By Rebecca Belt, originally appeared in Country Music Capital News
NASHVILLE singer-songwriter Devin Dawson spoke with Rebecca Belt about expressing his truth through country music and the lyrics of the tracks on his album, Dark Horse.
Coming from years of performing in heavy metal bands gives his brand of country music an edge.
“It’s interesting to see the outside perspective of me being in a heavy metal band and making the transition to writing love songs,” he said.
“Rather than being a transition, it’s more of a renaissance because it’s about me going back to my roots. I grew up listening to a lot of country music. My mum listened to country on the record player and she also listened to a lot of rock, soul and r ‘n’ b, so all of those are influences in my sound.”
Dawson names ‘three Johns’ as his major influences in life and music.
“I grew up right outside of Falsom Prison and am a huge Johnny Cash fan, more for his artistry and his ability to be vulnerable and be himself, John Fogerty of CCR who have that Northern Californian soul, and John Mayer is always my go-to as a songwriter, performer, singer, everything he does is genius to me and it’s incredible he does it all on his own,” he said.
Dawson said country music taught him how to write a song from when he picked up a guitar at age 12 and started a band with his brother. He wrote songs for himself in his room, which he used as therapy to get his emotions out.
“Eventually those songs took over more of my time and they fulfilled me more than the heavy metal did,” he said.
“Four or five years on the road playing heavy metal every night takes a toll. I grew out of it and I wasn’t creatively fulfilled as much as with the songs I was writing on the side.”
The singer-songwriter readily admits the rock will never leave his blood and there are times in his live shows where they ‘just go for it’ and it’s a rock show, but his country roots underpin every song.
“It’s my word, my truth and I think there’s something different about the songs when the perspective is from the eye of the songwriter and the artist who’s singing it,” he said.
“When I sing those songs live, I take myself back to where I was when I wrote it. I’m not trying to be anything, I’m just trying to be myself. I’m not trying to stay in between the lines, I’m just going with my gut, as scary as that is, it’s the only option for me. I just want to be myself and find the sounds and words that feel right even if someone else has not done that before.”
The Californian native said he loved the family nature of country music.
“There is no other genre that has a home town and country music has Nashville which is a great insight into the genre,” he said.
“It’s a family, everyone raises each other up. We all compete, but we ride together and I love the community surrounding all of the different artists and songwriters in country music. It’s a really beautiful, unique genre distinction that we have.”
The family theme continues in his songwriting, with his hit, All On Me, co-written with his twin Jacob Durrett (Devin’s grandfather’s name is Dawson, hence the use of the stage name), and his guitar player Austin Smith.
“I write music every single day and whoever is here who can talk through and offer their perspectives writes with me,” he said.
“We wrote All On Me almost three years ago during one of our Sunday songwriting appointments. There is something about Sundays that is laidback and chill and when you write a song without agendas, there is something special about that and All On Me kind of wrote itself.”
The title track from his album, though, is his personal favourite track.
“Dark Horse is always a personal favourite because it’s my belief, my story and my truth,” he said.
“It introduces the world to who I am and that one is really close to my heart.”
Words are king when it comes to Dawson’s music, but married with his melodies and heartfelt delivery, every song comes to life.
“I consider myself more of a lyricist than a melody writer and usually start with a concept or title and think how I would sing that conversationally so I sing a melody that comes to mind and that gives you a place to end,” he said.
“It makes the songwriting easier because I can work out what groove and tempo I’m singing in and it all kind of falls out once I start singing the concept. It’s really word vomit and a couple of days which is when I do a lot of massaging of the song, when the melodies come in. There is definitely a settling in period where I jam the songs over and over again and find where the melodies sink in and do the editing and make sure the melodies are serving the song.”
The country artist is hitting the road with some of the biggest acts Nashville has to offer and he said it was an honour for his peers to give him the seal of approval.
“I’ve been touring since I was 14 or 15 full-time and if you don’t love it, you will go crazy,” he said.
“I just love to see how far a song can take me, all over the world I hope. There is something special about your peers giving you a seal of approval. It is amazing to have your idols affirm you and it’s also about learning from them. When you’re opening for somebody, I watch the show every single night and take notes for my performance and things that I could try in my set and I’m learning from the best.”
As much as he loves touring the US, Australia is firmly in Dawson’s sights.
“I’m dying to get to Australia and the first couple of things I would do is festivals,” he said.
“I would like to think that my music can speak to the entire world. We’ve been planning a lot of tours in the UK and Europe and Australia is not too far behind. Some artists have a break after tours, but my break is going to another place on tour. It’s more about seeing where songs and my music can take me and meeting new friends.
“I love imposing my truth on new people and letting them know who I am. I’m living my dream.”