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FlashWounds Interview: John Allen of Charm City Devils

Charm City Devils 3 Use

 

By Alyce Hayes

 

John, photo courtesy of Michele Wise-Smith

John, photo courtesy of Michele Wise-Smith

Charm City Devils is making waves across the country with their unique blend of alternative, southern and hard rock. Their new album, Battles (check out my full review here ~ yeah, advance copies is definitely a job perk!), is set for release on September 23, and as luck would have it, the guys were on a quick break before getting back out on the road and I was able to catch up with John Allen, the band’s lead singer. We discussed CCD’s current success, John’s switch from behind the drum kit to front and center, tour adventures, and what lies ahead.

 

The origins of Charm City Devils were, well, John…just John.  He was looking to embark on a new project, but had no other musicians lined up or even in mind. On his demo, he played all the instruments; in his words, he was “…the poor man’s Dave Grohl,” as Dave had started Foo Fighter in much the same way.

 

We had a great chat [Thank you so much for your time and good nature, John!], and here are some of the highlights, with the frontman kicking things off with how the band evolved once it wasn’t “…just John.”

John: In the beginning, the band was sort of a vehicle for the songs I wrote, but then it became more collaborative. There’s no real formula to how we write our songs…sometimes the guys might jam on something, and I’ll just record with my iPhone, maybe start playing with lyrics.

 

FW: There’s an obvious difference in music style (genre, really) from when you were playing drums for SR-71 (the song “1985” comes to mind). And I even picked up style changes from your previous CCD album, Sins, to Battles.

John: In SR-71, as the drummer, I tried to contribute, but where I came from musically didn’t really fit with that band. My style has always been based in blues, hard rock and metal. But in CCD ~ I write lyrics from song to song. I don’t have an overall set concept, I just go with what works best with the song. Each record, I try to push the envelope lyrically and vocally. I’m 7 years into this band, and my voice is so much stronger than where I started in 2007. I do things I couldn’t possibly have done back then. I used to have one hard song in the set, and now they’re all hard. It’s true what they say: the voice is a muscle.

Myles Kennedy (L) and John (R) hanging out after a show in August

Myles Kennedy (L) and John (R) hanging out after a show in August

FW: Speaking of, your voice is a wonderful mix of soul and grit ~ it really fits the music. Who were some of your influences?

John: I really love Chris Robinson from The Black Crowes, Brett Smith from Shinedown, Myles Kennedy, of course ~ he just blows me away. I love Steven Tyler for the rhythm and grit, and his range is incredible. Definitely Steve Marriott from Humble Pie, and Otis Redding. I really love soulful singers over ones with range.

FW: Do you have any dream venues/festivals that you’d love to play?

John: England’s Download Festival is a big dream for me. Louder Than Life [and]Aftershock Festival. We played Rock on the Range, and that was awesome. But one of my “bucket list” places is my hometown arena called Baltimore Arena. It’s not state of the art or anything, but I used to go there when I was little. I saw my first concert and the circus there. It’s funny, I’ve played the big arenas everywhere else around here, but not the Baltimore Arena.

FW: Any strange touring stories to share with us?

John: Oh yeah. On our last tour ~ it was always the weekday shows, too ~ in Waterloo, Iowa. I noticed a girl right in the center, leaning on the stage, and there was a guy right behind her…and I’m like, ‘Are they having sex during our set?’ It was very distracting. I have a hard enough time remembering lyrics without that going on. And then, two weeks to the day, we were in Spokane, it was a Tuesday night, and there were two girls and a guy, probably on some drugs, having a really good time with each other. And this one girl, in a bikini top, came up to the stage (it was only a foot or so off the ground), and started reaching up and grabbing me…I kept backing away from her through most of the set, and then finally, the last song started, and I decide to go down front. Within 5 seconds, she had my belt unbuckled and the top three buttons of my pants undone ~ one handed, mind you. She was unbelievably…professional. I had to back away from her very quickly, or else this rock show could turn into a comedy show real quick. I must have been throwing out some crazy sexual tension. But it hasn’t happened during our current tour yet, so maybe I lost some of my Mojo.

