“So what we’re doing is we’re gonna go back to the place where I wrote the song, with the songwriters I wrote it with, and kind of just talk about the day and remember the day”
explains Devin Dawson in the first episode of his “Song of the Key of F” series. “And we’re starting out with ‘All on Me.’”
Recorded primarily in Nashville, “Songs in the Key of F” takes the Artist on the Rise alum and his fans back to the locations where he wrote each of the songs off “Dark Horse,” his debut LP. He and his co-writers spend the first half of each episode chatting candidly about the creative process. Then they pull out their guitars and perform, just as they did the day they wrote it.
“There's not a lot of places where I get to talk and show who I am without all the glitter and glamour,” explains the 28-year-old singer, who currently boasts over 17 million views on YouTube and recently saw his debut single hit #65 on the Billboard Hot 100. “That's the best way to let people know who I am: through talking about my passion for songwriting and how these songs came about and the real life situations that inspired them. As a fan, I would want to see that.”
Born near the walls of Folsom Prison, Dawson fittingly grew up listening to Johnny Cash along with ‘90s country icons like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Clint Black. But It was with a slightly different genre and sound that the singer got his start — before Nashville, Dawson, his brother, and his best friends spent years touring as the metal group Shadow of Colossus. When Dawson sat down by himself between gigs, however, he found that the songs he wrote resembled not the hard rock groups he met on the road but those country stars he loved since he was a kid. “For everyone else, it seems like a weird juxtaposition, but for me it was a natural progression,” he explains. “I was just giving into what my heart wanted.”
Encouraged by his father, he enrolled in the songwriting program at Nashville's Belmont University. It was a good move: In his freshman dorm, Dawson met Louisa Woodruff, another aspiring writer. They began collaborating and uploading their musical experiments to YouTube, including a mashup cover of the Taylor Swift songs "Style" and "Blank Space."
"We jammed one night and thought it was special," Dawson says. "We did a quick video and quick recording, and we put it out just to share something that we were proud of." The heartfelt performance soon caught the attention of Taylor Swift, who posted it with a one-word caption: "Obsessed." The video went viral, racking up over 35 million views to date.
"That gave me the confidence to step out and try to do something on my own," Dawson recalls.
With the new attitude, he began writing the songs that make up “Dark Horse” — the ones he documents in “Songs in the Key of F.” Though Dawson intended to break into country by writing songs for other artists, he found his new lyrics were too personal to part with. That’s when he made the decision to embark on a solo career and began to think about making a record.
“It was really about trying to choose songs that were right for what I wanted to say and what I wanted to sound like,” Dawson says. “'All on Me' happened to be the first one that really stuck out.”
Warner Bros. Nashville agreed, and in late 2016, the label signed Dawson and sent him to the studio. He released “All on Me” in April and uploaded a music video in July. It has since accumulated millions of views across YouTube and been certified gold.
“Now we play [‘All on Me’] out on the road and thousands of people sing it back to us every night,” reflects Dawson in “Song of the Key of F.” “And that’s the dream — that’s what you think of as a kid. That’s the beauty of the journey of a song: It just has a life of its own.”
The success makes the behind the scenes uploads even more special, giving fans an intimate look at a rising star’s journey in real time. “Before YouTube, you had a radio song and a ‘Good Morning America’ interview, and that's really it. It was hard to discover new artists and then learn about them,” the singer explains. “These videos are a way for fans to really get to know me."