“You've got my number, you can call on me/ if you're in trouble, put the fall on me/ when you're mad, you can take it out on me/ when it don't add up, you can count on me." - All On Me - Devin Dawson-Jacob Durett-Austin Smith

Californian singer-songwriter Devin Dawson had good reason to exploit prison imagery and metaphors in three of the 12 songs he wrote on his debut disc Dark Horse.

He grew up in Orangevale near the gates of the infamous Folsom Prison and could hear nocturnal sirens roar throughout his childhood.

So it's no surprise that he filmed his first video clip All On Me in the historic but now heritage listed de-commissioned Tennessee State Prison.

The prison was also the locale of the 1999 Green Mile movie and Eric Church videos Homeboy and Lightning and the Old Crow Medicine Show clip Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer.

“It was a cool place to do it - in Nashville - the place where you live,” Dawson , 30, told Nu Country TV.

“When you are on tour and writing and have only one day to do it. It's somewhere we don't have to fly. The cool thing is a lot of those shots that we did were in places that had never been filmed before. It was important for me and the director because we knew movies and other videos had been shot there. We wanted to show a different side and make our own mark on it. When you see me and the girl going through all the brush at the back, pushing through trees, that's parts of the prison that have never been shot before. I thought like I was in Jurassic park or something - an overgrown place but it was cool.”

So what impact did the late Johnny Cash, who recorded and filmed his Folsom Prison live album, have on Dawson ?

“Thanks for mentioning Orangevale, people mostly mention Sacramento . I was influenced by Johnny Cash, more so as an artist and as a man than my sonic identity,” Dawson explained.

“My music doesn't sound like it's influenced by him but my decision-making is - the way I hold myself and the way I want to present my aesthetic. He had this really cool way of being so vulnerable but not losing any dignity in the process - it's probably a good barometer for what I try to do.”


“People always ask why I wear black / where I get my style/ and why I never smile in pictures/ no, it ain't that I'm self-conscious/ I'm just conscious of myself / no, I ain't no white knight/ I'm a little more dark-horse." - Dark Horse - Devin Dawson-Andy Albert-Andrew DeRoberts.

The Cash creativity also sparked Dawson 's filming of latest video for his album title track with a gaol backdrop.

“We didn't film Dark Horse in a prison but actually in an old paint warehouse in Nashville ,” Dawson revealed.

“I'm so proud of that video - everything came together, the extra magic we had never experienced before. It was so easy - this place had this old street elevator. They would take all their gallons of paint up and down to the warehouse. We used that as the elevator to the police station in the clip. The director and producer did such a good job of creating this place that looked like it was out of the fifties without even trying.”

Devin also filmed live videos for Dark Horse with and without the band he formed at Belmont University in Nashville.

“There are versions with full band and versions with just me and guitar,” added.

“Every time I play a show I try to do something different - I want to give that audience something unique that they can take away and not do the same thing every night. I have to stay inspired - you can't say the same fucking thing every night. I go with what happens that night and what the audience wants.”


“I stole some hearts but dodged the bars out on the run/ committed crimes but not the time I should've done, oh no, no/ I'd feel the cops, that was enough to start laying low/ until the day I felt these chains not letting go/ call me a convict, I've been convicted/ serving the verdict, a life sentence.” - Prison - Devin Dawson-Seth Ennis-Josh Kerr.

The third song in the singer's behind bars trilogy is ruptured romance requiem - Prison.

“It's a love song,” Dawson explained.

“I like dark love songs. I like to write songs from a different perspective from what you have heard in them - an ability to relate to them.”

Devin escaped his prison prism after meeting fellow Belmont College student Leah Sykes in Nashville .

“I met Leah in Belmont , we actually got engaged about a week and half ago,” he confessed.

“When I wrote Dark Horse I was in a completely different place, emotionally, financially, health wise. I've grown so much since then. Love songs are easy to write as that's what happening. I'll always be a dark horse - I'll always hang onto that darker, more emotional side. I owe that to the people who have latched onto me - you speak to that side and never forget where you came from.”

Another Belmont College student Louisa Wendorff helped inspire his big break with a video collage of Taylor Swift tracks Style and Blank Space.

“It was a Taylor Swift mash-up,” Dawson explained.

“Louisa asked me to sing on it and my brother Jacob recorded it. It all happened spontaneously. Taylor saw it, then Facebooked and Instagrammed it. That was affirmation for me.”

With supreme irony Dawson played the 2019 CMC Rocks Queensland Festival in Ipswich exactly a decade after she debuted at the CMC Rocks Snowy Festival in Thredbo.

“I saw her on the poster backstage in Ipswich,” Dawson revealed.


"If I was the one who broke your heart/ why am I so torn apart/ if I was the one who lit our love and let it burn/ why am I breathing in this second-hand hurt?" - Second Hand Hurt - Devin Dawson-Will Bowen.

But long before Swift became a Dawson devotee the family musical mecca had roots in death metal rock band Shadow of the Colossus with Devin and his twin brother Jacob - the band's drummer.

Jacob produced Devin's debut single Blind Man before prolific producer Jay Joyce took the reins.

