Entertainment

Dallas Green finds way back to the stage in a different stage of mind


‘I’m not really one to get nervous before I go and play … But there I was shaking, like I didn’t know what to do,’ three-time Juno winner says of return to live shows

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Whether as part of post-hardcore band Alexisonfire or on his own fronting City and Colour , Dallas Green has been on stage for more than half his life. But when he stepped in front of a crowd for the first time in 19 months last September, the St. Catharines, Ont., native was almost crippled by nerves.

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“I remember standing on the side of the stage in Dallas, and I was shaking. I hadn’t felt something like this in years,” Green, 41, says in a phone interview. “I’m not really one to get nervous before I go and play. I feel comfortable up there, and it feels like something I’m supposed to be doing. But there I was shaking, like I didn’t know what to do.”

In the midst of a tour in support of 2019’s A Pill For Loneliness , Green was one of the many acts that saw a busy 2020 concert season go out the window due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the grinding halt forced the three-time Juno winner to reflect inward in a way he hadn’t since breaking out with Alexisonfire 20 years ago.

“Near the end of 2019, I lost my best friend (Karl ‘Horse’ Bareham). So I had already been feeling just a little lost and I was having a hard time finding the happiness in what I was doing,” he offers candidly.

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“When the pandemic came on full force, and all of the touring got cancelled, it caused me to go into a bit of a hole. But I think I needed it. More than I really understood.”

Now in his 16th year as City and Colour, which began as his solo acoustic side-project following the release of 2005’s Sometimes , Green says the forced time away enabled him to rediscover his love of singing songs.

“I started to find solace in music again. I started finding myself putting on old records that I loved when I was younger and playing guitar along to them like I used to when I was a kid. I started to do that just for the sheer joy of it.”

I feel like I’ve done my best to stay true to who I thought I was and who I wanted to be when I was younger

Dallas Green has grown more reflective over the last year-and-a-half

With the pandemic easing across North America, Green hit the road in September for a run of dates stateside. This month, he headed out across Canada for a series of shows that ends with a five-night stand at Toronto’s newly renovated Massey Hall in December.

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“It’s been really beautiful,” Green says of the trek that kicked off last week in Vancouver. “I think it’s something that I didn’t really necessarily appreciate until I started doing it again. I could feel the energy from the people in the crowd, and I realized they were really missing the experience of going to a concert and escaping life for a few hours like we all used to do.”

Dallas Green seen back onstage earlier this year.
Dallas Green seen back onstage earlier this year. Photo by Grace Sims

And as he winds his way through Alberta and Saskatchewan this week, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter says the feeling of being on the road in his home country is unmatched.

“It’s my home. I’ve driven back and forth across this country so many times that it just feels natural to me to be doing it,” Green says.

Reinvigorated by his latest series of shows, the singer-songwriter spoke more about the long road back to the stage.

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Last year was shaping up to be a big year for you and then you had to hit the brakes. How did you adjust? Did you retreat back into music or did you seek solace in other artistic areas?

“The first few months of it were sort of just trying to figure out a lot of things. I had never taken that much time off the road. I’d always just sort of taken a break, and then went right into making another record and then a tour. So, at first, it was a little strange. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I really started to second-guess a lot of myself and I definitely had some serious crisis-of-character moments because all I had ever seen myself as was a touring musician.”

How did you find your way out of that?

“I started to realize that I’m a songwriter, and I could work on music just for the sake of working on it. I did eventually start to write my way out of it and worked on some new songs. I dug in and tried to make some changes for myself and use my time wisely.”

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What did you find music doing for you again artistically and emotionally?

“When I fell in love with music as a teenager, it grabbed hold of me and I have never really looked back. I never did anything else for 20 years and I found myself at 40 looking back a lot. I’d never given myself the chance to do that because I’d always looked at what was ahead of me. People always make fun of me because I never have any of my awards or my platinum records or anything like that in my house. I don’t have any of that stuff around me because I never wanted to just look at what I’ve accomplished. I’ve always wanted to think about what else I could accomplish. But I started to look back at how crazy my life has actually been since I started playing guitar and singing and writing my own music. So even though at first it was like the last thing I was thinking about, music did what it has always done for me since I was a kid. It became the thing I turned to help me find my way out.”

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Guide Me Back Home was an album I listened to a lot over the last year, and it was recorded the last time you toured across Canada. What’s it like for you to be going out across the country again?

