Album review: City And Colour – The Love Still Held Me Near
A poignant platter from the sensitive side of Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green…
There aren’t many artists who break up a commercially successful, critically adored band and survive. Dallas Green went one further. Back in 2011, he was torn in two directions between his commitment to post-hardcore grandees Alexisonfire and the rapid rise of his folk-punk solo project, City And Colour. Faced with a choice that was never going to please everyone, he decided to back the latter and went on to become a bona fide crossover artist.
Fast-forward a decade or so and, give or take a clutch of reunion shows and the odd pandemic, Alexis are back, with their first album in 13 years, Otherness, appearing on more than a few 2022 best-of lists. But Dallas’ songwriting didn’t cease, resulting in a seventh album from City And Colour, titled The Love Still Held Me Near.
In good spirits on the other end of a phone in his native Canada, he talks to Kerrang! about the ups and downs of an intense past few years, and the highs and lows of what came before it…
In the past two years you’ve released your fifth album with Alexisonfire and your seventh with City And Colour. Do you find yourself looking back more ahead of each release?
“Yeah. For better or worse, I did go back a little bit and have a look at the journey I’ve been on. Having some time to look back freed up some space in my brain to move forward, then I dived into making both records.”
What were the formative experiences that shaped the artistic decisions you’ve made?
“I don’t know… I’ve always tried to follow the same kind of process. When it comes, I follow the muse and write from my heart. I’ve never been good at forcing creative decisions, they just sort of happen. As far as making a career of it… I realised early on that I wanted to be in as much control as possible, because it can easily get away from you.”
Was headlining the Royal Albert Hall as City And Colour in 2011 a watershed moment?
“That was a real special moment for me. Playing that room and its history, but also knowing where I came from. I started in a screamo band from St. Catharines, Ontario, and we didn’t think anybody would listen to us, then having that spawn a solo career that via word-of-mouth would allow me to sell out the Royal Albert Hall… I didn’t have a ton of media attention or anything like that, it was really just people finding my music. Those moments are burned into my psyche. A big one of those with Alexis was when we played the tent at Download. It was this massive response – we were onstage watching George [Pettit, Alexisonfire vocalist] scream from an inflatable pool on top of the crowd! It was just, like, ‘Okay, this seems like it’s going well…’”
George famously described the Alexis split in 2011 as “not amicable”, but despite that you’ve avoided multiple line-up changes and irreparable fallings-out. Is that harder than it looks?
“Nobody knows what it’s like to keep a band together except for the people that have done it. George said the other day, ‘Turns out breaking up your band is really good for the longevity of your band!’ which I thought was great (laughs). The thing that we have avoided is never wanting to see each other again. All of the gripes… really, they’ve all just boiled down to life experiences. You know somebody for 23, 24 years, who you would call your brother, you go through peaks and valleys.”
Would you have done anything differently, looking back?
“No, I don’t think so. City And Colour was growing exponentially and my heart started to shift towards wanting to make more music in that space. I tried my best, but we didn’t know how to manage it any better because we didn’t know how to manage it.”
The lack of U.S. dates on Alexisonfire’s 2012 farewell tour seemed to be the only time you received any real criticism from fans. Was that surprising?
“I was surprised because we spent years touring America and nobody would show up. We always used to joke that we broke up in America first! We were sort of okay with it. There was never a bone in our bodies that wanted to force anyone to get into the band, and we were getting feet in the door elsewhere, like the UK, Europe and Australia. Those places became more important to us. But it’s been really nice being able to play America recently. I don’t know where they came from, but there’s a bunch of people who seem to like the band a lot now. Last summer we played a venue on the roof of a building in Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge was behind us and there were 2,000 people there… That’s never happened to us!”
You’ve also been through some difficult periods in the past few years. The new City And Colour album partly deals with the death of your best friend.
“We lost Karl [Bareham, Dallas’ friend and collaborator] in September 2019, a week before my last record [A Pill For Loneliness] came out. We had made that record together, spent a long time making it… I went on tour after the record came out and it was all wrong, y’know? Then the pandemic showed up. I had experienced such crazy trauma that I started to sink into everyone’s shared dread and fear of the unknown, but in summer 2020, I guess, I started doing some inventory on myself. All I had was time.
“I started working on some songs, I turned 40 years old and played my friend Matt [Kelly, another City And Colour collaborator] the song Underground after my wife flew him in for my surprise 40th birthday party. He helped me put the demo together, about two weeks later Wade [MacNeil, Alexisonfire guitarist] called me and said, ‘Shall we jam?’ and from that moment I was off to the races.”
Both Wade and AOF bassist Chris Steele have been very candid about their personal problems from the past few years, which they’ve channelled into the new Alexisonfire and Wade’s Dooms Children album. Is it difficult to hear friends talk about their hard times in public?
“If I can be completely honest, I’ve never been more proud of Chris and Wade than when I’ve heard them speaking openly about the struggles they’ve had. When Wade was doing interviews for the [Dooms Children] record, he called me and said, ‘Is it crazy that I’m being this open?’ and I said ‘No, man! Fuck, I’ve made a living off of it!’ I was joking, but this is the shit that you do. Not everybody has the voice to speak this way, because a lot of people are afraid of what they’re feeling. We don’t really cultivate a society where that feels comfortable. If you can write yourself out of it and create something beautiful from the pain that might grow wings and reach someone else, it’s amazing. I felt the same way with this new record. I knew that I had done the right thing, speaking about my pain and my grief, but at the same time I was still apprehensive. I had some conversations with some friends and they reinvigorated my spirit.”
Finally, what will a good 2023 look like for Dallas Green?
“For me, it’s always about being able to keep doing it. To have a record out, travel around singing for my supper and hoping to connect with some human beings.”
City And Colour's new album The Love Still Held Me Near is out now. Alexisonfire will play Download Festival on June 8-11.
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