Four Questions With… Aaron Allen
This London, Ontario, country singer/songwriter is the real deal, bringing grit and edge back to the genre on his new album Judgement Day. In this interview, he describes his creative mandate and has a cool Tony Bennett anecdote.
By Jason Schneider
There’s a revolution underway in country music, and Aaron Allen is doing his part. On his latest album, Judgement Day, the native of London, Ontario, shows his solidarity with artists such as Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell in bringing an edge back to the country genre.
Although Allen reveres country music’s legends, he isn’t by any stretch a traditionalist. With much of his body inked, he doesn’t immediately resemble most people’s image of a country singer. But from the moment he kicks his band into gear and launches into one of the new album’s signature tracks, “Rambling Man,” there’s no questioning his authenticity or conviction.
Judgement Day was recorded at London, Ontario studio The Sugar Shack with Allen’s Small City Saints—guitarist/producer Dan Brodbeck, drummer/co-producer Archie Gamble, fiddle player Tara Dunphy (from The Rizdales), bassist Simon Larrochette (formerly of Olenka and the Autumn Lovers), pedal steel guitarist Doug Johnson, mandolin player Blair Heddle (also from The Rizdales), and organist Michael Bonnell.
Allen came into the sessions with the album’s 10 tracks fully prepared, but he didn’t want the band to hear them until everyone was set up in the studio. It’s a recording method he prefers in order to capture as much spontaneity and live energy as possible. Such an approach perfectly complements Allen’s plainspoken writing style, which has drawn comparisons to Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen and cult hero Chris Knight.
With Judgement Day, Aaron Allen now begins a significant new stage of his own ride, one that’s poised to add his name to the conversation about Canada’s best new roots rock artists. He officially launches the album on Friday, April 27 with a show at London’s Aeolian Hall, and for more info go to aaronallenmusic.com.
What makes Judgement Day stand apart from previous work?
It’s a step up sonically for sure, thanks to Kyle Ashbourne at the Sugar Shack in London and the mix by Juno-winning engineer/producer Dan Brodbeck. Dan just knew exactly what it needed. Each mix he sent to me was spot on, so I didn’t really revise it at all. I feel my writing hit a new level as well. I made an effort to not focus on my life so much, and I think that’s a huge reason why I love listening to it. There are songs on previous releases I don’t even listen to because they are painfully personal.
What song on the album best captures your music vision for it?
That’s tough. I like so many of them but I feel the title track has everything. It’s got a great traditional roots feel to it and I really dig hearing the fiddle on it. Tara [Dunphy] has a great way of tastefully playing in all the right places and I love hearing Michael Bonnell play that organ. The guy’s a true talent. These are players I look up to and just love hearing them on a track. It’s fun to step back and just listen to them.
What’s been the biggest change in your life in the past year?
I guess the biggest change for me has been learning how this whole music machine works. After 15 years of putting out records and playing shows, I decided to swallow my pride and play the game to a certain extent. There are ways this game is played and people you must shake hands with, but I will always do things my way. My music will always be honest, and I don’t know another way.
What’s your best touring story?
I was touring the U.S. and I was staying in Rhode Island for a few days with a buddy. We were hanging out with some people and found out one of them was Lily Costner, Kevin Costner’s daughter. She was working as a waitress and lived in a small apartment in Rhode Island. She didn’t want people to know who she was and she definitely wasn’t taking money from her dad. She was cool as hell. She called us up one day and said we should come down to the Newport Jazz festival where she had helped organize the recycling. So we went and I helped her do some of the recycling. The highlight was getting to listen to the great Tony Bennett up close. It was a truly humbling experience for me, seeing that he was basically just a normal guy. I’ve always remembered that entire experience whenever I’ve met or opened for big names since that day. They’re all just people.