“I’m the only one singing lead vocals but the other guys kind of scream in the microphone once in a while for back-ups,” laughed former Child’s Play drummer turned Charm City Devils lead vocalist John Allen as he discussed the band’s new EP “1904” his personal “Crusade” for his hometown and more.
A musician since his childhood, Allen did the reverse of most and actually switched from guitar to drums instead of the reverse. Like most great rock ‘n’ roll journeys his too has a funny if not ironic twist.
“When I was a little kid I started on guitar and there were all of these other guitar players around and I remember at the time that I felt it was more difficult for me to learn guitar and how to play songs all the way through. Whereas drums, I watched drummers on TV and I figured out how to play; you know, cross your arms over to play the hi-hat; I had a buddy who got a kit before me and I don’t know if he ever saw a drummer play before because he played unorthodox, he played the hi-hat with his left hand although he was right handed. I said, no, no you’re not supposed to play like that, so I took his sticks and sat down and said, this is how you’re supposed to play and he quickly took the sticks from me, kind of like OK kid get outta here (laughs) but yeah, I think it came more naturally to me although I really wanted to be a guitar player and singer in the beginning. So I’m a hack guitar player but I feel I need to know how to play especially for writing melodies.”
Fast Forward to 2007 when five guys from Baltimore got together and formed what would eventually become the Charm City Devils. Joining Allen were drummer Jason Heiser, guitarists Victor Karrera and Nick Kay along with bassist Anthony Arambula who has since departed the band.
“Everybody in the band is from Baltimore except our new bass player Rick Reynolds who is actually from Australia by way of Dallas, Texas and he’s currently residing in Philadelphia so he’s all over the globe; he’s a jet-setter (laughs).”
So how did the band come up with a name like Charm City Devils?
“We actually were named by Nikki Sixx. Way back when we were getting signed, talking to Eleven Seven Music about doing a deal and we were bantering around names and it seemed like every week I was sending like 20 names up to the label and we could never seem to come to consensus on a band name. Finally one day, I was working down in my studio and I saw I had a voice message, so I listened to it and it was Nikki Sixx and it said, “Hey John its’s Nikki Sixx, I’ve got the perfect band name for ya’ call me back” and I was like, oh crap (laughs); should I call him back because it freaked me out. So I gave him a call and he said, “I’ve got the name for ya’; Charm City Devils. Like Charm City because that’s where you guys are from and Devils because it sounds like a gang and a band is a gang and that’s it!” “I said, OK cool done! They were talking about us going on “Crue Fest” and the only thing holding us up was a name and at that point and I’m going to make a “Spinal Tap” reference here; “You can call us Shit Sandwich for all I care, just put us on the tour” (laughs) so yeah.”
After releasing their debut album “Let’s Rock-N-Roll” andbeing named “Best New Rock Band” for 2009 by iTunes as well as achieving some Billboard charting success, the band took some time off; “1904” is their return; so why an EP and not a full length and how has the process changed?
“We just wanted to be hip with all the kids,” he said with a laugh. “We were on a hiatus for the last couple of years and I was working in another project and we had done two EPs because that’s where the business seems to be sort of trending and we’re just getting back into it, just getting our feet wet. We have material backlogged but it’s not finished, it’s not mixed; we’re kind of getting stuff done as we can and it just sort of worked out where we could put out a short four or five song thing now and then get the next four or five out in a few months. It seems like you’re always on an album cycle now whereas before bands would put out a 10 song record then they’d tour for a year or a year and a half then go in and write the next record and it might be a couple of years until the next cycle but now with the EPs and the way people are releasing singles to the streaming services it seems like you never really take time off; it seems you’re always putting something out and always out supporting it. It just seems to be kind of the way the business is these days; it has been my experience in the business that it has always been feast or famine. It’s very rare that you can kind of make a living on the in between, so you really have to learn how to wear a lot of hats. I just edited our video so I’m learning how to use editing software and you have to know how to do social media and know how to do this and do that. I’ve always loved graphic design, I took it in school, so I’m getting ready to renew my Photoshop subscription so I can get my feet wet with all that so that I don’t have to rely on outside people to do our cover art and we can become one self-contained unit. I don’t mind it so much because I’m a control freak so it’s good for people like me (laughs).”
So did the self-proclaimed “Control freak” produce the new EP?
“I did, yeah, I have a Pro Tools studio in my basement and it’s a very relaxed atmosphere for me so I can go down there and tweak things til my heart’s content. It’s one of the reasons why I like video so much; you can just kind of get in the zone with editing and it’s like being in the recording studio, it’s the same kind of deal. I tend to sometimes get hyper-focused on things, I guess my OCD kicks in so it’s a wonderful thing in some aspects.”
Baltimore has seen its share of bad publicity and tough times over the years and it hasn’t been lost on its native son. Allen gets a bit melancholy as he discusses his personal feelings about the perception of his hometown and how he’s tried to change it.
“I feel like, in a lot of ways that I’ve been on that mission forever,” he said in more mellow tones. “Baltimore has always kind of gotten a bit of a sketchy rap. Years ago, the nickname “Charm City” was really; I had an inkling as to why the city was nicknamed that so I did some research and it turns out that I was correct. It seems that the city fathers, I guess in the 70’s decided that they needed to re-brand the city because it had such a bad reputation through the 1950’s and 60’s and they wanted to do something about it. They came up with this nickname “Charm City” and it seemed to work and the city was on the upswing for a long time but like most big cities around the country it’s having its share of struggles. That was exasperated a few years ago with Freddie Gray’s death and subsequent riots and people see that on national TV and they see shows like “The Wire” and they’re automatically terrified of coming into downtown Baltimore. It’s not been my experience but even the guys I grew up with are a little concerned. We were playing downtown last year with my side project and they were like, “I don’t know about going around the corner” and I was like, c’mon dude; we grew up in a blue collar area that was pretty tough and my feeling is that anything can happen anywhere but you have to always keep awareness about yourself and pay attention to your surroundings. So as far as a crusade to defend my hometown; it doesn’t feel good when someone talks shit about your hometown. It’s kind of like, I can talk shit about my brother but you can’t.”
Like most bands, Allen and his crew have had to adopt to changing times and had released a single from the EP prior to its recent release. The single titled “Skipping Stone” was the first one to hit the airwaves but why was it chosen?
“We just felt like it was probably the strongest song, or maybe it was just because it was just the first one done,” he said with alarge laugh. “I thought it was a pretty kick ass song and we felt it was pretty strong; the last song we finished for the EP was “Dollar Signs” and that’s been the track that we released if you pre-ordered the EP like a teaser until the EP came out on November 22.”
With the EP dropped; what’s next for the band? Festival circuit? Local gigs or perhaps a tour?
“We want to do all of that stuff. We just got a new agency and we are putting together touring stuff as we speak but we are now doing some warm up shows regionally to get back out on the scene and that will be followed up by some radio to follow up on the support that we’ve gotten in support of our single, “Skipping Stone.”
To discover more about Charm City Devils, please go to www.charmcitydevils.com .