Devin Dawson has certainly hit the country scene big. In the last year he has debuted at the Orpy, one of his songs was part of the movie ‘The Shack’ soundtrack and he opened for Nashville royalty Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. In between all that he recorded his debut album. GIGsoup caught up with him on his recent trip to London.
Welcome to London. How are you doing?
I’ve been doing album promo as my record came out in January. I got to pIay my hometown of Sacramento, which was awesome. We did the Today show. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I was excited to keep it going over here, see some friends that I met last time I was here and make some new friends. One of my favourite things about coming over here is that the audiences are so attentive and as a song writer I really appreciate that. I can lean back and focus on the performance. I should have slept more on the plane, but it’s nothing some tequila and adrenaline can’t fix.
Tell us three things we should really know about you.
Firstly, I was born in California, right near Fulsom Prison, which was made famous by Johnny Cash. I grew up there, but never really thought twice about it. It was always there. It took moving away to realise how much of an influence it had. His artistry, not necessarily sonically, but his attitude and ability to be himself. There will nobody else like him, I hope people say that about me one day. I also wear all black, which is partly from him.
Secondly, I used to be in a metal band which is also a reason I love to wear black. As a teenager I started to play music with my best friends. We kept following that path, and it led us to this heavy metal thing. We got signed, put out a couple of records and toured for four or five years. I guess I grew out of it. I’d been writing my own songs, country songs on the side, in my room, since I was twelve years old. I picked up a guitar and never dreamed or that would be my career or main focus, I was just doing it to express myself.
Eventually those songs took over more of my heart and I decided to pursue those songs for a time. I moved to Nashville and went to college (Belmont). People see me transitioning from metal to country, but it was more about reverting back to what I started with. It was more of a renaissance for me. Nashville it’s self is just incredible, and I wouldn’t be the same person if I hadn’t have gone to Belmont. My entire band went to Belmont, we’ve been playing together for about seven years now. They are on my record, we play live together
And third, I am completely obsessed with song writing and words or lyrics. I am haunted by words. I love melodies, grooves and chords, but words are the most important to me. To say something and say it from a different perspective and just try to find a way to be honest. Sometimes we try to be more clever than honest, I just really want to try to be honest in the songs that I write and the stories that I tell. I try to start with my truth, and even if I stray away from that, just try to put myself in other people’s shoes. Words are my passion for sure.
Tell us about your first musical memories
The first time I touched a guitar I was about 12. My next door neighbour had a garage sale, there was a red Stratocaster at the back of the garage and I was just drawn to it. I had just watched ‘Back to the future’ and started playing it! I have a twin brother and he started playing it. All of our friends at the same time decided to start a band and we learned how to play together. Ironically, neither of us played guitar. I played the bass, he played the drums. So my earliest memories are going home after school, going into the garage and just trying to figure out how to play, how to write. We all learned together, as a group. I am really thankful for those times when there was no agenda, lessons or boundaries. It definitely shaped who I am today as a musician.
What were you hoping to achieve when you began writing for your album ‘Dark Horse’?
I am 51% songwriter, 49% artist. I always side with serving the song, which I think informs my artistry. I wrote / co-wrote every song on this record. It just shook out that way. I wrote so much. I wanted to tell my story. I was hoping to just be genuine and find a sound or identity as a new artist, that felt like me. Wasn’t trying to anything other than go with my gut. Sometimes that means pushing boundaries or being daring or making decisions that don’t make sense, but, they make sense to you. I was allowing myself to be me.
Which song came most easily?
They all had a certain ‘ease factor’ that’s how you know sometimes, when a song kinda just comes out. I would say each song was written in less than 3 hours, probably. That’s how we co-write in Nashville. We get together at 11 and by 4 pm we’re drinking! There already a recording done of the track and everything. Sometime’s I’m guilty, of thinking if I wrestle with a song it’s not good, but not every song is served in less than two hours. The ones that came out quickly felt right on this record.
So, on the flip side, which was the hardest to write?
I think Dark Horse, probably was the hardest to write. Not necessarily because of the time it took, but because of the vulnerability involved in that song. We started and said alright, today, I’m going to write this autobiograph. When you start telling people about you’re spirituality, your struggles with love and your vices and that you’re ok with being an outsider, that’s not easy to say. But I feel that’s how you know that it’s right. At first I just wanted to tell people who I am, then it became this relatable song for people to say ‘that’s me’. I am just really lucky to have that song and that definition of where I was at and where I’m at this point in my life, for this record.
So tell us how you got to tour with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
They did something really interesting where they choose a lot of new artists to come out with them. I really appreciate that. As a new artist there are always a handful of outlets who believe in new artists and want to break new people. There are also artists that hear songs along the way and they say I want to take that person out on the road. I wanna be the one that helps. That’s what they did, not only for me, but for a bunch of people, like Maren Morris. I think they just heard a song. My manager was nonchalant, and was like ‘Hey, wanna go out on the summer tour with Tim and Faith?’!! One of the most amazing things about that was that I got to play my home town and having my family and friends there. Getting to play those rooms that early in my career was a big learning thing for me. It was a really great experience.
Tell us about the Taylor Swift mash-up you did with Louisa Wendorff
Louisa and I were at Belmont together. We felt there was something special there. We literally did it because we because we had fun and share something were proud of it. Somehow Taylor saw it and tweeted it and all that, it was kind of this perfect storm and catalyst for sure.
2017 was an amazing year for you. What are you hoping for in 2018?
It’s a special year already. My album is out. That’s something I didn’t have last year. It’s nice to have an album out and I am excited for people to know the music and find their own favourite songs and come to the shows. I am excited to experience things I have never experienced before.
Quick Fire Questions
Tattoos or piercings – Tattoos. I will never get a piercing.
Cake or coffee – Coffee
Tom Petty or Tom Hanks – Tom Petty. I’m a huge fan – the guy wrote hits.