Today, Devin Dawson is enjoying having a song near the top of the Billboard Country Airplay chart. A year ago, the "All On Me" singer was playing a promotional radio show in Las Vegas, singing on the top of a bar because the microphones quit working. And a decade before that?

About a decade ago, this Taste of Country RISER was heartbroken and ready to begin a one-of-a-kind transition from heavy metal to country music. It started with a girl.

"I got my heart broken and I didn't understand it," Dawson recalls. "Like there was no communication ... and then it kind of just happened. It was my first heartbreak and I didn't know how to deal with it, and I was doing crazy stuff that you're not supposed to do like drive an hour to deliver a letter to her house."

To cope, Dawson started writing — he quickly found an outlet not just to express what he was feeling, but to understand it. To this day, he says, he's not a great face-to-face communicator, "but I can hide behind a guitar and tell you how I feel." That's what his song "Asking for a Friend" is about. The mid-tempo, acoustic, open-hearted expression is what you get when the introvert takes a chance. It's vulnerable, it's universal and it's true to his life story.

A few articles on Dawson have noted that he started in an Orangevale, Calif., heavy metal band, but the reality is this part of his life was more than a footnote. Shadow of Colossus was legit. Along with twin brother Jacob and some friends, they were signed to Metal Blade Records, and they cut albums and toured relentlessly.

"I called it slum touring," he says. "We would just all pack up everything in a van and sleep in a van and ask people on stage if their mom wanted to cook us breakfast in the morning and let us stay at their house."

This version of "living the dream" was in large part teenage rebellion, and it included an intentional rebuttal of the capitalist system in that they refused to put music to mainstream outlets like iTunes or Spotify. While bold, it left Dawson and his bandmates broke — a lifestyle that took its toll.

"I just grew out of it, man, it didn’t fulfill me toward the end," the heavily-tattooed former metal bassist says. "I got older and realized I wanted to hear and say different things."

Dawson moved to Nashville, attended Belmont University, cut and released a viral Taylor Swift mash-up video and then, after signing with Warner Music Nashville, dropped "All on Me" and his Dark Horse album. Black and white images and an absolute dedication to the color black reflects that angsty time in his life, but for the most part, the 29-year-old has moved on and grown up. But still ...

"I'm probably like 51 percent good guy, 49 percent bad guy," he admits. "I think I try to put off a little more of a front of being a bad guy than I am. Especially when it comes to love."

Dawson is the first member of the 2018 class of Taste of Country RISERS — an exclusive group of country newcomers whom a panel of industry experts agree are truly ready to break. A new RISER will be introduced every three months. "In Case You Didn't Know" hitmaker Brett Young led the 2017's class, and in years prior artists like Sam Hunt, Cole Swindell, Chris Lane and Kane Brown have anchored ToC's new artists to watch list.

Dawson is also scheduled to perform at the Taste of Country Music Festival in Hunter, N.Y., this June.

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