The Life and Times
Silent Uproar: What do you hope to accomplish with The Life and Times? World domination of course, but is this something you see continuing for many years?
Allen: Ah…sure. I mean, I will take it as far as I can. I would love to get, you know, paid for this.
In the immediate future I for sure see a Japanese EP and I for sure see another full-length. And then after that it’s anybody’s guess, but I definitely feel those at least. As strange as it is, there’s been some real interest from larger labels recently. I mean I don’t want to jinx myself on this but you know, if that came along, we may look into that, you know.
SU: Cool. It seems that things have been at least progressing forward for you. You released the EP, now a full-length, you have been touring, etc.
Allen: Yeah, absolutely. While I’m doing this I will definitely go at it full force. We would love to be a working band and we would love to sell more records, I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t. The goal is not to be some rock star on Cribs but just to be a paid musician, you know, there’s a lot of musicians who are. I have made some money in my life but certainly not what I had hoped. I think there’s every possibility that we could make money and I would follow it as long as it offered me that.
SU: Well after the breakup of Shiner, how has it kind of regrouping and starting to work with new musicians?
Allen: It was a huge relief and very liberating and a lot of fun (laughs) to be completely honest. Bands break up because it has gotten to not be fun anymore, or you’re not creative, you’re not being productive as an ensemble or whatever reason. Every band has a laundry list when they break up, whether it’s something subversive or malicious going on or whatever. But it wasn’t the failing in our band. You know, we don’t all have to chase this forever we’re not being real productive, there’s not a lot of labels interested that uh, step up. So it was, let’s do something else for a while and we saw it as spreading Shiner around and making it form more families.
Every one of us was liberated by the entire thing and while we love it and we’re very proud of it, it was time to put it down. I think it would have it seemed desperate to continue to put out records on some smaller and smaller label. We loved our band so much we had to stay together. You know, (band name….) still does that (?black something. Sorry) still does that. I mean, put it up dude. Do something else. Not your jazz combo. Here acoustic outlet.
SU: And are there things that you have been able to do with The Life and Times that you were never able to kind of bring through with Shiner?
Allen: I think so. I find it much less self-conscious as a group of musicians. We play whatever we want. You know, I think that we don’t feel real constricted by preconceived things. Our main focus is to do things we love and things that just rock our boat. We’ve been able to do things, songwriting things that I would have never presented to Shiner. I think it’s helped us create a different sound and everybody I’ve spoken to says that it is very different from Shiner.
As a three piece, we’re rockin’ and I’m singing and writing songs you know and really we’re all writing. There’s that common denominator but it’s I think it’s fucking different where as I don’t really think the Flat End EP stood out as different as we had hoped. I really like that EP but I don’t know if it made the mark. I think we’re trying to find exactly what we were and I think there’s some songs where you could say ‘I think that sounds kind of like Shiner on some versions.
SU: Absolutely, I mean I think it’s a pretty, pretty good bridge between the two sounds.
Allen: I tend to agree and it wasn’t necessarily my conscious goal maybe it was a subconscious goal but it wasn’t something that I overtly tried to shoot for.
SU: One final Shiner question, there has been word of a DVD or a rarities CD...iIs that happening?
Allen: It is. Paul and I are putting our beginning touches on it. We’re going to try and straighten up this whole thing. Paul and I are basically the common denominators and maybe it’s because we’re the ones in town and in that scenario we would be the ones to take care of it.
We’re weeding through a bunch of old footage and stuff; it’s a long, long process. We’re finding someone cool to put it out, but it’s not going to be a whole concert of the final show. I don’t think that would do any service except to let people know it wasn’t quite as magical as they remember it to be (laughs). I think it would serve the whole process better to do some bits and pieces of each different incarnation of the band. Starting very early with some bullshit, fucking around in different towns and filming ourselves being jackasses, you know, having fun. I think it would be cool to show the growth of the band. We really had a great time and I think it would be cool to show how we were together.
Like I said, that would be a long process and it’s going to be a couple of years. I think it would be premature to do anything earlier because there is not really public mandate for it right now. With all due respect to chat board people or whatever, I think they are the only ones really dying for it. It would be best for us to wait, you have to separate so there is a real kind of “public need” for it. I use that in quotation marks (laughs). Heavily quoted (laughs).
SU: All right well what is the inspiration behind the name of the new album?
Allen: It really kind of ties together a lot of the lyrical images and themes of the record. There’s a certain sad desperation in some of the lyrical stuff that I pull from the suburbs. Actually, it is just depressing to drive through and I kind of drew on some of that, just lifeless cultureless endless concrete sprawl of disposable buildings, and the feeling of growing up in that. A lot of that is not real literal and it involves patchwork images and things that mean stuff to me and I kind of throw it all together and see what comes out, you know.
