Spreading his legs from Destroy This Place, Ryan Allen, also of Thunderbirds Are Now! and Friendly Foes, will celebrate today's release of "Heart String Soul" this Saturday at The Berkley Front. This is the second solo release from the Destroy This Place guitarist, and also a pop junkie's bona fide dream. Allen spoke of recording with his father, starting a label, and discussed one of my favorite tracks off the album, "Young American Nomads."
Motor City Blog: Let's begin with Two Brains Recording Company. What made you want to start your own label?
Ryan Allen: Starting Two Brains was really done out of necessity. I could have spent time trying to find somebody to release the album (and I'm very much appreciative that Scotty Hagen and Bellyache Records released my first solo album), and while I'm super confident in the recording and the songs, I would never expect anybody to necessarily want to release a pop album by a 35 year old guy with no band who can't really tour. So instead I just decided to keep with the theme of this project, and because it's so personal to me, just releasing it under my own "label." I put that in quotes because really the label is no more than a logo, a Facebook page, a website and a couple of releases under its umbrella. By those standards, anybody can start a label. But it's not like Nick (my label partner) and I went and got it incorporated or anything. It's just a stamp to put on our projects to make it feel more legit. It should also be said that I couldn't have done any of this with out Nick Piunti's help. He's the man.
MCB: Are there plans to add more artists to the label?
RA: Not currently. The label's purpose is to release solo music by myself and Nick Piunti, who is putting out an incredible pop record in March on Two Brains as well. It might grow in the future, but I certainly don't have the money to release anything by anybody else, let alone myself.
MCB: What is the record label's philosophy?
RA: To break even.
MCB: I listened to the album, but noticed this is a solo album. Will there be a backing band playing with you?
RA: Yeah, the whole idea behind Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms is that it's me and whoever I ask to contribute to the recordings. This time around I played almost all of the guitars, bass, percussion, and singing. I had Sean Sommer (Destroy This Place) play drums on nine of the 11 songs (I played them on "Keep Me Around" and did a second drum track on "Why Are You Freaking Me Out?"). My brother Scott Allen (Thunderbirds Are Now!) played keys on a few tracks, as did Zach Curd of the Pop Project. My dad sang on one song, and played a little organ, bass and guitar here and there. Nick Piunti played some guitar on a track as well. Andy Reed - who graciously mixed, mastered and gave it some extra TLC - also played a little guitar and did some harmonies. So it's really my thing but the folks who contributed to it added their own flavors to the mix, which I'm really happy about. For the live show, Sean Sommer will be playing drums, and Mike Majewski (The Silent Years/Rescue) is on bass. It's coming together really well so far, and I hope we can keep playing together after the show.
MCB: I saw you mentioned recording this album in your childhood home and recruiting your father to help engineer. What was that process like, and why there? Is your father in the music business?
RA: Yeah, it seemed like a really natural thing for me to do. I'm surprised it took me this long to finally do it. My dad has played music all my life (and since he was 13 or something) and has been really influential and helpful to me in my own music "career" (I hate that word, but I don't know what else to call it). My dad has recorded various things for my bands over the years, and he's had a pretty nice studio in the basement for a real long time. He's a great musician and just a good guy (he's my dad, after all!), and we had a blast doing the record together. It gave us a chance to bond and spend time together, and making a record with my dad is probably one of the things I'm the most proud of in my life.
MCB: Would you say that there is a certain theme that run through the album?
RA: Yeah. The album is the probably the most personal thing I've ever done. There are lots of songs about my wife, my son, my family, my friends, my experiences playing music for so long. There's a few tunes about just my observation of things around me and my opinion on life in general, and it all congeals together to form - what I think, anyway - is a pretty complete thought. It's really just about where I'm at as a 35 year old guy with a family and a full time job, but also with a real passion to create art and share that with whoever might want to listen.
MCB: One of my favorite songs on the album is "Young American Nomads". What was the inspiration behind this song? (I love the build-up towards the end)
RA: Thanks! I feel like it's kind of a weird one on the album, so I'm glad you like it. Lyrically the song is more or less about a time in my life when I didn't really have much to worry about but hanging out with my friends and trying to have as much fun as possible. It's kind of a snapshot of my time during college - which is a time period that I really haven't written about much in any of my other songs, and some lyrics are very specific to events that happened. There's a line about throwing eggs, which is a real thing that happened back in school that will go down as one of the most fun nights ever. My roommates and I went to some party and we all got super drunk, ended up wrestling each other all the way back to our apartment, got into our place and started throwing eggs at each other inside the house. The next day we woke up with smashed eggs all over the place and it was just a huge mess. The crux of the song is kind of about how that kind of thing could never really happen now because of the way that life's real responsibilities take over, but that it's fun to look back on things like that and think about how they shaped you.
Musically it was really based on trying to fit that opening riff in the song. Most of the song existed besides that riff, but I felt like the song needed something unique and I came up with that (which is kind of a rip off of George Harrison's "What Is Life"). Anyway, I was pumped on that, but then struggled to figure out a bridge for the song, so instead I wanted to just go for a big The Who-style ending. Sean really kills it on the drums on that song.
MCB: I know you're still playing shows with Destroy This Place, but do you have plans to tour in support of this latest effort?
RA: Not particularly, but I'd definitely entertain trying to do a few out of town things if there opportunity presented itself. Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, even New York... those places aren't far, and if it was workable, I would for sure explore the option.
"Heart String Soul" is available to purchase now, and is also included in the price of admission. Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms will perform at The Berkley Front at 9 PM this Saturday (March 28th) with support from Love Axe and Javelins. Admission is $10/$15 for couples, and free if you've already purchased the album (bring proof of purchase to the show).