It has taken British artist Allman Brown circa four years to release his debut album, after the masses of attention and success he achieved back in 2013 with the single, “Sons and Daughters,” which created an overnight sensation and almost “broke” the internet.
That poignant song, a collaboration with fellow Londoner Liz Lawrence, received over three million Spotify streams, half a million YouTube views and a number two placement on Hype Machine. Numerous TV dramas snapped up the song to feature in their shows, such as ‘Parenthood’, ‘Reign’ and ‘Beauty And The Beast’.
The new album, “1000 Years,” was produced by long-time friend and producer Ian Barter (Izzy Bizzu and Paloma Faith). A magnificent piece of work, as a singer, as a song writer and as an artist. One of the strongest singer-songwriter albums of the year so far, and will be hard to beat. So why did Allman not ‘strike while the iron was hot’ soon after the spotlight was first turned brightly on him back in 2013, to drop his first full album sooner?
“The short answer is money and skill. It costs a fair amount to record songs these days, and I was just starting to make enough cash to reinvest in recording, which is why I made a few EPs before taking the step of making the album.
“Also, I was getting better at song writing and I ended up recording the album when I felt I had the right collection of tracks. Alongside that; my audience was growing due to the exposure from TV syncs (songs used on TV soundtracks) so the “iron was hot” moment felt more like a slow burn rather than a singular moment.”
The plan inside his head for the direction of the debut album? “I just wanted it to be eclectic really. I love a ballad as much as the next person, but I needed the album to have variety, which is why I have put electronica infused songs like ‘Palms’ and ‘Ancient Light’ alongside ballads like ‘Goodbyes’ and ‘Rivers.’ There is also a straight-up pop song on there in the shape of ‘Last Dance.’ That was a lot of fun, because it was produced by Mike Halls of Clean Cut Kid, and he played guitar on it. He’s a good friend and an insane guitarist.” The core theme of the songs on the record is memory and the perception of memory. “How time can possess us, how it can be infinite or incredibly limiting.”
I Need Therapy!
So, what does it say about Mr Brown? “That I need therapy! I really don’t know to be honest. I leave that up to the listener.” The title, ‘1000 Years’, taken from the lyric to track three, “Foolish Love,” ties in to the theme of time and memory; the spine of the album. “It is also quite ambiguous, which I enjoy. It’s open to interpretation.” It is always good to get the skinny on an artist’s song writing and recording process, as they are all very different. Allman writes his songs in batches of three, usually. “I write songs pretty quickly. They tend to come in groups of three. I write them on my acoustic guitar in the dark in the early morning. I find that the easiest time to get into the zone, the world is very quiet.
“Then I take the songs into the studio and build from there which is the part of the process I most enjoy. Working with my talented friends is amazing, as it allows to me to use their skills to enhance my songs. I wrote’ Rivers’ with Robyn Sherwell’s voice in mind, and it turned out even better than I could have hoped. Special mention to Ian Barter (my key producer) – that dude can play every instrument under the sun.” What did Ian Barter bring to the table to add to Allman’s own skills and experience? What would be missing it himself? “Ian brought so much, not to mention his emotional support and friendship, which was essential during the recording. His belief in me was a real gift.
“On the technical side, his professional ability is pretty epic. He is a multi- instrumentalist, has perfect pitch and knows more about microphones and audio equipment than you can imagine. The album would certainly lack polish.My favourite piece of production Ian came up with, was turning my voice into the bass line for’ Foolish Love.’ He heard me humming along to the track and made me come up with a bass line. We layered my vocal and he treated it and turned it into the bass line. That was very cool.”
So; let’s get a track by track summary of each song, from the horse’s mouth: 1. Ancient Light: Staring at a sunrise.2. Fires: The personal meets the Universal. 3. Foolish Love: This is a response to the Bon Iver song, ‘Skinny Love’. I had also just watched every season of ‘Lost’! This is what came out. 4. Palms: The feeling of support you have, that real intimacy gives you. 5. Sons and Daughters: The power of normal living filling up a place with significance.
6. Shape of You: Lying in bed with someone and being in the space between dreaming and waking. 7. Rivers: Walking in a large and chilly landscape. 8. Sweetest Thing: I was in Miami one New Year’s with my wife, staring at the sea on one side and the city all lit up around us. This is how I felt right then, in that moment. 9. Don’t Let Me Go: Wanted to get a little bit country. 10: Last Dance: This track is a little surprise on the album; a little treat. It is supposed to be something very unexpected and fun. 11. Goodbyes: A song for and about my brother. A song about vulnerability and inability. Allman penned all the songs, with five co-writes; ‘Sons and Daughters’ and ‘Palms’ with Liz Lawrence, ‘Rivers’ with Robyn Sherwell, ‘Shape Of You’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ with Lowell.
He was born and brought up in Hong Kong, before moving to London when he was 11. His most vivid memories of life in Hong Kong as a child? ”Every Sunday, the Central Business District- which is rather unoriginally called Central -was closed off to traffic, and all the Filipinos living and working in Hong Kong, would congregate and hang out. It was amazing to see all those people so far from home, coming together to make a little of island of community in the middle of all those tall buildings and carless-roads.
“Another memory that stayed with me; is walking through the city at night. It is a very safe place and perfect to wander around in after hours. There is so much artificial light everywhere, it feels like a fairy tale almost.” So what first hit Allman about the difference between Hong Kong and London, when he moved here? “The cold and the colours. It took me a few years to fall in love with London. Now I would not live anywhere else.
So, do his childhood experiences of those two different cultures have any bearing on his song writing? “Well, I am a tolerant person because I have had the privilege of growing up in two diverse cultures, which I hope feeds into my song writing. I want people from all over the world to connect with the songs.”
