it in that song, I also needed to address the better days ahead of that person now. In some ways, it’s for me to write a happier version, but in other ways, it’s written for that person as well.”

The beauty in songwriting, Green stresses, is in the song’s ability to resonate with any listener, not just Green or the unnamed subjects of his compositions. More than anything, City and Colour’s music is intended to reach others, to bridge the distance between people through its unmasked vulnerability and candor.

“The City and Colour stuff is specific for getting myself through certain things, but it’s also trying to write a song in a relatable enough way. You can listen to ‘Peaceful Road’ and not know that it’s specifically about a person in my life. Hopefully, it’s written in a way where you can grasp whatever you need from it.”

City and Colour, plays Saturday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m., at the Masonic, 111 California St. $42.50; sfmasonic.com

View Comments