Interview by Joyce Peters
Reprinted courtesy of Taconic Press
I caught up with Devon Allman by phone as he was traveling across country to begin an 8-month tour with his band, Honeytribe.
JP: Where are you right now, Devon?
DA: I have no idea [laughs]. “Hey, what state are we in right now?” he asks his bandmates. Indiana.
JP: Are you traveling in a shiny vintage Airstream trailer?
DA: Yeah, I wish! It’s a 15-passenger van with a trailer. We put 100,000 miles on it in 15 months.
JP: You’ve described your sound as “heart and soul based rock.” What’s the essence of your music?
DA: It’s based in old school R &B and blues….modernized by virtue of time.
JP: You seem like an intensely expressive vocalist and guitarist. What are you trying to express with your music?
DA: It’s never an attempt; you try to shut off everything and go after the emotion. It’s a wide range of pain, joy, and everything in between. You open that conduit. If I can turn the world off for 90 minutes, then I can exist in that range of emotions.
JP: Labels like jam band, Southern rock, and blues-rock: do you find them confining or do they resonate with you?
DA: I can relate to the business and marketing aspect. I can look out from inside and all three labels are indicative of where we’re at musically. We can extend a song at the end and explore that interplay between the musicians. We’re rooted in the blues. At the end of the day, we’re after a real timeless kind of feel with timeless songs. We are a song-focused band that happens to have the musicianship to jam. The Brothers [Allman Brothers Band], Grateful Dead, and Santana are probably the upper echelon of jam bands of all time. We don’t want to just noodle. We want people in 20 years to put on our record and love a song.
JP: You recorded an astounding version of “Midnight Rider” on “A Song for My Father,” a compilation of songs by offspring of legendary artists. How did you zero in on that track among all the incredible songs by your father, Gregg Allman?
DA: When I was a little boy, I fell in love with music. I kept asking my mom, “Who’s that?” One time “Midnight Rider” was on the radio and I said “Who’s that?” It took a little longer for her to answer that time [laughs]. I knew my dad was a musician but I didn’t know all his work. That song always resonated with me. It was so haunting. Later, when I met my dad, I got to sing that song onstage with him. That song seemed like the logical choice.
JP: When did you first perform that song with him?
DA: My senior year of high school, I went on tour with The Brothers. At 17, they just announced me. I didn’t even have time to get scared. I closed my eyes and let it rip. That exchange of energy was entirely too much fun!
JP: How do you handle expectations about you, as part of a legendary music family? Can you just ignore them?
DA: I’m 31 and I’ve been doing this since I was 16. I have a body of work behind me, maybe not in the public, but I have enough under my belt and I have my own thing rolling. I totally ignore it. But I don’t ignore where my heart is at with my family. Relation or not, I’m a big fan. If I worried about what was expected, it would drive me insane and take me away from my focus.
JP: Can you describe your strangest gig?
DA: In the last year, there were two: one good strange, like pinching yourself good, and one bad strange. The good one was that I found out that Billy Gibbons [ZZ Top] is a fan of ours and he came up on our stage and threw down his majestry. He’s a hero and I was really pinching myself about that. He’s a total mentor and a gentleman. The bad strange….there was this gig in Valdosta, Georgia. It was the first gig in my life where the club owner said, “Yeah, just park over there.” We played to 2 people and he shut us down. They hadn’t promoted us. We walked away scratching our heads wondering, “Is there a musician’s Twilight Zone?” Valdosta has become a verb for us. “Hey, we got Valdosta’ed” or screwed [laughs].
JP: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
DA: I scream with a high register squelch, really, really loud. It takes about 2 seconds. It’s a vocal barometer…it lets me know, 1 to 10, where my voice is that night. Also, diet Coke with lemon. I feel really blessed to be doing what I do. I’ve had every crap job in the past.
JP: Such as?
DA: [Laughs] Steel factory, insurance salesman. People think I grew up with everything as an Allman. They couldn’t be more wrong.
JP: You said that your next album will have a different vibe than “Torch.” How so?
DA: We’re going to explore our dynamics on the next two records. It will be very beachy, fun, sun environment in Miami, less bombastic, more fluid, sweet, sensual, the lighter side of emotions, love, from living our dream. The honey side. The next one will be the tribal side: fierce, in-your-face, kick-your-ass blues…. a lot more intense.
JP: You mention cheesecake as one of your guilty pleasures. How about BBQ since you hail from St. Louis, the world leader in per-capita BBQ sauce consumption.
DA: I didn’t know that! There’s Blues City on Beale St. in Memphis: their sauce and BBQ is amazing. Pretty much any place in Texas that has brisket, they’ll do it right. In St. Louis [his hometown], I end up barbequeing myself. I’m a grill fanatic.
JP: What can we expect from your performance at The Towne Crier on Sunday?
DA: We don’t juggle knives or have firebombs [laughs]. There’s no gimmick. I hope that’s a breath of fresh air. It’s not like a stare-at-your-toes jam band….it’s a very energetic show. We throw in crazy cover songs that people won’t expect. Solos are engaging, not just noodling. We shut off the world for 90 minutes. And we do everything in our power to ensure the audience does, too.