Dallas Green tells Dave Drayton about the Little Hell that was his double life and what it’s like to be stepping out with City & Colour. Pic by Cybele Malinowski.
Following the ten years from their 2001 formation, in which they brought heavy music to a more mainstream audience (not least of all through their repeated presence at the Juno Awards, Canada's ARIA equivalent) in both their native Canada and on a global scale, many were surprised when, in August last year, Alexisonfire announced that they would be breaking up. Across four albums they had gone from strength to strength, accruing an increasingly large following with each release and, prior to the announcement, apparently hard at work on album number five.
One person not so shocked by the announcement was Dallas Green, guitarist and vocalist for the five-piece. In his mind he'd left the band in 2010. “It got pretty serious near the end where I was doing both Alexisonfire and City & Colour full time – and where I knew that I had already left the band, but I was still in the band playing,” recalls Green. He had informed his bandmates of his intentions a year before the announcement was made public, but continued with pre-existing tours and shows with the band. “It was definitely difficult to keep my head straight,” Green reflects.
There's a tendency towards hyperbole from nearly every source of commentary on an unamicable band split and it's easy for things – each party's reason or version of events – to be blown out of proportion. For Green however, there is no need for 'inside sources' or persons 'close to the band'; by his own admission, there's not much that exaggeration could do to belittle what he endured during that time of knowing that he would be leaving the band that had been his family for the better part of a decade and focusing all his energies on what was then still a comparatively unknown entity, his solo project City & Colour. In an interview with Spinner, Green confessed to the exhaustive process of dividing his time, revealing that it was “killing him”, adding, “I was in the hospital with pneumonia. I've lain in the bus crying uncontrollably at night. I was living this unbelievably blessed life but I had no idea how to enjoy it because I was running myself ragged”.
In a way, his body – and mentality – was still recovering when he went out on the road as City & Colour following the split. “Then actually the last year going full on with City & Colour for the first time was also… I don't want to say difficult to deal with, but it got hard at times,” Green says. “I think I always sort of thought that if I put all of my attention towards City & Colour it could get somewhere, you know; it could turn into something a little bigger than it was. I always assumed that maybe there was people there to listen, but when I did finally go out on tour and put the new record out, the response was so overwhelming that at times it was a little difficult.”
In Australia alone, the response to Little Hell – Green's third and most recent album following on from 2005's Sometimes and 2008's Bring Me Your Love – was immense. First single Fragile Bird landed high rotation on local radio stations and catapulted the tour into the realms of sold-out shows and upsized venues.
“With Australia, I had been there many times with Alexis and I had obviously spoken to a lot of people at those shows about City & Colour and people would ask me when I was going to come down and play. I never knew what to say because I never knew when I would have a chance to come down and play,” Green remembers. “When the shows finally happened it was pretty insane. And the fact that certain songs started getting played on the radio down there… Like I said, I didn't want to assume that that was going to happen, but I did have an idea that there were people that were ready to listen, but I guess I just didn't realise the response was going to be so overwhelming; not just in Australia, but in Europe and America and Canada.
“I thought I was completely ready to handle whatever was thrown at me, but there were definitely times when it got a little out of control I think – I may have bitten off more than I could chew – so having time off now has been very healing for me. I've had about a month off now at home and it's been really great for me to work on the relationships that fall by the wayside when you're a touring musician, you know, with my parents and my wife and friends,” Green says.
Adding weight to the fact that Green wanted put all his eggs in the City & Colour basket was an experience much harder to define; an ongoing process of songwriting that, while unintentional, revealed a constant shift in creative direction – the songs he wrote for Little Hell were defining his decision. “Basically when I would pick up my guitar to start playing, there weren't any songs or ideas coming to me that would be considered an Alexisonfire song and it wasn't that I wasn't listening to that type of music or that I wasn't still into that style of music, it was just that the part of my brain that writes the songs and the part of my heart that writes the songs, they just weren't,” Green pauses, lost as to how he should continue. “They weren't clicking with the parts from the past that were able to come up with all those ideas and that was a huge sign for me that said, 'It's time to move on, it's time to focus on City & Colour and see what can happen with it'.
