The Meaning Behind “Dawns” by Zach Bryan (featuring Maggie Rogers)

Zach Bryan is a self-made man, and the singer/songwriter from Oklahoma moves through his life and career like a maverick.

His breakthrough album is a 34-song collection called American Heartbreak. It ranges from demo-like captures with out-of-tune guitars to meticulously crafted big-studio productions.  

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Bryan writes deceptively simple songs, delivered in earnest with a gruff voice at its breaking point. His heartland rock is right down the middle until he blindsides you with a knee-buckling poetic turn of phrase.

In his fantastic duet with Maggie Rogers, “Dawns” finds Bryan broken from a failed relationship.

Love is War

Bryan stands on his ex’s front porch. He’s angry and wants his stuff back. The relationship has reached such a hopeless state that he can’t even remember what they’re fighting over.

All is fair in love and war
So what the hell are we even fightin’ for?
I’m on your front porch beggin’ for my dawns back
Give my goddamn records and my clothes back
’Cause I’m through
Oh, how I’m through

He flips “dawn” from a noun to a verb as he heads to his mother’s house, but she’s gone, too. The one person he could run to for comfort died last July in a heart attack. Bryan’s voice is rough and shattered with searing pain, and he sings with unpredictable rage and vulnerability.

And by the time she wakes
I’ll be halfway to my mama’s home
It just dawned on me
Life is as fleeting as the passin’ dawn
And it was my mistake
’Cause she never said a thing about Jesus
I miss my mother’s southern drawl
And her prayin’ through the walls in the evening


As “Dawns” progresses, Rogers adds her point of view. She flips the angle to reveal that one lover’s perfect romance is a prison for the other.

And by the time he wakes
I’ll be halfway to my best friend’s home
It just dawned on me
Life is as fleeting as the passin’ dawn
And I shoulda told him twice
I believe in somethin’ bigger than both of us
I miss goin’ out to bars, shootin’ stars
Not worryin’ ’bout what’s left of us

When Bryan sings, Give me my dawns back, he’s waking up together in bed, the intimacy. However, when the words leave Rogers’ mouth, she tells him she feels trapped. She’s suffocated under the weight of “what’s left of us.”

Rage and Reason

Apart from flipping the perspective, Rogers’ performance represents sobering reason. She offsets Bryan’s instinct for rage and sings with quiet calm against his anger. Though Bryan’s volume overpowers her initially, as the song continues, Rogers’ vocal slowly moves to the forefront of the mix, and by the song’s end, sweet reason has won the argument.

Belting Bronco and Warner Records released “Dawns” as a standalone single in 2023. Bryan and Rogers co-wrote the song, produced by Bryan and his frequent collaborator Eddie Spear.

His music doesn’t fit neatly into the country or Americana categories. As a result, “Dawns” charted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Hot Rock & Alternative Songs charts. Both genres show the unique range of Bryan’s emotionally raw songwriting.

Rogers, too, is a dynamic and earthy writer, as revealed in her brilliant solo singles “Alaska” and “Light On.”

From the Navy to the Opry

While still serving in the Navy, Bryan uploaded videos to YouTube, and the song “Heading South” went viral. As of this writing, it’s approaching half a billion streams on Spotify.

In 2021, after the independent albums DeAnn (2019) and Elisabeth (2020), Bryan made his Grand Ole Opry debut. Bryan’s mother, DeAnn, died in 2016. From serving in the Navy to his mother’s death, Bryan spreads pieces of his life across his lyric sheets.

Music Machine

Bryan sings about pain and is persistently unfiltered in his songwriting. In an era and genre where teams of songwriters assemble albums, Bryan writes mostly on his own.

When collaborating, he’s not seeking professional songwriters, fishing for hits. Instead, he works with a loyal obligation to the craft.

There’s a line in “Fear and Friday’s (Poem),” the opening track to his 2023 self-titled album: I don’t need a music machine telling me what a good story is. Matter of fact, I’ve never asked nothing from nobody.

Don’t confuse stubborn determination for an inability to stop and listen. When Rogers takes control of “Dawns,” Bryan’s voice softens. It’s then you realize that he listens even at his lowest moment. You can’t write songs as well as Zach Bryan if you don’t listen.

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Photo by Mindy Small/Getty Images

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