Devin Dawson and 10 Questions with TotalNtertainment. As the sole writer, Dawson immediately set to work penning the lyrics on his tour bus following a late- night conversation with country music icon Tim McGraw while on the road together. ‘I Got A Truck’ is the first new music from the breakout star since the release of his critically celebrated debut album, Dark Horse, and follows the success of the GRAMMY-nominated, multi-week No. 1 single ‘God’s Country’ that he co-wrote for superstar Blake Shelton. We spent some time chatting with Devin about life on the road, super powers and more.
1. Thanks for your time Devin, how is life for you at the moment?
Life is very balanced, I would say, for the first time in a long time. Obviously I’m not playing shows right now and so that’s always been such a huge part of my life as an artist, travelling and playing shows, and so having that off the plate definitely opens up for a lot more opportunities like spending time with my wife and our dogs, fixing up the house that we bought and just spending more time at home working on myself, writing songs by myself. I do a lot of co-writing everyday and usually we try to finish a song within 3 or 4 hours, but sometimes I like to write songs by myself and kinda just pick at them over a couple of weeks without the constraint of time.
I mean, I feel healthier than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t necessarily been going to the gym over quarantine but I just mean mentally and vocally and it’s really hard to find balance I think and I just feel in a really good spot mentally and creatively and just in my life. So I’ve definitely welcomed the more extra free time that I get without having shows. I do miss being on the road with my boys, playing shows for my fans and getting to travel to see my family, I haven’t done that in a while, but overall I’m in a great spot with quarantine and the pandemic and everything going on, it’s really allowed me to zoom in on some other things that I haven’t had a chance to spend much time on, so I’m grateful for that.
2. As a songwriter who writes every day, is there a particular subject that you most enjoy writing about?
Yeah, I definitely lean towards the more vulnerable, emotional, heartbreak side of things; the deeper side of things. Even if it’s a love song, I don’t want to just say “I love you, I’ll be with you forever”, I want to say “like the truck I’ll always drive, like the place I’ll always be from, like the rain on the blacktop and the way that smells” – I’m just riffing right now, but things that will always be, it’s like I want to put more deeper thought into such a simple title, I love to reinvent the wheel and say things that people have never heard before but that everyone can relate to.
Sometimes my friends make fun of me because I always try to spin something with heartbreak or spin something with the person dying in the bridge or something like that, but I’ve just always gravitated towards more heavier, deeper, thinking emotional things and do it in a way that no one has ever done before. I know it’s hard to reinvent the wheel everyday, but I try to at least, try to see things from a different perspective and so yeah, I gravitate towards heartfelt things.
I love that, that’s the perfect way to describe it, it’s an anthem for dream chasers. I think when I was a child, I think one of my biggest dreams was either to be a baseball pitcher or be a chef. I did a lot of cooking with my grandmother growing up and she taught me a lot about that and all the sciences and little things that go into that, and there’s something really similar about cooking and writing songs you know, you’re creating something to hopefully make people feel happy or feel something you know?
You’re creating something from all these parts that individually might not be anything but once you transform them, they become something special. And so I think I’ve always been gravitating towards creating something. I also played baseball as a kid until I found a guitar, and so, maybe you know I wanted to be a pitcher until I realised being a skinny kid that topped out at 5’10” probably didn’t have a chance to throw a hundred mile an hour fastball. But I always say, I played baseball until I picked up a guitar when I was like 11, and all my dreams changed at that point.
I always wanted to write songs, I never did covers, I never do – I mean there’s a couple that I do and make them my own but I’ve always written my own songs since the day I picked up a guitar and so I would say, just being creative and putting my own stamp on the world in a certain way was always something that I chased as a kid.
Well, there’s a couple facets to that question. I’m an artist, I’m a songwriter, I’m a husband, I’m a brother, I’m a son, and all of those things plug into this question differently. As an artist, I would love to reach more people, I want to reach everybody in the world. I’m very competitive, I want to win everywhere, not just in America, not just in radio or not just in streaming, not just in videos and there’s a lot of things. I want to help people feel a little bit less alone, feel like something they’ve gone through is something that I’m going through or that other people have gone through.
I want people to say “man, did you write that song about me? I could’ve sworn you wrote that exactly for me”. In the beginning I thought like hey, sometimes when you write very specific songs you think that maybe it’s going to be hard for other people to relate to something super specific to you but I think the opposite is true, when you write a line super specific or a song super specific like ‘Dark Horse’, when those specific lines relate to someone else’s life, it makes them think “wow, that’s so relatable, I didn’t know anybody else felt that way”, and so as a songwriter and as an artist I want to just relate to more people, I want to reach every single corner of this world and have somebody listen and feel something from what I’m trying to say and saying it right. As a songwriter, I want to challenge myself to be more honest than clever.
Sometimes turn of phrase or hooks in country music is really popular but there’s something about just the honesty of saying something simple that hits harder, so I’ve been trying to steer towards that recently. As a husband, I want to be supportive, I want to be a better listener, I want to provide for my family – I don’t have any kids now, but I have a couple dog children and I want to be the best dad I can for them. As a son, my mom lives in California and she’s about to turn 65 and when she gets her Social Security, she wants to move out here to Tennessee to be with my twin brother and I and I’d love to get her a house and move her out here and have her be a little bit closer to us so she can spend more time with us. My dad and my grandfather still live in my hometown on the same piece of land I grew up on and I’d like to spend more time out there but being able to move my family here and support them the way they supported me, that’s definitely a big dream of mine.
