If you had to leave behind an enduring sentiment for the one you love, what would it look like? How would you want them to remember you after you’re gone from the world, and their life? We don’t often like to consider our finite trajectory, or that a day will come when we won’t be around to care for loved ones, but this question is the summation of City and Colour’s new album and its title track, If I Should Go Before You.
“The song is about the idea of this love that it’s so powerful that it could outlast death,” says Dallas Green, the man behind the moniker, from his home in Toronto as he prepares for tour. “You’re telling somebody, ‘Don’t worry too much, because my love will carry on for you; it’ll be there to guide you.'”
That’s admittedly a little bit sad—Green’s wife thought so, at least—but he argues that it’s also beautiful, in a way.
“You never know what’s going to happen in life; you never know what’s going to happen in this business, too,” he adds. “But if I were to go before you, here’s something I’m proud enough to leave you as my last statement.”
Green’s translation of this memento is perhaps much more poetic than the majority of us could hope to conjure, the songs on the album being heartfelt and nuanced without becoming too saccharine. Each track is evidently deeply personal, yet remains accessible rather than alienating listeners.
Personal sentiment is nothing new in Green’s City and Colour oeuvre, but he notes that the throughline on If I Should Go Before You didn’t present itself until after he finished writing the record.
“I write usually a very specific kind of song,” he says. “It’s usually some sort of rumination on what’s going on in my life, or what I feel like is bothering me at the time. But once you start putting the songs together and realize you have enough for a record, that’s when I realize everything’s falling into place.”
What Green did set out to do in the nascent stages of If I Should Go Before You was write an album that captured the live essence of his touring band. City and Colour’s early compositions were very much centred around Green and a guitar, but since about 2013 he has been working with a consistent band featuring guitarist Dante Schwebel (Dan Auerbach), drummer Doug MacGregor (Constantines), bassist Jack Lawrence (the Raconteurs, Dead Weather) and multi-instrumentalist Matt Kelly. Green remains a solitary writer, and City and Colour’s songs still begin in a way that’s reminiscent of its early days, but Green notes that the addition of his bandmates has established a new dynamic for the project.
“You want guys playing with you that take care of your songs, and that you can trust and feel good that they’re going to put as much into it as you are, even though they’re sort of hired musicians,” Green explains. “It’s hard to find guys to fulfill that role, but they’re also wonderful people, and I love being around them—even not on stage. Over the last couple of years we’ve built this wonderful relationship, and it’s awesome.”
The addition of these musicians has certainly added some extra sonic flair to the melodies on If I Should Go Before You, with layered instrumentation creating blues-y textures on the lead single “Wasted Love” to more country-roots styling on tracks like “Runaway” and reverberating guitar licks on the nine-minute opener, “Woman.” Contrasting yet cohesive, all of these elements were captured by Green in the producer’s chair at Blackbird Studios in Nashville alongside engineer Karl Bareham, the same studio where he recorded City and Colour’s previous album, The Hurry and the Harm.
“The idea of a producer is usually to come in and help you snap out of your comfort zone, or someone to bounce ideas off of to make sure you’re [going] in the right direction or challenge you on things. And for me, on this record, I felt like I was already about to do all of those things by making this record with my touring band, and by changing up the dynamic of what a City and Colour record sounds like,” Green notes of his decision to take on the role. “There’s a song on the record called ‘Killing Time’ that I don’t even play guitar on: it’s just my band playing and I’m singing it—things like that, that I was already planning on doing. I just didn’t feel like I needed anyone else to tell me what was going on, because I had enough of that in myself. And between Karl and the guys in the band, none of us were going to walk out of the studio with a bad record.”
But was giving up the guitar on certain songs—which often acts like an extra appendage for those who play it—a challenging adjustment to make?
“It was really nice, actually. I’ve played a ton of guitar, and so it was nice to be able to just sing, you know? I’m a singer too, and sometimes I get caught up in playing the guitar because I’m a guitar player,” he says. “I’m still working on it. The songs we play live where I don’t play guitar it’s that whole, ‘What do I do with my hands?’ thing, but I think I’m getting better at it.”
Fri, Jun 10 (7:30 pm)
With Shakey Graves
Rexall Place, $20 – $65
Limited tickets for $20, with proceeds donated to the
Canadian Red Cross for Fort McMurray fire relief