With so many artists now visiting the UK, it’s easy for us fans to get complacent. Devin Dawson has now made a handful of trips over the pond in the last year plus he’s supporting his good friends Dan + Shay on their latest run. In between all that he’s released his debut album and toured the States comprehensively, you could say he’s got a serious work ethic! Before the Glasgow opening night of his recent stretch with Dan + Shay, our man Brian sat down with Devin for a chat.
Devin, Welcome to Glasgow!
Thank you for having me man.
You’re across supporting Dan and Shay on the UK leg of their tour, that must be exciting?
Yea, absolutely. We’ve played a handful of shows with them before. We did the tour with them in the states but aside from that, we’re also really good friends. Dan and I live about a block from each other and my girlfriend and his wife are really close so it’s always nice, not only to get to support somebody who’s on an incredible run right now, but also to get out with people you love and friends and family, you know?
They’ve gone pretty stratospheric, recently haven’t they?
Yea, they’ve had a really really good year, I mean it’s so cool. They’ve always done really well, but I think they’ve finally found their stride. That third album is always make or break. It’s really cool to see then catching their stride and getting recognised on a global level, they deserve it.
You were in the UK last year around C2C time, but you didn’t quite make it up to Scotland?
Yea, I know. This is my first time to Scotland. We’d been to the UK a handful of times but hadn’t made it up to Scotland yet, so I’m glad that we are actually starting the tour in Glasgow. It’s cool cos this is our first show of the year and I feel like this is a good place to kick that off, and get the vibe going for the rest of the year.
Having been across to the UK a few times now, do you feel this is an important place to bring your music?
Yea, absolutely. I don’t wanna discriminate anywhere. I want to be heard everywhere. I want to win everywhere. I’m a very competitive guy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to dumb down my own artistry or be something that I’m not. I really do see the UK as a market that hopefully will accept my music on a larger scale. I really think that, not that I wrote it for that purpose, but I really think it fits really well over here. Whether its Country or Pop or Rock or whatever it is, it’s cool to be over here.
We’ve spent a lot of time here. I think to break somewhere, to be successful, you have to spend the time doing it. It’s not gonna just happen for you. It’s a priority for me and my entire team to keep coming back and have success in the UK.
Well I can assure you the UK will always welcome you back! Do you think we might see you at C2C soon?
One Reason I haven’t got to play C2C yet is that, as much as I love the celebration and the growth of Country music across the world, when I come here, I don’t necessarily wanna tell somebody what I am. I just wanna be what I am and let them figure it out, if its Pop or Country or Rock or whatever. You will see me playing C2C soon because I just think it would be so fun, but regardless, I don’t wanna necessarily pigeon hole myself or let somebody else tell me I am something. I just wanna come and play music and whoever wants to listen is welcome.
Just be you?
For those who have never seen you before, what can we expect from a Devin Dawson live show?
This show will be a little bit different than normal, we’re playing acoustic. I have me and two other guitar players that sing in harmony and do all that stuff. This show will be a little more broken down than usual. When I have my full band, we rock out a lot but this will be really “dynamic” I think that’s the best word to use. The heavier tempo angsty songs are a little bit heavier and the heartbreak songs are a little bit slower and a little bit more hurtful, you know? We try to take it to the next level.
One thing that I have that’s unique, that I’m really proud of ,is that the band that played on my album is the band that I tour with live. It’s the band that I’ve been playing with for almost 8 years now. We all met almost the first day we moved to Nashville, one of those crazy stories you can’t make up. I think that because I get the chance to bring the people who are on my album live, makes it possible for us to take it to that next level. There’s just different ownership of the songs. They created and brought these songs to life so I think people deserve to hear it that way and hopefully we play it as exactly if not better than the album, that’s what I strive for anyway.
We try to do something a little different. You can hear the album any time you want but we try to do something a little different for each song so it has its own moment you wouldn’t get anywhere else so hopefully you are invested in that song even more the next time you hear it.
Talking about the album, it’s almost a year to the day since it was released?
Close, the 19thso 2 more days
The last year, off the back of your album, seemed to go really well for you?
Yea, it’s been an incredible year dude, we’ve had hits on the album, we’ve been played on late night TV shows, early TV shows, Good Morning America and all this. We’ve had these incredible tours.
I remember thinking “I just wanna have music out. I wanna be able to tell somebody this is what I do, this is my album, rather than, its coming soon” you know, which is an important time in someone’s career, but to actually have music out, to say this is me, this is what I created, If you wanna know who I am or what I do then here, try this.
I try to remember that. Obviously we all get desensitised to certain successes that come, but I just try to stay true to remembering that I’m just lucky to have music that people can listen to, you know?
I can’t believe it’s been a year, it’s just a whirlwind, it’s crazy.
Has it flown?
Yea, absolutely, it’s been a little both. Thinking about everything that’s happened since the album came out it seems quick, but also it feels like it’s been a journey as well, it’s a cool milestone.
One thing I seen on the album is that you have a writing credit on every song, was it important to you that it was going to be your music that you were bringing?
Yea, I think it was important but I don’t think it was something that was a necessity. I didn’t say “I need to write every song” it kinda just shook up that way. I’m completely open to hearing other people’s songs that I can , if they can say it better than I could myself. It just shook out that I happened to be a co-writer on every song.
I think when you start from your truth, that’s where its most impactful. When I can be a part of the decision making, I like this or don’t like this, or this is the line, or this is really what happened so this is what we need to say. It’s also powerful though, to just be a vessel for somebody else’s story. There’s songs like “Warpaint” that isn’t about me. It’s about me being a narrator for a woman that got cheated on. I try to mix it up a little bit. I’m a songwriter at heart, I mean 51% songwriter, 49% artist.