“There’s just nothing like being able to travel across this impossible country and play music for people because I feel something different than any other place I go to. The best part is literally just the act of waking up and, like, being in Saskatoon and staying at a place like the Delta Bessborough and walking around and then going to the venue and singing. These are the memories I have collected over the past two decades.”

Dallas Green.
Dallas Green. Photo by Renee Rodenkirchen

What do you think the key to your longevity was?

“I really don’t know. I’ve tried to approach it the same way I always have since I was a kid and realized that I could use writing music as a way out of my own head. And if I wrote these songs in a relatable enough way, they could move beyond helping me and possibly give someone else some solace. I’ve really just tried to do that. I’ve continued to try to write music for myself and hope that it resonates with other people. And I’ve never really strayed too far from that.”

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I think you’re the only person I’ve ever interviewed inside Massey Hall, but you’re going to be there next month as one of the first acts to play there after its renovation. What’s it like being part of that venue’s rebirth?

“I remember years ago when they started the renovations, we had talked about trying to get in there when it was going to reopen to try to help be part of the group of musicians who will sort of reinstate Canada’s most famous venue. And now to think of it coming after the pandemic, and being able to be there for a week and sing these songs, I’m really not sure what to say about it yet. It’s pretty special. I assume they won’t turn it into an Apple store or something like that.”

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What was your most memorable show there?

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“I’ve seen Neil Young play there a couple times, which was very memorable. But I would just probably say the first time I played there just because I remember feeling so overwhelmed. It’s such a daunting place … these buildings they have such a reverence about them that you can’t help but feel the weight of what has come before you. I remember walking out and thinking, ‘F—, I’m at Massey Hall. Don’t blow it.’ And when I got off stage, I just remember sitting down a letting out the longest breath as if to say, ‘F— I did it.’ ”

Dallas Green performs at Massey Hall on Feb. 10 2012.
Dallas Green performs at Massey Hall on Feb. 10 2012. Photo by Dave Abel /Toronto Sun

If music hadn’t worked out for you, did you have a plan B?

“Not at all. When I was in high school, there were things that I was interested in. I loved English class … but I wasn’t really good at doing the work. If I had a growth spurt, maybe I could have tried getting a basketball scholarship. But as far as a Plan B, I always wanted to see what I could accomplish in a life spent making music. And I still feel that way.”

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So what would young Dallas think of where he ended up then in 2021?

“I think he’d be proud. I feel like I’ve done my best to stay true to who I thought I was and who I wanted to be when I was younger. In this time off, being able to look back I understand that I made some sacrifices. But through all of it, I have found some way to be proud of myself for what I have done and how I’ve gone about it. So, yeah, I think young Dallas would be stoked.”

I know you’re a big sports fan, so I can’t let you go without getting your thoughts on the Raptors. How do you think things will unfold for the team this season?

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“I like the team a lot. I like the young kids they drafted. I think it’s a beautiful story that Toronto finally drafted (Dalano) Banton, a Canadian kid. I really like him and I think Scottie Barnes is really the real deal. I think he’s gonna be something special. I love Freddie (VanVleet) and the rest of that young core. But I’m happy that they’re finally back in Toronto. They were on a winning streak and then the pandemic hit and then it was the bubble and then they were in Tampa for a year. I know that had to be really hard on them and the staff and all the people that work for the organization. But I’m excited for the future of this team for sure and I think we’re going to make the playoffs for sure.”

We spoke when the Jays were in the midst of a playoff run in 2015, so let’s get your take on them while we’re at it.

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“It would have been great if they had some help at the end of last season and they could have made the playoffs. But I love the young nucleus. They all seem like they like Toronto and they want to be here and play, and I think the future is bright for Toronto sports. Now, I don’t know if you would have ever heard me say that in the past because I’m a Toronto sports fan and we’re usually quite pessimistic. But I think the Raptors winning a couple years ago really helped the city sort of get over that. The Leafs are a different story, but it looks like they’re playing good right now, too. So we’ll see.”

City and Colour’s upcoming Canadian tour dates:

Nov. 22, 23 — Calgary, Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Nov. 24, 25 — Edmonton, Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Nov. 27 — Saskatoon, TCU Place
Nov. 28 — Regina, Conexus Arts Centre
Nov. 30 — Winnipeg, Centennial Concert Hall
Dec. 4, 5 — Montreal, M Telus
Dec. 9-12, 14 — Toronto, Massey Hall

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