LYRICinterviews: Devin Dawson On Debut Album ‘Dark Horse’, Pushing Genre Boundaries & The Importance Of Lyrics

After a his mash up video of Blank Space and Style went viral, Devin Dawson began to get recognised on the country music scene, he followed by opening for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and has now released his debut album ‘Dark Horse’. We had a chat with the musician to find out a little more about him…

Welcome to the UK, are you enjoying your time here so far?

Yes and no… obviously the answer’s yes! I’ve kind of just been chillin’ the last day and getting acclimated to the time, so I’m excited to start playing shows, because I have a bunch of shows coming up this week. We’ll be doing some stuff in Germany and just all over, so I’m excited to get the week going. I’m not so good with down time, so just sitting in the hotel does not work for me. I’ve been walking around, shopping and playing guitar and writing songs. Just doing everything I can to stay busy. That’s my thing, luckily I have a guitar and love writing songs, so I’m never not doing anything; I’m always trying to stay inspired.


Your debut single ‘All On Me’ has such a distinctive sound, as well as the rest of your album ‘Dark Horse’. What made you decide to make country music in the end, after being in a rock band?

I was in a rock band for a long time, but I grew up on country music. From the outside people may see it as a weird transition from metal to country, but for me it was kind of like a renaissance of going back to my roots; to what I started with in a way. I feel like I learned how to write songs by listening to country music, so when I started writing, just from in my bedroom for me, before I started singing, I was trying to emulate those songs and the way they’re set up with the lyrics. Another big part of it was Nashville, I love the people, the pace and the energy. I love the song writing community. I’m just such a big lyric guy. I love words and country music has this affinity for the way we tell stories and set up the song. So, not necessarily sonically, but more songwriting. It was a home that I could be in that allowed me to be who I was and not feel like I have to do something else, just to be successful. I could do what I want to do whole-heartedly in that genre and in that town.


You have some great, emotional songs with very honest lyrics. Where do you often draw inspiration for your writing?

It’s always different, but I think everyday life is a great place to start. I try to write about my own life or at least start from my own truth. I think I’m guilty of being a songwriter a lot of the time, where I’ll put myself in someone else’s shoes to make it relatable from a different place, so although I draw from my experiences, I’ll write from someone else’s perspective. So, what would someone going through this say right now? It may veer off from my own story, but it starts there. I will take inspiration from anywhere, whether it’s a conversation, or walking and seeing something. I’m always inspired by titles, I start with a title a lot of the time and work backwards. It’s always different, but I’m usually inspired by words more than melodies or chords, I start with words and fit everything else to that.


Your album really pushes the boundaries of country music and you’ve gained so much success already with it, what were you hoping people would get from your music and your individual take on country?

Yeah I think that’s good that you say my take on country music, because like I said earlier, I was allowed to just do what I did and I hope people just feel this genuinity from it. I hope they feel that I’m just existing, just talking and being who I am, rather than trying to be something that I’m not. I’m lucky with the people around me who allow me to just be myself. I just want people to hear my artistry through that and my individuality and genuinity through the songs. I don’t know why they sound the way they do, I just know it feels right in my gut, so that’s what I was going for. But like I said, most of my influence from the country genre comes from the song writing and the lyrics.


Who are some of your musical inspirations, that may have helped shape this album?

I grew up listening to a lot of 90’s country like Tim McGraw, Johnny Cash, Clint Black and Alan Jackson, but as far as soul and rock, I listened to a lot of CCR, John Fogerty, Joe Cocker, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cook, in my younger years. So, it was kind of whatever my Mum was playing, which are the older artists. When I discovered my own way, John Mayer was a huge influence, his song writing and lyrics, he does it all himself and I was really fascinated by him just doing it all himself, because I can’t do that. I love to co-write, I love to bounce things off of friends and other collaborators, so I’ve just always been intrigued on how he does it all.


We absolutely love your song ‘War Paint’, it’s so nice to hear a song like this from a guy’s perspective, what made you write a song that goes against all the usual stereotypes for girls?

I think like I said earlier that a lot of the songs on this record start from my truth and it’s just me telling my story of being a first person, but that song it’s more of me being a narrator to somebody else’s story. I tend to side with things that technically don’t make sense, that’s where I get excited; it’s just different things. Like girls should sing that song, it’s from a girl’s perspective, but I think it’s interesting coming from a guy’s perspective, you’re just narrating the story. When you sing a first person song you’re sitting on the stage singing to an audience, but when you sing a third person song, it’s like you’re sitting next to them whispering in their ear like what’s happening on stage. So there’s a different intimacy that happens with a song like that. I’ve been cheated on before and I thought it was an interesting take and something different that would shake things up. I think that song allows me to tap into my rock background, it’s a heavier, angstier kind of song.

Your album is titled ‘Dark Horse’, how did your music play a part in coming up with this album title?

