Music Interviews
9:03 pm
Fri May 31, 2013

City And Colour: A Musician Unplugs To Make A Connection

Originally published on Sat June 1, 2013 10:21 am

City and Colour is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green. Once upon a time, he was a member of the post-hardcore band Alexisonfire, which self-identified as "the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife fight." But Green had a different side to him, too.

"I started playing guitar when I was very, very young, and with that came an amplified guitar and learning my favorite rock-band songs. So I always had an interest in, I guess, aggressive music or loud music," he says. "But I also started singing, and realized that I had a pretty good sense of melody. [I wanted] to play my guitar really, really loud, but also, I felt very comfortable playing a guitar quietly and singing quietly, as well."

Green is now releasing his fourth solo album as City and Colour. The alias is a play on his real name (Dallas is the city, Green the color), which he shares with the manager who led the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series title in 1980, just after Green was born.

"My mother wanted to name me Graham Todd, and my father said, 'No, thanks,' " Green says. "He had placed a bet on the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series, and they subsequently did. My last name was Green and he thought, 'Well, let's just name him Dallas.' "

Apart from being much quieter than Alexisonfire, City and Colour showcases Green's voice, which often tips into an impressive falsetto. He says he takes pride in singing well, and that as a Canadian musician, he's got a little Neil Young in his DNA by default. Mostly, though, Green says he hopes people will hear his music and find something in it that they need.

"I've always really appreciated the fact that I can write a song about something that means a lot to me, and has to do with something in my own life, but I can meet someone on the street who, the same song has affected them in a different way or helped them through something in their life," he says. "That they were just able to listen to that song and relate to it completely, without knowing or having met me before — I think that's the greatest part about music."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

City and Colour is the stage name of Canadian singer and songwriter Dallas Green. Now once upon a time, he was with raucous group called Alexisonfire. Group members described their music as, quote, "the sound of two Catholic high school girls in mid-knife fight."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ALEXISONFIRE: (Singing) (unintelligible)

SIMON: Ah, music for the whole family on a Saturday morning. But Dallas Green had a different side to him, too. And he's now releasing his fourth solo album as City and Colour, "The Hurry and the Harm."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

DALLAS GREEN: (Singing) Turn (unintelligible) or you so might find...

SIMON: You detect a slight difference? Dallas Green joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

GREEN: Thank you very much for having me.

SIMON: And first off, I need to congratulate you for now only having a spectacular music career but managing the Philadelphia Phillies to the World Series a number of years ago. How do you crowd that into a life so young.

GREEN: You know, that's actually who I'm named after.

SIMON: Tell us the story, if you could.

GREEN: Well, I'm born September 29, 1980, just shortly before the Phillies won the World Series. And my mother wanted to name me Graham Todd and my father said no thanks. He had placed a bet on the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series, and they subsequently did. So, my last name was Green and he thought, well, let's just name him Dallas.

SIMON: And City and Colour kind of comes from that, doesn't it?

GREEN: Exactly, yeah. I thought Dallas is a city, green is a color and that way I can kind of make it whatever I want it to be.

SIMON: How do you, if I might put it this way, reconcile the two different musical styles we heard at the time: Alexisonfire and City and Colour?

GREEN: Well, I started playing guitar when I was very, very young. And with that came an amplified guitar and learning, you know, my favorite rock band's songs. And so, I always had an interesting in, I guess, aggressive music or loud music. But I also started singing and realized that I had a pretty good sense of melody. And my head was always kind of torn between wanting to play my guitar really, really loud, but also I felt very comfortable playing a guitar quietly and singing quietly as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREEN: (Singing) And why are we so worried (unintelligible) and less about the harm. Always trying to conquer, (unintelligible) does not offer anything more than a broken heart. I want to (unintelligible)...

SIMON: I promised to ask this question of the Beach Boys one day if I ever get a chance: how did you begin to sing up here, like that?

GREEN: You know, I don't really know. Probably the quick answer would be I started listening to Jeff Buckley when I was 14 years old and tried to sing along to him, and that's sort of like taking singing lessons; if you can start trying to get up where he was. With singing, for me, it's something that I'm always striving to be better at. I take a lot of pride of myself of being a good singer and I want to be a good singer. And so with that, I'm constantly trying to develop my range, whether it be singing lower or singing higher or singing louder or softer, sort of finding the intricacies and a good dynamic in the human voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GREEN: (Singing) I'm looking for a way out, for a place that no one knows. Please take me away now, somewhere it don't feel so cold. Troubles on my mind, troubles on my mind...

SIMON: Maybe it's the Canadian influence, but, of course, I immediately wondered about Neil Young.

GREEN: Oh, of course. I mean, even if you don't listen to Neil, I think it's still sort of in your DNA as a Canadian singer-songwriter. But I happen to listen to him and admire him. But I'm also a very big fan of the way he has sort of carved out a very long career doing what he has wanted to do, whether it be write the acoustic record or make a Crazy Horse record or make the electronic record. Or - he's always just sort of followed what he thinks is the right path. And whether or not he loses his fans or certain fans and critics and things like that, he sort of just seems to stay true to himself. And I really look at that more than I do the songwriting as something that I'd like to follow in.

SIMON: Didn't you perform his song "Old Man" at the Juno Awards a couple of years ago? That's sort of the Canadian Grammys.

GREEN: I did, yes. I got to sing it in front of him. He was there in attendance. So, that was a pretty big moment for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD MAN")

GREEN: (Singing) Old man, look at my life, 24 and so much more. Live alone in a paradise that makes me think of two. Love lost, such a cost, give me things that won't get lost...

SIMON: Did he smile?

GREEN: Yeah. Actually, they did. They cut to him in the television broadcast while I was singing it. And he did crack a little smile.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD MAN")

GREEN: (Singing) Old man, take a look at my life. I'm a lot like you. I need someone to love me the whole day through. Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell it's true...

I didn't meet him that night, and a lot of people did, and a lot of people asked me, you know, did you meet him, did you meet him? And I said no, but I did get to sing one of his songs in front of him. And that, to me, is much more honorable, much better than just a quick, little handshake and an introduction from two people.

SIMON: What can music do for people? What would you like your music to do for people?

GREEN: Well, when I think of the simplest answer, I think about what I wanted all along when I was younger, was I wanted to make people feel the way that I felt when I heard a great song. And whatever that feeling is can be different for other people. And I always sort of say I would like people to just take from my music what they need. I always really appreciated the fact that I can write a song about something that means a lot to me and has to do with something in my own life. But I can meet someone on the street who has the same song has affected them in a completely different way or helped them through something in their life that they were just able to listen to that song and relate to it completely without knowing me or met me before. And I think that's the greatest part about music, that a hundred people can listen to the same song and they can all take a hundred different things from it.

SIMON: What song would you like us to go out on?

GREEN: If I had to pick, my favorite song on the new record is a song called "Two Coins."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO COINS")

SIMON: Mr. Green, thanks so much.

GREEN: Oh, thank you very much.

SIMON: Dallas Green, also known as City and Colour. His new album is called "The Hurry and the Harm."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWO COINS")

GREEN: (Singing) Northwest is where I'm heading, underneath the golden sky...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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