He admits that the success of “Sons And Daughters,” the huge hits it got on the internet and the demand it created for licensing for TV soundtracks, took him by surprise. “Yes, a very pleasant surprise. I was so happy about it because it was the first song I ever wrote that I was proud of, and the fact that people responded to it so positively really moved me. Lots of couples have had it as their wedding song, and I really could not think of a higher compliment.”
If he is on a train or a ‘plane and a stranger asks what he does for a job, and “what kind of stuff do you sings/write/record,” Allman says, “I usually ‘um and ah’ like late 90’s Hugh Grant before eventually settling on folk-pop, and then I say it’s a bit like Ryan Adams and Tracy Chapman. I only compare myself to the legendary T. Chapman, because a few people mentioned it.”
Allman grew up listening to singers such as Springsteen and Tracy Chapman, which shaped his music today. His main influences as a singer and as a song writer: Justin Vernon, Ryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen. “These three really resonate with me, Justin Vernon in particular. He is so prolific and his work with Bon Iver was a revelation to me. I also love to listen to Paul Simon, as he has this uncanny ability to write about everyday things and make them poignant and special. One of his songs is about chatting on a bench, for crying out loud!”
1000 years is a subtle album where the quality and depth of song-writing resonates throughout, echoing inspiration from troubadours such as Bon Iver, Ryan Adams, James Vincent McMorrow and Feist. Heart-stirring duets drift through 1000 years, such as ‘Rivers’ which features up and coming Guernsey born singer Robyn Sherwell, the evocatively stunning vocals of Liz Lawrence float through the songs ‘Palms’ and her co-write, ‘Sons and Daughters.’
Quirky Canadian singer Lowell also features on ‘Shape Of You’, “She is utterly fearless and prolific when it comes to her songs. I wrote with her specifically to shake up my own writing process and to introduce her manic musical energy into the song”, remarks Brown. “Ancient Light”, “Hollows” and “Between The Wars” represent a sojourn into the world of soft and subtle electronica, while never losing the emotional punch of his underlying folk-influence works that set out his stall. “I like a little bit of musical variety” clarifies Allman.
Lit The Fuse…
The one song that he says lit a fuse inside him as a songwriter, would have to be “Flume” by Bon Iver. “It is so simple and so beautiful. It showed me that you didn’t have to be wildly innovative all the time, you could just let the purity of the song shine.”
His favourite cut on his own debut the album; “That’s tough.” But he goes for “Palms”, because he got to write with Liz Lawrence again, and says it is one of the more sonically ambitious tracks. “Foolish Love,” will always have a special place in his heart though. “I just feel very pleased with how Anthemic it feels.”
The one song on the album that Allman thinks could follow “Sons and Daughters,” and give him more commercial success? “One thing I’ve learned so far; is that you never know what song will find success. There are just so many variables. I reckon ‘Sweetest Thing’ has a good shot at success. I wrote it as a pop tune in the style of Eagle Eyed Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight.’ Just a simple feel good tune.”
Any extra pressure in his mind to come up with another song as “hot” as “Sons and Daughters” I ask? “I put pressure on myself to write well for every track. The lesson I learned from writing ‘Sons and Daughter’s’ was to be honest, and to write what was in my heart, rather than writing to a spec. Personally, if I sit down to write a “hit” or “a song like so and so,” I write badly. I have to go with the flow and write what comes naturally. Sometimes it comes out as a crowd pleaser and other times like a chilled-out mood piece.”
File this record under what in the record store (if there are any left?) “Hopefully it’s a really niche record store and they could file it under, “the one album you need to buy if you want to achieve pure emotional happiness and financial success!” Methinks he was being ironic!
His choice of singers on the CD, Liz Lawrence, Robyn Sherwell and Lowell, add huge value to the record, but his own vocals are quite something. So why the three singers he chose? “I was lucky enough to float into their orbits. I met Liz at a gig, Robyn and I shared a manager at the time and Lowell was recording in the same studio as me. They are all talented artists and I dig their work. I was so excited at the prospect of having their sound combining with mine. Lowell taught me to be a little more fearless in my writing, and I could listen to Liz all day. I love her voice so much. Robyn also sings like an angel, and’ Rivers’ came about from wanting to write a simple hymn-type song.”
“Goodbyes is the most personal song for me. It is about the relationship I have with my brother. I really let it all out on that particular song.” But that was not the hardest song to get right when recording. “Ancient Light was the most challenging, because I wrote it on acoustic guitar and then walked into the studio and told Ian Barter that I wanted the song to be a completely different vibe. We built that song from the ground up.
“The opening percussion part is me using pencils on the edge of Ian’s desk. I wanted it to be very removed from the traditional singer-songwriter vibe, so we had to work hard to find different sounds and texture to create something a bit different.”
The best compliment anyone could pay Allman Brown about this album, he says, is simple: “Buying it and then listening to it more than once. This album represents and means a great deal to me. I hope that all those who listen will get a glimpse of the times and emotions it contains,” explains Brown.
The 32-year-old is based in London, and before music became a full-time occupation, his jobs included teaching English Language and working many roles in the hospitality industry. His plans and ambitions for the next couple of years, is to play more gigs in “far flung places” and to record more. He has already played shows in NYC, LA and Knoxville, Tennessee in the US. Allman has started work on his next EP already and has half a dozen shows in Germany booked in for later this year. His huge stats on Spotify in 2016 prove he has a massive on-line following for a completely independent artist and the debut album should indelibly etch his name and his voice into the minds and hearts of many, many people globally, if there is any justice.
•“1000 Years,” will be released by Allman Brown on February 10th.
By Simon Redley