I have a song on the album called ‘Dark Horse’, which as a new artist is like my introduction to myself to people who don’t know who I am. Like if anyone were to hear that song, they would know who I was and what I believe in, why I’m here, where I want to go and all that. The funny thing is I didn’t write that song until after the album was done or what I thought was done. We were in the studio for a couple of months and when we came out I continued to write, I write music every day, so I kept writing and that song showed itself. I feel like I tried to write that ‘this is who I am song’ the whole time, but it felt forced and contrived; I couldn’t do it right because it didn’t sound right, so I didn’t record it. I had to kind of let it come to me, once the pressure was off. There was no album title. I hadn’t thought about it, because we weren’t quite there, so when that song came along, everything clicked into the place; the album finally felt done. Those 2 words just describe where I’m at and who I am the best that I could hope. I’m really lucky to have that song.


The whole world saw the mash up you did of Blank Space and Style by Taylor Swift, with Louisa. It was so cleverly done, how did that all come together?

I went to college in Nashville, a place called Belmont University and I met a lot of my friends that are still my friends today. Freshman year we were all in the same dorm, basically my entire band were in that dorm; those are the guys that play on the record and play with me live and all that. I also met this girl named Louisa there. She had a YouTube following and I was writing songs, so she asked me to collaborate and help her arrange something and we just did it for fun. My brother did the recording and the track on it and our friend did the video. We just had fun and wanted to share something that we liked and somehow Taylor Swift saw it and put it on Facebook and twitter and it blew up. Honestly, 2 things… firstly it gave me the confidence to say ok I’m doing something right here, somebody likes what I’m doing and it kind of kicked me into the eye of the industry in Nashville and gave me opportunities to start building a team and keep forwarding my career on the business side as well as giving me the confidence on the creative side to keep going.


You got to tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, what was that like?

It was pretty surreal honestly, I grew up listening to both of them, like I said Tim McGraw is one of my influences, as a kid I remember listening to ‘Indian Outlaw’ and his other songs. Faith Hill is one of my Mum’s favourites. It was surreal getting to open for legends… they’re literally legends! I got to play my home town which as an artist, as a musician, you dream of playing your home town at a show like that, it’s a bucket list thing. I learned a lot from them and what it’s like to play those kind of venues. I just took notes from them every night and I’m just grateful that they believed in me before I had anything really going, before I had an album out. Hopefully we can do more shows together one day bit it was a really good learning experience for me, it was incredible.


As your career continues to grow, is there anyone in the industry that you’d love to collaborate with, whether it be writing or performing?

I’d love to collaborate with Eric Church. I think he’s amazing. He’s one of my favourites. Chris Stapleton is incredible. I love Little Big town, Brothers Osborne I love them… I mean the list goes on and on and on. Honestly I’d love to write a song or collaborate with Taylor Swift one day. I think that’d be a good full circle kind of moment. I don’t know if she pays attention, but hopefully if I do something worth noting, if I get a number 1 or if the album does really well or whatever, hopefully she sees it and maybe wants to write a song together. That would be a full circle thing.


What is one of your favourite lyrics from any song and why?

Wow, that’s a very hard question! There are a lot of great lyrics. I think my favourite lyric on ‘Dark Horse’ is the song ‘Dark Horse’, it’s in the second verse and says ‘I don’t go to church, I can’t quote a bible verse, I couldn’t sing a song but that don’t mean I don’t talk to Jesus’. I didn’t grow up in the church, I didn’t grow up religious, but I’ve been spiritual my whole life and I think sometimes there’s a misconception with like the middle class of spirituality. People think you either are or you aren’t and I think there’s a bunch of room in the middle to figure out where you’re at and what you believe in and how to keep going. So I just think that lyric says a lot.

Is there any chance we’ll get to see you perform at our country 2 country music festival one year?

C2C?! I’d love to perform at C2C, I don’t make those decisions, and I just show up and play. I think it’s interesting though the difference between what country music is in Nashville and what country is in London, there is just a different vibe between the two, so for me it’s hard. Even in Nashville to put genre distinctions on what I do, I just want to create good music and hopefully it can fit into a country festival or pop or rock festival or wherever, so I hope to play all of them one day. But I would love to play C2C. It can be a scary thing to not have a home or to feel like you’re falling in the middle, but like I said, I love country music and that is where my home is; I just want to create good music and write good songs. I want country fans to listen and I want pop fans and rock fans. I just want the world to so whatever I need to do to get there, that’s the goal.


What can we expect to see from you this year and will we be seeing you over here more often?

Yeah I love it over here. We came here last year for a couple of days, not only do people want country music here, it’s growing. The type of music I make fits really well over here I think, so you just have to come early and you have to come often. We’re making sure we spend a lot of time investing in the fan base over here and the industry here. So the answer is yes, we’ll be here a lot. Honestly what you can expect from me this year is just a lot of touring and a lot of shows. I just put out my album a week ago, so I’ve got to support that album, tour and I’ll be writing a lot and hopefully do some other things on the lifestyle side, so people can get to know me other than through my music. Whether that’s more video series or things on my YouTube, or appearances, collaborations. Something that isn’t necessarily related to music, so people can get to know who I am outside of my songs as well.


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