Devin Dawson last released a single in 2018, but his voice hasn't been wholly absent from country radio since then. In 2019, "God's Country" — a song he wrote with Hardy and Jordan Schmidt — became a massive hit for Blake Shelton; in 2020, he, Hardy and Lauren Alaina celebrated a No. 1 single with "One Beer."

"It kind of gave me a little bit more — or a different type — of affirmation," Dawson says of his successes as a songwriter and as a featured artist. "It just expands what I think I can get away with in my own mind."

Dawson brought a fresh, even slightly daring, sound to mainstream country music with his Platinum-certified 2017 hit single "All on Me" and his dark, hard-edged debut album, 2018's Dark Horse. But, he admits, he's sometimes gotten caught up in "thinking so much about every box perfectly needing to be what I think is Devin."

"Sometimes I just need to let go of that and sing a song that feels good," he continues. "I have so many different influences and things I want to do ... Let me interpret it in my way, and it'll be a Devin Dawson song."

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Pink Slip, Dawson's new six-song EP, released on Friday (Jan. 15), finds the singer and songwriter letting himself explore a little bit. Fans will recognize their favorite dark horse in the "stabby" (Dawson's choice of description — give it a listen and you'll understand) "Not on My Watch" and even the cheeky, trappy "Range Rover," but they'll find there's a little more hope here.

When Dawson wrote and recorded Dark Horse, "I wasn't in love, I didn't have very good finances, I was probably drinking and smoking too much and running from things I should slow down and deal with," he admits. Now, he's married, experiencing success and, quite frankly, happy.

"Okay, this is really hard to explain," says Dawson, his voice animated and lifting as we chat, "but, I'm happy, and I think I'm trying to make sense of that ... especially because the identity that I love to hold onto ... is a very moody, introspective, darker person."

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Not every song needs to be "gut-wrenching," he's learned; not every melody has to put you in your feels.

"I wanna tell people that," Dawson notes.

Indeed, Pink Slip's lead release, "I Got a Truck," could very well be the end credit score of a movie in which the protagonist achieves his dreams and rides off into the sunset; "He Loved Her" would be the same for one about a couple's decades-long love story. Dawson has always been a solid lyricist, but under the watch of producer Jay Joyce, he's proving that his sound can successfully expand.

"I think people have this common misconception of wanting the same album over again, and wanting the old artist or the old version," Dawson reflects of this change, "... but you don't. You don't want me to make the same album, and it wouldn't be honest if I made the same album, because I'm not the same person."

Dawson — as is his nature, he says — is already looking ahead. After two projects with Joyce, he's ready for "fresh energy" (especially after 2020) and looking closer to home to find it: His brother, Jacob Durrett, will produce whatever comes next; in fact, they've already started.

"It's just time for the twins to start taking over," Dawson says with a chuckle. "It's gonna be f--king insane; y'all aren't ready."

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