I came in the first day and he asked me what I wanted the album to sound like. I told him “Everything recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Boston in 1995.”
Basement Punk, the new Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms album, will be released September 30th. Great songs, great lyrics, great hooks. Sweet Sweet Music talked to Ryan. I mean: Sweet Sweet Music TALKED to Ryan. Read the interview and pre order the album (here) or vice versa!
Punk Rock, College Rock, Alternative Rock, Power Pop …. A lot of different styles. Is that who you are?
It’s important for me to be true to myself at all times, so I don’t really think about songwriting in terms of genre. I just want to write good songs, no matter what. A lot of my favorite records have a diversity to it; songs ebb and flow and have a dynamic element that makes me want to keep coming back over and over again. I want my records to have that same kind of dimension; I don’t want things to be flat or one note. I want ups and downs, twists and turns. Obviously I’m not going to rap on a song (maybe I should though) and on the surface my tunes could be classified as “melodic rock” or whatever, but I don’t want my music to be put in one single box. I love Minor Threat and Black Flag just as much as I love the Posies and Big Star. I’ll put on Harry Nilsson one second and then Jawbox the next. Something dreamy like Slowdive could be followed by something super aggressive like Refused. I’d like to think my diverse tastes help inform my songwriting style and yeah, kind of make me, well, me.
Alex Whiz is fun because we probably all know a kid like Alex. Was that one easy to write? Or is it hard to find the right details?
That song started with that sort of woozy guitar riff that kicks off the song and then comes back in the choruses; I had that kicking around for awhile, but was having trouble attaching it to any other parts. I kept workshopping it with different verse chords, and at one point I pretty much finished the song with completely different lyrics. One day the name “Alex Whiz” just popped in my head, kind of out of nowhere. Alex is a real person and he grew up next-door to my best friend.
I started wondering about what happened to him and even tried looking him up on Facebook at some point (couldn’t find him, though). Then I started to build this narrative in my head about how despite Alex being perceived as sort of odd when we were young, he’s probably some kind of successful genius now.
All of sudden I thought, “Whoa, I have a song here.” I went back to what I had originally written, changed all of the lyrics to fit my sort of half-true half-made up story about Alex and that was that.
I was (and still am) kind of nervous about writing something about a real person and naming the song after him and all of that, but I think the overall message is positive and something he would like if he heard it. It’s really a “the meek will inherit the earth” type of story, almost speaking as Alex saying “All you fuckers who made fun of me, well guess what, the joke is on you now because I’m awesome and all of you are a bunch of losers.” Or something like that. Ha ha.
How did you record Basement Punk?
I played all of the instruments myself, so the process is pretty different than doing a record with a whole band playing together. First I demoed everything at my house using my pretty simple set up. I just have a few mics and basically record everything straight into Garageband.
The demos don’t sound very good, but it’s kind of my way of workshopping the songs and practicing them enough so when it’s time to go into the studio I know exactly what I want to do and don’t waste any time. I wrote almost 17 songs for this record, and they were all over the place. Some were fast and punky, some more chimey and Big Star-esq. There was a hardcore song where I was basically screaming. There were shoegazy things. There was a stripped down acoustic song. There was even an instrumental jam.
My goal was to just keep writing and whatever came out came out, which I haven’t really done before. I usually just cut everything I’ve written and call it a day. Once I kind of decided on the songs that I thought I would want to record for the album, I booked some time at a studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan called Big Sky. It’s run by the amazing Geoff Michael, and he gets really amazing guitar and drum sounds. He’s also super laid back and just a really great guy to work with. I came in the first day and he asked me what I wanted the album to sound like. I told him “Everything recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Boston in 1995.” He knew exactly what I was talking about, and we got to work. In terms of tracking, I recorded scratch/throwaway guitar tracks to a click (usually in blocks of 3 or 4 at a time) and would then go and sit down at the drums and play over them. I spent most of day 1 doing that until I got the basic foundation of the songs down. I went back a second day and cut most of the real guitars and some vocals. A third day was spent finishing up the main vocals (as well as adding some stuff to Nick Piunti’s record, who was working on his new one at the same time as me).
Then I took all of those tracks over to my parents’ house where my dad has a studio. I worked with him to lay down the rest of the pieces, including bass, keys, percussion, more guitar and more vocals. I love working with my dad and we ripped through the songs in a couple of sessions.
Before I knew it, we were done tracking and it was time to mix. I sent everything over to Andy Reed (of the Legal Matters and Reed Recording Studio fame) and he put the finishing touches on it, mixing and mastering it to perfection. Honestly, I love the way it turned out – it’s exactly the kind of record I wanted to make and sounds exactly how I imagined it would in my head. Dirty and loud in places, nice and clean in others.
Big ups to Geoff, my dad and Andy for helping me out along the way.
Gorgeous w/ Guitars. What is the story behind that song?
That song is basically about being true to yourself and continuing to keep making music no matter what. A little bit of it is about me, but it’s also sort of about my dad and my friend Nick Piunti.
It’s really about the idea that you don’t have to stop making music (and it doesn’t have to suck) the older you get. I love that my dad goes down in the basement every Friday night with his buddies and jams and records stuff. I love that he still wants to help me make records and always has good ideas to help me figure things out if I’m stuck. In terms of Nick, he’s written three amazing records in his early 50s while most people his age do nothing creative.
Really, the song is saying don’t stop, whatever you do. Do. Not. Stop. Keep creating. Keep making music. Keep striving to be better, and don’t let age or whatever get in your way. You can still be viable and do great things well after you turn 21, or 31 or even 61. It doesn’t matter, as long as you have the passion to do it, do it.
Ryan, I really like this one! So many catchy songs. Great lyrics. What are your expectations?
Thank you! I never really have any expectations. I think it’s part of what keeps me pleasantly surprised if anybody listens to my music, writes about it, buys it, whatever. I would love it if people give the record a shot and take some time to really get to know the songs. I think music these days is just content to people sometimes. Hearing a song is no different than reading a Tweet. It sort of exists for a second and then it’s gone. I really like to spend time with records and get to know them inside and out. I really hope there are people out there that feel like they want to spend some time with my record, too. But whether a ton of people write about it, or it gets completely ignored, it almost doesn’t matter to me, because I’m super proud of it.