Detroit, Michigan’s Ryan Allen plays guitar and writes songs and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s performed and recorded with a variety of bands like Thunderbirds Are Now!, Friendly Foes, Red Shirt Brigade and Destroy This Place. He also made and released a solo record back in 2011 where he played almost all of the instruments (guitar, bass, and all the drums) adopting the Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms Moniker.
Starting last summer, he decided to try again and record it at his parents house in his dad’s home studio. He recorded it with his dad Brad Allen engineering and Sean Sommer (Destroy This Place) on drums. The forthcoming Heart Sting Soul contains songs about his wife, son, family, friends, and time spent playing music over the past 15 or so years.
After they finished recording the album, Allen sent it to Andy Reed (the Verve Pipe, An American Underdog) and he warmed it up with analog goodness for a stellar mixing and mastering session.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Allen to discuss the record, which drops via Two Brains Recording Company on March 25. This is what he told us about it.
When did you begin writing Heart String Soul?
I’ve been working on the songs on and off for a couple of years. After my son Emitt was born, I was inspired to write about my newfound dad-hood and how I thought it was going to change things for me. However, after a few songs came out and seemed somewhat contrived, I scrapped them and decided to live a little longer, get used to my new life roll, and see if better songs started coming. They eventually did – thankfully – and as I kept writing, editing and sharpening my focus, I began to cultivate an album’s worth of tunes that had a bit of a cohesive thread to them.
What I ended up with is a record about what it’s like to be me right now: A 35 year old guy with a kid, a wife, a mortgage, and full time job, but also with a passion to keep doing music and keep being creative. There’s a bit of nostalgia thrown in there for good measure, as it’s something I’m wont to do, but there’s also a lot of looking forward while looking back (to steal one of my own song titles).
Was this a home studio project or did you enlist someone’s help to get these songs to tape?
The answer to both of these questions is: yes. It was recorded in the basement of the house that I grew up in with my dad as the engineer. My dad has always had a recording set up in our homes since before I was born, and for the past 6 or 7 years, he’s been building his studio up with new gear and a better comprehension of recoding techniques. It’s a pretty legit set up, and it just felt really right to not only do this album at my parent’s house, but with my dad highly involved as well. He didn’t tell me what to play or to change things on the tunes, but his overall presence, guidance, recording knowledge, and generosity in terms of his time helped make this album what it is.
We then sent it off to Andy Reed of Reed Recording Co. in Bay City, Michigan, and he ended up mixing and mastering the album. He warmed up the tones, pumped up the drums, and gave it a nice analog feel – something I was really hoping for – to really drive home that classic sound.
What lessons did you learn during your previous release as Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms that you applied to Heart String Soul?
There were a few things I changed this go around. 1) I recorded it for free, so my bank account and wife were both very happy about that. 2) I decided to not play the drums myself this time, to speed up recording and give it a tighter feel. 3) I wanted to dial back a little bit of the tempos and volume to give it a little more of an intimate vibe. I put acoustic guitar on almost everything, and I just really wanted to make something that was a little more timeless. A little less “indie rock” and more “dad rock” because I’m a daddy man.
Did you play all the instruments on this record or did you have some help?
As previously mentioned, I didn’t play the drums on the record (well, I did on one song, “Keep Me Around”). They were handled by Sean Sommer, my musical soulmate from Destroy This Place. My dad, Andy Reed, my brother Scott, Zach Curd and Nick Piunti all contributed bits and pieces to the album as well. I played most of the guitars, all the bass, the percussion, and and sang 90 percent of the vocals, though.
How do you decide whether a song is a good candidate for your solo record versus bringing it to your band, Destroy This Place?
I think there’s maybe a “rage factor” that I consider when thinking about what songs go where. If the song is a little more angry, aggressive and “riffed out” it tends to end up in the DTP pile. If it’s a bit more personal/sentimental, more jangle-y/chord-oriented, and a little more pop-leaning, I usually keep it for myself. That doesn’t mean it always ends up that way (“Become a Disaster” was originally intended as a DTP song), but that’s kind of the initial way I categorize things.
There are a couple of love letters on this record to some people in your life. Can you tell us about those?
Yeah, it was really important to me this time out to pay homage to the people in my life that have helped me, influenced me, and shown me (despite how much of a jerk I can be sometimes) unconditional love. That includes my wife, my son, my parents, and my friends. The obvious songs about that kind of stuff would be “Angela ’97” about meeting, courting, and eventually starting a family with my wife, despite various bumps in the road along the way (all mostly my fault). “Born Radical” is about my parents and their time spent living in California for a few years before I was born. “Bonded by Blood” is very straight up about my son Emitt and the fear of being a father, but how that gets washed away when I started really bonding with the little guy.
Do you have plans to play out in support of this record or to take it on the road?
Not really, just because of work and finances and stuff, but if the opportunities came up I would consider it. There’s a power pop festival in NYC that I’d maybe like to try and play, for instance. The reaction has been pretty awesome so far, so if people made offers and it made sense, and the rest of the guys in the band could do it, then sure. For now, a few local gigs are on the horizon to feel it out and see what’s what.
Destroy This Place are planning to head to Mass. later this year to record a full-length. How did you come to choose Justin Pizzoferrato as the right guy for the record?
We are! We’re all really pumped about it. We picked Justin Pizzoferrato because A) He said yes and B) We love the records he’s helped make. He’s worked on Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth’s last few albums, as well as helped helm the last Speedy Ortiz album that came out, which we were all big fans of. He seems like a really chill, but hard working guy who loves loud rock – loud guitars, big drums, fuzzy tones… he just seemed like the perfect fit, and we’re anxious to get out there and start recording. Hopefully the album will be a quick turn around and come out before the end of this year (can the world take that much Ryan Allen? We’ll find out!).
Is Boner Jams ’69 still in the running for the album title?
Boner Jams ’69 is not just an album title, but a lifestyle.
(Listen to Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms here: https://extraarms.bandcamp.com/.)