Devin Dawson’s ‘Dark Horse’ Brings Together Johnny Cash, R&B and … Death Metal?
Devin Dawson's extremely peppy when he calls The Boot to discuss his debut album, Dark Horse. Sure, he's excited to talk about his music and his plans -- but he'd also just downed a whole bunch of coffee as fuel for a long day of interviews, and is on a caffeine high.
"I don't crash," he tells The Boot confidently, and with a laugh. We won't be around to verify, but we believe him.
Confident, but not afraid to joke around. A little frenetic, but focused and poised. A caffeinated Dawson is a good summary of his music. The 12 songs on Dark Horse range from melodic and roots-y to rocking and experimental -- a varied mix, but polished, cohesive and unsurprising when you consider Dawson's upbringing, influences and producer.
A native of Orangevale, Calif., Dawson grew up just a few miles from Folsom Prison, the site of one of Johnny Cash's most famous performances. As a child, he was listening to the Man in Black, Creedence Clearwater Revival and "whatever [else] my mom was playing." He started writing songs and playing music as a tween and discovered that his material had a light R&B feel ...
And then came the death metal -- a band named Shadow of the Colossus, to be exact. Dawson and his bandmates put out albums, toured and worked to become as technically proficient on their instruments as they could.
"It's like classical music," Dawson reflects: Death metal artists play "as loud and as fast as [they] can," so they need to be spot-on with what they're doing.
But while playing metal music afforded Dawson the opportunity to grow as a guitarist, he always found that his songwriting leaned more toward his childhood influences, and he grew to truly love that aspect of his music: "I would always do that on my own, on the side, just selfishly in my room," he recalls, "and those songs took over more of my heart."
So, he enrolled at Nashville's Belmont University to hone his songwriting skills; he likens the switch less to a gradual transition and more to a "full-on renaissance." "War Paint" and "Prison," two of the tracks on the back half of Dark Horse, are prime examples of how it all comes together: The former is pulsing and anthemic, with a driving chorus, while the latter has hints of soul in its verses and rock-influenced drums and guitars in its chorus. Without producer Jay Joyce, Dawson admits, those songs might not have come alive the way they did; the studio vet pushed the singer-songwriter to let all of himself shine through.
In addition to Joyce, Dawson found reassurance while crafting Dark Horse -- specifically its lead single, "All on Me" -- in his fraternal twin brother, Jacob Durrett. Dawson co-wrote the song with his longtime bandmate Austin Smith, but Durrett helped his brother perfect the song's melody. Feeling comfortable is a big part of being able to successfully create music, Dawson muses, and in addition to having a bond as siblings and as former Shadow of the Colossus bandmates, Dawson and Durrett have "that twin thing" going on, too.
Dark Horse, released on Friday (Jan. 19), is available on Amazon and iTunes. Dawson will hit the road in April to serve as the opening act on Brett Eldredge's The Long Way Tour; a list of all of his upcoming shows is available on his website.
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