David Allen Interview with Metal Empire - Sjak Roks
When and where were you born?
October 13th, 1969, in River Falls, Wisconsin, USA
At was age did you start to get interested in music and what style of music got you interested in those days?
I was actually singing along with records when I was 3 years old… Glen Campbell was one of my favorites. I used to fall asleep at night with a radio playing next to my bed, and I just kind of kept getting more and more involved with music as I got older. As a kid, I listened to everything, Rock and Roll, Country, Pop, even Disco. I just enjoyed music as a whole, and didn't focus on any specific genre. I really believe that's why all my songs from both my cds have different flavors, some are Pop-influenced, some Country, and so on.
Could you name some bands/artists that you liked in that period?
I was into so many different artists when I was younger, it would take forever to list them here. I just loved music in general, and that was reflected in what I listened to. Billy Joel, The Eagles, Glen Campbell, even Barry Manilow just to name a few when I was very young.
When did you start to get interested in performing yourself and what triggered this decision?
I actually sang with my dad in church when I was around 4 or 5, and everything kind of snowballed from there. I started acting in school plays, sang in choirs, both in school and church, and eventually joined school band, where I played drums. I guess I did it because I liked being on stage and getting attention, which I think is what every musician desires when they perform.
Could you describe the very first steps you undertook to become a singer/songwriter?
I didn't start writing until after I had graduated from High School, around the age of 17. There was a period in my life for a few years where I actually stopped craving the spotlight, and didn't want people to notice me. I think it was just that 'awkward teenage syndrome' that every male goes thru. But once I graduated from High School, and realized I didn't really want to go to college (which I did anyway for 3 years), I knew the only thing I really loved was music. And it was the only thing I thought I was good at. So I started writing out of necessity, knowing that I had to do SOMETHING, so I might as well try to be a famous singer/ songwriter.
How would you characterize your style of music in those early days and who were your main influences back then both as a singer and as a songwriter?
I was influenced by the 80's Hard Rock/ Heavy Metal era… mostly Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, my 2 favorites. I tried really hard to write like they did, but it wasn't true to who I was. My music is a little lighter, not as guitar based, and my voice isn't built for Heavy Metal. I was also a huge Richard Marx fan at the time, and I took a lot from him as a songwriter too. He's an artist I'm most compared to still to this day.
What were your intentions in the early days?
It sounds silly now, but I really just wanted to be famous. I didn't care how or why, I just wanted to 'make it', as they say.
What was the first song that you wrote yourself and were you happy with the actual end result back then?
The first song I ever finished completely was called 'Live for the Night', and it's never seen the light of day. The hook from that song was actually used in 'One Sure Thing' from 'forever and a day'. It was very rough, as were most of my initial efforts. I still have the notebook with all my first songs, and looking back now, I see just how far I've come as a songwriter. I remember thinking at the time 'all I need are 10 or 11 songs to make a cd', not realizing how many songs you write that suck just to finally get to the good tunes.
How much time was there between you very first songwriting effort and the release of your first album “…Believe”?
About 5 years.
Could you elaborate further on this period? Did you record any demo tapes? If so, which one(s), when were they recorded and what songs can we find on them?
With which musicians did you work on those demo tapes? I did a demo-type release around 1991, which had 5 songs on it; 'Something to Believe In', 'Lonely Old Man', 'Temporary Love', 'I Can't Win', 'One Chance to Dance', and 'Without You Blues'. The first 4 eventually made it onto '…Believe'. They were done in a local guy's studio that shared space with a bakery, so the whole time we were there, all I smelled was BREAD. The only 2 musicians on the tape were the Studio Owner/Producer/Engineer and myself. The guy wore almost all the hats in the studio and did EVERYTHING. When we were done, I really thought 'this is it, I'm going to be HUGE with this'. Little did I realize that first, radio stations didn't play tapes, and second, the production wasn't that great anyway. It was a learning experience to say the least!
Your first album was released in 1996. How did that happen and how did you get teamed up with the musicians you worked with on that album? Can you tell us a little bit more about both their musical as well as their personal background?
I answered an ad in a Minneapolis newspaper called 'City Pages' that was looking for artists to record their demos. I had a meeting with James Walsh, and he listened to all my demos as I sat in front of him, and he critiqued them. It was a VERY humbling experience having someone tear your songs apart, but he knew what he was doing. After that meeting we agreed to do a 3 song demo, and then that in turn led to a full-blown album. The other musicians that played on that cd were studio guys I'd never met before. The whole experience was a total blur, and I was VERY nervous the entire time we recorded. As far as James Walsh, who played on and produced the cd, he was a member of a well-known band called Gypsy that was pretty big in the late 60's and 70's. Bob Jones, the bass player, was also in the band at one time. The other guys played with so many different artists in the studio, and they blended very nicely together.
