With his debut solo album, When The Demons Come, Ontario singer/songwriter Dave Allen establishes himself as a bona fide roots music auteur. Listeners previously heard flashes of Allen's brilliance in his previous work with the Barrie, Ontario collective Stonetrotter, but on this album he takes full command in bridging his a wide-ranging country, folk, blues and gospel influences.
Recorded at various locations around Ontario over the course of a year, the album gathers a decade’s worth of material Allen had accumulated. Still, there is a common thread of sin and redemption connecting all of the songs, and through the assistance of several of his Stonetrotter band mates and pedal steel virtuoso Aaron Goldstein (Daniel Romano, Zachary Lucky), it adds up to a haunting and endlessly rewarding listening experience.
As a staunch DIY artist, Allen was determined to apply all of the technical skills he has learned along the way to making his first solo effort, combining them with themes of loss and spirituality he has grappled with for much of his life. By any measure, When The Demons Come is a unique work of art, and a compelling introduction to one of Canada’s most promising new musical voices.
Allen has shows lined up around Ontario in December, and for more info, go to daveallenmusic.net.
What song on When The Demons Come do you feel best captures your current musical vision?
I think “Plainview”; this was an enjoyable song to get inside of while recording the album. I have a soft spot for Pink Floyd—the production and soundscapes those guys and Alan Parsons were able to create in the studio have always fascinated me. I thought it’d be fun to bring some of these production elements to a country-roots band; something like The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Band meets Pink Floyd.
I wanted to try my hand at creating an environment in “Plainview” that takes the listener on a sonic journey, as well as a trip through the story and lyrics. I remember trying to imagine that during the first half of the song you’re floating through the ether. Then when the band kicks in, you’re no longer floating, you’ve been transported through the Earth’s atmosphere, and then you’ve landed, grounded and stable. I relied heavily on my voice to create the effects I wanted to hear because my recording equipment was not state-of-the-art by any measure. Manipulating sound with my voice or objects around me is something I am excited to dive deeper into down the line.
What (or who) influenced your songwriting on this record?
Songwriting, for me, comes out of chewing on the bones of each day, sometimes for long periods of time before any lyric or chord progressions come along. The songs on this record were gathered over about a decade, a time when I was in my early and mid-twenties, learning how to live independently, experiencing grief and managing emotions tied to death, finding love, and learning about making, keeping and maintaining strong friendships. It just happened that most of the songs on this record weren’t finding homes in other projects I was involved in at the time, and when I started putting this album together they all meshed very well. I’m always inspired by Harry Nilsson and Jim Croce, for different reasons—Nilsson for his courage, voice and quirkiness, and Croce for his relentlessness and honesty.
What's been the most significant change in your life in the past year?
I’ve moved from Barrie to Toronto, then to Haliburton and to a small town in Prince Edward County called Picton, all in this last year. I’ve switched jobs a number of times as well. I went from working for a hi-tech startup company to working as a farmhand, to now pushing myself to put more focus on music. On top of that, I was dealing with being band-less for pretty much the first time since I was in university. My band [Stonetrotter] was my family, and we still are family in many ways, but this year has been one of trying to become more independent.
What are your fondest musical memories as you were growing up?
The campfire jam sessions with my Mom and Dad. My mom plays the violin, and my Dad played guitar and sang. At family gatherings or over the holidays some drinks would be shared, and the instruments brought out and we’d play for hours. My sisters and brothers would join in, and I learned how to collaborate in these moments. My parents also introduced me to a bunch of great music—we’d do things like “House of The Rising Sun,” and songs by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Lighthouse, Pink Floyd, Bobby Darin, Tom Petty, anything with a great melody.
Other fond memories were the evenings I spent at R&B’s Music School in Barrie, Ontario with Stonetrotter. The owner of the school, Rob Drake, let us jam there when the school was closed, so during the evenings we'd get together with everyone we knew who played music—and a couple of boxes of beer—and play music all night long. There was a P.A. set up and all the instruments ready to go. Everyone would take turns leading a song, and we'd switch roles and instruments, and just get goofy and creative. I cherish those moments.
If you could fix anything about the music business, what would it be?
I’m still pretty new to the music business and trying to absorb and learn as much as I can. Better financial models and relationships between songwriters and musicians and the corporations in charge of streaming music online would be great, as it seems like many artists aren’t making enough money for the work and time they’re putting into releasing music.