SU: So is it like the anti-thesis to the Verve’s “Urban Hymns. (laughs)
Allen: Well, no. There’s only a reference and a tip of the hat. You know, it’s all it is. There’s certainly nothing directly countered to that; there’s no lyrical reference.
SU: You seem to be working with a lot of the same people in terms of the label, booking agent, and all the industry help. At any point did you think about maybe starting over working with a whole set of different people?
Allen: Definitely. Not a booking agent though, Tim Edward is indispensable and I’m the envy of many many many bands successful and unsuccessful that we have him as a booking agent. So I wouldn’t change that.
DeSoto was there at the right time. They are a great old friend of ours and could offer up something that wasn’t necessarily being offered by a better label. A great way to get this rolling, is for an unproven band to get a product out and they have certainly served that purpose very well; aside from being an amazing label, with a prolific rocker. There were always been rumblings from other very cool labels that didn’t pan out for whatever reason uh you know so it’s not out of question for us to do something with someone else.
SU: Now that the album has been out a little while, do you feel that he overall reaction has been positive?
Allen: Shit yeah (laughs). No, it really has. I read reviews a lot less closely so I kind of get the overall effect of it. I don’t necessarily pour over every word and agonize over it like I might have in the past. But yeah, it’s been very well received in some great and pretty well respected magazines in print and online. So it is cool knowing that I have a lot of great response from my peers and my friends who will tell you when it sucks, you know. Or they won’t but they just won’t come out to the show, you know they have to watch Six Feet Under that night or whatever (laughs). They can’t quite make it out.
This whole process has been starting over honestly; it’s been the toughest in Kansas City. It’s tough there because people have known me for so long as the dude from Shiner. It has been tough to shake that off and convince people we’re doing different things. So, in other towns, to the contrary, we’ve been more I think hitting our stride in a lot of the towns. But we’re doing pretty well and catching on and had a lot of good reports from uh friends and shit too. The bad reviews, don’t hit me near as hard cause either the guy’s a moron or shoots himself in the foot, you know, it just doesn’t hit me as hard for some reason. I don’t know why.
SU: Well I guess after time you learn to take things in stride more. If you feel strongly enough about it and proud of it then ultimately that’s what matters.
Allen: Absolutely. And I think that’s what it is. There are those who feel very strongly about it and those who don’t get it either or don’t like it. I have to accept that they don’t get it or whatever but it’s been 1 bad to every 4, 5 good reviews so…
SU: Well, your music seems to get the “shoegazer” label a lot. Labels in general suck, but is that one you are comfortable with people using to describe the music?
Allen: Uhmmm… It’s okay for right now but I don’t necessarily think we would ever be that easily categorized. That describes a lot of the shit that I grew up with, that I really cut my teeth on. Things like Slowdrive and My Bloody Valentine but also old R.E.M. and shit like that, it’s really huge for me. I think it’s one of the things with this band; we’re not afraid to play a song that might actually sound like a song from another era, you know what I mean? We’ll take a chance on a sound and a song and we’ll go “oh my God that’s kind of like this,” you know. And we’ll be like “yeah? So what, it’s not.” So right now we just have a real comfort in what we want and what feels good. I think that came through and what really felt good was stuff from that era.
SU: One thing that I have noticed people saying is how the band’s sound is very different from the Shiner stuff in that it’s more atmospheric, slow, however you want to say it. Was it a conscious decision to go that way or is it kind of how the songs came out when you got down and wanted to write the new stuff?
Allen: I think it’s both of those. I think it came out that way because you write the way you feel, and I think what came out was less of a sense of having to just fuckin rock it with the darkest, most difficult chords ‘what is that a d minor 9 slash 13 chord oh my god, over triplets and 16-11, oh fuckin Christ,’ you know. So there were certain things that that Shiner had done - and not that we were super math-y or prog-y – that were very heavy and very monolithic, live especially, they just crush you and I didn’t necessarily need to crush my audience anymore.
There are a lot of bands that I’m really in love with like Doves and Flaming Lips and bands that don’t crush their audience, there’s another way. We’ve been taking a different approach and you start to draw and different audience and different people. Honestly I think this record resonates with girls a lot more than any Shiner record. It’s very interesting, but maybe they’re less drawn to super heavy dark difficult stuff.
SU: If you could tour with any band you choose, who would it be?
Allen: Alive (as in not dead), Flaming Lips. I just fucking…I got a man crush on that band. They’re fucking awesome. I respect Wayne Coyne’s longevity and his work ethic and the stick-to-itiveness and their inventiveness and all the shit that they have done on a major label, the stuff that they have been able to talk Warner Bros. into…it’s amazing. It would be an honor to tour with them so hopefully that will happen.