How do you look back on the songs on that first album?
Are you happy with your own performance? Like I said, it was really a total blur. I wanted it to be perfect, but I was afraid to speak up when something didn't sound right. The album had some great songs on it, but they didn't come out the way I heard them in my head, and that was my fault for not speaking up. And my singing left a LOT to be desired, as I was so nervous that I never really cut loose.
What are your favorite songs on this album and why?
I like 'Already Gone', which was a last-minute add. James didn't want that tune on the cd, as it was a departure from the rest of the songs, and that was EXACTLY why I wanted it on there. I never want all my songs to sound the same, both in texture and genre, and on that cd, I felt everything was too light. 'Already Gone' turned up the volume a bit. Then there's a song like 'One Chance to Dance', which is recorded with a Grand Piano and my vocal, completely stripped down from the rest of the tunes. But I like all the other songs too, just not the way they turned out.
If you had the chance to redo the album, what would you change and why?
I would definitely speak up more during recording, and turn a lot of the songs 'up', both volume and instrumentally. And 'I Can't Win' is too Country, so I'd make it rock a bit more. I just think it's a nice first effort as a whole, but it could have been better.
What did this album do for you as an artist/band? Was it successful? Did it get radio airplay? Do you have any information about the sales figures?
It got me recognized in my local area, and had some minimal radio play, but that was about it. I just didn't have the global support that I've gotten from 'forever and a day'. I didn't utilize the internet like I do now, so no one really knew where to buy it, or hear it. I probably sold under a thousand, and gave away a lot of copies to radio, print and record labels.
We had to wait for six years before “Forever and a day” was released. Why did it take this long and what did you do between these two albums?
I did a TON of writing, and tried to figure out where and with who I should record. I knew I wanted to do a new cd, but I wanted to find the right situation, and not settle.
“Forever and a day” is an independent release. Why did you decide to do this? Was it that hard to get a record deal or couldn’t you find a record company who offered you the right conditions?
Over here in the U.S. it's VERY hard to find a label to get behind you unless you're already selling TONS of cds, which I wasn't. The U.S. market likes 'cookie cutter' artists… they look alike and sound alike. I'm not 20 or female, or in a 'boy band', so I don't fit the mold. The nice thing about being an 'Indie' is you're in COMPLETE control of the music. Nobody is telling you which songs to do, or how they should be recorded. I had some minimal interest from labels, but nothing ever panned out. With the state of the music industry right now, I think being an 'Indie' is a better spot to be anyway.
In my opinion the second album is a much more mature album which shows outstanding songwriting skills. How do you see the development between the two albums and do you believe that you have grown as a songwriter?
Thank you for saying that. I really believe I grew as a songwriter from the first release to the second. It takes time to find yourself as a writer, to write what you feel rather than what you think the people want to hear. I decided on this cd to say what was in my heart, and if people liked it, it would make it that much sweeter.
What caused this enormous progression as a songwriter?
I think just age and maturity… saying what's in your heart, and letting people take a peek inside.
My absolute favorite song on the album is the terrific “One more second chance”, which has everything a good song needs. What are your favorites this time and why?
I'm glad you like that song! That is one of my favorites also. I wanted that song to be like the old Journey songs 'Faithfully' or 'Open Arms'… something that starts really soft and builds to a huge moment, only to finish exactly like it started. I also like 'Dreams' and 'Love Can', but this time around there isn't a whole lot I'd change, so I like them all.
I also feel that your vocal performance is much stronger on this second album. How did you accomplish this? Did you undergo any specific training or are you a natural talent and is this progression caused by the extra years of experience?
Thank you again…No specific training, just experience. Also, I think my whole studio time was much more relaxed this time around. I worked with all the same musicians, along wih James Walsh, and the studio we worked in was RELAXING. It was like sitting around with a group of friends and recording a cd. I felt more comfortable, and it was reflected in my singing.
Style-wise the two albums have their similarities. How would you describe the difference between the two? Are there any artists that influenced you to do things differently this time?
I think the differences are very small… production, engineering. But I'm just a songwriter, and I record what's in my head, which is a combination of my songs, and whatever's on the radio at the time. I'm influenced by the times, and being there were 6 years in between, I changed and the world around me changed, both musically and in other ways. It all comes out in the music.
You worked with the same people except for Chico Perez. How did he get involved and what is his personal and musical background?
Chico is a VERY gifted percussionist that works with James and Gypsy in their present incarnation, and James really felt some of the songs needed that extra something to put them over the top. Chico, like all my other studio guys, has been in the music biz forever, and he brought a bit of his Latin flavor to 'Follow Me', as well as a couple of the other tunes.
Are these guys really part of the David Allen band or are they hired to record the albums?
They were hired to record both cds, but I am considering using them as a backing band when I do live shows. I just like the fact that they know my music as well as I do, and they know what I want when playing live. But we're still looking into it.
