Country

How Devin Dawson's 'All On Me' (And Taylor Swift) Helped the Rising Country Star Hit the Hot 100

Devin Dawson
John Shearer/Getty Images for AIMP Nashville

Devin Dawson performs onstage during the 2017 AIMP Nashville Awards on May 8, 2017 in Nashville.

If you listen to country radio at all, chances are you've heard Devin Dawson's voice at least once or twice. The 28-year-old Californian has been blowing up the airwaves with his memorably melodic breakout hit "All On Me," which just hit the top 10 of the Country Airplay chart (dated Feb. 3).

While the song has helped Dawson start off his 2018 on a high -- along with the release of his debut LP, Dark Horse, on Jan. 19 -- it's a track he's had ready to release since writing it in November 2015. "I knew it was going to be the first single," Dawson tells Billboard. "But I had hoped that it would be able to see the light of day and that we would find enough believers to help push it to where it’s gotten so far."

It seems the cutely clever love song has more than just "enough believers," as the tune has more than 46 million Spotify streams alone and just hit a new high on the Hot Country Songs chart at No. 13 (dated Feb. 3). But "All On Me" is also proving to be a hit outside of the country realm as well, as the song is sitting at No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100, which Dawson admits is "pretty f---ing awesome."

On the eve of the release of Dark Horse, Dawson chatted with Billboard about watching "All On Me" grow into the smash it's become and what the success has meant for him and his career -- and how Taylor Swift helped kick-start it all.

Did you think "All On Me" would be the song to launch your career?

Honestly, yes, in a weird way. It had a lyric, it had a melody, it had a good groove, it was catchy, it said something meaningful. It felt commercial but it still felt like it had substance, and it was fun to play. It just had all these checkboxes that I needed in my picky, OCD, internal self. And then the label was psyched about it, and the radio liked it, too, and that never happens -- you don’t get all three of those. I hoped it would be the song that would break me through.

Do you remember the first time you heard it on the radio?

I was in Boston on a radio tour. One of my radio reps was driving, it came on, and she literally almost crashed into the car in front of us because we were all freaking out so much. The other funny thing is that I tried to take a video, like you would the first time. I was so excited that I accidentally hit the button twice, so I thought I was filming the whole time and it actually stopped the video. I’m always big about keeping some shit to yourself, and not everything has to be on a video or a picture. But I will never forget that. I’ve kept that one for myself.

What’s been the most surreal thing that’s happened since the song took off?

One of the things that’s even more incredible than hearing it on the radio is hearing people sing it back to you at a concert. Sometimes, we can’t even sing it -- I just let the crowd do it. That’s the dream. We just do drums on the last chorus instead of hitting it back hard like in the recording because people sing it so loud that we had to change what we were doing so it could be a moment.

Is there a line in this song that stands out as the one people are connecting to the most?

For me, it was just one of those "We’re gonna be songwriters here" songs. The whole chorus is this really clever poem, and I just really love the line "When it don’t add up, you can count on me." It’s just such a simple but clever turn of phrase that we like to do in country music a lot. It’s got a little cool hook melody to it.

One other line that I like comes at the end of the bridge where it talks about you can bet your life on me, like you can put it all on me. It’s kinda this underlying thing, you know, when you’re going to play roulette and you’re like "put it all on black" or whatever. It’s got this kinda underlying gambling thing.

How does it feel to know you landed your first single on the all-genre chart?

I think for me it means that I’m not crazy. [Laughs] The things that I hear are real. Sometimes you’re like "Is this good?" You write so much and you’re three years into writing before putting a record out and sometimes you’re like, "I don’t even know what’s good anymore." For me, I wanted to write songs that the classic country listener would be like, "I’m more of a traditionalist, but I love this song, I love this lyric."

I know we still have a little ways to go, obviously, and we’re not done working on this song and where we want it to be, but it’s cool to see. The fact that it’s done this much already for being my first-ever single is already more than I could ever wish. It just means that we’re doing something right and that what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish for our future dreams and goals is being foreshadowed as well, and it’s just a really good feeling.

Long before you released "All On Me," you gained some popularity by covering Taylor Swift in 2014. How did that come together?

I met this girl my freshman year at Belmont University named Louisa Wentworth, and she had this YouTube following. Freshman year, everyone’s just collaborating with each other, that’s just kinda how Belmont is. We had been playing as friends and creative friends for a long time, and she was like, "Hey, I wanna do a mashup. Will you help me arrange it?" And that’s one of my passions, arrangement, songwriting and all that -- but the funny thing is, I always talk about that I am not a cover guy. I write way too many songs, I’m not good at remembering other people’s lyrics.

We did it in 20 minutes. We listened back and thought it was pretty cool, that there’s something there. One of our good friends Blythe who had been our video person said "Let’s do a video for it!" And my brother’s a producer, so he was like "I wanna do a track for it." So it was just a bunch of friends coming together to have fun.

Somehow, Taylor saw it, tweeted it, Facebooked it and Google-Plussed it, all those apps. She just stuck her neck out and was like, "Hey, I like this," and it caught on. It was the most incredible, indescribable moment in our lives. You talk about "What is it like to go viral?" And it’s literally the same exact thing on the other side -- you’re like, "I have no f---ing idea." I don’t know how that happens or why it happens, what it means or what it does. It was just this really cool moment.

I would refresh my email every morning, and there would be like 150 -- whether it was labels or publishers or managers or TV or radio. Anything from people asking for the chords to label heads being like, "Hey, we wanna sign you. Can you come in for a meeting?" It was insane -- still to this day I’ve never experienced anything crazy like that.

So would you kind of credit Taylor Swift with helping your career get off the ground?

F--- yeah! Of course I would, are you kidding me? I feel like we all need a little help every once in a while, whether it’s just spreading awareness and just letting people know "Hey, I like this." I’ve been working my ass off and playing music since I was 12 years old, so it’s not like you can just get given something and then do nothing, you know? I obviously built off of it, and it’s been cool to have people discover me from my own music and then realize when they see my profile like, "Oh shit, I’ve seen you before!"

I had been writing songs for other people in Nashville for a long time, and I took a break. I was in a band, like I said, touring after high school, and when I started Belmont I was like 22, 23. I had been missing being onstage and missing having my own voice, figuratively and literally, and that kinda gave me that boost of confidence that maybe I was doing something right. It kinda kicked me into the eye, I guess, of business in Nashville. It gave me this opportunity and this moment to be like, "What do I want? What do I want to do?" I’ve just been building on that. I had a decent snowball going before that, had some songs cut and some publishing deals, but that was definitely what turned it into a snowman for sure.

I would definitely credit her for giving me a head start and kicking me into the eye and giving me a chance to prove myself. And I still haven’t met her to this day, but I hope to say hey and give her a hug one day -- or write a song with her, do a duet or something.

Fans would definitely love that! As for the rest of Dark Horse the album, was there anything about the reaction to "All On Me" that you used or kept in mind while you were making the other songs?

It was definitely somewhat of a flagship song that helped me define my sound and my sonic identity. When you’re going through writing and artist development, there’s certain songs that come along where you’re like "Ooh, that’s me." That's what "All On Me" was. With that being said, there’s not another song that sounds like it on the record, so it’s not like I tried to go that way.

More importantly, I just kept my head down, kept writing, kept discovering who I was, kept living -- because you gotta live to write. You’ve gotta experience life to write, I think people forget about that. That’s my excuse for getting fucked up every night. I’m kidding, I don’t do that every night. [Laughs]

But at this point, you have every right to do that -- and celebrate your success!

Tonight, I probably will. I’m gonna drink all the tequila.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of Billboard.