SU: Are there any new bands coming out that you are excited about?
Allen: Oh, a bunch, I’m always listening to new stuff. There’s a bunch of great shit around Kansas City, in fact…of course I’m drawing a complete blank when you know somebody asks you…I just got the new Autolux on right now which I think is pretty great. Kansas City has great bands like Doris Henson; they just went out with Billy Corgan for 5 weeks they’re frickin’ killing. They’re on DeSoto also and they’re like Talking Heads and Pavement and cooler than both of those bands. Shit, there’s a bunch of shit right now but I’m drawing a complete blank. I have no idea. I’m a classic man too so I love old Pink Floyd and Journey (laughs)
SU: I’ll let you admit it, so if you’re going to admit it then go ahead.
Allen: Hey man. I do. But only the old shit. Pink Floyd’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s just a pleasure but Journey’s a guilty pleasure. Guilty as charged.
SU: Where do you think music in general has left to go? At this point is everyone just rehashing old ideas or do feel that there is still plenty of completely original music to be made?
Allen: Both. And the difference between rehash and original is so minute, but a song can take on a huge, hugely different sound with just the smallest changes or the inflection of a voice or a lyric or a production style. Music is cyclical like all things, so we’re constantly rehashing what we know and what we grew up with and it just goes in bigger and bigger loops. So, I think you will continue to hear a lot of stuff that you heard in the past come back around again.
There will be a huge grunge resurgence in about six years. Not that it’s ever really gone away with knuckleheads but you know what I mean. And maybe in 20 years rap rock is going to come back. I think it does tend to circle around, what introduces it to a new audience is when it is presented in a new way. It’s like Led Zeppelin reintroducing the blues but to an English audience with electric guitars, and a huge drum beat behind it.
SU: I’m going to ask you about the artwork for the album real quick. Who came up with the idea behind it?
Allen: The guy who makes our website Chadwick Smith is friends with Amanda Friedman who is this amazing photographer from LA and he suggested that we look through her stuff. He said she has all kinds of stuff and would probably be willing to give us something and I was like “No, way. This is like high dollar stuff.” She has gallery shows, she’s shooting for Vanity Fair, shooting for Rolling Stone, and she does all this kind of stuff as her business work but she also does her artistic work and I couldn’t believe that she would even consider it. Turns out, that she was into our band and was also a Shiner fan so she was very gracious and let us use the image on the cover. She was like, “Why don’t you just look around” and showed us some stuff through email, and said “let me know what you’re interested in and I’m sure it’s no problem.” So it was really interesting.
SU: And is the image just something you thought was cool or was there something about it you thought relates to the album?
Allen: I thought it was hauntingly apropos and was symbolic of how the record sounds. You know, there’s certain darkness to it with this sort of bright light being beneath it gleaming out from behind this darkness. There is a certain glint of hope, a dash of hope all through the record. It was a lot less of the annalistic stuff that I was very much into in Shiner and just reflected where my brain was lyrically speaking.
SU: Do you think artwork is becoming for or less important in the age of digital albums?
Allen: We’re going to have to wait and see. I think it’s becoming unimportant. I think we’ll get to a point when people just want songs from bands and things like that but there will also be a reactionary movement towards the purist stuff and having to you know people wanting to see artwork and the artistic side to it. I think it’s completely intrinsic to the feel of the record. It’s hugely important to me. When everyone probably follows what I do, it will probably go away (laughs).
SU: Speaking of which, Warner has announced they are starting a digital only label where the songs are just released online and the bands keep the masters. Do you think something like that could ever work for you?
Allen: Huh. I hadn’t heard about that, but I’m not surprised about it. I’m surprised actually that it’s taken this long. But, if the money was right, we could talk about all kinds of stuff. If there would be a way for me to release artwork or complete packaging then maybe. I don’t know, I really love the whole album format. Listening to single songs, I think it’s way too incomplete and doesn’t cover near what I’m feeling or want to get out, you know?
SU: At this point in your career do you feel like you still have something to prove to the music world, or if it all ended tomorrow would you be happy with what you have achieved and the catalog of music you have released?
Allen: Good question. I would love to sell more than uh 10 or 15 thousand records per record, I would consider that important to me. When I look back on what I’ve done and who we’ve influenced, I’m very proud. I know what we’ve done, I really do and that’s satisfying to me.
So, if for some reason I lost both my arms and both my legs…yeah. I would feel satisfied. But, I got an itch to rock! and I don’t know if it’s something to prove to the music world or maybe it’s to prove to myself. I also really enjoy what I do and that’s what really drives me.