(Photos: Vanessa Heins)
EXPECT IT: Early June via Vagrant
City And Colour finished recording their third album, Little Hell, on February 7. This was less than three weeks after they entered Catherine North Studios in Hamilton, Ontario, where they also recorded 2008’s Bring Me Your Love. “Today was supposed to be our last day, but yesterday around 10 o’clock at night we just looked at each other and were like, ‘I don’t think we have to come in tomorrow,’” C&C frontman Dallas Green says the very next morning from his house. “Which was a very good feeling, because about two weeks ago, I would never have thought we were going to be done on time.”
Little Hell was produced (and is currently being mixed) by Alex Newport, who’s worked with At The Drive-In, Polysics and the Locust. Green admits that using Newport isn’t “the most obvious choice, if you look at it on paper” for the stripped-down band. “Maybe it would have been obvious for [my other band] Alexisonfire to do a record with Alex, just because of his history producing more punk and rock and stuff like that.” However, Newport has long been a fan of both of Green’s bands—and when he received demos for Little Hell, he was enthusiastic about what he heard.
“He wrote me back this very detailed e-mail about his thoughts and comments on every song that I had sent him,” Green says. “And he was in Norway at the time! Just from that e-mail, I knew that he was on the same page as me. It seemed like we were on the same page with what we both wanted out of the songs. He really helped me get what I was hearing in my head out onto tape, and he helped me give the best performance that I could.”
Green isn’t quite sure how to explain what is in his head these days musically—and he’s still not quite sure how to explain Little Hell, even though it’s nearly done. “A few months ago I said in an interview, ‘I don’t want to make people dance, I want to make people cry,’” he says. “But I think I have to take that back, because there are a few very danceable songs on this record. Basically, Alex and I both love the blues and old soul and R&B. I’m not going to tell you that this record is one of those records, but I definitely reference stuff like that.
“One of my favorite singers of all time is Sade, so there [are] harmonies that I did on this record that remind me of Sade harmonies,” he continues. “And I’m not trying to be like, ‘Oh, I’m putting out a Sade record.’ There’s just things like that [which] influence me, that I listen to—that I’ve listened to my whole life—that I’ve never really been able to express in the songs I write. I feel like I was able to get that out this time.”
Green can’t pinpoint any specific reason why Little Hell allowed him to explore different avenues. But he is excited about this songwriting expansion. “Over the last few years, since the last record, I just slowly compiled a list of these new songs,” he explains. “And as we recorded them, I realized that there was something different about them. I realized I had changed a little bit—or opened up my songwriting into being able to go into a new direction.
“There are songs on this record that will—like I said, they’ll shock certain people that it’s City And Colour, quote unquote,” he continues. “Then once they get past that, they’ll realize that they’re really great songs.”
One of the Little Hell’s more danceable songs has lyrics taken from a song Green wrote when he was just 17. (“It’s weird,” he says. “The lyrics are very simple and basic, but put to this song, they just totally made sense.”) There are also love songs and tunes about Green’s family. “There’s a song I wrote about my sister, and there’s a song I wrote about my parents—the way I see how I’ve taken after both of them, in different ways,” he explains.
Perhaps most interesting—or unexpected—is a number he wrote about his wife’s night terrors. “I actually wrote this—for lack of a better word, it’s kind of a sexy song,” Green says, laughing. “Every time we play it back, we’re all dancing listening to it. It’s got a sexy vibe to it, but lyrically, maybe you wouldn’t realize [it] just because the song is about my wife having these crazy night terrors.”
Little Hell’s title track is one of Green’s favorites, but the titlehas a significant, deeper meaning. “I kind of feel like life is all about the little hells that you have to get through in order to get what you want, or get to a happy place,” he says. “It’s all about the work you have to put in, and going through the sour to enjoy the sweet. I felt like it just made sense—especially with the way I write songs and the torments I put myself through when writing.”
For all his blood, sweat and tears, however, Green is “really happy” with how Hell turned out. “There are going to be people that hate it, but that’s always the way it is,” Green says. “I’ve made enough records that I realize that you definitely cannot please everybody. Which is fine by me, because I’m not trying to. I know there [are] people who just want me to make another record that’s just me and a guitar and that’s it, and nothing else. But that’s not what I want to do.” alt