Singer-songwriter Jake Allen never does anything by halves. It’s the reason why he’s a lauded acoustic guitarist, a talented vocalist and a pro in the studio. He sets himself a goal and then goes at it full throttle with a mixture of energy, determination and sheer pluck.
Here’s an example: when Allen decided he wanted to master the harp (he already played loads of other instruments so why not the harp too?) he headed to NAMM, the US gear and tech roadshow, armed with a promo pack he’d put together on himself.
“You can send a million emails,” he says. “But it’s always more effective to talk to people in the flesh about what you do. It’s always better to make that human connection.”
Allen approached leading instrument makers, including Rees Harps in Indiana, for sponsorship. “It was a long-shot as I couldn’t even play the harp,” he laughs. “But it paid off, they showed faith in me.”
Impressed with his spirit, Rees agreed to custom-make him a harp, a 34-string beauty that Allen plays along with a host of other instruments on his new album Deviant Motions.
The album, Allen’s third, was five years in the making as the Michigan artist had to carve out time in the studio in between gigs with the band Cookies and guest appearances with The Accidentals.
For Allen, who grew up tinkering in his producer dad’s analog studio, making an album in a digital set-up was a learning experience.
“I learned that a limited tool set is what I really work best with,” he confesses. “Something that would take about 30 minutes in my dad’s analog studio would take about 30 seconds in digital. Everything was quicker, so I started messing around with a lot of options and it lead me down a few rabbit holes.”
Deviant Motions, an ethereal rock/acoustic fusion, also showcases Allen’s vocal prowess. He sounds like a mix of Gotye and Bryan Adams, and says he became a singer more by accident than design.
“When I first started singing it was out of obligation, as no one else in the band I was in wanted to do it,” he says. “I honed my singing chops by working in the studio.
“The first time you hear yourself singing [when you’re in the studio] it’s mind blowing – you start to learn what you sound like coming out of a pair of speakers. It’s good to hear yourself over and over again and to adjust your sound.
“I worked with my dad, who is a great producer. It made me hear myself differently and I realised what I could do differently.”
While Allen is at home in the studio he acknowledges it can be an intimidating environment for newcomers.
“My suggestion if you’re going into the studio for the first time is to find a producer who you’re comfortable with and listen to them,” he says. “Ask questions and learn as much as you can; it’s great to have a backboard, someone to bounce ideas off.”
Allen is now touring to promote his album (his sister Lexi is in the band), and continuing to make his own opportunities.
“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that you can’t rely on anybody else. For a long time I suffered from the delusion that someone would come along and make it happen for me – offer me a record deal or whatever. That was until I was surrounded by hard working musos who got out there and made it happen. The truth is you can only depend on yourself.”