Interview: Dave Allen, “When the Demons Come”

Dave Allen - When the Demons Come

Toronto singer/songwriter Dave Allen recently released his debut solo album, “When the Demons Come,” a tour de force exploration of love, loss, and questions about religion and spirituality.  I would suspect that the issues with which Dave is wrestling in these songs are ones that torment all of us at some point in our lives.  For myself, as a former student of theology and someone who has encountered significant personal loss, many of the songs on this album hit terribly close to home.

Some might know Dave Allen from his previous work with Barrie-based Stonetrotter, and indeed some of his former Stonetrotter colleagues contribute to the project.  This is a terrific-sounding folk/roots album, with some great playing that fits the songs perfectly and never overwhelms the lyrics – which really are the core of the project.

The album begins with the haunting “Plainview,” boldly setting the tone for what is to come: “mama can’t you see, wont you come and rescue me / i ain’t going where the clouds are, im falling deep beneath. / swimming with the coral, bleeding blood for sharks to feed. / mama i ain’t ready to be a man, i’m drowning in my sheets with ease. / take me to the place where the dark captain sails so I can be in peace.”  “Celebrate You” follows, a plea (to self? to a friend?) to return to the essential core to be the best person possible.

“Dim Are Days” is one of the songs on this album that especially touched me; the lyrics made me think of time spent in hospitals with parents, waiting for what turned out to be an inevitable end.  “The Farmhouse” is equally moving to me: “you guys helped to make me believe / that I can be someone / someone as myself” reminded me of my own parents, who taught me a very similar lesson. “Saint John” is a tiny masterpiece of emotion at the heart of the album – a brilliant deconstruction of disillusionment.  (Those who want to understand the “nones” of religion would do well to listen to this song.)

The album closes with the gorgeous title track – a dialogue between lovers, one begging the other to love even in the darkest time, and the other promising to do just that (and asking for love in return).  A fitting end to an absolutely splendid album, full of emotional highs and lows, that will not leave the listener unmoved.

We’re so pleased that Dave Allen took some time to answer some questions about his terrific album.

How different an experience is it, recording as a solo artist versus being part of a band? (Beyond the obvious DIY aspect of working alone, of course.)

When recording with a band; you have a lot of creative minds to bounce ideas off of in the studio, it’s a collaborative process between the musicians in the room and the man (or lady) behind the wheel at the engineer/producers seat. This can make for a fun recording process but also requires a certain patience and democratic order for when choosing which parts are best suited for a song. Many creative minds collaborating in the room, can create a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ scenario, this can been both very helpful and beneficial but also irritating.

When recording as a solo artist, I could choose when I wanted to collaborate and when I wanted to call the shots, this time around, taking reign of the decision making process helped to keep me focused on making the record I heard in my head. That being said, both recording experiences are different beasts, and I appreciate and enjoy them both for different reasons.

I’ve listened to “Dim Are Days” several times now – it really brought back my own memories of days in the hospital with both my parents… the mixed emotions, the bewilderment, the dread. Is it difficult, or therapeutic, or a mix of both to sing about such happenings?

It is therapeutic for me to write about it. Rarely do I sit down and pick a topic to tackle in song; in this particular case, it was more of a practice of ‘free writing’, I was experiencing the feelings you’ve mentioned, but couldn’t put them into words, much like a whirlwind inside – I would write how I was feeling down on paper, and then better understand what I was feeling inside after reading what was written. I could understand my feelings through the process of writing. It was difficult to perform when I first wrote the song, now that some time has passed and I enjoy singing this song live, hearing that you were able to draw from and connect to the song from your own experiences with death makes all the difference – it’s a challenge to tackle this subject matter through song, and I always feel inclined to tackle tougher subject matter because it’s a challenge in communication.

Loss is certainly a theme that runs through the album, but the topic of spirituality is also present. In particular, I’m thinking of “Saint John,” which speaks to me of so many ways in which religion can teach us so many things it’s not supposed to be about (disappointment, disillusionment, etc.). What inspired this particular song for you?

I had an odd level of anxiety around the acceptance of religion since I was young. I was educated in the Catholic school board system from kindergarten to last day of high school. My parents were not religious in any traditional way. I was the kid who would attend mass with all the other kids in school but my arms would be crossed against my heart, I wouldn’t take the body of Christ. This would be the point of inception and inspiration for the song.

Over the years taking religion classes, I began to take issues with certain beliefs, social habits and Catholic doctrine that helped to shape Saint John into the song it is. I wont get into too many more details about this, Ill leave it up to the listener. The Catholic school board was an enjoyable system to grow up in, but as many things do when you become older, you begin to question some of the content that you’ve been taught.

Dave Allen

“The Farmhouse” (I have to admit) is a difficult song for me to hear, partly because it (like “Dim Are Days”) brings up a lot of memories, and is so eloquent about that feeling of parents and loved ones never quite leaving us after they are physically gone. As a songwriter, what do you hope for as a reaction from the audience hearing your songs?

I hope for a reaction just like that, if my songs can be moving in any way then I’m content. It especially makes me feel good when someone can share a story of their own with me of similar experiences where I can relate. I feel like a big part of music for me is working with the art of communication and trying to create common ground between people through song.  I remember when I was writing some of the songs on this record; I wasn’t hearing anything on the radio or online that was tackling the issues and emotions I was dealing with, so I decided to stop searching for them and start writing them myself.

In several of your blog posts, you mention doing some drum tracking at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Creemore (ON)… what was it about this church specifically that was so attractive as a recording spot?

Honestly, churches are beautiful reflections of architecture, hope and community. Something about being inside a church (especially alone or with a small group of people – does feel holy and unspoken). I’m not religious but I’m taking my own spiritual route, and I have respect and appreciation for those who are.

I didn’t find this church, a friend of mine Andrew Shropshire grew up in Creemore, Ontario, it is his mother’s church, I’ve worked with Andrew numerous times of the years on recording projects, and his mother Dorothy, is always interested and curious in these art projects, she’s been wonderful in allowing us to use it. It was his recommendation and her good will that makes it an attractive recording spot. When we arrived on set to record, I fell in love, it looks to be from 1800’s, it’s peppered in stained glass, has a large pipe organ lining the wall of the nave, it’s a good looking church!

You have several tour dates lined up over the next few weeks – what can listeners expect when they come to one of your shows?

They can expect something a little different every time. This tour I’m traveling with my acoustic guitar, harmonica, and voice. Every show is a different type of venue, I like to try and bring a sense of community to the stage, sometimes its more of an introspective and quiet performance. I try to keep it fresh and the spaces and people attending really help to shape what type of show it’s going to be.

~ L

Visit Dave Allen’s website.

Buy “When the Demons Come” on Bandcamp.

Upcoming Tour Dates:

Gus’ Pub, Halifax, NS, Canada – Tickets
Ringo’s Bar & Grill, Fredericton, NB, Canada – Tickets
Garafraxa Cafe, Durham, ON, Canada – Tickets
Huron Club, Collingwood, ON, Canada – Tickets
Musiikki Café, Kingston, ON, Canada – Tickets
Legendz Pub, Belleville, ON, Canada – Tickets
Sawdust City Brewery, Gravenhurst, ON, Canada – Tickets
Capers Brasserie & Wine Bar, Belleville, ON, Canada – Tickets
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