“This may be one of the busiest years of my career, but I’m really welcoming it.” Less than a week after the release of his first solo record, Devon Allman is diving into a packed schedule: in addition to promoting Turquoise, Allman is on the road with his continuing project Royal Southern Brotherhood, working out the details for an upcoming music video, planning ahead for a new record with RSB, and keeping his creative juices flowing whenever he can spare a moment to pick up a book or visit an art museum. We spoke with Allman on the phone as he was driving with his RSB band mates to a show in Lincoln, NE to talk about the new record and what comes next.
The album seems to have a very reflective nature from start to finish. What was Turquoise to you?
It was the first time I ever got to make a record where I had a specific framework stylistically. When I was making Honeytribe records we had a specific fan base, and they expected to hear a jam band that really rocked and had a lot of power. Here I really wanted to just concentrate on writing songs that were meaningful.
Where does the album title come from?
I think Turquoise comes from that idealistic place where the world slows down – you’re on the beach with the one you love, and you’re just kind of turning off the world. It was kind of born out of that final song on the record.
Tom Petty’s song “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” appears on the new record. Why did you choose that particular song to cover?
I always thought it was a great song. I always thought it’d be cool to remake with someone who was exciting and had a good voice. I’ve had the idea for 10 or 12 years. So this was the perfect time. Sam [Fish] and I are label mates, and we’re good friends, and I brought the idea to her and she was into it; she killed it. We wanted kind of an earthier version of it; we wanted a sexier, slower, kind of bluesy version, and that’s what we went for.
Is it true you’re planning a music video for that song?
Yeah. We’ll spend a couple weeks down in New Orleans, and that should be on TV and computers in a couple months.
You worked with some of your Royal Southern Brotherhood band mates on Turquoise. How did they contribute to the recording process?
Yonrico Scott played drums on the record and killed it. He’s funny: he shows up, I play him the song on acoustic two or three times through, we go into the room, he gets behind the kit, and that basic track is done. Two or three passes, tops. He’s just a pro – it’s boom boom boom let’s go, and we had basic tracks for all the songs in two days. So in two days, the drummer and bass player can leave, and leave me to do all the guitars and all the vocals, and kind of roll down the checklist. It went very quickly. Turquoise was done in 10 days.
It’s pretty impressive that you were able to get it done so quickly.
I think you reach a point where you’re pretty seasoned, and the preparation is everything. We reside inside of a genre that is about capturing the moment and being raw. I spent 30 days on a record called Space Age Blues – I produced every note on the record and really labored over every single bit of it, and now that I’ve made records like this I don’t ever want to go back to that. I don’t want to pore over, “Should I add a little bit of this?” Screw that. I don’t care about that anymore. I’m not one of those artists anymore. It’s not about perfection – it’s about feeling.
Are you working on new material with Royal Southern Brotherhood?
Yeah we are. It’s coming together; we’re looking to record by the end of the year and put a new record out at the beginning of next year. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes. The first record is always kind of about feeling it out, and the next one’s about where you’re going to take it. I’m excited to see where it will go.
Citing the 20 year mark you’ve reached since starting your career from your song “When I Left Home,” where do you picture yourself 20 years from now?
I hope I’m still doing what I’m doing. I hope I get better at it. Every day is a lesson. Try and be a better guitarist, better friend, better band mate, better singer. Just try to be doing what I’m doing now, but better on all levels would be the goal, the dream.
I’ve read that you wrote songs like “Time Machine” and “Into the Darkness” with your son in mind. Is that true?
“Into the Darkness” definitely was written for my son. I’ve had the lyrics kind of bouncing around for a while now, for years. It’s a balance you try to achieve with having children – you want to protect them from the craziness of the world, but you also want to get them ready for that craziness. That song is really about striking that balance. “Time Machine” is more of a collective thing. Anyone can relate to that kind of reminiscing about being younger.
How has fatherhood influenced your songwriting or your approach to music in general?
I think it’s made me more in-tune to taking care of him. I think that having the experience of being a father has given me a depth that I didn’t have before. Things affect me more in the world, because I’m trying to bring him up in this world. I’m a lot more sensitive than I was before. I think I was kind of a punk before my son was brought into the world, and when I saw him for the first time, I cried like a grandmother. I had that feeling of love that I had never felt; it was a game-changer. So I think that changed me as a human and an artist completely.
Do you have a favorite track from the album?
I think my favorite track on there is probably a tie between “Time Machine” and the lullaby that I wrote for my girl.
How does inspiration come to you?
I think it hits at various times. I listen to a lot of records and I go to a lot of art museums. I really try to tap that well, you know – things that kind of get me going. As far as when song ideas come, those are so random. They really just drop out of the sky. I don’t sit around trying to write. Maybe I should; I’m not very disciplined. I’ll sit down with a guitar and just pick around, and if something comes around, it’s cool; I’ll record it, save it for later and kind of expand upon it. I’ll go months without writing anything, and then I’ll spit out four songs in a day. I’ve always been that way; it’s really weird.
Now that Turquoise is out, what’s next for you?
Royal Southern Brotherhood is putting out a live CD/DVD in a few months. We’ll be touring all year, and when we have a little time off, I’ll take the solo band out and we’ll tour that. I’ve got some collaborations coming up, and I’m trying to market my hot sauce further. It’s a crazy busy year; this may be one of the busiest years of my career, but I’m really welcoming it, really looking forward to it.
Is there anything you want your fans to know about Turquoise?
I think it kind of speaks for itself. I never really set out to make a personal record; I just wanted to write some songs that hopefully people can relate to – like “Time Machine” is just kind of looking back on your life. “When I Left Home” is like taking that one chance that maybe you never thought you would take. Within the personal nature of it, I hope that there are some themes that anyone will be able to relate to.
Interview by Meghan Roos