Devin Dawson Talks 'Writing My Truth' on Personal Track 'Dark Horse,' Premieres Acoustic Video
Devin Dawson has exploded onto the country scene with his cleverly catchy love song “All On Me,” which has more than 43 million Spotify streams and is swiftly approaching the top 10 of the Country Airplay chart, currently sitting at No. 13 (chart dated Jan. 20). Stats like that may make it seem like Dawson has been around a while, but though this has been his dream for years, “All On Me” is actually the 28-year-old singer’s debut single and started making waves before he even released his first album. For that, one might call him a dark horse – and oddly enough, that’s the title of his record.
That fitting title wasn’t something that came to Dawson when thinking about what his first album should be called, but rather from a track the California native wrote with two of his buddies. What’s more, it came after he thought the album was finished.
“I didn’t know what it felt like to be done with an album, but it definitely felt like there was some sort of void -- like there was a thread that was going through the whole thing, but it felt like there was a little bit more to say,” Dawson tells Billboard. “I remember writing it and having that bracketed feeling like, ‘Okay this feels like an album now, this is what I was missing.’”
The song has since become quite the fortuitous piece of Dawson’s discography as his breakout single continues to soar, with Dark Horse the album now available to the world. Ahead of the album’s Jan. 19 release, Billboard chatted with Dawson about what “Dark Horse” means to him, both as a song and a phrase. Check out an edited transcript of what he said, as well as a special acoustic performance of “Dark Horse,” below.
"During the process of writing for this record, I had kind of tried to write that 'this is who I am' song. Like all new artists, I feel like it’s really important to have that, just to kind of give people in three minutes what they need to know about you. Like an elevator pitch kind of thing.
I wrote a couple of them, but they didn’t feel right. They just felt like I was trying too hard to be like 'this is where I grew up and this is where I was born and this is how I vote.' It just seemed contrived to me, like I was trying to write that song. I had to let it kind of happen without trying.
I was writing with two of my best friends, Andrew Albert and Andrew Deroberts. There was no pressure to write that song anymore because I had already kind of given up on writing it. I’d already said 'Maybe that’s not right for me, maybe that’s not right for this record.' We sat down, and somebody had the title 'Black Horse,' because I’m obsessed with the color black, and I was just like, 'I don’t know if that’s right. Why don’t we just go for ‘Dark Horse’? I don’t care that it’s a George Harrison song, I don’t care that it’s a Katy Perry song. We’re gonna do it in our own way.''
Honestly, we were just talking. That’s all we did. We literally just started talking about me, and the lines kind of fell together. I wouldn’t have been able to write that song by myself or with somebody else that I didn’t know, because there were lines that would come — like not smiling in pictures. They knew that about me, but I’m not gonna necessarily write that about myself. So when they said those lines, I was just kind of like, 'Oh, you’re right. I do that. That’s me.'
When you’re writing a bio about yourself, there’s things you don’t put in there because you’re either, you don’t wanna be that vulnerable, or you know it’s just like that mirror thing -- you see what you wanna see. And so that was the thing that I think took it to that next, honest level, was just writing it with people I could bounce off. Just go really, really deep with it and get really, really vulnerable, regardless of how it felt when I sang it. That’s our job as artists, to be extremely ourselves and tell people who we are.
Every song has started from my truth, but a lot of times, I’m guilty of writing a song from my truth and I might try to put a different perspective in to serve the song to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and have it impact more people. That’s the one song on the record that is completely 100% true, every word, to how I live.
The first line of the second verse, for me, always hits really hard. 'I don't go to church, can't quote a bible verse/ I couldn't sing a song but that don't mean that I don't talk to Jesus.'
For me, I didn’t grow up going to church or reading the Bible. I don’t know a thing about it. But I’m a very spiritual person. And I think the common misconception with spirituality or religion is like, there’s no middle class -- you either are or you aren’t. And that’s just not how the world works. So hopefully I can just let other people know that there is a middle class, if you will. Like, you don’t have to be going to church every Sunday — even though I do sometimes, because I need a little perspective of not just thinking about music for an hour. That was one of the lines that we just kind of kicked around and it fell out, and I was like, 'Holy shit. That is so real, and it’s so true, and I know I’m not the only one.'
It was weird. [The song] started out as this kind of selfish thing, like I said I just needed to tell people who I am. And then it turned into this hugely relatable [thing]. Before we even released it, we were singing it live, and people would just start quoting lyrics on Twitter — to me that’s a kind of tip sheet to like, 'Okay, this is going to have some sort of impact.'
That’s the thing about it, it has this overarching relatability. You’d be surprised at how many times the dudes are like, 'That’s my song, man. I wasn’t trying to go there, but you got me.' I think I hope that every song I write is relatable on a bigger level -- but that wasn’t really my purpose for writing the song. It was really just going with the gut of what felt right. That’s my whole life, man — going with my gut.
I played it at the Opry recently, at the Ryman, and I did it solo electric for the late show -- there’s something about that room, that song, that guitar, that setting. I feel like, in a weird way, that song was kind of made for that stage. When you have people that are listening to every word and they’re attentive in that setting in the Ryman, it was like, that’s what this song is meant for.
We close our set out with it every night. I love it as a takeaway for people, like that’s the last thing they hear from me and the last thing that sticks in their head. I can’t wait for the day when I get to open up with it — that’s something I’m looking forward to, is hopefully, maybe on a headlining tour one day, coming out with that. I’m dreamin’.
I would totally call myself [the dark horse of country music]. It’s weird to say it out of my mouth [Laughs]. A dark horse is somebody who rises through the ranks unexpectedly who little is known about. If that doesn’t describe my life right now, I literally don’t know what does. It just matches my aesthetic, my vibe, my energy — and it’s crazy. What’s funny is that I’ve always been a huge Eric Church fan, and I’ve always loved how people call him The Chief. And without even realizing it, people start calling me The Dark Horse now. I fucking love it."