In many ways, Canadian singer-songwriter Marshall Dane is today's answer to Alan Jackson, who is often cited as one of his direct influences. Dane's new single "Alcohol Abuse," which was shipped to U.S. radio this week (Monday, February 10), samples Jackson's early work and could easily mark a shift in his remarkable career. He's achieved blockbuster success so far in his home country, earning two nominations at the 2013 Country Music Association of Ontario Awards (Male Artist, Album Of The Year for his previous set Running Stop Signs).
His dream of performing with Jackson came true back in 2010, an experience he doesn't take too lightly. "I had the chance to open up for him back in 2010," the tells NashvilleGab exclusively. "I wanted to make sure — just in the slim chance that Alan Jackson says ‘hey Marshall, why don’t you join me onstage?’ — to be versed in his something he might propose, if it came to that."
He continues, "So, as an exercise, I went through not only all his classic stuff, but a lot of the ones I didn’t know about. I went and collected album after album, and I must have gone a whole month not listening to anything other than him. I loved every minute of it, because he’s got a great way of telling a story and make us fall into his songs."
Dane is quick to point out his favorite Jackson song, "I have a few of them, but I do love 'Dallas.'"
Growing up, his preacher father made sure to instill in him honorable values and beliefs. So, it's not too surprising that when asked how he would describe his music in one word, Dane says "encouraging."
He goes on to explain, "It’s not always uplifting in the sense of I could talk about some pretty emotional and serious things from my life, but I’m not a destitute kind of guy. I don’t believe in giving up and no hope. I believe in stopping doing something if it’s not working, but I always believed there’s an answer and there’s a way to get through the good times and the bad."
"I’d say, especially on this new album, it’s definitely meant to be an encouraging record. Everybody has troubles; everybody hits a bump in the road. The course is: we’re gonna work it out. Address the issues but then say ‘OK, we wallow a bit for a second. Now, let’s find the solution.’"
While his country career is doing well, he reveals he considered pursuing the Christian music format. "I’ve never really thought about putting myself within a genre," he asserts. "As time goes on, though, you kind of get slipped into something. I’ve always kept my fundamental beliefs and core values in the stirring pot of what I love to write about."
"I frequently make references [in my songs]," Dane admits. "There’s been plenty of times where I’ve written a song and thought ‘wow, this is completely a Christian tune.’ But then the rest of the album maybe doesn’t make as much mention. So, I never really think of putting into that category. Said that, when I fill out my CD Baby or my iTunes’ genres, I often check off Christian, because people would relate to a lot of the lyrics I write."
"I don’t mind mentioning the Lord," he concludes.
It wasn't until after high school that Dane really knew that music was a viable option for a career. "I was out of high school for just a short time when I picked up a good job working for a big company," he recalls. "I had an office, and I wore a suit and tie. Then, my hair started growing a little longer and then I wasn’t really feeling the whole suit and tie thing, being there by 8:30 in the morning and leaving at 5 to take a train home."
"I was only in that job for about three months when I had to call my mother and say ‘mom, I just gave my letter of resignation. I’m going out on the road with a band,'" he chuckles.
"Alcohol Abuse," which was written by Kim Williams and Billy Yates, was a song that rose out of the ashes of a publishing company, years after originally being composed. "As it goes with songwriters, some songs sit in publishing company catalogs waiting for artists to record them. This was one that had resurfaced," he notes. "It was written a while ago. The actual publishing company was trying to re-push it for somebody to put out."
"When they heard me cover 'Love and Alcohol' on my previous album, they sent me this song right away," he says. "My usual rule of thumb is if I’m not going to write the song, then it’s gotta be a song that just blows me away. This song was exactly that. It was fast. It painted a fun picture. I’ve been in the clubs before when you’re playing music and a fight breaks out. You got one foot on the ground and one up against the speaker to make sure it doesn’t topple over. Of course, someone spills a drink and another yells ‘alcohol abuse.’"
"It just made all the sense in the world to me. I was like ‘wow, you guys stepped into a night of my life and you told my story. In which case, I’d like to be the one to tell it to everybody else.’"
With the new single, focusing on the U.S. market is a first for the singer-songwriter. An official radio tour is soon to follow, and Dane concedes that it isn't all fun and games. "The 6 a.m. start time on a morning show," he laughs of the hardest part about radio tours. "Usually to fill most of your day up, you get a co-host spot for the morning drive. Then you have another that starts at 9 a.m somewhere else, and then you usually have one at 12. Then you have one at 2 and then you have something for the 5 o’clock drive home. Then you find a town you can stay in, grab something to eat and a hotel and do the same thing the next day."
When it comes to songwriting, he's pretty much always doing it. "I’m kind of always writing," he smiles. "When I get a chance, I actually schedule in writing sessions. I’ve written a bunch with the guy I’m writing with today. It’s nice to just get back together. They say you have your whole lifetime to write your first record, and you get a little window of opportunity within the three years to do your next one."
Of course, each session can reap different results; there is never a set conclusion. "The writing sessions are always a little different," he says. "There are two things I try to keep in mind when it comes to that. A good friend of mine had instilled this advice to me, 1) it’s all about a good hang and that way, no matter what happens after the few hours you are together, as long as you walk away with a really good vibe, then you’ll want to do it again; and 2) this is specific to co-writing sessions: keep your standards high and your expectations low. In other words, walk in with the standard of writing the best song you can possibly write and don’t worry if you don’t write one that day."
"When I walk into sessions, I always have this idea of having little lists of song titles or phrases that inspire a certain emotion. We’ll go through those lists…or we’ll come up with something new. We might listen to our favorite song that recently struck us on the radio and think ‘oh, that kind of inspires this feeling.’ Fortunately, there’s lots of different ways for us to skin the cat."
In every business, there are times when things don't click. "[Sometimes] you don’t click as well as you do with other people, which is why certain songwriters tend to lean on working with a particular partner. I know a couple of guys from up here that specifically write with certain guys in Nashville."
"That seems to be a good ticket for them and it works out well every time," he says. "But I also know a couple writers myself down there are willing to write with many different levels of artists, brand new people starting off or seasoned veteran writers. They do that because it’s all about paying it forward and giving back into the songwriting community."
"Usually, when it comes to the idea if it’s clicking or not, it’s more of a matter of I think it’s a different experience level. You can have an artist that has a great performance ability and talent to record, but maybe there strength is just not in songwriting. You do have to lean in a little bit more to tap into your strengths as a songwriter."
"There’s been times you walk away after three hours and you have nothing," he adds.
Photo Credit: David Wile; Courtesy of MTS Management