Towards the end of Default’s tenure in the early 2000s as alternative rock heavyweights, lead vocalist Dallas Smith realized he was in the wrong line of work.
It wasn’t a blinding flash or eureka moment that saw him run screaming from the concert stage.
But at some point between the Vancouver band’s No. 2 US rock hit, “To waste my time,” and his declining chart fortunes a decade later, he decided to jump ship and reinvent himself as a country musician.
“I was 22 when this record blew up,” notes the likeable 44-year-old from the Nickelback-produced single and album, “The Fallout.”
“By 24, 25, 26 we had come down from that peak for sure. You could tell the momentum of that first record was going to be hard to replicate.
By the time their fourth and final album was released in 2009, the band had been on the road for a decade and the illusion of rock stardom was waning.
“I got to see the best and the worst in people, in my own band and my own teams and myself,” notes Smith, who has toured with Nickelback and others.
“It’s easy to get caught up in that when you’re with the band that has the #1 rock song and you’re the #2 rock song, and all that stuff.”
“We had a business manager who blindly robbed us. The record company went bankrupt. We went through it pretty hard and I thought, ‘This is my last fight!’ ”
It was the dawn of the streaming era. Physical albums were poised to fetch pennies on the dollar. Smith – in his 30s, preparing to embrace married life and fatherhood – was eager for an exit ramp.
“We were going through the Calgary airport and we saw these guys 10, 15, 20 years older than us with guitars doing the same thing,” recalls the soft-spoken musician.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to keep pushing things forward, discovering new music and growing as a singer and continuing to put out new records, instead of revisiting the things we had accomplished. .
“I didn’t want to be that guy who drags a guitar around at 55 or 65 and plays songs to people my age. That’s not why I got into it. It’s not inspiring to me.
So he traded a solo career as a dissatisfied postgrunge has-been for a dynamic turn as a heart-pulling, toe-tapping, stadium-filling country star.
Not just any country star, mind you – an unlikely hit star, with 12 historic No. 1 singles, 23 consecutive Top 10s, 500 million streams, enough Junos and Canadian Country Music Awards to fill an ocean liner and repeated quotes as the most-performed artist on Canadian country radio.
“From the outside, looking inside looked like a big switch,” concedes the plain-language provider of Canadian hits like “Wastin’ Gas,” “Side Effects,” “Sleepin’ Around,” “Timeless,” ” Like a Man” and “Hide from a broken heart.”
“But anyone who knew what I was listening to back then, and warming up in the back of the bus before playing rock gigs, knew it was more in line with what I’m doing now.”
Country music had been a constant presence in his household growing up, struggling for attention with his parents’ classic rock and Seattle grunge. It just took him time to assert himself.
“I just fell in love with the new stuff that comes out on rock radio,” he says of his late conversion.
“It was becoming classic ’90s rock radio. None of it stuck. I like things that are challenging – a big, powerful traditional voice, a difference in tone that no one else can match, or just a massive range. The new country stuff that had guitar just filled that in, man. I met him in the middle. Perfect timing.
He’s laughing. “I just had to make the record that I really wanted to make, and damn it if anybody liked it or not. That (Jumped Right In in 2012) was my last fight and I was hoping the radio would support me. And they did, and that’s it.
However, crossing musical genres was a risk. If it had been a calculated marketing stunt to boost his career, it might have failed.
“It’s not like I walked into an office at Interscope Records and had to convince someone,” he says. “He was a friend of mine who believed in me from 604 Records (the label founded by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback).
“I didn’t have to market it. We just sent it on the radio. My story spoke for itself. It happened organically.
So here he is, a decade later, the mild-mannered Clark Kent of Canadian country, releasing his alternative rock alter ego alter ego for Default songs that many fans have no idea has anything to do with .
“It’s kind of funny to see people still, to this day, putting things together and not realizing it,” he notes of the dramatic genre reversal. “They say, ‘I kinda recognize that voice. Oh yeah, that makes sense!
“I’ll be playing ‘Wasting My Time’ and a lot of the audience wasn’t even alive at the time, but that song is very well known. It’s cool to be able to release that one no matter where I am and hear 4,500 voices sing it back to me.
It’s the best of both worlds. And unlike the short-lived world of TikTok, with its obsessive focus on transient music memes, country fans are loyal until the end.
“I come from a time when records were records and music was music without the bells and whistles,” Smith says, put off by the prospect of social media marketing.
“I didn’t sign up to get in there.
“I’m not trying to sell a record via a joke that I make, you know what I mean? I’m pretty introverted. I was just in the mindset of letting the music speak for itself.
Humble, laid back, family oriented, Smith is happy living in Canada, raising his young daughters, making the music he wants to make without pressure.
“I will not move,” he insists. “They’ve tried to get me to Nashville several times over the past decade, but I stay in the Lower Mainland of BC. I have my own perspective of living in Canada. I make records for what I know my fan base would like.
It’s a more laid-back attitude, imbued with the same authenticity that impressed him when he opened for Bob Seger a decade ago and found himself sitting across from the classic rock legend in the catering tent. .
“He just sat next to me, the most humble guy you could imagine,” he recalled. “You couldn’t tell if he was driving a truck or the headlining artist.
“We just sat there and talked about Vancouver and the issues with his voice, what he was doing to help that. It was a really good lesson to see how a guy treats everyone around him and gets on and does his business. We didn’t talk about music, just normal stuff.
The takeaway for his own career?
“I just try to be as real as possible,” Smith says.
“I make sure the depth of my songs goes way beyond the big bro-country strokes. It’s just appealing to meatheads. This stupefies the public.
“Country fans know what they want: organic, truthful, musical, and artistry in songwriting, even if it’s dressed up with more guitars.
Dallas Smith with the James Barker Band, Shawn Austin, JoJo Mason, Kelly Prescott and Manny Blu
Kitchener Memorial Auditorium
400 East Ave.
June 24, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $50 to $85