Joyce's clients include Dawson 's tour mates Brandy Clark and Lindsay Ell, Eric Church, Brothers Osborne and Little Big Town .

“He's a crazy scientist producer,” Devin said of Joyce after his sequencing Dip as the entrée song that finished as a bluegrass belter.

“We recorded the song in two different ways. He cut it all together. It's the first song on the album. He sets the tone like I don't know what to expect. I think I like it.”

And that death metal embryo?

“We all have different ways to get there,” Devin explained.

“I grew up on country and soul but we experimented with death metal. I don't do any covers in my set - I do all originals. Maybe it's because I'm not good at covers - maybe it's because I can barely remember my own lyrics, let alone others. Last night in Canberra someone put us on the spot and said why don't you do a song by somebody who inspired you. I did half of a Black Sabbath song and half of a Bonnie Raitt song. That's the best way to describe how I grew up. Going from death metal to country was more of a renaissance for me.”

So is his writing with Jacob who chose his professional name Durett.

“Jacob is also a producer and writer. He wrote All On Me on my album and a few others. We have written a lot more together for the next album. He plays drums for a new artist named Hardy who has eight songs on the new Florida Georgia Line album - he wrote a lot of Morgan Wallen songs. Jacob has a voice in his own right - writing songs for other artists is a little validation. Every songwriter is an artist in their own way. It's just the way you portray yourself and show people who you are - the little affirmations along the way help you take that step out and become your own artist.”


“Black mascara, Moulin Rouge/ blood red lipstick, high heeled shoes/ it's her turn to do him wrong/ that ain't makeup she got on/ it's war paint, war paint/ she's gonna see that two can play that game, that game/ that ain't makeup she's got on/ it's war paint, yeah.” - War Paint - Devin Dawson-Clint Lagerberg-Chris DuBois.

Devin already has a deep song pool to swim in and choose from for his second album.

They include a song he wrote on November 10 on the Soul 2 Soul tour with singing actor Tim McGraw and Faith Hill who return here for their third visit in September.

“I wrote I Got A Truck at a stop on the Tim McGraw tour,” Dawson recalled.

It was a song I wrote by myself and was kind of inspired by Tim. One of the first nights I was on tour with them I got to talk with Tim. He was telling me the story of how he got started in Nashville - how he had a hard time like the rest of us breaking through that initial wall. A guy named Brian Williams, who is a banker in Nashville , was the guy who gave Tim his first push - his first shot. It inspired me to write the song.”

But it will be one of many vying for inclusion on the disc?

“Since I've been out of the studio I have probably written at least 400 songs,” he confided.

“I'm not kidding. I write every single day. It's hard, I feel like I should have released five albums by now. In country music we write so much and put out an album every two years. I'm writing so many and whittling it down allows us to have the best content. I'm trying to find ways where I can release more music. I write so many - it's hard for me to see these songs sit on a shelf. I hope to be in the studio by the middle of the year.”

And the importance of videos when writing?

“It helps to have a video in mind when writing songs,” Dawson explained.

“All our favourite lines in songs are visuals - things that make you see where it is. It helps you write something people can immediately see.”

So what visual ignition has Dawson experienced down under?

“I have written this song here called Message in A Bottle,” Dawson confided .

I know I've heard it a million times with the Sting song. But the way I was hearing it was this guy. She leaves him and he keeps drinking, searching for an answer.”


“I don't need a prescription, you don't talk to the doctor/ cause a shot in the arm or a shock to the heart couldn't stop her, no/ she's dangerous, she's contagious/ I'm coming down with a case of her love/ I don't need saving, a DNR/ I've been craving more and more since/ I started losing sleep, couldn't catch a wink/ high fever in the sheets, knees getting weak/ my heart was skipping beats, she was running deep/ like a toxin that's all in my system.” - Symptoms - Devin Dawson-Austin Smith

Dawson is not light on for altruism.

He embarks on a California Smoke six date tour in April and May with proceeds going to fire fighters and California Fire Foundation.

That comes after being honoured at the Belmont College 10-year celebration of his graduation as a song-writing major.

Warner Music created a $25,000 scholarship in Dawson 's name with the college matching with another $25,000.

The pending scholarship announcement was such a well-kept secret that Devin's dad David did not know in advance.

“My dad wasn't there. I didn't even know it was going to happen - it was just the alumni and people from Nashville - celebrating 10 years of the song-writing department, naming a $50,000 scholarship in my name.

“I told my dad. He definitely cried. He's a softie. He's an academic too - he's the reason I started going to college in the first place. He majored in history and went to USF in San Francisco . He became an attorney after that and owns his own law firm. Never once in my life did he say I want you to take over the family business - he let me figure out what was right for me.”

Dawson , like many country predecessors, owes much of his exposure to variety TV shows.

“We've had a lot of support from Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon,” Dawson said of a milieu dating back to David Letterman.

“I've done Ellen and a couple of morning shows too. TV is hard for me. I'm so much of a perfectionist. I'm a vibe guy. It's hard for me to just jump out. The more I do it the more used to it I get. I don't get nervous. I'm grateful for those opportunities. I grew up watching those people .”

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