Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Hip Chat with The Basement Punk Ryan Allen

When I was younger I tried to write a song. I carried a pad of paper around for months and tried to put together lyrics and a tune. I didn't play an instrument so I was literally trying to write a basic melody with some words and I failed miserably. I couldn't ever figure out how to get past the chorus and in retrospect the lyrics didn't really hold up. I cannot imagine actually creating a piece of material that someone else would want to hear or sing along to. When someone is able to write, record, and perform their own music I am always impressed, especially when they write something that catches my ear.

Ryan Allen's work has always been able to peak my interest. He constantly pushes himself forward to create something new. On top of that, he creates new music and gets albums recorded fast. In fact, I don't know anyone that can put together an entire project and execute everything as fast as he can with the passion that he does.

His latest album Basement Punk is the third album that he has recorded and released as Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms in the last five years. In that time frame he also released two full length albums with Destroy This Place. I am not sure how someone can create this much music so quickly, but I truly look up to Ryan for expressing himself so beautifully. I really dig his poppy hooks and gritty jams.

This latest album is his best work to date, you can pick up a copy of the new album this Friday at the New Way Bar where Ryan will be performing alongside Fawnn and Lawnmower. But first, check out our latest interview with one of Detroit's hardest working rock and roll vets, Ryan Allen.

HID- Your latest album is called Basement Punk, is there a meaning behind that title? If so, what is it?
Ryan Allen- "There is a song on my record called "Basement Punks" that is somewhat specifically about my friend Sarah Zeidan  who tragically passed away when were all in our early 20s. She was in a ton of awesome bands, an amazing musician, and probably the most positive person I've ever met. I wanted to write something that was a dedication to her, and the setting I most frequently associated her with was gleefully bashing away on the drums (or bass) at basement punk shows (places like the Vegan Grocer in Pontiac or at our friend Chad Miller's house out in, like, Clinton Township). So the song is basically about that whole scene, one Sarah fully embraced and to me - as I was kind of on the fringe of it all - seemed like the cheerleader of it all. She had this magnetic pull to her personality, and had a free-spiritedness to her that came out fully when she was playing music. I didn't know her extremely well (though her and I did jam together once, just 2 days before she passed), but she left a huge impact on me and so many others that she came in contact with. I wrote something on Facebook about her on the 15th anniversary of her passing, talking about some of the things that would later end up in the song, and my friend Scott Stimac commented on it saying something along the lines of "basement punks", in reference to the people and places of that really important time in all of our lives. I just sort of locked that phrase in my brain as something to maybe mine for a song later on (also, thanks Scott!). So all of that kind of ignited the initial idea for everything, really.

Then after the album was recorded, I was texting back and forth with my buddy Nick Piunti (a great power pop artist that I collaborate with from time to time) trying to figure out what to title the album and he suggested "Basement Punks". Then I said, "How about 'Basement Punk'...no 's'?". I liked the way it sounded as a title, but then I had to dig into my brain a little bit to figure out what other kind of meaning I could attach to it. I really quickly identified with the idea of being a "basement punk" at this point in my life, as well as what it meant to be one 15 years ago. Basements have always played this pivotal role in my musical evolution, from being 11 and 12 years old, just going in the basement of my parents house and plugging my dad's guitars in and making noise, to actually learning how to play guitar and having my first band practices there. From there you start to figure out what's going on in the world around you, and start going out to see and play shows of all sizes. Some of the most intense and impassioned ones I saw and played were in basements. Now, at 36, and hell, for the past 10 years, I've been writing songs and demoing them in my basement, recording them on a pretty crappy set up that works for me. So even now, when I'm not necessarily going to shows in basements, I'm still connected to the idea of having to kind of go underground to find inspiration and create new and exciting things. And attaching the word "punk" to the whole thing...I mean, it's not about the genre "punk rock"...it's more about the idea that to be "punk" or to be a "punk" means you are doing what you want to do and you aren't going to let anybody tell you that you can't or shouldn't. So yes, this is a long explanation for a pretty straightforward question, but in essence I wanted to create a label for myself and for the album (and maybe other people out there) that I would be proud to wear, and "Basement Punk" is it."