“All those ideas that were coming to me when I was picking up the guitar is what became Little Hell. And when I decided to actually leave the band it was because when we talked about it, we talked about me just going away and doing City & Colour for a little while and coming back afterwards. But I said, 'That's not fair to you guys to wait to around for me to finally be ready; that's not fair, that's very selfish of me to make you guys wait around for me'. Also I said, 'What happens when I'm touring on my next record and I come back and I've got a whole new batch of songs for another City & Colour record and I have to say you need to wait around for me again because I'm not ready?' I just didn't want to be that guy, I didn't want to go four or five or six years between Alexis records because I wasn't ready to commit.
“Everybody, they always ask me what's the difference between writing a City & Colour song and writing an Alexis song – you know, 'How do you get into the mindset of writing this or writing that?' – but that's not how I approach it. The epiphany that happened was that nothing was showing up for Alexisonfire, nothing was coming out of me for that kind of style and even now, to this day, I've written probably ten new songs since Little Hell came out and none of them are even remotely close to be being an Alexisonfire idea, so I think I did make the right decision,” affirms Green, still somewhat cautiously, as though the statement has not come lightly.
As City & Colour continue to tour on Little Hell and the next batch of songs slowly take shape for Green, he is, true to his word, still listening plenty of music – in fact his tastes appear quite eclectic – but is the likes of fellow Canuck Neil Young who is providing the strongest inspiration for the next chapter in his career as a songwriter.
“I'm always listening to Converge, they have a new record coming and I'm very excited about that. And there's this other very heavy band called Trap Them who I listen to a lot and I think they're great. I've been listening to a lot of Elliott Smith lately; I've been back on an Elliott Smith kick. I haven't listened to him in a very long time so I just found myself stumbling back onto his records. I'm always listening to Neil Young, I'm always listening to The Band. There's a song by this girl, I think everyone knows who she is now,” Green adds as an aside, “But this song, Settle Down, by Kimbra, I think that's just a great song.
“I don't necessarily know if there's just one direct person who's made me want to get better at writing but I'm always listening and I'm always writing. I think whenever I listen to Neil Young he always makes me want to be better and I think that's just because of the career he's been able to carve out for himself; always doing whatever he's wanted to do, you know? If he wants to play a really loud rock song, he does that. If he wants to play a really quiet acoustic song, he does that too. You just expect the unexpected from him. I'm inspired by that idea every time I listen to him,” says Green in earnest.
Regardless of the band or genre of music Green has been involved in, the inspiration has so far proved fruitful.
GETTING BIG, GOING SOFT
Dallas Green is not the only musician to find more fame in a softer-sounding side project. Just as he has experienced a lot of success with a solo project that sounds markedly different to the post-hardcore sounds of Alexisonfire, so too have others.
Chris Carrabba, the man behind Dashboard Confessional, left his post as frontman of post-hardcore act Further Seems Forever (who have been plagued by the loss of singers throughout the duration of their 14-year career) in order to focus on Dashboard, which increasingly took up more and more of his time. Interestingly, as Carrabba's role of emotional poster boy for the MTV Generation has been in decline, with Dashboard Confessional not quite monopolising the emo revival as they once did, it is Carrabba, and not one of the band's three other vocalists, who has joined the ranks since their 2010 reunion.
While the legacy left by punk/hardcore acts like Avail and Hot Water Music remains ever-present in those scenes members of the bands have enjoyed cult-like followings the world over in solo mode, albeit with tunes not too far removed from those in the bands that they made their names with. Still, with the likes of Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry making near-annual visits to our shores and countless other countries outside their native USA, there's no question that they've found enough eager ears to facilitate their solo musical ventures.
Closer to home one Hugo Costin-Neilsin, formerly front man of Byron Bay hardcore act Dead Ends, has found success with his acoustic solo project Toy Boats. Having recently signed to local label Resist Records, joining a stable that features such heavyweights as Parkway Drive and I Exist, Toy Boats have just released their/his debut EP Diamond Teeth.
Similarly, Melbourne musician Darren Gibson – who made a name for himself in seminal punk hardcore act Away From Now, and continued his punk legacy with Lead Sketch Union – has successfully made the transition to more acoustic-driven songwriting fare. His debut album Cross Town Motions was well received and he recently completed a sold-out national tour as the main support for roots mainstay Xavier Rudd.