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Devin Dawson on his unusual pre-show ritual and how he spent his latest birthday

3 February 2021 | 2:40 pm | Mallory Arbour

Devin Dawson is a country singer-songwriter, and we speak to him about his latest EP The Pink Slip, how he spent his birthday and his usual pre-show ritual

Devin Dawson is a country singer-songwriter from California. He became known after filming a mashup of Taylor Swift songs with his friend, Louisa Wendorff on her YouTube channel, which later went viral. He released his six-track EP, The Pink Slip on January 15. The EP marked the first new solo release since the success of his Grammy-nominated, ACM and CMA Single of the Year, God’s Country that he co-wrote for Blake Shelton.

Devin previously released his debut album Dark Horse in 2018, which arrived Top 3 on Billboard’s Country Albums Chart and features the platinum-certified hit, All Of Me. He recently topped the charts as a featured artist alongside Lauren Alaina on HARDY’s #1 single, One Beer.

You turned 32 on January 30 – so belated Happy Birthday! How did you celebrate?  

Honestly, I'm not a huge birthday party guy. I hate surprises and people singing happy birthday to me [laughs]. But it was a chill birthday. I told my wife I wanted a couple friends over. I think in the quarantine age, especially in America right now, it's rare to be able to spend time with your friends.

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So, we had a few friends over, made some margaritas and just hung out and caught up, which was really nice. I went golfing the next day with some friends. And, I haven't gotten it yet, but my wife, parents and some of my friends all chipped in to get me a new three wood.

We didn't do a cake ... I was wondering if my wife was gonna do something or not. But she knows I don't like sweets. I hate chocolate. I like more key lime pie, tarts, things like that. So, I drank my cake, we'll just put it that way [laughs].

You released your latest EP, The Pink Slip on January 15. Why did you decide to call it that and how does it tie in to the overall themes of the EP as well?

When I started recording the songs, I didn't necessarily know it was going to be an EP or album. We got through these first [songs] and then quarantine happened, and I wasn't able to finish the record in the way I wanted to, because of us not being able to get together and just a bunch of other factors. So, it was important to me to prioritise putting music out. It's been almost three years since I've put out an album, and that's a long time, especially for as much as I write.

But I was listening to these six songs – I call it squinting my ears, where I just listen in the background and let things play and see what sticks out. When I was listening to I Got A Truck, I was hooked in by the word ‘pink slip’ because it is so different and so loud, and I just started toying with the idea of the EP being called The Pink Slip.

It was also an ignorant thing, because where I grew up in California, pink slip is the title to your car or truck. It's like your certificate of ownership. And I'm sure there's some other different definitions for what a pink slip is – it could be you get fired or some other things – that's never how I knew it. So, it was something that had layers to it that, at the very least, would cause people to wonder, "What the hell is that?" and they could Google it, or it would cause some attention.

But also, it represented owning something. And so, for me, it was my way of symbolically taking ownership over these songs. And a lot of them had a vehicle theme, which was random, but I wanted to lean into that. It all just tied together and made sense.

You started your music career early in a death-core metal band called Shadow of the Colossus. Given your background, did you naturally fall into the country genre based on your songwriting?

Yeah, it wasn’t one moment or anything. I grew up listening to country music and R&B, soul, rock, funk and whenever my mom played, so I subconsciously learned how to write songs by just listening to them. So, I think it has to do with growing up listening to that kind of music.

After the metal band happened and I grew out of it – I wasn't as fulfilled creatively by the same things and it wasn't making me as happy anymore – I was writing songs on the side by myself, just to have a creative outlet, whether to deal with hardships, heartbreak or whatever. It was like my therapy. I started recording and writing these songs, and they just came out like country songs.

Have you ever tried adapting your country songs into a metal genre and vice versa?

[laughs] I still have that heaviness and energetic thing – especially in my live show. I like to have a lot of energy, emotion, and dynamics. And there's been some songs on my album that are super heavy.

There was a song on my last album called Prison that was pretty much heavy rock. I also wrote a song called God's Country with a couple of my friends and that has a way of tying together the country lyric and the feeling of that lyric with a heavy music bed. And so, I do it when I can, when it makes sense. I'll never escape that part of me and I don't want to.

You mentioned the song you co-wrote for Blake Shelton, which was Grammy, CMA and ACM nominated and went number one. The single appeared as the title track on his 2019 compilation album, Fully Loaded: God's Country. Given its success, is there pressure to equal or top God’s Country?

I think maybe if it was a song I recorded, I think the song after that would have had some pressure to top it. I wrote it with HARDY as well, who's an artist, and it was originally more geared toward him, than it was for me. So, if Blake didn't do it, it was going to be something that HARDY did.

I think what it did is, it opened my mind as far as the things that I can get away with in my own creative box. I would sing my own version of it in our set – I did it my way – and it opened my eyes to, no matter what I sing, I’m singing a Devin Dawson song. So, if anything, it was good for my creative process.

When you write a song, do you get a feeling like it has potential to be a hit – or does that realisation come more from what happens in the studio and development of a song?

I definitely think you know that it has the potential to be a hit. Like, it sounds like a hit, but it's not a hit until it's a hit. Like, until it becomes a number one, or worldwide or country-wide known. It can sound like a hit all day, but if it doesn't have the right team, push, and access behind it, then it's not going to become a hit. But I know if something is special, and it's something that I would love to hear if I didn't write it, to me that's something that sounds like a hit, regardless of if it goes on to be that or not.

Have you ever written a song and wished you’d recorded it yourself, or have you held a song back thinking this is a song that I want to record and not give to someone else?

I think I'm lucky because my artistry is, I'd like to think, unique in the genre and I'm always constantly trying to push the boundaries. So, when something is for me, it usually tends to be kind of crazy, unique, one of a kind and different, and a lot of times that's not necessarily what other people want to record. There’s a boundary. I want to do something new and different, but usually the songs that get cut for other people are something that didn’t necessarily have enough of a uniqueness for me, but I still loved the song.

There’s definitely been songs that I held back or, when I turn in a song to my team or publishers, I usually say, “this is something I want to hold for myself, so please don’t pitch this, or, this is something that I love but don’t necessarily know if it’s for me, so I would love for you to find another home for it.”

But again, there’s been times where I don’t think a song was for me and then it marinated for two weeks and I was like, “Wait a second, like maybe that is for me. Maybe I’m just thinking too much about it.” Every case in between happens, you know, all of it.

Finally, do you have any pre-show rituals?

Yeah, we do this thing called the monkey moment – otherwise known as the gorilla group, primate powwow, or the lemur luau – it has to be a monkey name and an alliteration. It's the dumbest thing that we've done as a band.

It's like, this inside joke. When I was going through meetings of signing labels and meeting managers, I was somewhat nervous, and sometimes, I'd go in the bathroom, look at myself in the mirror, and I'd make myself as big as I could, like a monkey would do in the wild when they're threatened or nervous. I would look at myself, and I'd be like, “You got this, dude.”

So, we all circle around, put our arms up and talk about what we’re thankful for, talk about the night and just get fired up. It definitely gets us into the headset of something that’s familiar, even though the place we’re in is different than the place we were the day before.

Keep up to date with everything Devin Dawson and follow him on Facebook here.

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