So you see yourself more a songwriter that sings than a singer who writes their songs?
I see myself as a songwriter that sings for sure. I think there are some people that are born to sing and then I think there are people who are born to work really hard at it, and hopefully make it sound like they were born to sing, and that’s definitely me. Shay Mooney? Shay was born to sing. That dude can sing in his sleep, it’s just ridiculous. I try really hard to know what my voice is, and stay within the boundaries of what I know I can do well, but what I know I can do really well is write words, and say things in a different way, and that’s what I lean on.
Last year you supported some huge established names over in the US, artists like Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. I read that you played a huge arena in your home town, that must have been amazing?
Yea, this summer and last summer we got the chance to open up for them. Last summer we started in my home town in Sacramento and this summer we ended in my home town. It was this really cool full circle moment to send everyone off in my home town.
I remember talking to Tim before the last show, just thanking him and I gave him my end of tour gift. He was like “Hey, you can sing an extra song tonight if you want?” and I was like “ Don’t fuck with me Tim, I’m gonna jam out for like 10 minutes if you let me do that” and he was like “go ahead” So I think we went 13 minutes over our set list but it didn’t matter, it was the last show of their world tour, it was my home town and there was a special energy in the room that night.
That’s almost like it was meant to be.
Yea, they didn’t do it around me but it just worked perfectly, that’s what it felt like.
How do you go from playing a huge venue to playing a really intimate place like this that’s about a 700 capacity?
That show we played we were full band. It’s just a different approach when you have a full band as opposed to when you have an acoustic. I think every show in some sense though has the same inception, like the same inspiration. I mean whether you’re playing to 700 people or 70,000 you should still put on the same level of entertainment but what is going to entertain the two different audiences is different. Here I may have the chance to tell a couple more stories and break it down a little bit. In an arena, it’s weird, at first, I thought I had to yell and had to play louder but really, when you force people to lean into you, it almost makes that more intimate. It’s more nerve wracking to play to 700 people that you can see every one of their eyes whereas in an arena, it seems like this open pit of black space. You hear this crazy cheering after each song hopefully, but its more nerve wracking to play smaller venues. There’s no hiding, I guess.
You’re also mid-way through your own headlining tour that you’ve had to extend as it was so popular, so that’s going well?
Yea, it is. It’s cool to experience playing a headlining show, being a headliner. We’ve opened up for so many people in the last couple of years and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, as you learn so much through that process, but it is cool to come back to those cities that we’ve been to, and sell these places out when people are coming to see us now.
It’s cool when it’s our show as we get to stretch out and we can play the whole album. We get to play for 90 minutes instead of 30, and even though its more work being the headliner, its way more rewarding. It’s cool to get the chance to play this album in its entirety and sing songs for people that they hadn’t got to hear live before.
I read in your younger days you were in a heavy metal band with your brother. How do you go from heavy metal band to Country Music frontman?
I understand why people think its this crazy jump from one spectrum to the other because they don’t see everything that happened in between and they didn’t feel it like I did.
First of all its important to know that I grew up on country music, that’s what my mom played. Played meaning she played the records, my mom can’t play or sing anything to save her life but she is the biggest music lover ever. She raised me on a lot of 90’s country, and a lot of rock, and a lot of soul, and a lot of R&B and all that comes through on my music you know? Towards the end of my career as a metal musician I just wasn’t fulfilled by the music as much anymore. I didn’t wanna sing about dragons and politics anymore.
I wanted to sing more about what I was struggling with in my life, whether it was love or family or heartbreak, whatever. So I started writing these songs just for myself, just as therapy. I didn’t know I was gonna share them with the world. I just kind of wrote them for my own selfish needs and eventually I was like “I think, if these can help me, I think they’ll help somebody else. Hopefully, maybe”
So I moved to Nashville to really zone in on my craft of song writing as Nashville is the home of song writing. I just felt that what I did naturally as a writer, and an artist, fit well into the Country Music genre and I think I’ve been accepted, or at least got a foot in the door, at this stage.
What about US Country Radio, have they accepted you?
I think Country Radio is, what’s the word, it’s very romantic. It’s very old school and that’s how it works and that’s totally fine. There have been songs of mine that have worked very well and there have been songs that haven’t and I’m sure that will be true through my entire career.
I think on one hand I will never be anything other than myself, I’m never gonna sing a song I don’t wanna sing but it’s also my job to give people something they can work with so as I said, there are certain songs that will succeed and certain songs that won’t succeed as much.
I’m very thankful for Country Radio and what they’ve done for me as far as breaking me as an artist. My first single went all the way up to number 2 “all on me” and you don’t get there without support from the entire Country. It’s like ”We like this guy, we believe in him, we like what he does and as a new artist we’re gonna play this” and that means the world to me and I have to credit them with a lot of that first initial success. We’re just trying to figure out what the next thing to say is for the next album and all that stuff too now.
So wrapping up, what does the future hold for Devin Dawson?
A lot of song writing man. I try to write every single day. This next year I will go back into the studio at some point with new music. It’s coming up on the year anniversary of my album but a lot of these songs were written over 4 years ago through the process of discovering myself as an artist and just developing. It takes a long time as a first cycle. As I grow in life, I will grow through my songs and hopefully my fans grow with me and wanna hear what I have to say for a long time.
Devin, I’m sure they will. Thank you very much for your time.
Devin’s debut album ‘Dark Horse’ is out now!