HID- How do you write and record albums so fast?
Ryan Allen- "Writing songs is just something that comes extremely natural to me. It's embedded in my DNA, and I'm always working on various little things that end up becoming more fleshed out tunes at some point. What I try to do is not talk myself out of things. I usually end up finishing songs in some way shape or form, but some of them never make it out of my head or the basement. I'm always workshopping and whittling down, playing around with ideas and trying to keep my songwriting muscle strong. I love writing words and melodies, and the best moments are when I don't have to try very hard; when things come together really easily that's when I know I'm on to something good. Fortunately for me the well hasn't run dry, so I plan to keep doing this for as long as I can. I'm always listening to music, finding inspiration in new and old bands, keeping my ears open for little phrases and jotting down things I read for lyrical inspirations. Writing songs is kind of like a scavenger hunt, and I really enjoy the process of taking all these things from various places and then trying to connect them somehow in the context of a 3-minute pop song. It's always been a fun thing for me, so I'm just going to keep on having fun!"

HID- Who shot the photos for the album cover and where were they taken?
Ryan Allen- "All the photos were taken by Alicia Gbur. She's an incredibly talented person, and I feel extremely lucky that she was able to squeeze me into her very busy schedule (she's got a wedding photo business that is very much in demand, and she also just released a fantastic new record with her band FAWNN). We took the photos in - surprise! - the basement of my house. My wife, my son and I made the stenciled backdrop that's used on the front and back cover of the album, hung it up, Alicia came over, we took some pictures of me jumping around for about an hour, and that was it! It was pretty simple and easy and I think it came out great. My awesome friend Amanda Barker laid out the whole thing for me and 2 months later 500 CDs showed up on my front porch. Now to figure out how to get rid of them..."

HID- What is your favorite track off this album and why?
Ryan Allen- "It's hard to narrow that down, because I have an attachment to all of them for various reasons. Some I like because sonically it captured what I was going for; others stick out to me for the lyrics. Some I just like the production, or the way I played drums on it, or whatever. So it's tough to just say one...but for the purpose of this article, I'll go with "Alex Whiz". I've always wanted to write a shoegaz-y pop song, and I made an attempt at it with my last record, but I think I really nailed it with "Alex Whiz." The lyrics are, at least I think, pretty interesting and creative (it's about a super unique kid I knew growing up, and how all the bullying in the world can't stop him from still being awesome and unique), and the track just kind of has this woozy, melodic sway to it that I love. So yeah, today, right now, that's my favorite one. It'll probably change tomorrow!"

HID- What’’s your son’s favorite track and why?
Ryan Allen- "He really likes the first song, "Watch Me Explode" because it's fast. If we're listening to something and it's slow, he always says "Turn this off! It's too sloooooow." His favorite band right now is Black Flag, if that gives you any indication of where his head is at."

HID- Why did you pick the New Way Bar for the album release show?
Ryan Allen- "The New Way, to me, is the perfect place. It's a great location in Ferndale where lots of people live, they let you pretty much do whatever you want, it's the perfect size, it sounds good...there's really nothing to not like about it. Jamie, the owner, and I have become friends over the last year, because our kids went to pre-school together. So that's another reason to want to support them. Good people. Good bar. Good times."

HID-Who are you listening to these days?
Ryan Allen- "I feel like I'm always kind of listening to my main standbys - Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Elvis Costello, Beatles, Superdrag, Dinosaur Jr., Sloan, Buffalo Tom, Superchunk... I've been listening to a lot of Lemonheads records lately, especially "Lovey" and the self-titled one with the guys from the Decendents playing on it that came out in 2006. I just finished reading "Trouble Boys", a really great bio on the Replacements, so I've been re-connecting with a lot of those records lately, and especially digging into "Don't Tell a Soul", which I never really checked out until reading the book. I've been digging through Doughboys catalog, ever since J Navarro from the Suicide Machines/Break Anchor/etc. said my stuff sounds a bit like them; "Crush" is a great record and I've been enjoying that one a lot lately. In terms of some newer stuff, I've been really liking a band called Smiles from San Francisco, who have a short EP online that is really great (kinda Posies/Teenage Fanclub kinda power pop). I've been listening to a band called Fury Things from Minneapolis and a band called Hurry from Philly that do the jangle-y pop thing really well. Big Eyes and Tancred are both female fronted poppy punk bands that I've been liking a lot. I finally got into the Cheap Girls record from last year. The new Lees of Memory album (John from Superdrag) is really great. Wild Stab by the I Don't Cares is really cool (Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield's new thing). My friend Nick Piunti's new album is really wonderful (I play and sing on a lot of the songs on it). I love the new Nada Surf, Teenage Fanclub, Bob Mould and Dinosaur Jr. albums (the 90s are alive and well in 2016!). I'm looking forward to the new Beach Slang that comes out later this month. I'm probably forgetting stuff, too. There's just too much damn music to dig through. Thanks Spotify."

