Shauna O'donnell from MUEN Magazine spoke with Charm City Devils vocalist John Allen.
Hi John, thanks so much for talking with me today. How are things going?
John: Things are going really great today. Things are crazy. We just got a bunch of ads. We got more ads this week than the past week, which is amazing. A lot of bands get most of their radio station ads the first week and we are actually increasing as we go along, which is really cool. The song seems to be connecting with a lot of people and they are going out and buying the single. That is really phenomenal. For this band it is really cool to see this happen.
The first single off the album is titled “Man Of Constant Sorrow” (from the Grammy®-winning soundtrack of the George Clooney Oscar®-nominated film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and it has been exploding on the Active Rock radio airwaves. What was it about this song that made you choose it to cover?
John: I’ve always loved that movie. I think it is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. I thought the song was really good, but the thing that really hit me was when that movie came out that year and it won a bunch of Grammys, I remember seeing Ralph Stanley sing it on the Grammys award show. It just sent chills down my spine, so I’ve always thought about that tune. We were talking about doing a cover for the record and it seemed like the natural choice. I did some research on the song and it is a very, very old folk song. The guy who took credit for writing it was a blind musician named Richard Burnett. He claimed that he is not even sure if he wrote it or not. (Laughs) It’s really kind of cool how it goes with that whole rock n roll mystique.
You guys are getting ready to release your new record titled Sins on April 10th. This is your sophomore album, did you guys decide to go in a different direction musically this time around?
John: Not intentionally, I mean, I just wanted to improve as a songwriter, as a lyricist and as a singer. I’ve gotten to the age where I feel like I’ve wasted so much time in my life that I feel like now is the time to make up for lost time and continue on a path where I become better at whatever it is I’m doing. I got to the point where I felt I was writing the same songs over and over again. I am trying to expand my horizons and the band’s horizons. This record is really a band effort instead of like the last record where it was mostly me writing and I actually played on a lot of the songs. Not everything, but there are a lot of my tracks on there. I played most of the drum tracks on the last record and I laid down a lot of the guitars and a little bit of bass. I had a guitar player go over a lot of those tracks, but a lot of the stuff was recorded before I had this line-up in place. With this album, everybody is on it and I am not playing drums on it, so it is really a band recorded effort.
How many instruments do you play?
John: How many instruments do I play well or how many instruments do I play? (Laughs) I kind of have that jack of all trades thing mastered. I started out on guitar when I was a little kid, but by no means do I think of myself as a guitar player. I think of myself as a drummer probably foremost and I am starting to think of myself as a singer more and more. I play a mean tambourine though man!
Did producer Skidd Mills have a lot of influence on this record?
John: Skidd is a fantastic talent. He is a great songwriter, he is a great guitar player, he is a great producer and engineer. He is a very creative individual. I think sonically he definitely shaped this record. That was one of the reasons that we were happy to work with him. That was another thing, I wanted to up the ante on the sound of this record. A lot of the last record was recorded in my basement studio. My earlier recordings were bordering on a sort of garagey stripped down rock thing. I really wanted it to be something different this time around and have something that was a little more produced. Skidd is fantastic at doing that.
Did he co-write on any of the songs?
John: He did, we co-wrote “Still Alive” and “Walk Away.”
The record was written about the band’s life experiences. What are some of the subjects that you touched on?
John: Well the song “Still Alive” is really about after we did Cruefest last year, I found out that I had skin cancer on the side of my nose near the tear ducts of my eyes. When I found out, all I could think about was that I have two little girls. At the time my oldest was three and my youngest was only a year old. I thought “Man, my oldest is barely going to remember me and my youngest will not remember me at all if I were to die.” “Still Alive” is about me missing their lives and seeing them grow up if I were to die. That is part of what the record is about. There are other songs like “Spite” that is about getting even with someone. It’s about the music business and those who didn’t really believe in me or us. I want to make sure that this project is successful. I’m never going to give up. That is kind of the running theme.
When it comes to the writing process, do all of you usually agree on the direction you are going?
John: No, I mean the way this band works right now is that it is driven by the songs that I write or come up with. The guys will be playing at practice and a lot of times I might record it, take it and I’ll work on it. I was in a band with two of the guys before and we used to take our time and work on songs in a purely democratic fashion. It would take a month to write a song because everybody had to agree on everything and everybody had to be happy with all their parts. It was an incredibly slow process. We don’t have time to do that anymore. By the time we would finish ten or eleven songs, it was a year later and the newer songs did not resemble anything we were doing ten months ago. I chalked it up to experience and I learned a lesson.
You guys shot a video for the song “Man of Constant Sorrow.” When will it release?
John: It is being edited right now and I am hoping it will be finished by the end of this week. I’m not really sure. We did a bunch of footage and it is looking really great. The lyric video has over 100,000 hits already. Our bass player put that together with public domain footage that he found. We believe that the one main character is Drew Barrymore’s great grandfather or great uncle. We are not sure. He was an actor in the silent film era. It goes along with the whole vibe of the song being public domain and it seemed to work perfectly. We are trying to make a new video where the band is performing in it and we have some storyline in it.
I noticed that you have some dates posted up for April and May. Are there any plans for a summer tour or festivals as of yet? I noticed that they are all radio shows right now.
John: We are doing the radio shows for the stations that are supporting us. We missed the boat on a lot of the festivals because they get booked in January and some before that. We were still working on our record and finishing up. Hopefully we will jump on some of the late summer festivals or maybe even some in the Fall.
Thanks so much for the interview. Before I let you go was there anything you’d like to add or say?
John: Check out the full length and write to us on Facebook. We try to write everyone back. We are pretty good about that. We will see you out on the road.
DATE CITY VENUE
Sat 4/21 Towson, MD Recher Theatre (record release party)
Sun 4/22 Columbus, OH The Basement
Mon 4/23 Lansing, MI The Loft (WJXQ show)
Fri 4/27 Colorado Springs, CO Black Sheep (KILO “Low Dough” show)
Sun 4/29 Boise, ID Knitting Factory (KQXR free show)
Thu 5/1 Spokane, WA A Club (KHTQ “Low Dough” Show)