John Allen is a German singer songwriter, I could have sworn he was English, I even had a wager with a good friend of mine (who shall remain nameless but is £5 better off), that he WAS English, I was wrong! John actually confessed to being German but has got a degree in English Literature.....this didn't really cushion the blow, he owes me a beer!
He released his new album 'Sophomore' (click HERE for our review) in the UK on December 1st and I was keen to get in contact with him for an interview so I could craft a lovely, professional looking piece on him. We met at Dusseldorf Airport in the Lufthansa 'First' Lounge where, after quaffing far too many complementary glasses of champagne and a selection of canapés, we chatted about touring alongside Frank Turner, beard maintenance and seeing Bob Dylan (for his first ever gig!), here's how we got on.....Hic!
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence....
Hi, I’m John and I sing songs and play guitar… simultaneously!
You went on tour with Frank Turner, what was that experience like, any stories you are allowed to share with us all? We won’t tell anyone, I promise…well sorta!
If you’re looking for proper rock’n’roll stars trash the hotel room kind of stories, I’m sorry to disappoint. Haha. No, seriously, Frank and his crew were absolute sweethearts, just like everyone from Lucero. The experience for me was life-changing without any doubt. It showed me that my music and my songs are good enough to have a chance out there. I’m a doubter, you know, I hardly ever have that feeling that my stuff can compare to what other songwriters do… so it was… rewarding and it encouraged me to follow that trail and not give up!
You’re signed with Gunner Records, how did this happen?
Everyone I spoke to recommended Gunner Records to me. I believe that nothing spreads faster than a bad reputation and no matter whom I asked, everyone sang the highest praises… so I got in touch with them and it turned out that Gunner had also heard about me. We got together and exchanged ideas and got along super well right from the start. Gunnar is a great guy who really loves music and I am proud to be releasing on the same label that released Sink or Swim by The Gaslight Anthem.
In your opinion, what is the BEST album/record ever released and why?
Wow, this is probably the hardest question to answer. For me it has to be a Bob Dylan record, because I believe that when Dylan is at his best, nobody ever compares. I’d go for Bringing it all back Home by Bob Dylan. It’s the album on which he goes electric, which I’m told was a significant event as it kind of changed music history. To be honest I don’t know about that, but just look at the songs. Subterranean Homesick Blues, Gates of Eden, She Belongs To Me, Love Minus Zero, Mr. Tambourine Man, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue and It’s Alright Ma… man, I’d be proud to say I wrote one song only half as good as any of them and he just writes a whole bunch… Listen to the album version of It’s Alright Ma… that guitar riff, that voice and these lyrics. “Advertising signs they con / You into thinking you’re the one / That can do what’s never been done / That can win what’s never been won / Meanwhile life outside goes on / All around you. / While preachers preach of evil fates / Teachers teach that knowledge waits / Can lead to hundred dollar plates / Goodness hides behind it’s gates / But even the President of the United States / Must have to send naked.” I could just go on quoting here… it’s that good.
If you had a chance to put together your own ‘super group’, who would be in it? (only living members please)
I’d have Bob Dylan write the songs, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Sting on bass guitar and backup vocals, Billy Joel on piano, and Bruce Springsteen on rhythm guitar. Occasionally I’d also ask Paul Simon to fingerpick for me and Abe Laboriel Jr on drums.
How do you maintain your beard? Is there a special treatment you use?
Haha, no, not really… I just shave whenever I feel like shaving… :)
Who designed the artwork for your Album cover?
Dan Allen from England. He’s a super talented guy and also writes great songs. He’s in a band called Ducking Punches.
First song you learned to play on guitar and the piano?
On guitar it was “I’ve Just Seen A Face” by The Beatles and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” by Bob Dylan. On Piano I started with “Miami 2017” by Billy Joel. Actually, that’s not true, I was classically trained on the piano (not that you hear any of it), but Billy Joel is what really put me on pop songs, so instead of some random composer, I go for Miami 2017.
Who is your favourite tattooist?
There are so many super cool artists out there. Hard to say. There’s a studio called Northside Tattoo in Newcastle, England. I’ve recently seen their work and I absolutely love it. I hope to have them put some ink on my skin next year!
Has social media helped you put your music out there, which channel has helped the most?
I guess Facebook and YouTube help the most. I’m no expert on this, but people tell me I do quite an ok job connecting to people via my Facebook page. I like to share pictures and kind of involve people in what’s going on in my life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about music. I’ve had great discussions about books or tv shows there.
A great opener to your album is ‘New Years Eve’, a great sound that could be compared to ‘Recovery’ by Frank Turner, everyone in the pub knowing the words. So what made this track so catchy?
