Through the way that the sands of time have created misdirection to the universe, I was trying to work out when I last spent some time with Devin Dawson. A lot has happened in the world since he was last over in the UK opening for Dan + Shay two years ago and as we are all aware, the year 2020 clearly was a unique phenomenon within the music industry.
This new year begins with Dawson sharing his long-awaited follow-up to the critically-acclaimed debut release “Dark Horse” back in 2018 as the new 6 track “The Pink Slip EP” project has arrived. Once again working with Jay Joyce but this record is exploring more aspects of honestly and vulnerability which in turn opens up a greater sense of light and positivity.
I recently caught up with Devin and in between our good-natured sporting banter, we talked about the changes creatively in the industry for new music, this new project and the pair of huge tracks that he has been involved in since his last visit to the UK.
How has the time off the road during these times felt? Have you found positives as well as negatives or frustrations to draw on through the pandemic?
I’ve been pretty good, obviously I wish I was able to get on stage and play some shows a little bit more readily and easily but other than that I feel I’m a little bit healthier and more balanced than I’ve ever been in my life, so that’s good. It’s definitely been strange, I’ve enjoyed it, I really have.
The only hard part is that I support a lot of people with my music and my business, half of that has been wiped out whether that’s my crew or whatever. I’ve been playing with the same guys in my band for almost eight years now, we all met the first day I moved to Nashville and we all went to college together, they have played on all of my records, played on all of my tours and essentially I’ve just been paying them out of my pocket to help support their families but I can’t do that forever. If we aren’t making any money we can’t pay people, so that’s been the hard and frustrating part, the trying to take good care of people when you don’t necessarily have the means but other than that I enjoy the rest, I enjoy the space, I enjoy the time and the balance, so there have been some really good things to come out of it.
How has this affected things creatively with writing songs, has the process changed and does it bring about a danger to overthink things more critically?
The cool thing is that I have had more time to write, to write by myself, figure out how to get better at recording myself and be more self-sufficient, not having to rely on all these people. It’s been a really transformative, learning year when it comes to that. I’ve written a bunch of songs by myself that I haven’t really had the time to do before and spent two weeks on a song that I really love. It’s been really cool to do some things that I’ve never really had the time to do before, so I’m trying not to think. I don’t do good when I think, just stay in the flow state and be you, just go and do it!
“The Pink Slip EP” comes three years since his debut album being released and is an EP rather than a full-length album so why has it taken this length of time and is it a taster of more to come through 2021?
I think there are so many factors when you talk about how often and how you release music. The first factor is what do the fans want? It’s literally the only thing that matters really! The other side of it is do you have enough to release that much? I’m thankful that I do have, I write every single day! There’s been certain changes in the background, the undersides of my business, whether that comes from producers or all these different pieces, that I’m really trying to focus that in a way of where I want to release music quicker! I don’t want to wait another three years for twelve songs.
I have written five hundred since Dark Horse! I have to look at why am I waiting? Well, my producer likes to do things this way and that’s the way that he does his creative process and I need to be respectful of that but if that’s not working for the way that I want to release music then maybe you need to look somewhere else? That all being said, your first album as an artist takes a really long time to get to that point, to tour on it and extend all of the possibilities, all of the songs and make sure everything is handled and represented, so that first one just takes a really long time. As a songwriter, I get that satisfaction with creating new things every day, but it’s been a while since I’ve had the satisfaction of the world hearing that! I’m really, really excited for new music and excited to say that it won’t be that long next time and it will happen very often, whether that’s a single, another EP or whatever. I’m already recording again in a couple of weeks, so that’s at least something that I’ve got a handle on with how to be more efficient and active with the way I release music. I’ve missed it man, it was a really long time. A lot of that was through touring and a lot of the things that come along with that first album cycle but definitely now more music, more often!
Were the six tracks on the album newly written and recorded songs during the period of time on the road or were they work in progress tracks that he had kicking around since the release of “Dark Horse”?
They are a little bit of both. I would say they are a little bit more on the recent side, just because the shiny new toys tend to win but some are a little older. “I Got A Truck” is a song that I wrote by myself when I was on tour with Tim McGraw, like two, maybe two and a half years ago. Songs have a way of sticking around and if they’re great once, they’ll always be great. It’s just how you weigh them up against the song that you wrote yesterday! As a songwriter, your two favourite songs are always “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” because the melody is just timeless and the song you wrote yesterday! That’s how we are, it’s like a muscle that we flex every day.
Most of them were in the last two years, where “Dark Horse” was like a culmination of five years. You have forever to write your first album and six months to write the second one, you know! We recorded about ten or eleven, decided to put out six and go from there, see what happens next and we’ve got more to put out so it’s about what shakes out, trying not to think. I’m trying to do!
With writing songs through platforms such as Zoom almost becoming the new normal in these times, it does appear to be a completely “marmite” process that people appear to absolutely love doing or be completely unconvinced by, for Dawson himself, how has he found the experience?