HID- You’ve been playing music and touring for most of your life. What’s your favorite thing about playing a live show? What’s your least favorite thing?
Ryan Allen- "Playing live, I just love the sheer physical and mental rush that comes with playing loud rock songs in front of people. I sometimes get anxiety about people actually being there, and promoting shows now really isn't as fun as it used to be. I still try and make fliers and go hang them up at record stores and stuff, but I don't have it in me to go to 10 shows a week and pass them out to people like I did back in the Thunderbirds Are Now! days. But still, at the same time, it's not about having a packed house or whatever (though that would be nice); I pretty much perform the same way no matter how many people are there, and give it my all every time. There's also something really cathartic about singing into a microphone, and pushing your voice in a live setting, almost demanding to be heard. I like doing that, and it's fun to push that muscle harder live than I might in the studio, trying crazy things, messing with the melody or just screaming something a little more than I would sing it. I dunno, you get kinda lost in the moment and for me at least, that's what comes out. I love that."

HID- Favorite place to see a live show in Metro Detroit?
Ryan Allen- "10 years ago I would have said the Magic Stick, but now there's so many more options. I like the Loving Touch because it's close and it sounds good. I like UFO because it's small and their hot dogs are pretty wicked. Marble Bar is really awesome, but I've only played there and haven't seen a show outside of that. Ol' boy here doesn't get out like he used to, ya know?"

HID- Favorite venue to play at in Metro Detroit?
Ryan Allen- "All of the aforementioned are great places to play. I'll always dig the Lager House. The Majestic Cafe is actually really cool and sounds pretty great, but I don't know how often they are really doing shows there. And of course the New Way is probably my favorite."

HID- Favorite guitar that you own and why?
Ryan Allen- "I feel like I kind of have the perfect collection of guitars, and have something at my disposal depending on the song and the feel that I'm going for. I have my Rickenbacker for my jangle-y stuff, I've got my Stratocaster for my Big Star-ish stuff, my double cutaway Les Paul Jr. for the more aggressive stuff, and my Jazzmaster when I need to do bendy, shoegaze-y stuff. So I really love them all for their diversity."

HID- Favorite guilty pleasure band and why?
Ryan Allen- "I don't really believe in guilty pleasure bands...like what you like, you know? With that said, bands like Soul Asylum, Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, even Nada Surf, that people kind of equate with certain singles or whatever all have great albums with awesome deep cuts that in my mind overshadow whatever "hit" they may have had. I mean, Gin Blossoms wrote some really great songs that sounded like Big Star and later-era Replacements, but maybe it wasn't as obvious to people back in the 90s when those records came out. It's more obvious to me now, and I enjoy it more now than I would have admitted then.

I also really like the Faint. I don't know if that's a guilty pleasure or not, but I think "Wet From Birth" rules; it's a great one to run to. It's probably because I also love Duran Duran. Again, nothing to be ashamed of, even though they are kind of outside of my "jangle-y guitar" wheelhouse."

HID- Favorite band you have ever shared the stage with?
Ryan Allen- "Sheesh. Almost impossible to say. I've been lucky to play with SO MANY amazing bands. I can say that the best live band I've ever played with is Les Savy Fav."

HID- Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Ryan Allen- "Just that they can order my new album here and if you've ever checked out my music at all, even for a second, thank you! Oh, and come to the New Way Bar on 9/30 to see the show. FAWNN and Lawnmower are playing and they both rule. And I've got an awesome band playing with me, with Sean Sommer (Destroy This Place) on drums, Mike Gallacher on guitar and Ryan Marshall (Palaces) on bass. We're fired up and ready to play!"

Ryan will be releasing the album at the New Way Bar this Friday, September 30th.  $10 gets you in the door with a copy of the album, $15 gets a couple through the door with a single copy of the album!


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