You are often compared with Richard Marx and Stan Bush. What do you think about these comparisons?
I can appreciate the comparisons, and can understand them both. I'm definitely a Richard Marx fan, and that comes across as a HUGE compliment. His music has been a big part of my life growing up. I know of Stan Bush, and can honestly say I haven't been hugely influenced by his tunes, but it's still nice to be compared to artists that are so well liked.
How does the songwriting process look like with David Allen? What is the most important: the music or the lyrics? How do you create these beautiful chorus melodies?
Usually I sit down at the piano with a lyric idea or song title in mind, and go from there. Sometimes, like with the song 'Resolution', I wake up in the middle of the night with the melody in my head, and I go right to the piano. 'Resolution' was written in about 30 minutes, and the song idea came to me in a half-awake state-of-mind. It's weird how it works when you're a songwriter… you try and never question why it happens, but just appreciate that it DOES happen. I'm happy if I get ideas, and don't care if it's music first or lyrics.
Speaking of the lyrics: almost all songs are about love and relationships. Why is that?
I guess it's just what I know and what's inside me. I've always been asked whether my songs are autobiographical, or if I'm just telling a story. Most of the tunes are based on events that have happened in my past, but sometimes things just expand from a movie I've seen or a book I'm reading. It just depends on how I'm feeling when I sit down to write. It's a great release to be able to put down what I'm feeling in music and words, whether it's good or bad.
Do you try to express something in the lyrics?
Always. I want whoever is listening to any of my songs to be able to connect on some level with what I'm talking about. I've received many letters from fans that say 'I love this song because it's how I felt when I met my husband or wife, or when I was in love with someone that didn't know I was alive'… that's a cool feeling to know that what I'm writing, other people are really feeling.
What do you want to accomplish with this album? What did this album do for you compared to the level you were at before releasing “Forever and a day”?
I've been able to connect with people around the world that, before this cd, didn't know about my music. I've built a GREAT following on the world wide web, and I really just want to keep pushing my music to places and to people that don't know about me. As this cd was being recorded, my web site was evolving to where it is today. It all started from a VERY small site, and with the help of Renee Pierce, a great friend and web site designer, we built it into a site that's visited VERY frequently by people around the world. I wouldn't be where I am today without her help, as well as a lot of others that I've met along the way that continue to believe in what I'm trying to accomplish.
Did you have any chance yet promoting the album via live performances? How does your live band looks like? How many performances have you been doing so far for this album?
I'm still in the planning stages for some 'full' live shows. I've done some acoustic performances since the release, but I'm looking forward to getting out with a full band, so people can hear the songs as they're meant to be heard, BIG and LIVE.
Can you earn a living with your music or do you have another job next to this?
I'm actually not at the point yet where this can sustain me, so I continue with my 'day job' as a music teacher. I'm also lucky enough to be a stay-at-home dad, which is VERY cool. My wife works outside the home, so I teach music and take care of our daughter. It's better than any other job in the world!
A more personal question: in the thanks list you thank your family. What does your family look like and what do they think about your musical career so far?
My wife has been my biggest supporter, and she's always there to pick me up if I'm down, or share in the good times and successes. I wouldn't be able to do this without her. And my parents have always been supportive of my career choice, although they were reluctant at first. But once they got a chance to hear my first cd, they were on board… they LOVE playing my cds for their friends!
As an independent artist you have a street team working for you to do promotional activities. How did you get into that and what do you think about the results?
I just checked around and found the people that have had success for other artists and bands, and they believe in my music and what I'm trying to accomplish. It takes a lot to get people to notice you when they didn't know ANYTHING about you before. That's what is so rewarding about being an 'Indie', when you gain a fan who didn't have a clue who you were before, but they like your music enough to try and help.
What has happened since the release of the second album? Did you already write new songs? If so, which ones and how would you describe the development style-wise?
I'm always coming up with new songs, and the new ones are a bit more up-tempo than the songs on 'forever and a day'. Kind of more Rock than Pop. I've got one called 'Spin Easy' that was originally going to be the title of 'forever and a day'. There's another one called 'Shame on Me' that's kind of like 'Already Gone' from '…Believe', a nod to 80's Hard Rock. But who knows, I might change totally by the time I do another cd, and want to make it Techno… only kidding. But the point is, music is supposed to evolve, and artists should do the same. Check with me in 6 months, and I'll probably have a totally different outlook on what the music will sound like.
What are your plans for both short-term and long-term future?
I'd like to just take it one day at a time, see where the success from 'forever and a day' takes me, and go from there. If I'm lucky enough to do another cd, then so be it. But if I can establish myself as a great SONGWRITER first, there's no limit to where I can go. I can write til I'm 80. But I'd like to have a little time in the spotlight first.