Yeah, I’ve driven a truck since I was in high school. Right before I moved to Nashville, I got this old ’99 all black, single cab short bed, 5.3 V8 Chevy Silverado, that I cliché literally packed up everything I had and drove cross country to Nashville to go to college and write songs and chase this country music dream and I still have it – it’s literally right in front of me right now in my driveway, I’m sitting right next to it, and “I Got A Truck” is really about that truck. Since then, I’ve had a little bit more financial success and I’ve kind of driven that truck into the ground and so I just got the newer, bigger, badass-er version of that truck, I got a GMC Sierra – little bit bigger, little bit taller, little bit meaner.
But right now man I’ve been on a huge Jason Isbell kick. I’ve always loved John Mayer, but there’s something similar about those two guys, they do everything by themselves – Jason writes all the songs by himself, sings them all and produces them all and stuff. I mean, obviously he has a producer but he is so involved in every aspect of his artistry. He does a lot by himself and that’s really hard. I’m really obsessed with the things that he says and the way he says them and just the perspective he has on music and so right now I’m bumping a lot of Jason Isbell in the truck
‘I Got A Truck’ was the first release that’s going to be coming from this upcoming EP. I have two more songs coming out before the end of the year, the next song is called ‘Range Rover’, it’s one of my favourites. The song after that is a song about my dad and my grandpa and just kind of the man I hope to be when I’m their age, it’s called ‘He Loved Her’. And then after that, I have a 6 song EP coming out at the top of 2021, it’s going to be called ‘The Pink Slip’ EP. And then after that, just continuing to write and finishing up the album or maybe just putting another EP out, you know, two of them kind of equal an album, but lots of music coming up, lots of content, lots of videos, always writing more songs and hopefully we’ll get a chance to figure out how to play these songs on the road, because I miss getting able to be in the same airspace as somebody, and impose my will and make them feel something you know?
Honestly, it’s hard to write as much as I do when I’m home. I try to write on the road but there’s so much on the road that is taxing, you know when you wake up, you tend to not go to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning – when you’re on stage ’til midnight it’s hard to just go right to bed after that so it’s hard to wake up early and get going – harder on the road. And then after the show, I’m trying to save my voice for the next night and so I don’t write as much on the road but I definitely try to get as much ideas as I can from everyday life. I call it spidey sense – it’s like sometimes you’ll hear something that inspires you, it’s like “wow that sounds like a song” or like “that sounds like a line in a song” or something and so I tend to build up a lot of my ideas from just living life, and being on the road is an important part of living life.
‘I Got A Truck’ is a song I wrote on the road, in the bus, so it does happen when inspiration comes but it’s hard to carve up that time to spend 3 hours just without any distractions on the road when we have to see a lot of people and do meet and greets and go hang with our radio friends and soundcheck and do all that, and there’s just a lot that goes into being on the road and so I don’t write as much as I’d like to but it’s almost like therapy, it’s something I need to do and so I try to block out time when I can and capitalise on the inspiration that comes and not push it down.
Kind of goes back to what I said earlier. I used to drink a lot on the road in that first year. It is all party, we’re having fun every night and our job is to bring the party, but I’ve tried to keep my partying to after I get off stage. I used to take a couple tequila shots and have some tequila drinks before I went on stage but I noticed that my resilience as a vocalist when I’m drunk isn’t always the best, sometimes it is, but it just becomes a little less consistent i guess, so I really try and find the discipline to wait and drink until after I get off stage, and you know that first drink I pour is going to be a double or a triple just to take the edge off.
It’s almost like an after show reward and I used to think if I wasn’t buzzed, I wouldn’t have that same energy on stage but I realised that knowing I’m at my best vocally and I’m literally giving 100% of myself to my audience gets me more hyped than any drink ever can. So yeah, we try to party, but I try to save it until after the show is done, if that makes sense. But we try to get out and see the places that we go to. It’s really hard when you’re in a bus ’cause when you’re in a van you get to see everything that you’re travelling in, ’cause you’re the one driving but when you’re in a bus, it’s a luxury to get to be able to get that sleep overnight and get to rest with the bus driver just going to the next place but you just wake up in the next town and you don’t get to see how you got there ’cause you’ve been sleeping the whole night but we try to get out and see sights and eat some food and do some local stuff and just really experience the places that we go but sometimes it’s hard to really say “I’ve been to London” or “I’ve been to Japan” or “I’ve been to all these places” – you know, you’ve been there, but have you really experienced it?
It’s hard to say that when you have so much to do on the road so we really try to carve out time to see something every place that we go. We also have a rule: if we drive by an ocean, we gotta stop and see the ocean and get out, even if it’s just for 15 minutes, it’s kinda a little rule we’ve put in place. But yeah, we like to party, but I want to make sure I save the best of myself for the people the next night too, I don’t want the people on Sunday to get a bad show just because I’ve been going hard since Thursday.
Oh my gosh, I always loved Green Lantern’s superpower, because he had this ring that literally kinda allowed him to do whatever he wanted. He could be any superhero that he wanted – he could see through walls, he could read people’s minds, he could put a shield up, he could fly, he could do all these things. Everyone else only had one thing but Green Lantern could do anything. But if I had to choose one, I don’t know man, I want to say “see the future” but I don’t want to know what’s coming up, I just want to experience it. There’s something about reading people’s minds.
I tend to think I’m a good judge of character and I can read people’s body language and all that stuff, but I don’t know why that’s the first thing I went to, it would be kind of cool to read people’s minds and mess with them a little bit that way. At least I could write a song that hit them right in the centre of their heart if I knew what was going on in their head, you know? I can’t even read my own mind sometimes!