I guess you’re asking the wrong guy here. I didn’t write it with the intention to be catchy. If you analyse the music, I guess it’s in the simplicity. Basically it consists of four chords. G, E minor, C, D… oh and there’s an A minor somewhere in between. It’s based on cadences that simply sound familiar. The violin also helps, I think. I love the little melody my violin player came up with, it really improves the track!
‘Blood Brothers’ is a tender tune, what is the process of making this track work? The piano adds so much to the emotion of the tune. What is it about the piano you like so much?
About the piano as an instrument? Hard to say? What do you like about the guitar so much? As with every other instrument, I am impressed what you actually can do with it if you’re really good. What makes the piano special is that it was my introduction to music. As for Blood Brothers, I don’t play piano on it. A good friend of mine does and his piano skills are as good as they come. When we recorded it, I really wanted to give the song some kind of MTV Unplugged feeling if you know what I mean. Little drum, some acoustic guitar and piano and a little bass. I think it paid off that we went for this only instead of, I don’t know, the philharmonic orchestra. The song starts with a guy sitting at a campfire… I think we managed to catch that atmosphere.
First gig you ever went to and the last one you went to see?
First gig was Bob Dylan in 2000 and the last one was Elvis Costello.
What makes a great mixed musical playlist?
Songs for every mood I guess. Songs to cry to and to dance to, to laugh about and to think about. A good mixture of slow and fast songs.
Where did you record your ‘Sophomore’ album and what made you choose that studio?
We recorded at Elevate Studios, Hamburg. I didn’t know the studio before, as it is relatively new, but it was recommended to me by my producer. Turns out he was right. The studio was just what we needed!
Name three people (alive, dead or fictional) that you would like as dinner party guests?
First of all, I would like Jay Gatsby to throw the party. It’d be great if Tom Waits, Hank Moody and Ernest Hemingway to attend.
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
I’ve just got back from touring with Northcote. He’s great, but you’ve probably heard about him. I’d also recommend you listen to my buddy Ghost of a Chance. He’s a great guy! Really deep and interesting lyrics and a superb feel for melodies! And in case you don't know, check out Jason Isbell, The Weakerthans and Cory Branan.
‘Lessons I have Learned’ & ‘Famous Last Words’ are powerful beautiful tracks, are you aware of how you music makes your fans feel? Is there a story behind these songs?
Famous Last Words is about saying goodbye to my granddad. He died more than a decade ago. When he was in hospital with cancer, I didn’t want to realise that he’d be going soon, so I never went to visit him as often as I should have. You know, he was a great influence. He taught me so many things, so much about music and literature. He kept buying me books and encouraged me to read. So much of who I am I owe to him and the fact that I never get to say goodbye haunts me to this very day.
Lessons is about a girl I once was going out with. She always said that she couldn’t understand why I was being so negative when life was so beautiful. Back then I called her naive, but in the meantime I’ve learned that she was right in so many things. The song is actually about saying sorry to her, making peace with her and telling her that she was right in the first place.
Actually some fans have started getting my lyrics tattooed to their arms and legs, so I guess my music does have an impact on some. It makes me incredibly proud. You know, it’s great to see that people sing along or quote sentences that you once scribbled down on a piece of paper. If they can find their own emotions, feelings and thoughts in my songs, that’s the best compliment they can possibly make! I’m one happy guy here!
If you could describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
Hank Moody. I’m constantly searching for a form of happiness that I fear might not exist. While doing so, I still make sure I’m somehow having a great time! It’s optimistic, yet there is a melancholy somewhere underneath the surface. Oh, and there’s women and whiskey!
What are your plans for Christmas and beginning of 2015?
I’m spending time with an old friend, my parents and with my girlfriend. In January I will go to London for a couple of days and start rehearsing with my band to prepare for our first ever full band tour in March.
Have you had any ‘Spinal Tap’ Moments? If yes, please share!
I played in Switzerland earlier this year and I wanted to demonstrate my energy to the audience and instead of just walking up to take the stage, I decided to jump (it was only two stairs). Unfortunately though I slipped and actually entered the stage falling. The first thing people in Switzerland saw of John Allen was this guy falling, trying to walk up the stage. Does that count? Oh, and I constantly forget my own lyrics.
We were tiring of the champagne so decided to move onto shots of tequila, prior to us both having to be forcibly removed from the lounge because of complaints of bad language and raucous behaviour (John, not me), I managed to squeeze in a few quickfire questions....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
Drum machine or the real deal?
Absolutely the real deal
Mac or PC?
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
CD or Vinyl?
David Hasselhoff or Sam Jones (Flash Gordon)
Don’t hassle the hoff!
Car or Motorbike?
Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin or CM Punk?
Acoustic or electric?
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert de Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
Google… less fictitious.
We would like to wish John every success in 2015 and look forward to catching him on UK soil sometime in 2015, in the meantime, please go check his social media pages, they're listed below, all you need to do is point and click with your mouse or trackpad, couldn't be easier!