Devin Dawson has seen a lot of life changes since his critically-acclaimed 2018 debut album, Dark Horse. For one, he’s now happily married to the love of his life, Leah Sykes. The change in life direction, marital bliss and a general air of optimism is evidently displayed on his brand new EP, The Pink Slip.
The six-track project, helmed by hit producer Jay Joyce, boasts an overall vibrant and effervescent sound, perfect with pop-leaning production and storytelling that’s authentically country.
“The Pink Slip is just kinda indicative of the last three years,” Dawson told Sounds Like Nashville in a recent interview. “It is a little bit brighter, it is a little bit hopeful, it is very inspirational in saying like, “Hey, I got one foot in the clouds. I’m not saying I got it all figured out, but for all of you guys that’s been here since Dark Horse, you can do it too.”
That tangible encouragement is most evident on the EP’s lead single, “I Got A Truck.” The life anthem, penned by Dawson himself, was inspired by a conversation he had with Tim McGraw whilst opening up for him and Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul tour in 2018. Both men saw themselves in each other, which sparked a light bulb of ideas for the songwriter himself. With its heart-rending, chest-thumping factor, Dawson knew it had to be the first track released off The Pink Slip.
“It just felt like the first transitional thing to say. It had heart, and it was still kinda heavy and rocking. It was just something that was really deep in emotion that just felt like the first kinda thing to roll out to get into the next season.”
It was also the bridge of this song that inspired the title of his new EP.
“When I heard the bridge of ‘I Got A Truck,’ ‘I got a dream, I got a hope, I got a prayer, I got an arrow that’s pointing me there / I got the drive and the grit and the spirit / And I got a pink slip,’ it just felt loud and like an anchor to me.”
For those unfamiliar with what a “pink slip” is, Dawson explains that in California, “it’s like the title of ownership to your truck or car.” As such, having it as the title aptly encapsulates that sense of ownership he has of all six songs on the EP. “It’s the title to my truck, it’s the title to ownership and should be the title, you know?”
While a sophomore full-length album was the initial goal for Dawson, the “All On Me” singer didn’t want to wait any longer to “feed the fans” who had been patiently waiting for new music. “It had been so long since I put out music from Dark Horse,” he said. “It’s like, we need to put this music out regardless of if it’s the whole album or if I have a ballad on it or not. I wanna put music out because I’m proud of these songs.”
Outside of the lead track, The Pink Slip is filled with feel-good up-tempo jams, like the playful opener, “Range Rover.” Dawson penned the groovy tune with Mark Trussell and beloved Nashville singer/songwriter, Ben Rector. When the three showed up for a writing appointment, a song Trussell had written was just closing in on its Top 20 spot. That’s when they casually joked about the new car he would have to buy his wife Grace.
While Trussell believed she’d want a ‘range rover,’ Dawson and Rector were adamant that Grace just wasn’t the stereotypical “gold-digger trophy wife”—which was the very moment that catalyzed the birth of “Range Rover.”
“I think it kinda all sparked us to be like, ‘Is there a song there? How do we write that? How do we write something that crazy?’ And I think that’s why Ben and I and Mark get along, because we’re always down to try to concur something that seems impossible.”
The music video is also a sharp right turn for Dawson, who prides himself in his monochrome aesthetic. While staying on brand was important to him, he knew that a disservice would be done to the vibrant tune if he boxed it in the formulaic achromic visual.
“As much as black and white is my brand, I also believe that my songs are my brand. My songwriting is my brand,” said Dawson, who earned his first number one as a co-writer with Blake Shelton’s smash hit “God’s Country” in 2019. “I think it’s my job to serve the song every creative aspect that I put forth with whatever song I’m talking about.”
Another highlight on the EP is the timely track, “Whatever Forever Is,” which Dawson dubs as “an easily digestible love song.” Co-written with Jordan Reynolds and Laura Veltz, its lyrics highlight how the “till death do us part” promise and aspect of marriage has been treated lightly today.
During a prior co-write Dawson and Veltz had, she had shared about how people promise “forever,” without even realizing what “forever” really means. Fast-forward three weeks later, Dawson carried this same idea along with him into the writing session he had with both Veltz and Reynolds, which led them to crafting this important message.
“‘Whatever Forever Is’ is like a cynic’s love song. Like, ‘I don’t know what it means, I don’t know why people did this. Honestly, I could never understand what forever was,’” the singer explained. “But then, you meet the person you wanna spend that with and give that to, and it all makes a hell lot of sense.”
With Dawson being married for over a year, it is no surprise that romantic bliss is a prominent theme on this EP. “He Loved Her,” a track inspired by Dawson’s grandfather Jerry, was written as he pondered on the message he’d like to engrave on his tombstone and the very legacy he wants to live behind when he’s gone.
“People might expect me to say a sold-out show or a hit song or something in those kinda scopes [that’s] a little sexier and shinier. But I think with ‘‘He Loved Her’, I wrote it to describe the fact that sometimes, a legacy doesn’t need to be this crazy shiny, flashy thing. It can just be about the way you love people around you,” Dawson reflected.
“That’s my way of saying, ‘If I’m half the man my grandpa is at his age, I’ll be a happy man.’ I hope I love the people around me as much as he does, and I hope that’s something I’m known for when I’m gone.”
Looking ahead, Dawson teased that fans can expect “at least another EP or album by the end of the year.” In fact, he is tapping on the artistic expertise of his twin brother, Jacob Durrett, to produce his next project. The two have been working together on music since they were 12 years old, and will be hitting the recording studio in the next few weeks to bring some of Dawson’s songs to life.
While you wait for more music from country music’s dark horse, check out his new feel-good EP The Pink Slip below.