I absolutely love it! I like the casualness of being in my own house, I can grab a beer for lunch, I can wear sweats and do whatever I want. I think sometimes I do miss the disruption or the awkwardness of meeting somebody for the first time and pouring your heart out to that person and do miss being around people but on Zoom there is no BS! We are not there to hang, we are here to write a song so let’s do it and when we are done, we are done! I haven’t really had a hard time pulling out the same energy in a room or being inspired. I really enjoy it, I think the comfortability of what comes along with it helps me be even more inspired or prone to say whatever comes to my head. The only thing I didn’t like it about it but I actually do now is that when you are in the room with people and a producer is that you write it and I sing it there, then when I leave it is their job to worry about recording, getting it mixed and all that stuff. So, with Zoom, somebody needs to take it and be the leader which if I’m the artist is usually me. It does bog you a bit down as far as schedule goes and give you a bit more responsibility when I’m so used to word dumping and word vomiting my creativity and then when it’s done, it’s done. Now, I have to dump, dump, dump, get it out and wait then get inspired again and start a track. I’m not a producer track guy by any means but I can do a really good vocal, a really good piano, really good guitar or whatever though I’m not going to create like a stadium drum kit but enough to send to somebody that they have it ready and good so they can just focus on the groove or whatever. I will say you can take a good song to a great song by waiting a day to record it and just listening back and thinking why didn’t I say that? There’s a lot I really like about it and it’s allowed me opportunities that I never had before when people had to be in person, never thought this was viable but now I can write with people in London, L.A. or anybody at any time, still feel confident that I’m going to get a great song and product.
One track in particular that he has written which has helped to raise awareness of him further given the considerable success of “God’s Country” but where did the song come from and at what point did Blake Shelton get involved with recording the track?
We didn’t write it for Blake, we didn’t even say at the end of the day that it sounds like Blake Shelton. We just wrote a badass song that we love then we looked at the pitch sheet and saw he was looking. Hardy sang the demo and we were like I know you want to record this yourself but are you down to see if Blake likes it? He came back saying yeah, of course I would want Blake Shelton to sing one of my songs. That was actually the first day that year where we had written, it was January 7th, so we had just taken two weeks off for Christmas break and all that, Hardy brought in the idea of “God’s Country” which we all know that term. Usually we will look at how do we do that, flip that or make that a clever turn of phrase but this was just, let’s go right at it! Everyone knows what “God’s Country” means which is something the same and different to them, so we just wrote it. We knew we had something, that it was badass and where was this going? You try so hard to get a song that everyone wants and you get that one but become really precious with it. I don’t want you to have it, I want this one, it’s weird how the tables turn so quick, but Blake heard it a couple of days after we wrote it and recorded it a couple of days after that. It was one of those stars aligning moments where it is never that easy! It’s never that quick or never that successful! Ever! I don’t care who you are or how good the song is, so many things have to happen for that to be the case so I’m so grateful for that and what it has done for Hardy and me and Jordan, then having a little bit less financial stress in a year like this one and all the really great things that it has done for me and been a nice segway in-between my albums.
Collaborating on what has become a hugely successful track through being recorded by Blake Shelton has not been the only significant involvement with Michael Hardy since Dawson’s last release. Joining Lauren Alaina and Hardy on the massive number one song “One Beer” added a further avenue of introduction for people discovering Dawson’s music, so how did he find his way onto recording on a track that he hadn’t written?
It’s kind of a good segway from “God’s Country” because we were celebrating that going number one, back in June or July, when we all went out to the bar. It was a bar called Red Door, it was me, Hardy and Jordan with some friends where we are all taking tequila shots and all that. My twin brother drums for Hardy, so we are all really connected and tight knit so I always get the inside scoop and finding out what you guys are working on and how it’s going. He was like I’m working on this feature record and getting a bunch of people on. What I do naturally and what Hardy does naturally is very different sides. I’m like the dark kind of brooding, vulnerable, more heartfelt guy usually where he is more of that redneck, upbeat, badass kind of thing. We have crossover, so when they come together its this really cool kind of thing but obviously very different artists. I was sitting with him at the table and knew he was getting kind of close to finishing this record, I was like I can’t wait to hear it but if you’ve got anything weird or dark that feels like me, I would love to sing on it. Just a little reminder of get you boy on it! He looked at me and was like alright, alright and he sent me the song the next day saying I think you would be really great on this one. I think that was actually before Lauren was confirmed, I think they had tried to figure out who the girl was going to be. It’s a song about teen pregnancy, which is not an easy subject matter to sing and especially for a woman to be in that position. Obviously, Lauren hasn’t dealt with that in her life but she has probably experienced people that have and we all know people that have so it was really cool to interpret a story that none of us had been in before first hand. When it comes to all the songs on that album, it’s something that feels a little bit different. It’s the last song on the album, it’s not really that redneck and there’s so many other songs on that album that feel like absolute smashes to me. I think, because it is so different and it stood out, that’s what the fanbase really gravitated to! Again, it’s been such a cool segway for me between albums to be relevant on the radio and talk to my radio friends so I’m just super thankful for Hardy for everything. The first song that I ever sung that I didn’t write but Hardy doesn’t write bad songs!
The world and touring going into 2021 remains uncertain but he is looking forward to heading back over to grab a pint and emphasised “I’m ready to come and see you guys soon, as soon as I possibly can” which we are very excited for!
Devin’s new release “The Pink Slip EP” is out now through Warner Music Nashville which you can listen to HERE and you can keep up to date with Devin Dawson on Twitter Instagram Facebook and his Website