Devin Dawson is not your typical country artist.
The Warner Music Nashville / Atlantic Records artist has an approach to country music that's not different on purpose, its different with purpose. An edgy study in contrast whose songs speak the language of a new generation fans with no use for genre labels -- Dawson is establishing a reputation in Nashville as one of the most exciting modern singer-songwriters around.
With a knack for razor sharp stories that cut straight to the heart, full of detail and clever turns of phrase, he's poised as the next bolt of lightning to hit countrys family tree.
But make no mistake; his path to landing in Nashville in 2012 is nothing short of atypical.
I dont like falling in the center, he admits, dressed head to toe in black with a faded Def Leppard t-shirt and a leather jacket.
Twenty-eight years old and from Orangevale, California, Dawson grew up just outside the gates of Folsom Prison. He heard the sirens at night, and sang along to Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Just out of high school he played bass in a touring death metal band.
But in the midst of a breakup, he discovered the need to express himself through songwriting that metal didnt fully facilitate. Translating his hardcore roots into stories that stirred his soul, Dawson traded furious guitars and pounding drums for intense emotion and clever wordplay.
Im such a lyric guy, he explains, and with the element of storytelling, thats what really drives country music. I needed that. Its a completely different feeling being vulnerable onstage singing a song about your heart instead of head banging with your friends.
For his forthcoming debut Dark Horse, Dawson teamed with an equally daring producer in Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town). With a co-write credit on every track, the result is a delightfully dangerous mix of organic roots and high-voltage power pop, full of romance and delivered with a distinctive sawtoothed vocal.
I like to describe it as a new Nashville sound, he says. Theres country in the way I let you in. Theres soul in my melodies and voice. And theres a lot of rock in the energy Im not afraid to get heavy. I was like '[Jay], lets do whatever we want. Lets make it dark, let's make it sexy. Lets say things that people arent saying right now.
His first single All On Me, which he co-wrote with fraternal twin brother Jacob Durrett and guitarist Austin Smith, provides a sunny groove for dark times. Secondhand Hurt turns the tables on a broken heart, while I Dont Care Who Sees portrays the complete opposite: a couple so in love they cant be bothered by onlookers witnessing a little PDA. The sounds are all over the map from hip hop and rock to modern country and for this tireless songwriter, its only a clue of whats to come.
Since the release of All On Me in February of this year, Dawson has already made his television debut on Late Night with Seth Meyers, toured with Maren Morris, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, landed his first handful of Grand Ole Opry performances, and received critical praise from a multitude of outlets including ELLE, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, The Tennessean, HITS Magazine and more.
This is it, Dawson says. I aint turning back.