FW: How do you stay in top shape on the road?

John: I don’t really do anything I’m supposed to do. I drink a lot of caffeine and Coca-Cola; I drink Captain Morgan, beer. The hardest thing is getting enough sleep. I’m not really good at that on the road. Sometimes I’ll warm up, if I remember. If I’m feeling really bad, I’ll use Throat Coat or something before I get on the stage. But most of the time, the first song is my warm-up, and then we just go from there.

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While Charm City Devils definitely has aspirations of achieving greater success and winning over as big a fan base as possible (who wouldn’t?), it seems they also know how to stay grounded. The band likes to meet people at their merch table after shows and encourage fans to send messages on Facebook. He’s been pursuing music professionally since his teens, but John maintains his down-to-earth demeanor; spend five minutes with him and it’s clear that he’s a passionate fan of music and quality musicianship and that making the transition to vocals reinvigorated the entire music experience for him both personally and as part of a band, and has ultimately allowed for CCD to keep experimenting with their sound and giving audiences some damn fine rock.

John recording for Battles

John recording for Battles

John: I’m always striving for greater success. We’ve had a lot of opportunities and successes: opening for Motley Crue, Alice in Chains, Guns n Roses, and now Slash. I think the band is really hitting its stride now on this album. One of the benefits of switching to vocals is that it makes the whole experience brand new again ~ if I had stayed on drums, I may have been over it, but it has been so much fun as a frontman. Sure, I wish I had known what I know now back when we were touring with Motley Crue ~ I feel like I was kind of thrown into the deep end on that one, but when you get an opportunity like that, you go for it.

FW: And they don’t come along very often. How do you keep the faith?

John: The hardest thing about this business is to keep it going. Look at Shinedown. They’ve been around since 2003. But they keep touring, making records, keeping themselves in the public eye. It’s the hardest thing to do. This is our third record deal with the band ~ my seventh as an individual. If I’m not a lifer, I don’t know who the fuck is. I can’t not do it. Sometimes I may want to say, ‘Fuck it,’ but I can’t. I’ve been playing shows since I was in my teens. But it’s hard to keep the momentum going. CCD had some things going with the song ‘Man of Constant Sorrow,’ from Sins, and we released that album on a friend’s label.  Then we sold that album to a bigger label, and they didn’t have any heart in it, and so we found ourselves looking for another label. And now we’re here with The End, looking forward to this partnership, keeping the momentum going with this.

 

You work your ass off, but you still need timing to come into play, getting it into the right hands.

FW: In regards to the business, so many people say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Does that adage still apply?

John: It’s not just ‘Who you know.’ You’ve gotta have something to back it up, to keep that person interested, or else that connection is wasted. Talent is still a necessity. But any success in the music business is like hitting the lottery. Getting a record deal is just like buying a ticket to the lottery. The odds are definitely not in your favor; and any success or breakthrough is a minor miracle. But I won’t stop trying ~ I love it too much.

 

There was a band that opened for us a little while back, and one of the guys was writing to me, asking me questions. He has a family, kid at home, and I think he was trying to get me to tell him ~ one way or the other ~ if he had a chance to make a living at this. But you never know, you could go on to make millions of dollars, or end up on welfare. That’s the life we choose to lead because we love music so much. Most of the time, it’s one extreme or the other. But we can’t stop doing what we’re doing. I’ll be making music until the day I die.

 

***

Check out “Shots” (Official Video) here, and don’t waste any time in pre-ordering bundles (look, a shot glass ~ get it?) or just the Battles CD by clicking here.  My Spidey senses tell me this band is just getting started and will be enjoying a “charmed” career for many years to come (sorry, couldn’t resist, had to do it).

 

Battles pre-order bundle

Battles pre-order bundle

 


If you haven’t checked on Charm City Devil’s remaining tour dates already, do it now. 

JUST ANNOUNCED!!


CCD just announced




charmcitydevils.com

facebook.com/charmcitydevils

 

 

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