Devin Dawson makes a bold introduction with his debut album, Dark Horse (Jan. 19.) The California native, who grew up close to Folsom Prison, wrote each of the project's 12 tracks, but the most personal song almost didn't make the record.

In an interview with Taste of Country ahead of the album's release, Dawson explained how the title track, "Dark Horse," came to be and why it's so important to be honest when songwriting.

He thought his album was done when he wrote the song. He'd spent two months in the studio recording with producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Brothers Osborne, Little Big Town), and he had little time to write. So when he came out of the studio, he had a lot of pent-up creativity. He got together with two of his best friends, Andy Albert and Andrew DeRoberts, and he was able to let his guard down and write a song that he felt described exactly who he is as a person.

"As a new artist I wanted to tell people, 'This is what you need to know about me right here,' and I couldn't find the right way to do it," he says. "I couldn't find the right song that didn't feel contrived. When we came out of the studio, this song just fell out."

"Dark Horse" is descriptively candid as he shares his vulnerabilities. Dawson holds nothing back, allowing us to get to know him a little better. "No, I don't go to church / Can't quote a Bible verse / I couldn't sing a psalm, that don't mean that I don't talk to Jesus / Girls say I push 'em off / That I can't open up / But I ain't afraid of love, when I say it I just want to mean it," he sings in the second verse.

While he admits it can be scary to be so honest, it makes this song more powerful and emotional. He closes every set with "Dark Horse," and night after night it still hits him.

"When we wrote it that day we all agreed, 'Let's just go for it. Don't think twice about what you're going to do in 50 years, or who's going to say what, or what you're going to feel like if you sing this about yourself. Do you really want people to know this? Let's just be honest,'" he recalls. "I think that's why we finally got that song and why it felt honest, because it is. It doesn't feel contrived and it doesn't feel like it's forced or anything. At least, I hope it doesn't."

"It is kind of hard to open that part of you up. I wrote that song in a weird, selfish way. I wrote it for myself, about myself. I wanted for people to get to know me," he continues. "It's become this really relatable song for other people who go, 'That's me. That's who I am.' It's really cool to see something that started out so selfish to become this movement and this relatable thing that people have latched onto."

Dawson's album didn't have a name before he wrote "Dark Horse." In fact, he doesn't remember anyone ever talking about a title for the project. Once the song was on paper he went to his record label, Warner Music Nashville, and told them he needed the track on the record. Only then was his debut album complete.

Listen to Devin Dawson's "Dark Horse"

Dawson doesn't consider himself an outsider or underdog, necessarily. An underdog is someone who is pitted to lose, but a dark horse is a figure you don't know too much about, but that rises through the ranks. That's something he can relate to.

"That's the exact definition of where I am in my life right now. The way that I express my words and the sound of this album that we've made, and the certain decisions that we've made along the way are unique to me," he says. "It might be fearful to make, but it just feels right. I hope that I'm forging my own path and creating my own lane. I hope that it's accepted. Whether it is or not, I will know that I did what felt right to me at the end of the day."

A line that holds special meaning to him comes in the chorus: "Anyone who ain't afraid to stray off course." It's often a gut instinct that can change one's entire course of life for the better.

"If it feels like you should go this way, you should probably go that way. Don't do what people are doing. Do what feels right to you. Go with your gut," he advises. "Just because you stray off course doesn't mean you can't come back up the road and be a little bit ahead of where you would be if you would have gone straight. I hope that it gives other people confidence to go with their gut."

Watch Devin Dawson's Stunning Performance of "Asking for a Friend

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