Charm City Devils Frontman John Allen Talks New Album, Cancer Battle, Fatherhood + More
Charm City Devils are back with their brand-new sophomore album ‘Sins,' the follow-up to their 2009 debut 'Let's Rock n' Roll.'
The new disc's current single ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ is taking over airwaves. The tune is a cover of a traditional folk song that was popularized in the soundtrack to the film ‘O Brother Where Art Thou.’
The band recorded ‘Sins’ at Sound Kitchen studios with Grammy-winning producer Skidd Mills (Saving Abel, Egypt Central). Charm City Devils are also gearing up for a string of dates at the end of April into May and they are confirmed to play Rocklahoma 2012. Go here to check out a full list of cities and dates.
When Loudwire got the chance to chat with frontman John Allen, he spoke all about the new record, personal hardships, being a devoted dad and musician and much more.
What made you guys do a cover of ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’?
Well you know I love that movie [‘O Brother Where Art Thou’]. We talked about doing a cover a little bit and someone suggested ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ and I thought back to the year of that album where that song was nominated for a Grammy – the performance that Ralph Stanley did live on the Grammys I remember it just sent chills down my spine. I thought “Wow, that was an incredible performance, that’s an incredible song so maybe we should take a crack at it - see if we can make it work in the rock world.” It was a challenge, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.
It was a tough one with the arrangement, we had to change the arrangement quite a bit and we wrote the music to make it rock and I had to write a chorus. What you would think a modern day rock kind of chorus would be, the song didn’t have that – what we think of as a typical chorus. That was a challenge and the song was really long too, we had to cut it down to make it work and it’s still pretty long for radio these days.
What is another song or artist you would like to cover?
I really like blues and traditional type of songs, stuff that’s older. We’ve messed around in our live set we actually play a Black Keys song, well now it’s two records ago – ‘I Got Mine’ is the song that we do in our live set once in a while, which is a lot of fun. It’s kind of got a Sabbath-y, Hendrix-y, Zeppelin-y kind of vibe to it. I really dig doing that.
What was the overall experience of recording with producer Skidd Mills?
The last record was done over a period of several years and I did most of the tracks in my basement and the last three tracks recorded for that album, we did the drums elsewhere then it was mixed in another facility. So we really wanted to do this one, top to bottom, with one person and it was a real honor to work with Skidd. He’s had so much success, he’s a really great talent and to be able to record in Nashville was a great experience. When we went down there during pre-production work with Skidd, Dolly Parton was in the studio across the hall from us. You’re around that kind of stuff and you’re like “Wow” -- it blows your mind?
Would you ever work with Dolly Parton for a collab?
Heck yeah, I would not turn that down. She’s a tremendous talent, a great song writer, just a force to be reckoned with.
I read that there were a lot of feelings were buried and this record helped bring them to the forefront, can you elaborate on that and talk more about the inspirations for some of the themes of the album?
Well a lot of frustrations and it’s life basically. We all go through it, I’ve been really fortunate in my life, I’ve just been so lucky in so many respects to not have to have dealt with some really heavy things and heavy obstacles throughout my life. I mean I was adopted but that wasn’t – it was a pretty charmed life admittedly. But right after the Cruefest tour, about several months after, I found out I had skin cancer.
I wasn’t really afraid of dying or anything, I felt helpless. The doctors were gonna cut it all out and take care of it. It was Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The thing that bothered me the most was what would happen – I have two little girls at the time my oldest was three and my youngest was just a year and a half. So I figured the oldest one would probably barely remember me if at all and the youngest wouldn’t remember me at all. I just thought about how that would impact their lives not having a dad around. So that hit me really hard and then there are stories about relationships breaking up on the record, which everybody’s gone through.
The opening number ‘Fight’ is about somebody really not believing in you and it’s about the business, about how difficult the music business can be. There’s a lot of life themes, one of the common threads along most of the songs is that of anger.
Are your kids rocking out to the heavy stuff or not so much?
They’ve heard ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ around the house and they sing that. They’ll hear my stuff when I’m working on songs and playing the demos back and forth and I’m trying to listen to them and seeing what to work on. They get to hear the stuff first hand and I could tell if I’ve got something that’s working because my oldest she’s start – she’ll sing it when it’s not even playing or if I play a part of it and I stop it for some reason she’ll yell at me to keep playing it.
I got to watch myself though, I was singing the Foxy Shazam song around my kids but I was trying to sing the G rated version of that song “that’s the biggest black eyes I’ve ever seen, I like it, I like it.” My youngest she’s not singin’ the other parts but she’s singing “I like it, I like it.”
Be careful, you might have a couple of little producers on your hands.
[Laughs] Yeah I might. I need more women telling me what to do around the house [laughs]. I got three bosses at home.
You said that you named the record ‘Sins’ because it was the one the one thing you guys could agree on since everyone has sinned in some way. Does that have anything to do with your life on the road?
We’re good men on the road, we’re good boys – we’ve sinned enough in our earlier years. I’ve seen a lot of stuff in my days of touring, I played drums in a band called SR-71 and I joined the band right after they had a huge hit with ‘Right Now’ and oh my God the stuff that I saw on that tour bus when I went out with them. There were a couple times when I felt like I had to come home and shower for a week and get myself to church [laughs]. We got a lot of that stuff out of our system in our teens, we’ve all been playing music for a long time.
So what's life like on the tour bus these days?
We don’t have a bus these days [laughs], we’re doing this on such an indie level. We were the only band on Cruefest 2 on the main stage that we were in a van, driving ourself. It wasn’t bad at all, I tell you I can’t complain - except for when we were out West and the cities were really far apart. There were a couple drives overnight where I stupidly stayed awake with the driver to make sure we didn’t end up in a ditch somewhere, there were some shows where I felt it the next day. We’re all such good friends we really have a good time out there.
What is one band you would love to tour with that you haven’t gone on tour with yet?
Probably Aerosmith or KISS -- they’re just legends and two of my favorite bands when I was little. To meet those guys and be able to tour with them would be phenomenal. I look up and respect those two bands so much. I already got to tour with Motley Crue and that was phenomenal. I’m a huge fan of Shinedown, I would love to tour with those guys, we have friends in Theory of a Deadman, I would love to get back out with those guys. Black Stone Cherry, I’m a huge fan of those guys - this last record to me sounds amazing.
What is one thing you need to bring on the road with you (no electronics)?
Throat coat tea! [Laughs] It’s an herbal tea that taste awful and I take some of that before I go onstage. The way I sing, it tears up my throat so badly – it soothes my throat. That’s sort of a lame thing, what else? I can’t really think of anything else I need to take. I need to take my leather pants man! And a cucumber covered in tin foil! Gotta have that, like in ‘Spinal Tap,’ you gotta impress the ladies.
Watch the Charm City Devils 'Man of Constant Sorrow' Video